Josh Provow, IM missionary to Bulgaria, shares a recent story from his time volunteering at the local Shumen hospital during the COVID pandemic.
A little context…
The COVID pandemic continues to rage in Bulgaria. In the entire country, the Shumen hospital has more COVID patients than any other hospital. About three weeks ago I went there with a friend to help him get an administrative document from the hospital. I saw first-hand the chaos of forty or fifty people crowding around the security checkpoint trying to get information. Many of them were there to deliver food to their sick family members (food is not freely offered to most patients), but all movement was halted because they were transferring COVID patients from one section to another. I found out that there is a brief window every day in which loved ones can bring food to their relatives and many days the same chaotic scene unfolds.
So I said a quick prayer and walked past the “do not enter” sign into the administrative wing of the hospital. I knocked on the head nurse’s door and she asked what I wanted. I explained that I know nothing about medicine and that I don’t even know how to measure blood pressure, but I thought I could help by taking food deliveries from the central security point and delivering it to the different wards. She looked skeptical, but she went and talked to some sort of director and came back and said, “Okay, when can you start?” Thus began an interesting new adventure in which I go to the hospital and volunteer from 11AM-1PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
The main story…
Okay, so this past Saturday I was back at the hospital doing my thing running up and down the stairs (there are only two functioning staff elevators and they are constantly in use with stretchers and wheelchairs). Around 12PM a man came in and said he has come from a town about 40 minutes away called Provadia (I am attaching a map with pertinent locations). His relative is from a village called Drumevo (my friend E’s aunt is the mayor there and last year with a Hanna Project team we did Operation Christmas Child parties in the preschool and in the grade school). He asked me to deliver some food to his relative named Kemal (name changed) on the ninth floor. He didn’t know which room, but I told him there probably wouldn’t be more than one Kemal and that it was no problem. So up the stairs, I went to the ninth floor.
I arrived panting and sweating and rang the doorbell to the ward. A nurse came and I told her that I have a delivery for a lady named Kemal. She replied: “There’s no lady named Kemal here.” “Okay, where should I look?” “I don’t know, try the tenth floor.” So, I went up to the tenth floor and wandered the hallways, looking for someone who might know where Miss Kemal is staying. No luck. Right about this time a phone started ringing in the sack of food I was carrying. I decided to answer (as one does). Thankfully, it was the relative downstairs, obviously assuming that by now he would be talking to Kemal. I explained the situation and said the best thing I could do is go back downstairs and together we will go to information and ask what room she is in.
So I went downstairs and he and I went by the reception. I said, “Sorry to bother you, but I am having trouble looking for a lady named-“ He cut me off: “No! Kemal is not a lady! He is my uncle!” My eyes went wide. I apologized profusely and it dawned on me that UNCLE Kemal probably was on the ninth floor and the nurse just knew there was no lady by that name. So up I went and lo and behold, we found Uncle Kemal. I went back downstairs, apologized again for the delay and we parted ways.
That afternoon we went on a walk in the woods with Sevdi to find a Medieval monastery carved into a cliff (you all should really visit Bulgaria some time!). On the drive home, my phone started ringing. It was the mayor of Vehtovo. [Side note: Vehtovo is a village about 20 minutes from Shumen where we have an in-home Bible study every Sunday afternoon with a group of Turks.] I answered. She said, “Josh, I found out today that you are working as a volunteer at the hospital.” “Yes, who told you that?” “Today you helped a relative of mine find his uncle Kemal. Do you remember him?” “Yes, how could I forget? Did he tell you how mixed up I got?” “Yes, he told me, but he was so thankful for your help. The security guard told him that you are an American pastor in the city and when he called me and told me about what had happened I realized it must be you. He lives in Provadia and he wants you to go to his city and start a church.” “What? Really? I would love to talk to him about that!”
The mayor gave him my number and the next day (ironically as we were getting into the van to drive to Vehtovo) he called me. He explained that he had access to an old theater that many years ago was used by an Evangelical church but now sits empty. He said, “Josh, I am a Muslim. But I believe that God wants you to come here and start a church. You can come and use the theater, and we will put up advertisements around town and people will come!”
Yesterday I saw him again at the hospital and we talked a little more. Here are where things stand right now: soon we will go to Provadia and sit down and talk with him and find out how serious he is. This is a town that we have never stepped foot in, but a cool fun fact is that it is almost equidistant from our churches in Shumen and Varna. I do not know what God’s perfect will is, but there is no doubt in my mind that He is at work!
The moral of the story…
I am still in awe at the amazing way our God works! Do you realize that if I had known that Kemal is an uncle and not an aunt, it would have cut out 90% of my interaction with this man, and most likely he wouldn’t have found out from the security guard that I am a pastor and the connection wouldn’t have been made with the mayor from Vehtovo? The Holy Spirit put these pieces together in an amazing way so that we could have an open door to share the gospel in a new place. And one of the pieces of the puzzle was my ignorance of Turkish names!
Please pray that God would continue the amazing thing He has started!
UPDATE (Dec 8, 2020 at 8:16AM CST): “Kemal” passed away a few hours ago. Please continue to pray that even through this loss God’s light would shine through!