Excerpt from Chapter 10: Back To Sofia

Elder Nelson was moved back to Sofia. He was moving for the last time; he had two months left from his two-year mission. His companion was called David Aleman and he had just arrived – another enthusiasm-filled young missionary. Elder Nelson knew the capital very well; his first area assignment was here. However, this time the roles had changed – he was the elder of the two, he spoke fluent Bulgarian, and he was in charge of the daily missionary plan.

Sofia grows but never ages! With nearly two million citizens it is always interesting to live there. It never gets boring, especially in the winter! This January there was no snow, but the temperature was negative. The air smelled like baked pumpkins. The sparrows were here as well. According to ornithologists, sparrows had a far genetic relationship to storks, but unlike their large, dressed in tuxedos, travelling all around the world cousins, the small grey brothers were born, lived, dreamt, and died here in Sofia. Destiny!

One day the missionaries were travelling towards the city center with the bus. They were looking aimlessly through the windows, when they heard a man’s voice through the loudspeaker:

“Attention! Attention! Dear passengers, this is the driver speaking! I would like to play the song ‘Come, Come Ye Saints’ for two friends of mine!”

The missionaries immediately understood that the song is for them. Strangely but enjoyably the Tabernacle choir lively began to sing in the cold, semi-full Sofia bus. Undoubtedly, the song was for them. They went closer to the driver cabin and, what a surprise! Brother Popov, an old acquaintance of elder Nelson, smiled from inside and waved with his free arm from the wheel. The bus stopped at the next stop. The cabin opened, they said hello, and spoke cheerfully for a while! When did two years pass by? Brother Popov was still an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He went with his family to a temple in Germany! Good, this is very good news indeed! They also bought a new car! Great! The elders promised to visit!

Elder Nelson phoned his old friend “bai Hassan.” They had spoken a few times over the phone, but hadn’t met since the trip to Madara. He was very happy that elder Nelson moved back to Sofia and immediately invited him to visit. The missionaries still didn’t have a lot of work to do in the area, so they planned to visit the following evening.

It began to snow the next day. The snow came as a favor to the local authorities as the soft white snowflakes covered all of the forgotten trash and left behind building materials on the streets. Because of the cold, hundreds of homeless dogs were hiding in random places, instead of barking at people on the street and occasionally trying to bite them, as they would otherwise. Just the gold cupolas of the church “Alexander Nevski” were glowing mysteriously under the dance of the snowflakes, illuminated from the cold, speechless moon. It was a perfect time for a quiet day at home with a book next to the fireplace. Or at least next to the warm radiator…

Bai Hassan gave an emotional hug to his old friend in front of his apartment. He also wholeheartedly greeted elder Aleman. The missionaries went in, took off their shoes, and sat on the sofa in the small living room. Bai Hassan went to the kitchen for a bit. Something tasty was cooking there; it smelled like lamb. From another room came in a tall, dark-haired, relatively young man in his mid-thirties with a light full beard. He put his right arm forward and said:

“Welcome! Nice to meet you. My name is Farhad Muradi! I am Hassan’s son and I have heard a lot about you elder Nelson! My father was very impressed from his meeting with you at the Madara Horseback Rider,” he said in excellent Bulgarian and sat down with the guests.

“What would you like to drink, boys?” asked bai Hassan, coming out from the kitchen. “I know you don’t drink alcohol!”“How do you know, bai Hassan?” truly surprised asked elder Nelson. “We never spoke about that!”

“I know, I know!” he answered. “My son told me, Nelson sahib!”

“Boys, perhaps my father has mentioned before, I am an Imam at the Sofia mosque” interrupted Murad junior. “I graduated from the High Islamic Spiritual Academy in Tehran, where we were learned about other religions, including Mormons. So, would you like to drink some “ayran”? We’ve got the best “ayran” in Sofia. My father prepares it with his own secret recipe!”

They brought tall glasses and poured in the slightly sour yoghurt drink.

“I must confess I am surprised!” said elder Nelson and asked: “What did they teach you about Mormons in this Islamic Academy?”

Farhad slowly took a sip from his drink, left the glass on the table, and said:

“Only good things! Of all religions we were taught, only yours was presented with a positive attitude from the lecturers there! Why?” and without waiting for an answer he continued with a smile on his face: “I suppose you know why, Nelson sahib!”