Mission: Bulgaria, Part Two

If you missed Part One, you can read it HERE

Besides looking for a new home for our permaculture project, we wanted to bring the first of what we hope with be many educational materials for the children at the Home in the village.

Montessori materials are not currently available in Bulgarian. The Montessori schools and suppliers here are in English only. The schools are only available to wealthy families in larger cities. The irony is that the Method was developed for kids from hard places – kids who were impoverished, neglected, traumatized. And they did better on tests than their more privileged peers at the time, which led to more well-to-do families wanting their children to have the same education. And so, here we are a few generations later and the educational approach meant to help underprivileged children is no longer serving them at all – at least in some places.

Because ready-made materials are not available in Bulgarian, they had to be hand-made, just like the first materials Dr. Montessori created. We started with three-part cards at the most basic level on topics that might interest the children – Night Sky/Solar System and Geography. There was also some material for what would traditionally be the Peace Corner and a first Movable Alphabet. Constellations, heavenly bodies, and maps were all hand-painted, and those watercolour illustrations used to make the cards.

Solar System
Helping Hands
Movable Alphabet

On Wednesday, we were able to visit the Children’s Home where Nick and Olivia grew up. We were welcomed very warmly by Daniela, the director, and Mutaher, one of the senior ladies. We also met with Velichka and Tatiana (Olivia’s former mentor). We shared coffee and sweets from both America and Bulgaria. Nissa gave a brief demonstration on the use of the materials, and then we had a tour of the Home. Nick remembered who had slept where, and was allowed to go into each of the rooms in turn to look around. We saw the beautiful new bathroom upstairs, checked out the dining and kitchen areas, and then headed outside. Nick remembered the shed where the bikes were kept and was invited to take one out for a spin, which he did, happily. It was good for him to reconnect with his former home.

Nick outside the Children’s Home, Malak Preslavets
Joined here by Daniela Dimitrova, the Home’s director
The children choose how to be greeted when they come home from school: a hug, a little song and dance, or a handshake. This helps with both self esteem and setting healthy personal boundaries.
Each step has an affirmation. Pictured here (from the bottom):

I am tolerant. I am caring. I am respected
Nick in the dining room at the Children’s Home. We have a very special memory of making pizza together, having our (Brian and Nissa’s) first taste of banitsa and elderflower iced tea, and meeting a beautiful young lady named Gloria, with whom we still have contact.
Nick was invited to take one of the bikes for a spin.
Right at home.

While he rode, we ladies caught up on how Nick and Olivia are doing. We talked about the house in the village that we are working toward purchasing. And we talked about plans for our work in the village and our hope that the villagers would be accepting of us. Nissa was assured that we would indeed have friends in the village. Nissa has a little bit of Bulgarian, and the ladies have a little bit of English, and with the help of translation apps, we were able to converse with some hilarity.

The ladies offered to take us to see the home of a British couple, Steve and Jill. They live right at the end of the lane, quite near the Children’s Home. They weren’t at home, but we were told that they would be happy to help us on our subsequent trips.

Later, the ladies arranged for an impromptu fish barbecue at the park along the Danube. We arranged for our driver to pick us up an hour later than originally planned and we were still late. You can see photos from that on the Renaissance Mama blog.

Mission: Bulgaria, Part One

This trip had a two-fold purpose. The first was to find a property to be the heart of our permaculture project in Bulgaria. We had narrowed it down to the village of Malak Preslavets, where our Bulgarian-born children lived for nine years before coming home. We set aside almost three weeks to find the right location. We found it in less than three hours.

House, Malak Preslavets
The house is quite large with six finished rooms.
Barn, Malak Preslavets
The barn nearest the gate to the lane.
House, Malak Preslavets
Part of the house is cob, in need of new rendering.
Workshop, Malak Preslavets
Workshop on the ground floor.
One of the bedrooms.
Garden, Malak Preslavets
Looking south to the nearest neighbour.

The purchase process is complicated, requiring us to establish a business in Bulgaria in order to qualify for residency. And we will have just 30 days after the initial deposit is made to complete the purchase with the balance of funds. We need to raise just under $10,000 by Christmas. Any funds surplus to purchase fees will be used to begin making improvements.

Because we will be able to operate a small business, initially making products exclusively for our US farm shop, we will be able to match financial gifts which will be donated for the needs of the children and young people we serve. Like Dorothy Day, we don’t seek tax exempt status, but rather seek to establish a social enterprise that benefits all stakeholders – our employees, volunteers, communities, the young people we serve, the environment, as well as our family.

