E-book: God's Bulgarian tapestry (Part 11)
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by Howard Culbertson
11. Discarded threads
Bulgaria has a long Christian history. As the first
Nazarene volunteers prepared to go in 1994, Hermann Gschwandtner sent them a photo. It
showed the rugged red brick ruins of St. George's rotunda in central Sofia. That structure,
according to archaeologists, was a fourth century church building.
So we know the Gospel thread arrived long ago in Bulgaria.
Tragically, in this century, it has come close to being unraveled from the Bulgarian tapestry. All
through the last half of the twentieth century, demonic forces tried hard to yank it out and discard
"See those statues. That's Cyril and
Methodius," Matt Robertson told a visitor from SNU one day as they rode by a library on
a trolley. Then he added: "Sadly, no one even knows they were missionaries."
Cyril and Methodius were two brothers from Greece. Born
about 800 years after Christ, they became businessmen. Sensing God's call, however, they soon
abandoned their promising business careers to become missionaries. They went first to southern
Russia. Then, they moved down to Bulgaria where they found people speaking an unwritten
These two brothers modified their own Greek alphabet to fit
the sounds they heard the Bulgarians using. Then, they used this new alphabet to start translating
Scripture. Their Cyrillic alphabet is still used today in Slavic-speaking countries like Bulgaria
Because Cyril and his brother turned Bulgarian into a
written language, their statues stand in front of that Sofia library. Bulgaria even has a national
holiday honoring Cyril and Methodius. However, no one ever says they were Christian
missionaries. The communists wanted to celebrate the brothers' gift of literacy while the ignoring
the greater gift the two gave Bulgaria: the written Word of
The communist leaders seriously erred in discarding the
Christian threads of Bulgaria's past. By doing so, they created a moral vacuum. That vacuum was
evident long before communism collapsed. Today, the signs of moral rottenness are everywhere.
For instance, thievery of auto parts is very common. Drivers parking their cars on the street
routinely remove windshield wipers and lock them in the trunk. That keeps thieves from taking
One church building surviving communism's onslaught was
the Alexander Nevski Memorial Church in central Sofia. That imposing Orthodox church is
topped by twelve domes. Some of those domes are covered with copper that has weathered into a
green patina; others sparkle with a bright gold leaf covering. The Orthodox worship services in
that building will differ greatly from what evangelicals are used to. Orthodox theology differs in
some respects from that of evangelical Christianity. For all Christians, however, that building
proudly testifies that Christ's Church can outlast any political system. Sadly, today, this large
structure attracts tourists better than it does worshipers. It did not become a focal point for
spiritual revival when communism fell.
Why? Well, many Bulgarians say Orthodox leaders
cooperated far too closely with the ruthless dictatorship. Some accuse the Orthodox church of
betraying the common person during that time. As a result, Bulgaria turned its back on organized
Christianity. Though tourists flock to see the gilt domes, the magnificent chandeliers and the
frescoes in Alexander Nevski church, few worshipers show up.
Hindering the re-emergence of historic Christian threads in
the Bulgaria tapestry has been some other things. First, when communism fell, American cults
and heretical movements invaded eastern Europe. It has been hard for eastern Europeans to
understand that evangelicals are not bizarre cultists. Suspicions abound concerning any American
religious worker in Bulgaria (particularly the young ones).
One day in early spring Todd Brant and Miles Zinn went to
visit an elderly lady. They had been to her apartment the week before and had given her some
groceries. She needed them. The month before, her heating bill had been more than her whole
month's income. When they arrived this time, she startled them by handing back the sack they
had given her. The groceries inside were untouched. With a trembling lip, she said her son told
her to give it back. He surmised the Nazarenes were one of those "sects" against which the
government-controlled television had warned.
Along with battling this negative image problem, Bulgarian
evangelicals also contend with some Orthodox leaders' efforts to keep a monopoly on
Christianity in Bulgaria. Bulgaria is supposedly democratic. Even so, many Orthodox leaders
insist that there be only one Christian organization: the Orthodox Church. If they could, they
would close Bulgaria's borders to believers belonging to any other church group. That stance, of
course, reminds one of the old communist regime.
Indeed, that idea of closing Bulgaria to other denominations
comes not just from the Orthodox Church. It is fostered by Bulgaria's own communist past.
Communist officials -- some of whom are back in positions of power -- think government should
closely regulate religious organizations. Such regulation and control would be easier if there is
only one organization -- such as the Orthodox church with which to deal. Thus, the Orthodox
longing for a religious monopoly on Bulgaria resonates well with those former communists.
Of course, Protestants are not new in Bulgaria. The first
Bulgarian Protestant congregations began appearing in 1893. When World War II broke out, five
Protestant denominations were already well established in Bulgaria. Then, in 1940, the
Nazi-dominated government arrested all the Protestant leaders. By 1944, all those men were
dead. Thus, before the communists took power, the Evil One tried to destroy key strands of
Bulgaria's Christian community. In spite of such persecution, the tiny Protestant movement
In contrast to the Orthodox Church, those original Protestant
denominations have welcomed the Nazarene volunteers. For a short time, the Nazarene group
held weekly services in a small Methodist chapel in Sofia. That unnerved government authorities.
They did not understand the spiritual unity all born-again Christians feel regardless of
denominational labels. The government saw the Nazarenes as a cult without official consent to
conduct public meetings that had somehow managed to get permission to use a totally different
cult's building. The Nazarenes and Methodists didn't see it quite that way. Nonetheless, the
government called the Methodists on the carpet. So, to keep from causing problems for the
Methodist church, other born-again believers quit using their building for activities.
One day, John Knight and a visiting SNU professor were
hurrying along the street in Sofia. They passed a coffee shop. The weather was blustery and cold.
So they decided to go inside where it was warm and get something hot to drink. To their delight,
the waitress spoke quite a bit of English. Since they were her only customers, they struck up a
conversation with her.
"I want to leave Bulgaria," she said.
"There is no hope here."
They talked a while. As they got ready to leave, the
Americans asked the waitress if she believed in God.
"Yes," she said, hesitantly and quietly.
She seemed afraid someone would overhear her. As they
talked a bit more, it became sadly clear that this young lady's professed belief in God gave her no
reason for hope.
Over the past half century, communism mangled and tore at
the Christian thread in the Bulgarian tapestry. As a result, many Bulgarians seem unaware that
vital Christianity can be authentically Bulgarian. Tragically, some believed the demonic lie that
authentic Christianity would hurt the fabric of Bulgarian society. Today, this makes Bulgaria
according to many observers among the globe's most difficult countries to evangelize. . . . [
continue reading ]
Some West Coast threads
|Not all the North American
threads in the Bulgarian tapestry came from the U.S. heartland. Some come from the West Coast.
. . . [ read more ]|
SNU missions course materials and syllabi
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma
City, OK 73132 | Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax:
Updated: February 5, 2019
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