Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Text an Easter Cake

April 17 (Palm Sunday) 2011
Varna, Bulgaria

After my return from the mission week in England I shared with our students about the UCCF idea to provoke the interest of non-Christian students to Christianity by the ‘text a toastie’ initiative (the CU invited non-Christian students to text a question about God or Christianity to a phone number, and then went to answer and bring a free toasted sandwich).

Some of our students got enthused and we decided to give it a try but contextualising it first: we decided to bring an ivy branch and an Easter cake to students instead. Traditionally Eastern Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria go to church on Palm Sunday bringing ivy branches with them (there are no palm trees in Bulgaria). The Easter cake (kozunak) is eaten on Easter and symbolises the love of God poured on the cross for us. Since students go home for Easter we decided to treat them with Easter cake the Sunday before.

We put up posters a few days ahead but since some of them were taken down (it happens often with our posters), we decided to go and invite students in person to text us. On Friday and Saturday we visited 3 dorms, knocking on the doors and handing out colourful flyers with the phone number they could text to their questions, and promised to come back, answer and treat them on the occasion of Palm Sunday and Easter. We met many students and even had some interesting chats about faith with some of them. They were astonished that we had made the effort to invite them in person to participate and that we would come again to answer their questions!

On Sunday we presented our initiative at the church most of our students come from and asked the people to pray for us. After the service a lady came to us and gave us money for the Easter cakes – there was more than enough to cover all the expenses.

After church on Palm Sunday 13 students got together in one of the rooms of the student hostel where some Christian students live. We had got 4 questions from 6 students already: “What do we celebrate on Palm Sunday?”, “Is there life after death?”, “Who crucified Christ on the cross?”, “Why do we use ivy branches on Palm Sunday?” After we talked about how we could answer them and everyone shared their insight, we prayed for more texts and for God’s presence with us while we are giving the answers. Then we split into groups of two and each picked a question to answer. Then we got two more texts: “Does Christianity forbid us to eat meat?” and “Is Katya the girl who tends the flock of ducks in front of the gates of heaven?” By the room and hostel number we knew this was a joke since one of us knew her. Nevertheless we decided to answer the question!

Some conversations were pretty short – after we answered the question and saw there was no further interest we would finish the conversation within 5 minutes. But more often the case was that the first question provoked others and some chats continued for an hour! We talked about the meaning of Palm Sunday and Easter, about heaven and hell, about the meaning of life, is there reincarnation, the person of Jesus Christ and God, about Dunovism (a Bulgarian syncretistic cult founded by Petar Dunov), sin and repentance, etc.

The students would thank us for coming. We also gave most of them the BHSS Breakthrough gospels of John and invited them to come to the student group. A student asked us whether this was a charity campaign and whether we would collect more money provided we got more text messages.  Altogether about 150 students were provoked to think about the meaning of Palm Sunday and Easter.
On the next day we texted them a ‘thank-you’ message for having taken part in our initiative and left a phone number for future contact. One of them texted back: “Thanks, it was a pleasure for me to take part in it”.

Besides the fact that many students heard the good news of Jesus Christ, the second important result was that we contributed for a more positive attitude among students towards the Christian community in Varna. Often our evangelistic campaigns repel people and make them suppress even the slightest interest they might have to Christianity. Just before we went to the dorms they were visited by some Mormons and maybe this made some students never open their door when we knocked. But those who opened the door were pleasantly surprised and will remember this encounter all their lives!

Another result was that now our students are more confident to share their faith. We offered some ‘on the move’ training in answering difficult questions about Christianity. They got some experience in having conversations with strangers and now want to do something similar next semester. They saw that sharing the faith can be a natural and cool experience, without putting people off. They realised that when they come together they can achieve more for God. One of the non-Christian students, after she heard about the idea, said: “Finally someone showed attention to students!” From her perspective we, just a few students from the BHSS group in Varna, were almost like representatives of the state which finally considered them. Our small group had a great impact because we serve a great God!

And finally, the initiative was a striking example of interaction between 1) two student movements and 2) BHSS and a local church. We thought of it after we interacted with UCCF and then were supported by a local church with prayer and giving for running it. Such an cross-cultural and local partnership, realised in a single project, births new ideas, provides more resources, and witnesses of the big potential of local Christian communities to reach out to unbelievers when they are united by a single goal – the cause of the good news in the city.

Please, pray for:
- God to continue working in the hearts of these students and bring them to saving faith
- Our students to keep in touch with their new friends and invite them to the student group meetings
- More initiatives of the kind in the future, contributing to the positive image of Christians in our society