Above: The Bulgarian city of Vratsa at sunset.
I feel blessed that my time at Moorlands College has taught me that the best work we do is when we rely on God. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Did this stop me from being filled with fear and anxiety throughout the weeks preceding my block placement? Absolutely not. I had no appetite and sleepless nights for weeks prior to leaving. During my walk to the gate at Gatwick airport, the speakers started to play some creepy ominous music straight out of a horror film, where the foolish protagonist is about to wander into the basement of the haunted house and the presence of the murderous demonic bloodsucking vampire ghost pirate. You can imagine how full of confidence I felt…
My experience here, however, could not be further from that of encountering a murderous demonic bloodsucking vampire ghost pirate. True I have had scary experiences, I have almost been run over multiple times, I have been shouted at by strangers I cannot understand, and I have got lost in strange cities! My trip though, has been absolutely full of beautiful sights (the cities of Mezdra and Vratsa where I was placed are a testament to God’s creative genius), wonderful experiences and truly amazing people who have become dear friends for life. I will never forget mentoring a 16 year old who joyfully starves herself so that others can eat, or the time that I, along with some Germans, spontaneously began barn dancing in a restaurant.
Above: Ben with a group of young people; “dear friends for life”.
I have never before admitted to being a youth worker. Maybe because of a perceived lack of ability or, more honestly, due to my disregarding the importance of youth work. Either way, my brain has always rejected the idea of it being my main ministry. Yet, when the email first came through presenting an opportunity of a Youth Pastor position in Bulgaria, somehow all of those previous prejudices disappeared. By the time the opportunity had evolved into going to Bulgaria to work as a Youth Pastor for my block placement, I knew that it was God’s will. And if God wanted me to do it then it must be important! As a result of this, in the weeks leading up to my block placement I had peace in the knowledge that it would be a rich learning experience.
My lack of experience in Youth Work meant that I truly was blindly following God. (“Go to a country you’ve never been, with a language you don’t know, to do a ministry that you have little experience of!”). Sensible or not, I have seen so much of God’s blessing throughout my time here, and this has been most noticeable through my amazing youth group which consisted of boys and girls aged nine to 19. Every one of them has demonstrated the love of God in their own way; having the ability to recognise and appreciate the Spirit living in them is the greatest gift I have ever received from God.
Above: The Bulgarian capital, Sofia.
In returning home, my fears and anxieties have switched around; I have set up and led youth Bible studies, played so many games, mentored endlessly and I have had the honour to preach and teach about God’s perfect love, the need for evangelism and the true cost of faith in Christ. I have a peace in my heart that God has and will continue to use my ministry to fulfil his will in the lives of these amazing people. My heart, however, is uneasy with what I have learnt and is not uneasy about whether I have learnt anything (I could fill the college Auditorium with a list of things I have learnt).
Instead, I am uneasy with the implications of what I have learnt. From the moment I arrived, I was welcomed with a love that comes straight from the love of Christ; when I became ill there was a queue of people outside my door offering to help in any way they could. But most noticeably, despite not understanding pretty much anything that is going on, I have been able to sit in the church with my eyes closed and feel the presence of God in a way I have not for a long time. It is a privilege beyond anything else of this world. On my first week here, I was asked to describe the state of the Church in England, at the time I answered generically; briefly describing the liberal-fundamentalist divide. On reflection, to indulge in the game of comparisons, I can only answer that the Church in England is unhealthy at best. I will be content if throughout my future ministry I can see the Church in England become even a little bit more like the Church here in Bulgaria.
Бог да благослови (God Bless)
Ben Holton is a third-year campus-based BA Applied Theology student at Moorlands College.