Today is September 15th! That means that for the last week, our spare time has been filled with parent teacher meetings, uniform fittings, school supply shopping, and calendar scheduling! All of these details culminate into the nationwide celebration that is “THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL”! On this day, on a normal year, all the students would gather at their school in the front yard for a big, formal ceremony. During this time, parents and grandparents would gather and “listen” as the director of the school gives an address, welcoming the students back and encouraging them as they begin a new year of learning new things. There is almost always an address from a government official, usually read by someone else who attends in their place. Everyone stands in the sun and “listens” (translated “talking”) and sweats. There is a march with the school flag, a raising of the Bulgarian flag and much pomp and circumstance. It is a very cultural experience and we look forward to it every year. The year 2020 has been different in so many ways, and the September 15th experience this year is no exception. This year, the different grades are being kept separate, so the opening ceremony included only the first graders. There were still many of the traditional elements of the ceremony, because becoming a first grader is a huge celebration here in Bulgaria and no one wanted the kids to miss out on the regular festivities. The rest of the grades are meeting at different hours in their classrooms for a instructions about the new health and safety rules this year.
When I (Lydia) think back to our very first, “FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL” in Bulgaria, I remember how we only had one child in school, one bouquet to buy for the teacher, and NO IDEA what we were in for!! We understood very little Bulgarian and the ceremony felt torturously long and confusing. We had not realized that there is in fact, NO SCHOOL on the first day of school! We thought we were walking her to school and taking pictures of her with her teacher and picking her up a few hours later. Instead, we stood outside with all the other families and students and teachers, tried to find where she was supposed to stand, tried to understand a single word of what was being said from the stage, while surrounded by the “listening” audience. After that, we visited the classroom, tried to find a place to stand along with all the other parents and grandparents, watched our kids eat some special bread and sit in their desks as the teacher welcomed them to the classroom, and finally returned home dripping in sweat and dizzy from the language and cultural immersion (dunking) we had just experienced!
Now, looking back to that time 5 years ago, it seems so long ago, and we have become different people as we have adapted to Bulgarian culture intentionally and unintentionally. Naomi began 5th grade today and entered the world of middle school. God gave her the gift of her best friend being put in the same class with her in her new school! We praise Him for His tender care of His children. Just like the kids who are growing like crazy, we hope we are growing and changing from year to year in our understanding of who we are as the children of God, in our understanding of and love for the Bulgarian culture and people, and in our faith and hope in Jesus Christ. We hope each of you have been growing in your faith during this difficult year as well. It is only through faith in Jesus that we have hope, peace, and joy in the middle of worldwide chaos and disaster. We appreciate the ways you pray for our family and we see God answering in so many ways! Sometimes it is the gentle whisper and sometimes it is the mighty touch, but He is working! It is exciting to watch Him work and we feel so privileged to serve Him alongside you!
-Josh, Lydia, Naomi, Phoebe, Zoe, Malachi, and Pavel