Thursday, August 27, 2009

Turkish Delights

We left that morning at 5:15 to get to the bus station in time. We then road a bus for six hours through the beautiful Bulgarian countryside. I miss this bus ride because there was still something very innocent and naive about all of us traveling Americans. This was mostly on account that we were still jetlagged and trying to absorb the culture. I remember getting a punch in the face of American culture on the bus ride as they showed a part of the movie Borrat. It was probably the worst part of the movie, but thankfully all the girls were silently asleep. Finally, an older Bulgarian woman asked the bus driver to turn it off, which he did immediately. We also took a 20 minute stop in Veliko Turnovo where Marti bought us some of his favorite ice cream. The taste reminded me of the frozen yogurt from “Mugs” in Fort Collins. The city is located in a valley spotted with Mediterranean style houses. There is also a castle in Veliko Turnovo that resembles one from Lord of the Rings. I believe it is the part where the steward of the city jumps off the top of the white city while burning. Anyway, the bus never drove close enough to see it but I had seen pictures at the museum. We finally arrived at the bus station in Schumen, a place I long to visit again. We had to wait a short period for Bobby to arrive and once he came, he never stopped smiling. We also meet one of Bobby’s friends from Varna. His name is Vlado. I have never meet someone who prays with as much passion as Vlado. He inspired me to talk to God, as he really is the creator of the universe. This is also where we meet the white mini bus, story to come later. We drove to Bobby’s house which was less then a ten-minute drive away. Schumen is so much smaller then I first imagined, which I kind of like being from the States where everything is spread out. We spent no more then twenty minutes at the house so that we could leave most of our luggage there, while only taking with us three days worth for Istanbul. Whitney made the excellent decision to split the cars up by gender, and off we went to Turkey. The drive went by like a blur. I rode in the front seat and got to hear Bobby share how he became connected with Eddy Cox. He also shared how he has a heart for discipleship, which pulls on the heart strings of any Navigator. Bobby also talked about how he acquired the “promise land”. This is an incredible story of God’s continuing faithfulness. A 78-year-old ex-communist police officer, who is an atheist, owned the land before Bobby purchased it. It is amazing how God allowed Bobby to attain the land, which God plans to build an orphanage for children with disabilities. The complete story is in a separate file. Bobby shared how the total cost of the project will be about 17 million. To an American this sounds like un-realistic, but to a Bulgarian, impossible. Hearing how God provided so that Bobby could purchase the land got me very excited to begin working. Unfortunately, we were on our way to Istanbul for three days. Once we got to the border of Turkey and Bulgaria, I remember getting chills as we passed through the same land the crusaders traveled. As we approached the border, the clouds began forming the most peculiar shapes. Before long, it began pouring rain while flashes of lighting were striking less then a mile away. It was incredible. What wasn’t incredible was the 5 hour wait in line at the border. At one point Vlado got out of the mini bus to go to the restroom. While he was gone, the line started moving and one of the Turkish guards started yelling at the girls to start moving the bus forward. The girls didn’t know what to do so Whitney decided to take action and pull the bus forward. The car didn’t move despite Whitney’s attempts and Vlado, realizing the situation, came running to the rescue. We all had a good laugh about this later. After paying twenty dollars to get a temporary visa, we finally made it through the boarder. Now we had a three hour drive to Istanbul, but first we were hungry, since it was past dinner. We decided to eat at a small Turkish dinner. I don’t think the Turks knew what to do with us since everyone in the restaurant stopped to look at us when we came in the building. This was our first experience with the Turks and it left a weird impression. After negotiating with the Turkish butcher what we wanted, we sat down and ate ground beef/pork patties, tons of bread, and cooked onions. No one could finish so we took the food with us in the car. Although we took the extra food, I never saw it again. I’m not sad about that. When we finally got to Istanbul we stayed at the Big Apple Hotel. It took Vlado some extra time to find the Hotel because the GPS was being difficult. Every time we got close to the destination, it would loose the signal. The mini bus’s transmission was also going in and out, so I wasn’t sure we were going to make it that night. When we did find the hotel, it was 5am. Luckily, the owner of the Hotel stayed up and waited for us to arrive. We went straight to bed after agreeing to meet the next day at 1pm. I remember falling asleep and being woken by one of the girls knocking on the door. I had no idea what time it was when I opened the door. I was soon informed that it was 1:30 and everyone way waiting for me downstairs. I got dressed as soon as I could. I rarely have nights where I do not dream, this was one of them. While we were in Istanbul, we traveled to Haggis Sophia, the Blue Mosque, McDonalds, the largest Bazaar in the world, swam in the Bosporus strait, and stepped onto the Asian content. The first place we ate in Istanbul was a McDonalds. Some might think it is lame, but I submit that when traveling to a foreign country, it is interesting to taste the differences of their food. The chicken sandwich I ate was actually better then in America because they used a better sauce instead of mayonnaise.
