The emerging pattern
To Americans, Bulgarians seem very reserved toward strangers. They do not smile at someone that they do not know. The Mission Corps volunteers coming from the U.S. found it unsettling to be in a culture where people don't greet passing strangers. Bulgarians simply stare blankly when they pass people on the street.
The Americans wondered why. Then, someone reminded them Bulgaria had spent half a century under a secret police system. In that communist dictatorship lots of people were police informers. You had to be suspicious of almost everyone. So, people trusted only a tiny circle of friends. Bulgarians seem less suspicious of foreigners than they are of their fellow countrymen!
Early on, the first volunteers saw how the Gospel might transform one element of Bulgarian culture. It happened in church. The Nazarenes had not yet begun any type of services. So, on Sundays they worshiped with other evangelical groups in Sofia. That morning several of them went to a church service in rented space in the National Palace of Culture (the old communist show piece).
The Nazarenes arrived fifteen minutes early for the service. Even so, every seat was already filled. Some of them found supporting pillars to lean against. Not long after the singing began, an elderly lady arrived and stood near them. Out of nowhere, an usher appeared with a chair for her.
As they were singing, that elderly lady looked up. She caught the eyes of one of the Nazarenes. Then she smiled. It was the first time that a Bulgarian stranger had smiled at that team member. Besides making him feel good, that smile showed the family-like atmosphere that vibrant churches could create in Bulgaria where formerly no one trusted anyone. In that smile, one could see clearly some of the design of the divine tapestry.
In the middle of Genesis 3, the dust began to settle across the universe after Adam and Eve's cataclysmic choice. In the awfulness of that moment, God stepped forward to promise a Redeemer for His rebellious creatures. The account of how God keeps that promise is the story of the Bible. God's call to Abraham included the promise that through Abraham all peoples of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12). That promise included Bulgaria! So, it's no surprise to see God using Abraham's spiritual descendants in Bulgaria.
God's hand at work in the weaving process has been very evident. "It's not a coincidence," Cynthia Moore insists repeatedly as she talks about events in Bulgaria.
The opening of Nazarene work in Bulgaria has begun. There are lots of stories in the first months of this adventure. We've looked at only a few of them. It is, however, by tracing these individual threads that we've sensed the larger pattern emerging on the loom.
How do you open a country? You offer your thread to the Lord and let Him weave it into His tapestry! Sofia's coat of arms portrays Tyche, the goddess of chance. That may be the wrong symbol for that city. What is happening in Sofia is not due to chance. There is a divine design unfolding.
What do you do when you don't have permission to rent a hall and openly announce church services? You do what the Early Church did: you gather new converts into groups that meet in homes. Thus, the compassionate ministry work first establishes to people hardened by decades of communist propaganda. Then, this cell church strategy allows us to conserve the fruits of evangelism. At the same time, we continue to work toward full official recognition for the church.
Will this pioneer experiment in Bulgaria effect global Nazarene missions strategy? It may. What each Nazarene college is learning in such experiments is being shared with other schools. Maybe a real movement similar to the "Mormon model" will happen. Hopefully, large numbers of young Nazarenes will someday be volunteering a year or more to world evangelism.
As their first Christmas in Bulgaria approached, the Moores bought a little evergreen. It was a live tree complete with its root ball set in a bucket. While it wasn't very big, it did serve to decorate their apartment. The Moores lived in an apartment building that comes right out to the street. They had no lawn on which to plant that tree after Christmas. They gave it to a family of believers in Montana, that farming community they visited about once a month. Weeks went by with the family remembering to occasionally pour water in the little tree's bucket. Still, they never got around to planting it. Parts of the tree slowly turned brown. However, with the occasional watering, the tree survived.
The Moores visited Montana on Easter Sunday of 1995. They arrived in time to celebrate Easter morning service. They joined a dozen believers crowding into a family's kitchen/dining room. Afterward, they watched as food finished cooking over a wood stove. Then, they ate with the family in whose home the church met. After the meal, the Moores happened to spy the little tree. It was in a corner, still in its original bucket. They asked the family where they wanted it planted.
Everyone trooped outside. The family marked a spot about 10 feet away from their hand-dug well. Someone got a shovel. Don went to work, digging a hole. He and Cynthia lovingly put that little tree in the hole and patted dirt around it. From the well, a hand-cranked windlass brought up a bucket of water. They poured the water around the little tree. Given what the Moores were doing in Bulgaria, planting that tree was like a live parable. It was as if they were showing the love and care it would take to plant a church.
How long will it take to really start the Church of the Nazarene in Bulgaria? Well, as we've noted, Bulgaria is the world's primary producer of attar or rose oil, a base for expensive perfumes. It takes 200 pounds of rose petals to produce 1 ounce of rose oil. Since the sun evaporates oil from the petals, the blossoms must be picked at dawn. Is the effort it takes to produce rose oil indicative of what it will take to successfully plant churches in Bulgaria? It may be.
"Everything in my country takes a long time," a government official said several years ago to a TIME magazine reporter. "After all, it took us half a millennium to get rid of the Turks."
However, the volunteers who had given a year or more to Bulgaria have seen a promise in Revelation 7:9. There, John says, "I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9, NIV). Because they allowed themselves to be woven into a Bulgarian tapestry, the volunteers who've gone to Sofia are certain that there will be some twenty-first century Bulgarians in that crowd!