Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bulgaria

Today I'm extra thankful for my mission to Bulgaria (this is day 3 of my Thanksgiving gratitude journal).

Almost 20 years ago, I spent a year and a half working as a missionary in Bulgaria (Don't feel bad if you're thinking "where's Bulgaria?" When I got the letter from my church saying where I'd been assigned to go as a missionary, that was my question as well.  It's in Eastern Europe - between Greece and Romania on the Black Sea.
Typical Bulgarian cars, housing and haze of pollution in the air
Me with missionaries at the Alexander Nevski Cathedral in the center of Sofia, Bulgaria

Me and some other missionaries at one of the major communist monuments in Sofia, Bulgaria
Me at an orphanage - cutest kids!
Me with other missionaries and my dear friend Milena at her baptism

With missionaries and Bulgarian friends celebrating Georgiov Day

With dear Bulgarian friends in Plovdiv
My experiences in Bulgaria stretched me and grew me in so many ways. I have deep and beautiful memories of my time working with children so desperate for love in orphanages and talking with people so desperate to discuss God after 40 years of communist-imposed bans on religion. I heard sad, sad stories and realized the magnitude of my blessings. I saw lives change drastically for the better but also felt the heartache of seeing people slide back into old ruts. I made dear friends with both the other missionaries and the wonderful Bulgarians I came to love as I helped them set up programs for women and for children in their communities. I learned Bulgarian (which isn't exactly the most useful language...). I saw my strengths and weaknesses very clearly and was humbled again and again while also experiencing some exciting accomplishments.

The reason all this is on my mind today is that I spent most of the afternoon with dear friends from Bulgaria. The occasion was a lecture at BYU by fine art photographer and my pseudo-adopted Bulgarian sister, Eva Koleva Timothy who flew out from Boston to do a series of lectures.

I met Eva as a 16-year-old girl in Bulgaria and was immediately drawn to her. She had this love of life and thirst for learning that was contagious - and she was always eager to help us missionaries with anything and everything. I convinced my family to sponsor Eva so that she could come to the States for college - her absolute dream. For several years, Eva lived off-and-on with my family and became like a sibling to all my siblings. She's now a wonderful wife and mother of three and has produced an amazing photography collection called "Lost in Learning" that celebrates the work of Columbus, Galileo, Newton, Da Vinci and other creative thinkers who weren't afraid to plow their own paths and pursue the dreams of their hearts. Eva did SUCH a great job and I came away all fired up about putting more joy and passion into what I do.

Check out this little snippet of Eva's work in a great YouTube video.

Here's Eva and me heading into the lecture hall (the pictures of the rest of the group ended up on my mom's camera...):
Here's Eva and me when we first met almost 20 years ago
Anyway, in honor of Eva being here for her lectures, a bunch of people from my mission days in Bulgaria got together for lunch and for this afternoon's lecture. It was so wonderful to see all these great people (and their kids - how is it that we can all have these big kids?) and it brought back all these rich memories and made me so grateful for the associations and learning that my 18 intense months in Bulgaria brought to my life.

So I guess what I'm really thankful for today is not so much my mission to Bulgaria itself but for the learning that it represents and the learning Eva taught me to seek out and embrace more fully through her presentation today.

P.S. I'm going to draw the winner of the Retreat giveaway in my last post tomorrow at noon or so - if you haven't entered yet, there's still a bit of time! Go to yesterday's post for details.

4 comments:

Durling Fam said...

So strange the things that may connect us with people we dont know, its a small world?? I think I got here through facebook, a post from the power of moms. My mothers maiden name is Loosli, John and Reha Loosli from Fl are my grandparents, dont know if you know them. Also there was a video of another neat lady I saw that also served her mission in Bulgaria, she now runs One Heart Bulgaria, an organization that helps the orphanages in Bulgaria. I dont know her, just touched by the stories she told. I think she is the one in the red coat in one of your pictures, Deborah Dushku Gardner. Anyway was just reading about the work she is doing and then found your post about Bulgaria and thought I'd pass it on. Must have been a great mission! Thanks
Debra

Shera said...

Today I am also extra thankful for my mission to Bulgaria. I loved seeing the familiar places and faces in your post. I often dream I am back on my mission, and I wonder in my dream who is taking care of my family.
I can't wait to go back someday. Thanks for the wonderful reminder.

Eyrealm said...

WOW! I forgot about that crazy pollution and that terrible camera and the great spirit that was in that polluted air! What great memories!

Sees-the-Day said...

AWESOME. You have such a gift for writing. It was such a JOY to see you and spend some time together. Obicham te mnogo.

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