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. In Tahza, specifically, we would like to bring on a soccer coach who could use the sport to bring together youth in the community. The coach would lead drills, play with, and build relationships with the players (and their families) while making the connection between Christian values and team sports. The children have a lot of free time so plenty of opportunity exists.
Experience in playing soccer, setting up and explaining drills, and encouraging the players is necessary. There may be an opportunity to play a light traveling schedule if parents agree to let the boys travel. There are also players from both Roma/Gypsy and Bulgarian ethnic groups, but until now they don’t really play together, so being a challenger and a connector is crucial. Our motto is that we are building not only better soccer players, but better people. It is also imperative that this person be able to sow into the players spiritually as well.