After ministering with my husband, Kevin, in Bulgaria for four years without any children, I knew that coming back after furlough with our baby Laura would greatly affect my ministry opportunities. But I had no idea that it would make church attendance nearly impossible!
I would get up faithfully every Sunday and prepare for service, but I would leave church exhausted and discouraged. After straining to hear the songs and message from the cold, bare, back room of the little village church we were helping in while I tried to keep Laura from being stepped on by the older children, I wondered if it was worth the effort. I longed for the warm, staffed and attractive nurseries we had visited in the States.
Within six months of returning to Bulgaria, we were shocked to hear we were going to have twins! Due to dangerous complications, we were encouraged to return to the States for the pregnancy and delivery of Eric and Ellie. We praise the Lord that they were well enough at six months of age to return to the country of our calling. Again, we struggled with attending church services. It was no longer feasible for us to travel to the village for worship, so we returned to our home church in the capital city of Sofia. In a culture where breastfeeding anywhere but in the home is unacceptable, we had to run to services between feedings. I began to understand why our Bulgarian friends had told us that it was useless to attend church with children under 3, since there was no method of childcare for younger babies. Finally we decided it was better to hire sitters for Sunday evening services so both Kevin and I could participate in the service, instead of trying to manage all three children in yet another tiny back room crowded with other children.
We just recently started attending church as a family. It feels so good to be in the Lord’s house together. The circumstances have not improved much, but we felt it was time to tackle the challenge again. Though we haven’t solved all of the problems, we feel that instilling in our children the habit of Sunday morning church attendance is well worth the effort. A list of some of the practical tips follow. It is our hope that these will help some other would-be worshippers with small children enjoy church again!
Tip #1 Take time to prepare the children the night before. Not only baths, but clothing and diaper bags.
Tip # 2 Take a deep breath on Sunday morning, and give yourself lots of time to get ready, allowing for dirty diapers, spit-up on your dress, etc. before you have to leave for service.
Tip #3 Take snacks, and not only for your own children. I found that my carefully purchased and prepared snacks became community property of all the children herded in the room, whether they were with their parents or not. So I began to purchase inexpensive munchies that could be shared with everyone.
Tip #4 Take toys. Again, these may become community property, so don’t take any precious heirlooms! We have had to chase a little girl down who was leaving church with some of our childrens’ books. We have started to carry photo-copied Sunday school pictures and markers for all the children there to color.
Tip #5 Take turns. Kevin and I alternate caring for the children in the back room every ½ hour of the service. That allows Kevin the opportunity to play his saxophone for worship, and I can hear some of the sermon. I discovered that if I kept my expectations realistic, such as being able to sing along with at least part of one song, and hearing just one statement of Biblical truth from the message, I would consider myself blessed.
These tips have not solved our church-attendance dilemma. Nevertheless, I feel that God has helped me to adapt to our particular situation, and I am reaping the rewards of fellowship, worship and the blessing of His Word. So if you are ever in a church service in Sofia, Bulgaria, and see a lady with one-year-old twins, one on each hip, with a 2 ½-year-old pulling on her dress, feel free to grab some of our pretzels, pictures and markers, and learn with us how to worship God from the “back room!”