Being settled here in Sofia certainly has its perks. While some things have lost their “new and exciting” glow, it is remarkably satisfying to be able to navigate my way through to city to meetings with students and to now know enough Bulgarian to ask market vendors for things without having to officially acknowledge that I’m not from around here.

However, I will be perfectly honest and say that during my first couple weeks in Sofia, I had more than my fair share of thoughts like this: “Wow. This is terrible. What was I thinking? I have signed up to spend three full months in a country where I know virtually no one, get lost all the time, don’t speak the language, and have to eat piles and piles of tomatoes. Don’t Bulgarians have stomach problems from the amount of acid they are consuming at every meal? The world has other vegetables! How much longer till I can go back to California and have an avocado?” I had spent a good chunk of time out of the U.S. before, but never alone and never without real adults telling me how to fill my time and whose hand to shake. Recently, though, I have been so blessed by relationships that have shown me that God really does go before us in challenges.

I have enjoyed getting to know the people in our English classes better and look forward to hearing about their weeks and joking about their confusions of “warm” and “worm” and “ship” and “sheep.” A man in one class brings me American-style coffee every lesson, and one woman invited me to spend a day with her family last week. I played with her children while she cooked me dinner, and then she pulled out family photo albums full of years of memories. We have gotten to exchange stories and encourage each other.

The members of the church I attend have shocked me with their welcoming spirit. They have also been exceedingly gracious in refraining from laughing at me while I try to sing along in Bulgarian. They hug me when I walk in, translate sermons for me, invite me on excursions, and make sure I don’t walk home alone after dark when we go out for dinner after the Saturday night service.

Some of the relationships I’ve formed have been serendipitously arranged. I have had a couple one-afternoon-stand friendships, made with people sitting across from me in Starbucks or next to me on a park bench. Also, I have been shown that Sofia is really a small city by the way that I met Peter and Ellie’s niece, Kameliya. I was riding a bus last week when she called me, as part of our series of attempts to arrange a meeting time. We chatted about our weekend plans and free time slots, and then I turned to my right and saw a blond girl staring at me and talking along with the voice on the other end of my phone call. I recognized her from pictures around her grandmother’s apartment, where I live, and we hung up and met for the first time, doubled over with laughter.

One of the things I will fondly remember about this summer is the openness of people here and their generosity in welcoming me. I have felt that God has whispered to me that I am not left alone but am being carefully watched and taken care of. He has been so present in my relationships and in my growing understanding of Integra and Bulgaria. My heart has also been softened toward the tomatoes; I now regard them as a perfectly normal breakfast food.

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