Part Two HERE

There and Back Again

Malak Preslavets is famous for its waterlilies

This spring, Nissa and Nick will be returning to Bulgaria, bringing educational materials to the orphanage where Nick and Olivia spent 9 years of their lives. They’ll also be helping to prepare a vegetable garden that will serve the needs of the children there, and visiting with a very special friend. They will also be visiting a permaculture project in Shipka and making contacts with people to help us start our ministry there.

Our vision is to establish an intentional community where children who have ‘aged out’ of State care can come to live independently or with families, receive remedial education, life skills and vocational training, valuable experience, as well as solid Christian catechesis. Our aim is to form adults who are confident, capable, and kind; adults who can care for themselves, their families, and for others; Christians who will live and share the joy of the Gospel. Our hope is that some of these young people will go on to establish other such projects in Bulgaria and beyond.

We have set up a fundraiser on Facebook where Nissa is sharing photos, videos, as well as other fun and interesting information about Bulgaria and travel plans.

We are placing our efforts under the patronage of Pope St. John XXIII who faithfully served Bulgaria for many years as Msgr. Roncalli.

Social Justice Warriors

The term “social justice warrior” has taken on a negative connotation in contemporary conversation.  Urban dictionary defines a social justice warrior this way:

A person who uses the fight for civil rights as an excuse to be rude, condescending, and sometimes violent for the purpose of relieving their frustrations or validating their sense of unwarranted moral superiority. The behaviors of Social justice warriors usually have a negative impact on the civil rights movement, turning away potential allies and fueling the resurgence of bigoted groups that scoop up people who have been burned or turned off by social justice warriors.

As Christians, we are admonished to be warriors for social justice.  (Mt. 25:31-46 NAB)  We are not only to demand justice for our fellowman, but to work for it.  We are called to WILL it, not merely to want it.  So what do Christians me an by social justice?  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gives us a beautiful outline that includes the dignity of the human person, rights of workers, social responsibility, solidarity with all people but especially the poor and suffering, care for creation, and the rights of family and community – all of the things that this apostolate strives to work for.

We must not allow our frustrations with the challenges and obstacles to make us rude, condescending, and most definitely not violent.  We must with humility and love – remembering Whose will we are doing.  We must will the good of opponents by shining a light on true Christianity, so that they will come to know the joy of the Gospel.  If we use kind words, if we speak eloquently in the Truth, only then will we evangelize.  Only then will we have a chance to win justice for ourselves and for all.

To the Child Who Still Waits

I see you.  I hear you.

I know that the food you will eat for breakfast this morning will not nourish your body even if it does quell the pain in your stomach.  I know that you will watch the other kids at school, the kids who have parents, enjoy a hot lunch while you take the trash out in payment for your cheese sandwich.  I know that you will feel fortunate to have a plate of lukewarm pasta before bed – if the orphanage bully doesn’t get it first.  I know that the orphanage workers are downstairs in the office taking coffee instead of watching over you.  I know that if he gets your dinner, there won’t be anything to replace it.

I know that you won’t sleep tonight because the orphanage abuser prowls the hallways and bedrooms all night looking for someone to molest.  And I know that the orphanage worker that is working the night shift is safely locked up in the staff bedroom with a television on so that she won’t be bothered.  I know that the sounds of the other kids fighting him off – or just fighting each other – keeps you awake.  I know that you haven’t had a real night’s sleep since being left in the orphanage.

I know that they don’t call the doctor when you’re feeling sick, if they ever take you at all.  I know that when you’re hurt, no one comforts you or bandages your cuts.  I see the huge gashes on your elbow and knee and I know it’s more than a scrape from falling off a bicycle or stone wall.  I know about the self-harm that leaves your face bruised and your skin bleeding.  I know that you have an infection raging inside your body that makes your stomach hurt, gives you diarrhea and the kind of bad breath that makes people stay far away from you.

I know that you are often punished for something you didn’t do.  I know about the chair in the basement, and the time you and the others were stripped naked and sent outside on display for hours until it got dark.  I know about the bottles full of cleaner that they spray in your face if they think you’re lying.  And I know how they burn you with the electrical cord.  I know about the electroshock therapy that was meted out for a broken window.  I know you heard the screams of your brother, or sister, or friend.  I know about all of it.

I understand why you are afraid to use the toilet in the night.  I know why you crouch in a corner to relieve yourself quietly in a pile of clothing, or out of the window.  I know why you are afraid to take a shower even though it means you will smell bad, so the kids at school tease you.  I understand why you can’t wear a nightgown or a dress unless you also wear pants underneath it.