We then traveled to Haggis Sophia, which is now a museum. This was incredible, especially because I am a history major and I know the implications of this monumental building. I got chills as I walked near the place where Byzantine Emperors were crowned or baptized. To see the clash of culture, as a painting of Mother Mary is sandwiched between Two Muslim paintings also gave me chills. Haggis Sophia is incredibly big. When I started looking up at the main dome, I felt like I was falling back because I had to look so high. Although the church is beautiful, there is something empty about it. As much as I understand the tangible history that the church offers, it has been stripped of all spirituality. I wonder how many people have walked through its halls, and what impression they got about God, if any. I wonder if the building represents God to some people, and that that aspect of God in now dead. Buildings come and go, civilizations rise and fall, but God remains the same. There is a danger in making spiritual connections to places or objects. They fade, just like Haggis Sophia. As beautiful as Haggis Sophia is, God lives in the believer, and this is more beautiful then any building created by man.
We then walked about 200 yards across the street to the Blue Mosque, which is the biggest Mosque in Turkey. We decided to go inside the mosque. First we had to remove our shoes and the girls covered their heads and made a dress out of cloth to cover their shorts. We stayed in for about ten minutes. I remember Howard saying something about the spiritual climate of the room being weird. I felt more drawn to the geometric beauty of the mosque, and felt easily deceived by this. I am glad God is more real then a building.
We then went back to the Hotel and ate at restaurant that served seafood. I had some grilled salmon, which is unfortunately not native to Turkish waters. It was delicious. The whole fish is cooked including the head, delightfully amusing.
The next day we were accompanied by a Turkish friend of Bobby’s named Parvin. She took us to the largest bazaar in Turkey. The place was so big that it had its own thirty feet walls to keep the stores safe at night. Some parts were inside, others had no roofs. Since we stuck out as Americans, almost everyone trying to sell clothing, cologne, belts, shoes, food, tea, and many other random objects approached us. If we mentioned Obama, the seller would cheer and give us a discount. The heaviest discount we received was 50%. They obviously mark up their prices if he was willing to sell at 50%! As we walked through we they would yell, “My friend, my friend, five lyria”, “brother, brother, two lyria”. At Howard, they would yell the name of any black person they could think of. Howard was very polite and only laugh at them while he continued walking.
After the bazaar, we rode ferry north about two miles up the Bosporus strait. Parvin decided to have us get off randomly on the Asian side of the strait. We decided to go swimming and road a taxi to a small beach. We went swimming for about two hours. While I was swimming out to the group, I passed two men. I assumed that they were Turkish. On my way back to the shore, one of the men stopped me and asked, “American?” I responded by pointing at myself and repeating, “American”. He then pointed to himself and said, “Iraq”. I was a little unsure what to do next because of current world politics. So I just smiled and nodded my head. After a short discussion, I learned that he was here in Turkey with his family visiting his brother, who lives in Turkey. He then mentioned the name “Obama”. Deciding to play it safe, I cheered. Then they stepped in and cheered with me. A cute moment. He then said “Bush”. Trying to hide my panicked face, I just motioned with my hands what translated as so-so. He responded with a face of agreement. After this I didn’t know what to talk about so I told his I was going to go to the shore and said goodbye. A small time later, he got his whole family together and asked if we would like to get a picture with them. We agreed and took a huge picture with his family of about 15 people. A nice gesture I suppose.
That night we got the incredible opportunity to eat dinner at Parvin’s house. She is married to an amazing man of God named Ali, and have two children. Ali and Parvin attend one of the few Christian churches in Istanbul. They cooked some simple Turkish food for us and shared what life is like for them in Turkey. Before we left, they prayed for us. I loved the experience of praying with Ali and Parvin. It is a reminder of how big God is when you pray with someone in a different country across the world. One thing I found interesting was that during the different prayer calls throughout the day I never saw one person stop to pray. The only response I noticed was at the last prayer call. When the singing started, all the dogs and cats in Istanbul started barking or meowing. The entire city was filled with these sounds. At first I laughed, but then realized the significance of what I was hearing.
