Day 55-56 Fri/Sat May 27/28th Kalipetrovo Bulgaria. This is the poorest country in Europe and it becomes obvious when you cross the border from Romania. The roads take the word ‘pothole’ to a new level. Stayed with Aussie missionaries Roger and Gail Dine who have a long-term vision and are working with the local church, the local school and with the local gypsy community. Poverty uncovers such heart breaking stories (like children sold into prostitution). The challenges to change generational poverty are huge. Many young people desert the country in search of employment elsewhere. Corruption at government level (right thru Eastern Europe) is legendary, and the pall cast by communism is very deep, so how can a country like this be saved? Much prayer is needed. God bless those (like Roger and Gail) who give up their lives in the West to help change the lives of a few. Didn’t Jesus say: ‘As you did it to the least of these you did it to Me..’ Matthew 25.40
Day 53/54 Wed/Thur May 25/26 Constanta Romania. How easily we are fooled. I am here for this week cos I saw online pics of this magnificently located church on the Black Sea. Turns out it’s not a church, it’s the shell of a Casino from a bygone era, inhabited by rats and crows! Oh my. Constanta is yet another overcrowded tourist destination with gridlocked traffic, lousy coffee, beggars and lots of hotels. I stayed 2 nites in a lovely small boutique hotel near the beach. And now for 2 nites in a cheap hotel on a main road. I am grateful for a roof over my head but in the space of a few days the best and worst assault my senses. I take lots of pics, but my card-reader malfunctions, so the uploading of pics to Facebook will have to wait. The trials of the itinerant musician.. (FWP, First World Problem..)
Day 51-52 Mon/Tues May 23-24th Constanta Romania. This place is the Gold Coast of Romania, only its not gold, its on the Black Sea. This is the most eastern part of my trip so in some way is a better halfway point. On Friday I turn the car around and point back towards the west: Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland then head north through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia before making way back to Munich by July 4th. More observations on life in Eastern Europe: It’s official, Europeans do not know how to make coffee (NZ has the best coffee in the world but we don’t know it..). Croatians love icecream, Bulgarians don’t. Most Europeans eat a lot of bread, and having driven through hundreds of kms of flat farmland, I know where the wheat is grown. Hungarian is officially the hardest language in the world to learn (google). I’m convinced the Border Guards are on the payroll of the BBC for the next series of Monty Python. There are packs of dogs that roam the streets of many of these cities, and they are treated as a normal part of city life. The currency of many of these countries is like Monopoly money, but the locals don’t want to change to the Euro in the fear that prices will escalate. Here are the currencies (with how many units in brackets to buy 1 Euro): Hungary Forint (310), Croatia Kuna (7.5), Serbia Dinar (123), Bulgaria Lev (2), Romania Leu (4.5), Poland Zloty (4.5), CzechR Koruna (27). Communism (atheism) hardens the face to emotionless granite. The Holy Spirit breaks granite, and softens the face.
Day 50 Sun May 22nd Bucharest Romania. Drove on a grey Saturday through the usual Monty Python border crossings, an assortment of small villages inhabited by the universally despised underclass of gypsies, and a close encounter with a passport thief. (She posed as an official along the border queue, asked for my passport, but scurried when I asked who she was). Sunday. I shared at the AOG morning service but felt decidedly flat as the service began. The worship team were competent but definitely on the loud end of the spectrum, so rather than pretend to be singing in Romanian I opened my notebook and starting singing scripture aloud to the music. Within moments my spirits lifted, (the Word of God is alive and active.. Hebrews 4.12) and I was all primed to deliver the message. The interpreter was a young guy, and probably the most animated of the tour. He was a class act with facial expressions and hand gestures right out of Performance 101. Monday. Did three sessions with the Christian school in the morning before heading for Constanta on the Black Sea coast in the afternoon.
Day 49 Sat May 21st Bucharest Romania. The righteous shall still bring forth fruit in old age. Psalm 92.14 Two years ago I was set to retire from music ministry. However, in a time of intense prayer (May 4th-24th 2014) it became clear the Lord was re-invigorating me for the mission field: The harvest is ripe, the labourers are watching TV.. In each generation the Lord prepares a harvest to be reached, but so few Christians (it seems to me) channel their time, energy or money into sharing their faith. And this is one reason we see a decline of Christianity in the West. I don’t have a full understanding of this or all the stats, but I have seen a greater intensity and passion in some of these Eastern European countries than I have in NZ. One lasting image as I depart Sofia for Bucharest.. in the foyer of the church in Sofia thousands of New Testaments for new believers and non-Christians. Wow, triple wow. I haven’t seen that level of passion for the lost in a long long time.