I know why you haven’t learned how to do more than simple addition.  I know why you can’t write your own name, much less an essay, or even a sentence.  I know why you gravitate to picture books.  I know why you can’t even properly speak your mother tongue.  I know the teachers think that you aren’t worth teaching.  I know that the other kids take your books and papers from you.  I know that you are so scared all of the time that you can’t think, you can’t concentrate.

I know why you can’t make friends, and why you aren’t even friends with your own brother or sister. I know why you don’t trust women – or anyone.  I know why you lie and why you steal.  I know why you turn on the charm.  I know why you scream and rage, why you kick and bite and run away.

I know that you sit alone sometimes and wonder where your parents are, and why they left you there.  I know you wonder if they’ll come back – pray they’ll come back.  I know you wish someone – anyone – would come and rescue you.  I know that you want a do-over.  I know that you want someplace safe and clean to live, somewhere where there is always food and heat, maybe somewhere with a lock on your bedroom door.  I know that you want someone to spend time with you, to tell you stories and teach you things like how to read and knit and draw… and live.  I know that you want someone to tell your story to – someone who will comfort you and tell you that it’s going to be alright.  I know that you want someone to MAKE IT ALRIGHT.

I know – even if you don’t – that you need to know The One Who graced you here.  I know that you need to experience His mercy, His kindness, His joy, and His abundance.  I know that you need a miracle in the guise of a mother and father, and brothers, and sisters, and friends.  I know you need to be surrounded by people who never leave – not ever. I know that you need the gift of a new beginning, a second chance, a beautiful life.

I can’t come for you, though my heart aches to.  But I promise you this: Not only will I pray for you, but I will be your voice.  I will tell people everything I know about you.  I will help them to see you. I will explain it all.  I will tell them that you are waiting for someone just like them.  I will tell them that you are worth saving.  Because you are.


I see you.  I hear you.  I love you.

To the First Mother of My Children, My Sister

I don’t know why God chose me to carry your cross.  But I carry it willingly however heavy it is.  Some days it brings me to my knees.  But God has provided abundant graces and many helpers for those times. At those times we all carry your cross together.
You are never far from my mind, my sister.  Every day, I look into their deep brown eyes and wonder if those eyes came from you.  I wonder if your eyes show the same sadness and fear, if they’ve ever shown the same warmth of love that our son’s show when he looks at me.
He’s a miracle, you know.  He has come through God-only-knows-what and still he loves.  Still, he trusts.  He’s one of the bravest people I have ever met.  When he looks at me and says “I love you, Mama” I am shaken to my very core because I know that it has cost him everything to tell me so.  It should have been yours to hear.  And I treasure it all the more because of that. He’s so smart.  He works so hard in spite of the struggles he has.  He tries new things even though the starting terrifies him.  He drinks in every new experience like a much younger child. But he is also maturing into an amazing young man, a sweet and caring older brother to his new brothers and sisters.  He is tender and patient and kind.  He talks to me about growing up to help people, to rescue other kids like him.  I mourn for your loss, my sister.  You’re missing this.
Your daughter – our daughter – is buried deep inside herself.  She lives in a constant state of terror.  She’s safe here but she doesn’t understand that.  Her wounds will take a long, long time to heal.  And until they do, she can’t move forward.  She can’t learn, or mature, or love.  Not truly.  She doesn’t know that family is a safe place, that adults are trustworthy.  She doesn’t know that the world is a place full of love and joy.  Because of this, she may never be able to fall in love –with a worthy man, with God, with herself.  She may never experience for herself the love that mothers have for their children, that fierce, primal love.  You couldn’t have known what would happen to her.  I pray you didn’t know.  Or maybe the same thing happened to you and you couldn’t give these two children what they needed.  And if that is the case then I am so sorry for what happened to you.  I am so very sorry.  I wish someone had been there to rescue you, too.  Thank God someone rescued her.  By the grace of God, she will triumph.
I will carry this cross, your cross, now my cross.  I will care for the children you could not care for.  I will heal their bodies, and work to heal their broken spirits.  I will do this for you and for them.  I am blessed to be entrusted with this ministry.
These children link us together, you and me, dear sister.  We have never seen each other’s faces, never spoken a word to each other, never taken each other by the hand, but we are so very close. I wish you love.  I wish you all that is good.
One day, when we have both finally laid down our crosses, I pray, we all will meet in Heaven.  On that day, I will embrace you, my sister, and I will introduce you to my children, your children, OUR children.  His children.  And we will see the fulfillment of His plan for all of us and how He has brought all things to good.