When we left Istanbul for Bulgaria, I had already felt like I had seen so much of the world, however there was so much more to come back in Bulgaria. The drive back to Bulgaria was a test of faith because the mini bus’s transmission was going out. Every hour the bus would stop shifting and be unable to stay in gear. The only solution was to turn off the engine and wait. Prayer would soon follow. Then, the bus would start working. God is good, all the time. This went on about six more times. The last time it happened, we were about ten minutes out side of Schumen, Bulgaria. The guys decided to stay back with Vlado while Bobby took the girls back to his house. While we were waiting for the bus to start working Vlado started praying quietly. Again, his prayers were so passionate, that they inspired me to pray differently. This time the bus would not work after we tried waiting the normal amount of time. So we prayed harder. Still, it would not work. With our determination dwindling, Vlado prayed out loud again. The car went into gear and off we went! Then next day Vlado took the car into a repair shop. The mechanic was baffled that the car was even moving. The transmission was so shot, that in his opinion, the gears should have been locked up. He was not sure how we made it eight hours back from Istanbul with the transmission so badly broken.
Every mission trip needs a good story of a car breaking down and God doing a miracle to keep the car going. Prayer is powerful and when will we start actually believing in it?

First week of Korea

This has been the longest week of my life. Mostly because I was jet-lagged for the first half and could not sleep when I wanted to. Yesterday was the first day I felt like I was fully rested.
I live in a part of Seoul called Nangok-dong, Gwanak-gu. It is a more poor part of Seoul, I've been told. The streets are always filled with people walking. Keep in mind that I come from Colorado, where people only walk around in the downtown parts of the city. Where I live, everywhere is downtown times 5. I stick out like a thumb. During the day I don't mind, but at night, when I walk alone to the store, it is intimidating.
Last night I went to the store and bought some Korean cereal. I didn't think much of it at the time, but woke up this morning supper excited to eat cereal. They are Korean coco-puffs. Quite tasty. Every other morning I have made french toast, so it was nice not to have to cook this time.
The school that I work at is wonderful! Extremely nice building and a great staff. The content is, well, simple. Except for my last class where we are reading a science book. This class is challenging for me because I have to explain words like penicillin and social organization to 6th grade English learners. Yesterday, in another class, I wrote the word "haunt" up on the board and asked the students to draw a picture. One student drew a picture of "hunt". So I spent the next two minutes trying to explain haunt. Finally one student looked up the word on her phone. The class all went "ahhhh". You should have seen the picture I drew to explain haunt, it looked like Picasso...
The students are great. I have only one trouble class. They were all put into one class because they are hard to deal with. Since I am the new guy, why not. They are actually my favorite class because they know how to laugh. The class I am the most worried about is the one where they stare at me and not say anything. I get uncomfortable when I can't tell what a student is thinking. Even if it is good or bad, I always like to know at least a small hint.
I work with two other Americans and three Koreans. The class time is split between a native speaker, me, and a Korean teacher. I teach six 35 minute classes a day, and work a total of 6 hours, two and a half are spent in between classes waiting for my next class. I actually only spend three and a half hours working and for the money I make, its not bad.
So far I have not been able to connect with very many people because I flew into Korea Saturday night, slept in on Sunday, and started work on Monday. Although the week has been long, it all happened very quickly. Bulgaria to America to Korea in 17 days, three different time zones. Three days to adjust to each new time zone. I am finally able to slow down and process some things, but am feeling a bit isolated. If you could pray that I find some fellowship at church this weekend, I would appreciate it. Its hard going from sweet fellowship and community, ie. Fort Collins and Bulgaria, to nothing. I am not afraid because I know God has gone before me and prepared this time for me to grow closer to Him.
I love being on my own because it forces me to rely on Him.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The first part of the trip

I decided to post a blog with my thoughts from traveling to Bulgaria this past summer. Bulgaria holds a very unique place in my heart because it represents the end of my time as a camp counselor with Eagle Lake. However, it also represents the beginning of a whole new chapter of my life abroad. I went from a narrow view of the world to a hopeful perspective of how big God is. This is something one cannot simply be told about, but must be learned through experience. To see the joy in the faces of the Bulgarians as they expressed their love for the creator of the universe and being able to speak that same language of love was powerful. Of course I am not talking about speaking Bulgarian or English, but the language of heaven.
Anyway, out of a sheer lack of will to condense my thoughts into anything practical, I have decided to simply post everything. This first post is only a description of our tourist behavior in Sophia. There are some small points of interest, but I will let the reader struggle through the dryness of my writing to discover them. After this I will post my thoughts on Istanbul, which are much more interesting. So you have something to look forward to!

