A Successful Summer...Now Full Steam Ahead to Learn the Language!
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Summer 2016: Thinking Big, Thinking Small

Well, our first summer serving here in Buglaria is almost in the books,  
and it was busy as expected!  Seven camps in total (six completed, one yet to come) reached over 140 Bulgarian young people with the life-giving message of the Gospel!    
By God's grace, we witnessed 16 students commit to follow Christ for the first time!  One is pictured above: meet your new brother in Christ, Borko, who came to know the Lord based on relationships developed in our sports ministry.  Praise God for the fruit that only He can bring, and please pray with us for Borko's maturity in his new faith.    

I have been reflecting on TWO KEY DISTINCTIONS in the wake of the busy summer camp season:

(1) Thinking Big vs. Thinking Small: The pictures above illustrate this contrast.  Of course we love having big, energetic groups at our camps.  Quantity is good. We want as many to hear the Gospel as possible, and so we should and we do pray for God to continually increase the breadth and expanse of His work through us.  However, just as often as we see Christ or Paul engage with numerically large groups, we see them investing time in just one.  One precious soul at a time.  Divine appointments.  Quiet conversations that impact eternity as unbelievers turn to Him, and believers grow to love Him more.  I believe this 'small' mindset is at the heart of discipleship.  

Last update I introduced you to Lubo, who became a believer last fall and really jumped into camps this summer hungry for the Word of God and desiring to learn how to effectively share Christ with his classmates. Lubo has faced alienation from his family and peers since turning to Christ, yet he perseveres.  I've been blessed to share a lot of one-on-one time with him.

(2) The 99% vs. The 1%:  Statistics never tell the whole story, but one that is constantly on our heart here is that only 1% of young people are evangelical believers.  So 99% are lost sheep in desperate need to hear their Shepherd's voice.  Reflecting back on the summer, I see good balance in how Josiah Venture strategically endeavors to reach both groups.  

Three of our camps were structured with the 1% in mind: inviting believers (as few as they are, they do exist!) from our town and across Bulgaria to fellowship with one another as they study, pray, and worship together before returning to their cities better equipped to live for Christ, and well-connected with their local church leadership.  We pray that these young leaders would be disciples who make disciples.

The other four camps were strongly evangelistic, aimed at the 99 lost sheep. Using sports, music, and English lessons as tools, these camp experiences focus on Scripture, the core of the Gospel, who Christ is, and the transformation He brings to real lives.  

Pictured below:  Lubo giving his testimony at a Roma (gypsy) church; and helping me move wood (this will be our home's heat this winter, which means keeping a fire going 24/7).
A Good Reminder: The 'One That Got Away' is Still In God's Hands!

Our camps ranged from a high of 40 participants to a low of just two.  

I was camp director of that two-person camp, and believe me, I definitely battled discouragement that first day when I saw the turnout!  

But ya know what?  

At our end-of-summer debrief, 3 out of the 4 interns who helped me run that camp (that's right, we had twice as many interns as campers!) said that it was the highlight of their entire summer!

Why? Because of some incredibly deep spiritual conversations that we had with a non-Christian student named Valentin. He came with his classmate Isaac (a believer).  Valentin later told us he fully intended to check out the camp the first day in order to justify his hatred of Christians, and then not come back.  

And yet he came back every day because, he said, it turned out we were 'real people' who 'loved me no matter what I said and didn't judge me.' The Spirit was clearly moving in our midst that week, as Valentin's questions took us cover-to-cover in our Bibles and daily stretched our 'camp talk' time from the scheduled 30 minutes to over 2 hours.  

We all felt Valentin was soooo close to making a decision for Christ, but he did not.  

But he heard the Gospel.  He met Christ. He saw His Savior's love in his friend Isaac and in our team.

He sobbed as we left.  And now he is asking about other camps and opportunities for fellowship.  

So although we were discouraged he didn't trust Christ that week, Valentin is clearly being pursued by Christ.  

At the time it felt like he was "the one who got away."

But He's still there, and we're reminded once again how God's timing is perfect and His sovereign plan unfolds beautifully before our eyes.  

Below: Please pray for Isaac (left) and Valentin (right)!
  • Peter: thrilled to finish a busy summer, and praising God for many confirmations that Josiah Venture is the right organization for us, from theological agreement to methods of ministry to good chemistry with our teammates, God has gone before us and provided as always!  
  • Kim: after moving three times in the first two months, very thankful to be settled into a wonderful apartment with many balconies and a private gated patio for the kids to play! Excited to be in a Bible study with two other missionary moms.  It was wonderful to have my mom visit in late July and see our home and ministry here!
  • Savannah: future mom-in-training, loves to boss Keegan around and play dress-up.  Wearing out her Jesus Storybook Bible; we keep reading it on a loop, PTL!  Loves daddy's new hammock, the warm weather, and trips to the pool this summer. Favorite Bulgarian phrase is chaka te malko (wait just a second!) when asked to do something.
  • Keegan: his daily falling is down from 46 times per day to roughly 15.  Talking more and more, greets Bulgarians in their own language.  Working on jumping, obeying, and not ripping pages out of paper books.  Drinks about 13 sippy cups per day (no joke!) and thus keeps Bulgarian diaper industry in business.    

• For Peter's knee, which recently started hurting (old already?!).  The final camp of the summer (next week) is a long hiking trip, and I really want to go!  Pray for healing.  

• For our landlord Venko and his wife and two teenage kids.  They had us over for dinner and we had a great time.  They are unbelievers but are very friendly and open to hearing more about our work.  Pray for open hearts to the Gospel.
• For a quality used 9-passenger van to become available for purchase; this is needed for our ministry.  We have been looking since we arrived but supply is short and fraud is rampant in the used car market.

• For discipline and endurance in language learning!  Fall means transition time to full-steam ahead focus on learning Bulgarian.  We seek the Lord's wisdom regarding a steady tutoring schedule and possibly an intensive three-week out of town language course.   

• For our 2016 interns - they served us so well!  Six Americans have returned to the states (sad!), while our two Bulgarian interns remain here and are considering an additional ministry commitment with Josiah Venture - please pray for Stefan and Lubov!  

Also, we are already asking prayer for our 2017 summer interns, whoever they may be.  If you know of a college-aged student with a heart for service, let us know!  
And Finally...
We want to say again how deeply thankful we are for your constant care for us.  Your prayers, your gifts, your phone calls, even down to the slightest Facebook post.

We see and hear it all, and soak it all in.  

We love and miss each of you.  It is not all peaches and cream here in Bulgaria.  The unfamiliarity can be daunting.  The culture can be frustrating.  Adjusting our expectations and mustering the patience to accomplish even the smallest task sometimes leaves our energy tank on Empty by 11am :)

But as children of Christ, we take heart just as you do in your troubles.  We stop, consider once again the amazing grace of God, and know that "if God is for us, who can be against us?"

And so we are truly together in this!  

Thank for you joining us in this journey!

"In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."
Copyright © 2016 Peter & Kim Starkey, All rights reserved.

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