it cannot be done
by Caitlin Gray
Find out more about Free Will Baptist International Missions at www.fwbgo.com.
I met a young man this summer whose favorite phrase is "it cannot be done." In some ways, this negative statement seemed stamped on the beginning of my summer trip. But with God—wait! Let me start at the beginning.
Meet the Team
This summer, I was part of the CMP [college missions program] Bulgaria '08 team. Joseph and Lindsey Whyde of Ohio made their first mission trip as husband and wife. They feel God is calling them to long-term missions at some point. Joe was on the first CMP team to Bulgaria last year. Lindsey has gone to Cuba and Panama with E-TEAM.
Samantha Bevis (Missouri) had been to Mexico with E-TEAM and is planning on traveling to Germany soon to visit her brother who is in the army. She also plans to move to Japan. Matthew Lindsey, from Ada, Oklahoma, has been on numerous church trips to Mexico and has participated in E-TEAMs to France and Panama. He will tell you he feels more at home in a foreign country than he does at home.
Samuel Davis, our fearless team leader, is from a variety of places. He goes wherever the Lord leads him, including New York, Kazakhstan, and Nashville. And then there is me, Caitlin Gray. I am also from Ada, Oklahoma. I had never even left the country...or been on a mission trip.
We arrived at our destination after many hours of travel, dumped our luggage in nice hotel rooms, and went to dinner at an outdoor restaurant. At dinner we met Shelly Bracey, the overseas apprentice helping Tim and Lydia Awtrey. We were served some odd-tasting but extremely edible chicken-kabobs and shopska salad. During the meal, the Awtreys told us about Bulgaria.
We learned that many Bulgarians are superstitious and suspicious. They close all doors and windows because they believe drafts are evil spirits that will kill you. They do not drink beverages with ice because they think ice will give you a sore throat. I was warned that feta cheese would be served with every meal.
The Bulgarians, they said, would not hesitate to ask us why we were there. We were advised not to be evasive, because they would know we were faking. Finally, we were discouraged from using “Christianese” when telling someone about God. Bulgarians don’t know what a real Christian believes or what it means to be saved. Most Bulgarian people believe that if you go to a Protestant church, you belong to a cult. At last year’s English camp many students heard the message of Christ and decided to believe it...months later. It took time and much prayer for those lives to be changed.
Three days later, we traveled to the camp for our summer project. We prepared to teach English along with two other teams: one from the University of California at Santa Cruz and one from southern England. These teams were part of an international Christian student organization with a branch in Bulgaria. UC Santa Cruz alum Craig Weyrens and his wife Tanya were the camp coordinators.
Craig and Tanya stressed that everyone attending the camp could understand broken relationships. They told us we could show the students that Jesus Christ came to love them, and He is the only source of complete healing. We met our counterparts, went over the camp schedule, and had a Bible study and prayer time together that first night. We read Isaiah 55.
Verse five stuck with me throughout the entire camp: "Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, and nations who do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you." The next afternoon we met our students.
I ate my first meal with Pacho (pictured below). He liked to talk. He talked about football (soccer), himself, Bulgaria, football, himself, food, football. . .you get the idea. He liked to slip all the English “cuss words” he knew into the conversation. He eventually noticed that we flinched when he said certain words. He fell in love with a card game called "Bang" and called me Claire. I like Pacho.
Not all Bulgarians were as outgoing and easy as Pacho. Dimitar and Matt, who were roommates, had a difference of opinion on the very first day. Dimitar is a Christian and a film director. Matt likes to make videos. Dimitar is also a vegetarian and a pacifist—two things that are not openly admitted in Oklahoma. Matt didn’t quite know what to say to him.
Nora, the daughter of one of Lydia’s dear friends, attended the camp last year and accepted Christ only a few months earlier. Lydia has prayed for Nora to come to know God since she was born. Gyeri is also a Christian. She lives in the capital city of Sofia and drives on those scary roads with all those crazy drivers. She liked my voice and was always trying to get me to sing for her. I wondered where the suspicion and mistrust we were warned about had gone. These Bulgarians were very warm-hearted and open.
Overall, we had a lot of fun. We went on photo scavenger hunts; played football, Frisbee, and card games; learned Bulgarian folk dances and sang. We had water fights, and we went hiking. We toured cities, tombs of Thracian kings, monuments, scenic villages, and cathedrals. We held Summer Project Idol (a spinoff of American Idol). We presented cultural evenings and traditional dances. We made coke floats, tried English tea, played cricket, ate bonitza (oily Bulgarian bread with feta cheese inside), and created mimes about drive-thrus. The absolute best part was not what we were doing, but who were with and Who we were doing it for.
We had prayer and worship every morning at 8:15. Although Bulgarians were never required to attend worship, some had a relationship with God and worshiped with us. Other students weren’t sure what to believe, but were curious to find out what was going on and came to check it out. Angel came often. Once, when the group he was with was going to pray, he asked Sam if they should hold hands so the positive energy would flow better.
Early in the camp, God allowed me to witness a miracle named Yavor. A talented artist, athlete, and dancer, he is laid-back, very social, and his favorite phrase is "it cannot be done." He had some level of faith, but is easily led astray by whatever catches his eye. Matt, Yavor, and I were at morning worship and were asked to pray with and for each other. Matt and I asked prayer for unimportant things, but Yavor said, "I feel very far from God." He caught me off guard. Matt assured him that we would pray for him, and he seemed grateful. Matt then said he would continue to pray for Yavor for the rest of his life. Yavor was floored. He couldn’t understand how people he had just met could care for him that much. I saw God open a door to his heart in that instant.
It seemed every time I saw Sam, he was telling another person how much God loves them. He has a God-given knowledge of who needs a hug—the kind of hug that allows brokenness to dissolve in tears and be mended with the love of Christ. I also needed a couple of hugs in those weeks.
It Cannot Be Done
Plamen, Matt's other roommate, became a believer early in the camp. This was significant! Several people have come to know Christ long after leaving the camp, but this was the first time someone was saved during camp. Matt said he often walked into his room and found Plamen reading his new Bible or asking Dimitar questions.
Yavor and Dancho have agreed to participate in discipleship studies with Tim Awtrey two to three times a week. Yavor has decided to get serious about what he believes. After camp was over, we went back to Svishtov and ate dinner with the local students. Yavor was walking with us when he saw a group of friends. He caught up with us later and said his friends saw something different about him, a light in his eyes.
The day before we began the long trip home, we went to church in Svishtov. Plamen, his sister Sveti, Nora, Dancho, Vesi and her sister, and Angel met us there. Angel had never been in a church before. Nora, Dancho, and Vesi have continued to attend.
God worked in my team as well. Shelly immersed herself in the Bulgarian culture to the point that it became a part of her. I cannot begin to know how she can pick up her old life in the States. Sami cried the night before we left. She doesn’t know if she’ll get to go back, but she desperately wants to. Joe and Lindsey are planning a way to return next summer.
If Tim had his way, they would be there permanently. Matt is no longer at home in Bulgaria, because he is in Oklahoma once more. Sam is probably still being a walking testimony of God’s love. I praise God for all that He has done and wondering what is next!
About the Writer: An Oklahoma native, Caitlin
is a junior at East Central University in Ada,
OK. The 20-year-old hopes to use her voice to
worship God and seek employment in performance
of opera and musical theater. Read more about the Free Will Baptist CMP Program.