We work in two villages in Bulgaria, Tulovo and Tahza, both located near the city of Stara Zagora in Central Bulgaria at the foothills of the Balkan Mountains and both facing similar issues within their communities. Tulovo and Tahza each have a population of roughly 1,500 people, with a nearly even split between Bulgarian residents and Roma residents. The Roma people are primarily living in sequestered ghetto neighborhoods, apart from Bulgarians. Many people depend on agriculture for their livelihood, growing lavender, raspberries, and oil-bearing roses. The Roma population often works in menial services such as sweeping sidewalks or hauling trash if not employed in the agricultural industry. There is a great ethnic divide between Bulgarians and the Roma, and even if the conflict is not overt, there are issues of racism and prejudice that keep the populations from integrating and building strong relationships. The only evangelical churches that exist in these communities are in the Roma neighborhoods and the Bulgarians are either completely unchurched or nominally affiliated with a small Orthodox church in town.
Another issue the communities face is a lack of good education. The local schools provide a mediocre education at best, and most Bulgarian families send their children to schools in larger neighboring towns. Student and parent apathy is prevalent because few people see a need for education. Classes are held in Bulgarian so the Roma population can only attend school if they learn Bulgarian as a second language. Our ministry in both communities has an emphasis on children at risk and reconciliation between the two ethnic groups.
The Ambassador of Mercy would strive to see what others don’t (with the eyes of Jesus), showing compassion to the elderly and the disadvantaged in order to impart self-worth, leading to friendship evangelism. This position is needed in both communities and could work alongside the poor, the elderly, and the vulnerable. We hope to see this person become a catalyst for the different ethnic groups to respect and accept each other.
First, it's so important for this person to see what others don’t, to see with the eyes of Jesus. Don’t be afraid to get dirty or touch those who are dirty. Compassion for the elderly and poor, as well as a commitment to pursuing racial reconciliation is necessary.
Independence is needed, as the team now lives in central Stara Zagora and commutes to the villages daily. Past work with students and youth is extremely helpful, and the ability and aptitude to learn languages is a must.