Through Communism & beyond
Not long ago, communist totalitarianism was a huge threat to Bulgarian Evangelicals. The government’s goal was to abolish evangelicalism by state pressure, internment and the prohibition of teaching religion to children. In 1948 all evangelical pastors were arrested and condemned as ‘spies against the state’ and in 1949 Protestant churches were declared unlawful.
Yet by 1989 the churches had increased in number and there were around 125 Evangelical churches with about 20,000 believers. Another 5000 were said to be members of unregistered churches. Today there are 170,000 people who identify themselves as Evangelicals, and most attend about 1500 registered churches.
Since 1989, Bulgarian culture has been heavily influenced by Western post-modernism as it made the painful transition to a democratic society and market economy. This ideology has unfortunately also had an impact on Bulgaria’s Evangelical churches.
Bulgaria has been at the centre of Slavic Gospel Association’s (UK) ministry in Eastern Europe since the society’s commencement in 1950. For nearly 60 years it has sought to equip churches for their ministry to individuals and society.
Much of SGA’s work today focuses on training nationals as church planters and evangelists. This is done through the Mission School in Velingrad, where around 50 students study the Word of God.
Due to the economic hardships faced by many in Bulgarian ministry, SGA has also undertaken to support some who are engaged in church planting ministry. A number of these work in Gypsy communities, where God has been at work in salvation blessing.
Pastor Delcho Atanasov was a student at the school and has been helped by this support. He is responsible for a church in the town of Parvomaj, a mission station in the village of Lenovo, and the new church in Trakia – a district of the city of Plovdiv.
Every Sunday Delcho preaches in the Parvomaj and Lenovo churches. Two years ago, God showed him the need for evangelistic outreach in the Trakia district of Plovdiv, where more than 70,000 people live and there was no Evangelical church.
God gave him a group of new Christians and they founded a church. For the last two years they have met every Sunday and many others have joined them. The meeting place they use is small and now they need to rent a bigger hall.
‘Despite the difficulties and Satan’s attacks, God gives me strength and power so I can serve him with joy and confidence’, says Delcho. ‘One of the things I am trying to develop is teaching students. For some time I have prayed and I focus my mind and my actions on three young men – Evgeni, Georgi and Dinko’.
Delcho continues: ‘I am trying to involve them in preaching. My heart burns about preaching and turning people to God. I need a team to help me and to do the things I can’t do. Evgeni, Georgi and Dinko are young in the faith and now preach in the village of Lenovo, which is far from Parvomaj.
‘The church in Lenovo is small, but people there are sincere and this gives courage to these young people to preach there. I believe and pray these meetings will be the beginning of them serving God full time. I know how important this period of studying is and pray for God to give these young men strength, to make them enthusiastic for serving God and make their heart full of love for the church and this dying world’.
There are prayer meetings in Parvomaj every Thursday and Trakia every Tuesday. But Delcho would like more Christians to come to these meetings. Most of those who come on Sunday come to the prayer meetings. Christians in Trakia pray a lot, so they had a problem – the meetings were too long. Now they have small groups for prayer.
‘The church needs to be more dedicated to evangelism’, Delcho says. ‘We teach our church members, using home groups for studying the Bible, and this is the best method for evangelism in our situation’.
The first Bulgarian Bible was printed in 1871. It was translated by American missionaries Dr Albert Long and Elias Riggs, who worked for a long time in Bulgaria. The country had been under Turkish rule for more than 450 years, and until 1871 there had been no Bible in the Bulgarian language.
There are major problems with this version today because the punctuation doesn’t follow the rules of the modern Bulgarian language and it is difficult to understand the meaning.
Another problem is that when the Communists came to power in 1944 the government changed the spelling of the language and dropped some of its letters. This translation with its old spelling is almost impossible to read now.
So SGA is involved in the revision and publishing of the whole Bible in up-to-date Bulgarian. The revision team is led by Dr Hristo Kulichev. Hristo has suffered much for his faith, having been in prison during the Communist era. He was for many years President of the Congregational Union of Bulgaria and is now senior pastor of the large Congregational Church in Sofia.
A team is working with him to carry out linguistic and theological checks on this new version of the Scriptures. This team completed the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs several years ago and the interest in it has been thrilling, with the first print run fully distributed.
Progress on the revision of the rest of the Old Testament is almost complete and should be available early next year.