Day 44 Mon May 16th, Sofia Bulgaria. A week off here in Sofia (apart from a Thurs nite concert), to gather my thoughts and pray into the second half of the tour. Yes, this is the Halfway Point time-wise, but less than halfway distance-wise. I have really enjoyed everything so far, with very few low-points or tough/tiring days and a plethora of good days, fruitful events, amazing divine appointments, and a sense of (God’s) purpose behind everything. However, I’m mindful of the long distances yet to cover and the remaining days ahead. It is wise to be prayerful even when things are going well. Highlights? There were wonderfully responsive audiences in Munich, Zalaszanto, Esztergom, Zagreb, Belisce, Vukovar, Podgorica, Novi Sad and Craiova. But even when audiences were not so responsive, the Lord would remind me I’m here to help soften the hearts towards Him. The worship seminars in Rijeka, Zagreb and Novi Sad were very special times. Have met and stayed with some wonderful people, prayed for many and been allowed a glimpse into the lives and hearts of those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit as I share my songs and story of redemption. What a privilege it has been. Some wonderful feedback. At least two have shared that the concert helped save them from suicide, by the grace of God. Many with tears in their eyes shake my hands afterwards or embrace me in gratitude for giving voice to their pain. So many have said: ‘Your story is my story’. And to think 2yrs ago I planned to retire from ministry.. But the Lord said: I have work for you to do, places to visit and broken people to share your story with.. I have prepared you for such a time as this..
Day 43 Sun May 15th, Sofia Bulgaria. The day dawns crisp with early light highlighting tall buildings. I walk these old city streets for the first time, with jacket and woolly hat (summer hasn’t arrived yet). The morning service is a large pentecostal church (400, the pic shows only part of the congregation) with two balconys, an energetic pastor, a full-on worship team and an amazing building in the heart of the city (I have the church apartment 4th floor). The evening service is an old-style pentecostal church with 70s architecture and an acoustic worship team. The Bulgarian people are somewhat reserved and with the Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet many look at my English lyrics in the same way I look at петдесятна, somewhat bewildered. The translation goes well but the pastors tell me Bulgarians don’t show emotion. Am reminded again why I am here. To help people get in touch with their emotions after generations of oppressive communism. The tears in the eyes afterwards tells me the Holy Spirit has softened a few hearts today.
Day 42 Sat May 14th Sofia Bulgaria. Left Craiova on a sunny Saturday morn and hit the road, one more time with feeling. Took the car ferry (pic taken from it from Romania to Bulgaria across the ubiquitous Danube (crikey, how long is this river, its everywhere..) Face the usual barrage of border guards, only in duplicate this time, once to leave Romania and once to enter Bulgaria. They see the red French number plates coming I’m sure. It alerts them so they can have some fun in their boring day, with this naive gringo from Middle Earth. I pay FIVE fees this day (2 to leave Romania and 3 to enter Bulgaria). And I quickly discover Bulgarian has its own Cyrillic Alphabet, which is a mystery to my eyes.. And so begins my entry into the country which I find the most challenging so far.. (to be continued).
Day 40/41 Thu/Fri May 12/13 Craiova Romania. The concert in Craiova (cry-over) was a breath of fresh air. This city is in the southern part of Romania and quite poor. However, this group of 30 people crammed into a tiny church room, were spiritually rich. They sang wholeheartedly in broken English, they clapped & cheered, they even danced. Pastor Marcel I think is one of the most softhearted and friendly I’ve met. He led worship at the start to a CD and wept openly for most of this time. What a wonderful saint. When I got up to sing its like the level of expectation was already through the roof, so the anointing flowed easily and tears flowed as I shared. Prayed with people afterwards. What a precious time.
Day 38/39 Tue-Wed May 10/11th Timisoara Romania. Drove the 164kms from Subotica to Timisoara (timi-schwara) on a grey day. I was shouted at by a border guard. It seemed everything I said or tried to say annoyed him, so I just shrugged my shoulders and played this farcical game of Charades, to the amusement of other drivers in the queue. On the Weds nite had a house concert in Timi, then hit the road Thurs for Craiova (cry-over) on another grey day. Passed the 4500km mark today, only 7500km to go.