We arrived in Sophia after traveling for almost 24 hours. My first impression of Bulgaria was an empty airport. I expected to see more people since the airport is in the countries capital. After we went through passport control, Marti and Didi, the Bulgarian couple that graciously showed us around Sophia, immediately greeted us. At first I remember feeling a little cautious following them into their cars, let alone allowing the other half of the group to ride with Didi in a taxi. Looking back, I can’t believe how worried I was. However, it was my job to worry. I soon learned to trust Marti, rather was forced to trust Marti because of the crazy drivers in Bulgaria. To give an example, lines painted on the road are more of a suggestion than the law. People in Bulgaria feel more free to drive on both sides of the roads than in America. Anytime we were on the roads, I could expect something crazy to happen. That night we went out to eat at a nice little restaurant. It was about 20 minutes away via bus. I rather enjoyed the bus ride although by the end, I was very sleepy. We got back to the church/school where we were staying and I got a good nights rest.
The next day we went to the national museum of history. Before we left Marti and Didi brought us some baklava, although a little much in the morning, it was amazing. The museum was located in the ex-communist president’s palace. The outside looked communist, simple and efficient; however, the inside was elegant. I felt like I was stepping into history, which was the point I assume. I loved the museum. Usually museums are boring to me but I felt more connected to the actual history. In America, there is more of a disconnect when one is not actually where the history happened. After the museum, we went to a bus station where I saw two gypsy women sweeping the streets. I will never forget these two women. I was shocked that this was their life, and felt strangely blessed and motivated to do something with my life. We then got on a bus and traveled to the main parts of Sophia. We got off inside a giant overpass and went up a huge flight of stairs where the national theater is located. Marti explained that after communism fell there were large groups of Christians that would gather at the theater. We then went and got some ice cream. This would happen frequently on the trip. We then walked down a street with various shops on both sides of the road. It reminded me of window shopping in the U.S. We took a right turn and stopped at a park to wait for Marti who was bringing us some lunch. We ate lunch on the steps of an old theater where Didi told us a story of how Marti had gotten on the roof and posed in one of the chariot statues as a boy. This is where I also tried Turkish coffee for the first time. Intense but delicious. On our way to St. Alexander’s we walked through a park where a gypsy woman sent her daughter who was maybe six or seven to ask us for money. My initial reaction was compassionless. What a strange thing it is to be asked for money from a small child. I didn’t know if it would actually helping her by giving her money since it was obviously going to her mother. So I didn’t. I am still not sure what to think of my reaction. We then traveled to St. Alexander’s Church in Sophia. This was an incredible experience since my church background is Presbyterian! We were fortunate enough to visit during a service. The church was orthodox in all its glory. I remember feeling so separated from the church, which was weird since I believe in Christ. People mostly came in, light candles and left. The whole group was quiet and observant. Then we left, just like everyone else. Boom, gone. Across the street from the church is a place where women gather to sell linens. Eddy asked us to go there and meet one of his wife’s friends. I think her name was Lydia. We bought many things from her. One of the other women selling linens got jealous and scoffed at us as we passed. We then went back into St. Alexander and got to hear the evening liturgy. This was interesting because although it was powerful to hear the singing, again I felt disconnected. After listening to the liturgy we went down the street to another place where there are street venders selling an assortment of touristy things. I bought an icon of St. George. He slays a dragon in the picture. I also almost bought an accordion. Thanks to Whitney, the price dropped 50 dollars. This was not enough to persuade me though. I am thankful for this because I ended up getting one for free later during the trip. We also learned that one of the bands Howard and I enjoy means “wild woman” in Bulgarian. It turns out that we were just pronouncing it incorrectly. The real word means nothing in Bulgarian because it is actually Russian for “girl”. I like “wild woman” more, oh well. We then went to St. Nicolas’s church. On the way we passed a Bulgarian wedding party and fountains for water. St. Nicolas was a beautiful little church. We could not go inside because the rain made everyone’s shoes dirty. The only place we were allowed to go was down to where St. Nicolas is buried. The room was long and had many things painted on the walls. There was a small book where one could write prayers to the Saint. There was a girl passionately writing something, and I believe Josh wrote something as well. After this, we walked to the capital building. Inside the building square are some original Roman architecture and a Roman road. This was awesome to walk on, since I am a history nerd. Also, an extremely old church that still has services is located next to the Roman road. There was some connection to the road, but I do not remember how. We then went to see some old fortress walls before going to a Bulgarian mall. The guys and girls split up. I have no idea where the girls went, but the guys went to an electronics store and watched something on one of the TV’s. Typical, right? That night we went to a small pizza and pasta place, got on a bus and went back to the school where we were staying. I was so tired that I had no idea what was next for our travels, Istanbul.