Thursday, August 27, 2009
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?