Divine Connections TV: A Decade of Destiny Later

April 30, 2020 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

Almost exactly a decade ago, the year 2009 was monumental for this Decade of Destiny.

Upon the invitation of Logos Bible Software, we traveled to their annual BibleTech Conference in San Jose, California to present the more clear approach to Bible translation and its implementation in our new Bulgarian Bible Interlinear.

Our first stop to the conference was a very fruitful meeting with Dr. Albert Wardin at the Billy Graham Archives. This meeting became the reason to further direct our research on Ivan Voronaev and the roots of Bulgarian Pentecostalism to a new archive location in route to Berkeley University.

The trip was strategically planned to visit Bulgarian congregations on the way in

  1. Nashville,
  2. Chicago,
  3. Minneapolis/St. Paul,
  4. Tahoe,
  5. Seattle,
  6. San Francisco,
  7. Los Angeles,
  8. Las Vegas,
  9. Phoenix,
  10. Houston,
  11. Dallas,
  12. Florida
  13. and Atlanta.

These short but blessed visits consecutively materialized into the 2020 Vision for Bulgarian Churches in North America. Most memorable among all was our meeting in El Cerrito, which happened to be just a few miles from our research location in Berkeley and not far from the ministry center for the Bulgarian Slavic diaspora in Concord. It was at this meeting that our missional strategy for San Francisco and Phoenix was born and later finalized in ministry with the Bulgarian church in Las Vegas.

Perhaps more needs to be said later about the Berkeley connection and the vision of the Arizona quarters in detail. Especially in part of the divine connection broadcasts that became an essential part of our own Bibliata.TV. But most importantly, now the 2020 Vision is almost completed as a Decade of Destiny, what follows is a strongly proven paradigm for church growth and revitalization. And as such, it has effectively spread to so many Bulgarian churches abroad – from a simple vision for 20 churches into 20 different countries.

10 Reasons to Be Thankful in the Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic

April 25, 2020 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

 

  1. Families spend more time together at home and in nature
  2. Gas prices have decreased
  3. Eating around dinner table has replaced going out to restaurants
  4. Prayer and return to the Faith has increased
  5. Homeschooling has become popular
  6. Open-air church meetings are coming back
  7. Communities are rallying together to help one another with less individualism
  8. Politicians are working more cohesively
  9. We are resourceful and not wasteful appreciating small things and basic necessities
  10. We are going back to the basics of a slower more grounded lifestyle

Orwell, Zamyatin and the 2020 Church of God in Bulgaria

April 20, 2020 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

Even if Orwell took the idea for “1984” from Russian novel “Us” by E.I. Zamyatin (1924-New York), neither of them ever imagined it in 2020 Bulgaria.

Palm Sunday 2020 a small gathering of 200 in the yard of the largest Gipsy church on the Balkans (regularly 1200-1500 members) was anonymously reported to the police for breaking the quarantine. As seen on the video recording, the members were seated in a properly disinfected area outside, six feet apart and wearing masks. The gathering was properly coordinated with the city mayor and the authorities as essential for the large ghetto in Samokov. Our people simply wanted to gather and pray.

Nevertheless, state attorney opened investigation immediately Monday morning identifying the individuals present from a video of their live stream service. Over 30 believers were charged for breaking the quarantine and fined $200 a person the same day, though there is no official banning of church gatherings in Bulgaria. Yet! The situation resembles another Pentecostal gathering in the city of Rousse on April 1st that was raided by the police and dismissed. And these are not just isolated cases. And not only pandemic related…

Those persecuted, prosecuted and discriminated against for holding religious services in Bulgaria are not some unknown people in remote locations. We grew up with many of them, have ministered with most of them and have invested for the Kingdom with now 30 years of full-time ministry. Specifically in Samokov, I ministered for the first time in 1993, preached there several hundred times since and provided training for many church leaders with seminars for sharpening the vision and making efficient the network of the churches in the area. All of these people are happy to pay the fine in order to have a Palm Sunday service. The Church of God in Bulgaria has paid much more for doing ministry in the last full century – even under Communism. We know well how to survive such times and fear not to do it again if needed. Even if Orwell and Zamyatin did not envision the Church of God in 2020 Bulgaria, we are still here. For we were called to preach and serve in times as these. And nothing else matters!

