International Ministries

Back to School

October 25, 2010 Journal
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September 15 marks the beginning date for all Bulgarian public schools.  Makes no difference what day of the week this falls on; school always begins on September 15!  The tradition is for children and their parents to bring lovely bouquets of flowers to their teacher on the first day of school. Universities usually begin a little later, around the first part of October.  So, as we near the end of  October, most of Bulgaria’s students are back in the classroom.  However, Bulgarian news reported that at least 20,000 Roma (Gypsy) children throughout the country did not start school on September 15.
September 15 also marked the beginning of the year for the literacy program at our church near downtown Sofia, after the summer break.  The program, which is entering its fourth year, reaches out to local Roma children, most of whom are included in that figure of 20,000 Roma who did not begin school this year.  Many of the children who come to the program live in the neighborhood around the church.  A few children from a slum area of Sofia come occasionally, on public transport.  We’re meeting twice a week this year, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
On “opening day” this year, 16 children came to the literacy program.  We were surprised there were so many, but we managed to accommodate in them in our small room, get re-acquainted, and give them a snack!  I was so excited to see the children again after being gone for a year (we were on our home assignment in Colorado).  Many of the children have been coming to the program since it started, but a few of them are new.  There were lots of smiles and hugs along with the (somewhat) organized chaos!

Since the first day, things have settled down and the group has become smaller.  There are usually 6-8 children who come regularly, plus 3-4 others who come sporadically.  After the first day when there were only three of us as teachers, two new helpers, Laura and Daffy, have come on board.  We are so thankful for them!  Laura is a missionary friend who was in Bulgaria several years ago, spent some time in Lithuania, and is now, along with her family, back “home” in Bulgaria.  Laura has a heart for working with these Roma children and knows the special challenges they face.

Daffy is a Bulgarian lady from our church who is an elementary school teacher by profession.  She teaches in a public school during the day, then comes to help us twice a week.  She brings her years of teaching experience to the program, plus a true desire to help these Roma children become literate.  She is passionate about her work, patient with the children, and persistent that they keep trying, even when they say they can’t.  More volunteers from the church would be welcome, but I know without a doubt that Laura and Daffy were sent to us by God!  They have been an incredible blessing to the program, even in the few short weeks we have been meeting.

Plami has been with the program for two years now and continues to do a wonderful job.  Her education is in social work, and she is young so the children, especially the teen girls, feel open to talk with her.  These girls have already shared lots of things with her.  They come from dysfunctional homes, with no role models for healthy relationships, so they come to her very confused and with lots of emotional baggage.  Many of their problems are things that no girl of 15 or 16 years should have to face.  Plami is able to help the girls begin to sort through their issues by simply being available to listen and by giving them sound, Christian advice.

Maria has been with the program since its beginning.  To me, she is the humble servant Jesus talks about in the Bible, working quietly in the background to prepare food for the children, find them clean clothes, clean the church after the children leave, allow them to take a shower, and give each one lice shampoo treatments every few weeks.  The program could not operate without Maria.
So, each one of us—Plami, Laura, Daffy, Maria, me--brings our God-given gifts and talents to the program, which enables us to reach out to these children, teaching them basic literacy and math skills, bringing them practical life skills, and introducing them to the Giver of Life.



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