Plovdiv Perspectives: Strengthening Marriages in Bulgaria
By Kathy Rankin Simpson
“Are you crazy?” someone asked upon hearing that we were leading a marriage retreat immediately following the six-day August youth camp. It did push us, but logistically, it was the most convenient time. Four of the couples had been leaders at the youth camp, so they didn’t have to make an extra trip. With fuel at more than $8 per gallon, transportation is always an issue. A few Bulgarians and the international guests agreed to remain to provide child care for the fourteen children of the couples, and to assist with worship times. The youth event planning team had been urging us to lead a retreat for young families. The goal has been accomplished!
The seminar focused on the biblical basis for marriage, improving communication, and resolving conflict. The majority of our work over these ten years has been with ethnic Bulgarians. Effective cross-cultural instruction is always a challenge. In this setting we had an additional barrier: the majority of the twelve couples were from Turkish-speaking congregations. Their cultural and marital expectations are often more influenced by the tenets and customs of Islam than by the New Testament. It was a cross-cross-cultural experience.
Among the participants was one couple married for twenty-eight years and another wed for just eight days. On the front row sat a twenty-year-old husband with his fifteen-year-old wife. Most were shocked to hear that, in a Christian marriage, a vow is also made to God, and not only to one another. Much of the seminar content was completely new to the audience. We knew the concepts would be difficult, so we absolutely expected the revolt at the end of the final session. We had asked the couples to stand, hold hands, and look at each other face-to-face while repeating vows fashioned from 1 Corinthians 13: I promise to be patient; I promise to be kind; I promise to not be envious…. The eye-contact alone was difficult, but saying, “I promise,” was impossible for nearly everyone.
Opposition rang out, “No one can always be patient!” “This is completely unrealistic.” “I will say, ‘I’ll try’ but I won’t say ‘promise.’” Dave emphasized Jesus’ commands to love, to forgive, to be perfect. He didn’t say, “Try to follow me,” but “Follow me!” Dave reverted to the teaching from the conflict resolution session. When we fail, we must acknowledge our failures to ourselves, to God and to our partners. We ask for forgiveness and our partners forgive us, imitating the example of God. Then we work to restore the relationship. A vigorous discussion ensued for twenty minutes, but in the end, the husbands and wives said, “I promise….”
One of the pastors told us how essential this retreat was for him personally, and how desperately the Turkish-speaking congregations need this instruction. He asked if we could condense the seminar into a one-day event so it would be possible for couples from several churches to attend. We have individually mentored a number of young couples, but a much larger audience is waiting. We have prepared the ground and planted the seed, but our Three Worlds teammates or other Global Strategy personnel will need to water and fertilize. In November, we will join you on the west side of the Atlantic, praying for a bountiful harvest in Bulgaria.