Located a mere 17 kilometers north of Stara Zagora and an entire world away is the village of Tulovo. An impoverished town, of about 1,300 people, lying in the heart of Bulgaria, Tulovo’s residents have few opportunities for economic progress. The population is nearly evenly divided between Roma (Gypsy) and ethnic Bulgarians, but their relationship is generally positive. Possibilities for good employment are few and far between as most of the Roma population
The local school provides a mediocre education at best, with most Bulgarian families sending their children to school in the nearby city. Relationships between school staff and parents are poor. Parents rarely attend required student-teacher meetings and see little need for education. Violence and student apathy are huge problems.
The only evangelical church is located in a small decrepit shack that needs repair. Naturally, the Roma community attends this church while most of the Bulgarian population is either completely unchurched or nominally affiliated with a small Orthodox church in town.
One Collective's current ministry consists of teaching adults to lead Bible studies for children. This has been ongoing for the past 7-8 years. A major area of focus will be the local school, working to encourage and motivate teachers toward excellence, and partner together to improve the learning atmosphere and level of education of the children. As we expand to other areas of need, we would like to begin teaching English conversation classes in the local elementary school to help the staff and students. While doing this, we hope to improve the relationship between the school staff and Roma families in the community. We hope to come alongside the church leadership to start a children’s afterschool group open to the entire village reaching the Bulgarian as well as Roma young people.
We also work closely with local Roma youth through a discipleship program that trains and mentors them. Through the recent addition of a community center, we not only have a building that provides space to meet and be in community for these teenagers, but we also have a space to gather with younger Roma and underprivileged Bulgarian children as we develop an after-school program for them.
Our most difficult task next will be to integrate the church to include both Bulgarians and Roma. Even though relationships between these two ethnic groups are positive, they rarely interact together. Many old social prejudices and traditions keep these two groups apart. However, through special programs celebrating holidays such as Easter and Christmas, we hope to break the ice and build bridges. We will continue to identify and equip local Roma believers to be involved in leadership positions within church ministries.