Blessings and roadblocks in Bulgaria

Photo courtesy of SEND International

(Photo courtesy of SEND International)

Bulgaria (MNN) — How many times have you been faithfully pursuing a calling from God when all of a sudden, there’s a road block?

Gisli and Nora Jonsson of SEND International can both certainly understand your frustration. Their efforts for the last five years in Sofia, Bulgaria, have not been in vain, but they had little support.

Gisli is a Christian counselor to anyone who needs help, whether Christian or not. He wakes up early each day to spend time with God, and then begins his work at nine, meeting with up to six clients a day, five days a week. Many of these clients are victims of sex-trafficking. Others are having difficulty in marriage, some are struggling with the pain of sexual abuse or rape, and others are children with behavioral issues. They are helping people going through all sorts of trials. In the short time in Bulgaria, Gisli says they’ve met with people from 15-18 different nationalities.

Nora is a teacher currently going through two courses for trafficking victims. They are courses about anger and self-image. She also teaches English as a second language and meets with four clients a week, focusing on women and children.

Between the two of them, they’re ministering to nearly 30 people a week.

Not only are they helping people tackle deep questions, but they’re finding a way to share the Gospel too.

Nora says, “For me, [the Gospel is] kind of the basis of it, without it being overt, because we actually deal with Christians and non-Christians. And some Christians are having issues in their relationship with God. It’s kind of important not to make it a barrier before they come in.”

She continues saying, “Gisli [and I] are actually both very aware that God is…behind all that we do. So we feed on Him in the morning, and then we ask the Holy Spirit to lead the counseling sessions.”

Many of the people Nora meets with are unmarried and bitter with God because of it. In this case, Nora is more open about the role God should be taking in these women’s lives.

“Really, counseling is all about trying to enable the other person to sort out where they are in whatever relationship,” she says.

Gisli says, “Possibly about 60% of my clients are Christians, so it’s easy to share the Gospel and bring the Biblical truths into their lives. However, when any non-Christian comes to counseling, I try more to live the Gospel out myself.”

Either way, their ministry is effective. After meeting with some trafficking victims for two years, Gisli says nearly all of them are attending church.

“Bit-by-bit, we can kind of feed them gently with God’s presence, God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s patience with their lives. Often, these people are extremely broken. It isn’t just the trafficking: it’s also their past because they’re also coming from very broken backgrounds.”

Many of them are touched by the help they receive from the Jonssons, even while they find it difficult to understand why anyone is helping them without asking anything in return.

Bulgaria has extreme alcoholism and abuse problems. Nora explains that while this is true of many other countries as well, Bulgaria does not have much help for those issues.

One challenge the couple faces is within the culture itself. However, this is why they believe their ministry is necessary in Bulgaria.

In the communist way of thinking, there is no reason to be different, to be progressive, or to have initiative. There is also an expectation that they should be told what to do, that they even need an authority figure telling them how to think.

“The Bulgarians are great people, but their individuality or their ingenuity has been stamped out. It’s a very fearful nation. They’re all afraid of betrayal–suspicious,” Nora explains.

Because of that way of thinking, the church in Bulgaria does not encourage followers to ask deep questions. Many feel the need to hide their struggles because they are under the impression that either their relationship with God is perfect, or they’re not a Christian at all.

Nora and Gisli are teaching them that they can discuss deep questions and that it’s okay to think through things for themselves.

Nora says, “We’ve just allowed people: ‘Come with your deep questions, your deep fears, your deep insecurity with God.’

“I believe the whole culture so definitely and desperately needs this kind of ministry.”

While at first many pastors were resistant to the Jonsson’s ministry, thinking it competition for the church, Gisli now receives regular visits from 5 pastors.

While the news is spreading and the Jonssons are seeing very positive results, they haven’t had much support from the outside. While they’ve pushed this far, they are forced to take a 9-12 month break.

“We’re so excited about what we do here,” Nora says. “And there was so much disappointment when people heard we were going back. We said, ‘Look, we have to. We can’t keep going with less oil in the car. We need some more oil. We need support; we need help. We can’t be doing this on our own.'”

During this break from Bulgaria, the couple is trusting God to help them raise the spiritual and financial support they need to continue and grow their ministry.

Nora says, “Sometimes it’s actually very heavy and dark, the stuff we deal with.”

She asks that you lift them up to God. They depend on “people continuing to remember us in prayer, that we would be so attuned with what the Holy Spirit is doing.”

Along with that, the Jonssons desperately need financial help to keep their ministry going. Their goal is to grow the ministry by training nationals how to counsel.

Click here to give to their work.

Once more Gisli reminds us, “We definitely need more prayer because the spiritual battle is huge, and it’s sometimes very difficult to actually deal with these issues.”