 

Call for Parents and Caregivers to Have Time of Uninterrupted Play with Their Children

April 15, 2020 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

As a Board Certified Licensed Professional Counselor with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of play therapy, I understand the vital importance of play in the life of a child.  With the COVID-19 pandemic which has swept the world, our children are being exposed to stressors and events that no child should ever have to endure.  Children need play in their lives now more than ever before.  Play is their only way to communicate and to process these traumatic times. A time of play allows for children to increase their emotional strength and reduces stress which in turn increases our children’s immunity defenses.

It is for this reason that I feel the urgency to call all parents and caregivers to set aside a minimum of 45 minutes to 1 hour during the day to play with their children. This structured time should meet the following guidelines:

  1. If possible should be one parent with one child at a time even if you have to limit play to only 30 minutes
  2. Play time is uninterrupted with no texting, social media, online surfing or phone use of any type
  3. Should be in a safe place
  4. Parents and caregivers need to offer a time which is non-judgmental in the parameters of protection
  5. Needs to be lead by child and not adult, offering no suggestions about what or how to play unless asked from child
  6. Do not interrupt the child’s process by being impatient for child to finish tasks at hand
  7. This is not a time for teaching. It is a time of reflecting and empathetic listening of feelings.
  8. Repeat back to the child their actions during play instead of offering your biased insight.
  9. Listen to what your children are telling you via their play
  10. Provide unconditional love and support

There is always time for play.  It should not be underestimated.  During this time of crisis it is a basic necessity and will strengthen our children.  We will make it through this together.

– K. Donev, LPC/MHSP, NCC

 

We were made for these times

April 10, 2020 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Media, News

We were made for these times!

We know how to connect – whether in person or through phones and computers.
We know how to listen – to the stated message and to what is not said.
We also know the importance of responding to that unexpressed need.
We know how to observe – to see the fleeting worry or tender courage in someone’s eyes.
We know how to hope – to genuinely believe in our collective goodwill and shared humanity.

And, as you know, we know these things deeply and well – long before a contagious new virus arrived and disrupted our families and daily routines, we knew the powerfully contagious impact of relationships, positive emotions, and prayer!

Now, we want each of you to hear how much each of you is held in our hearts – for the work you do and, most importantly, for who you are in your families, communities, and the world.

Together we will remember the most vulnerable – near or far – and with creativity, determination, and compassion we will write a story of resilience, wholeheartedness, and collective resolve.

A story of and for these times.

We believe in you. Thank you for your continued prayers of support.

States Consider Religious Services Essential

April 5, 2020 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News, Research

 

DeSantis quietly signs second order overruling all local coronavirus orders, including church bans

Gov. Ron DeSantis quietly signed a second order Wednesday evening that forces local governments to follow the state’s shutdown order to the letter, opening the door to an immediate resumption of activities that cities and counties had banned. But at a news conference Thursday, DeSantis claimed his new order merely “set a floor, and you can’t go below that,” adding that if local governments wanted to close a running trail, for example, they could do so.

Of the 39 states that have implemented stay at home orders, 12 make exceptions for religious gatherings.

A revival held at a church resulted in an outbreak of the virus in Hopkins County, Kentucky, and the governor reminded the public Wednesday that those exercising the exemptions still hold a responsibility to take precautions to the virus. “The ramifications when we don’t follow this, end up being widespread and they hurt people that didn’t make that choice,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “Let’s make sure that we’re responsible in the choices we make to protect those around us.” Here’s a list of states that still allow some form of religious gatherings during the stay at home orders:

Arizona

Religious services are exempt as an essential activity because worship is protected under the first amendment of the Constitution. However, the exemption specifies that the services are exempt as long as they “provides appropriate physical distancing to the extent feasible.”

Colorado

The state allows houses of worship to stay open as long as they are using an electronic platform or are practicing social distancing. Services from religious leaders are also allowed for individuals in crisis or for end-of-life services.

Delaware

Along with social advocacy, business, professional, labor and political organizations, religious organizations are exempt.

Florida

The state recognizes attending a church, synagogue or house of worship as an essential activity along with caring for loved ones, pets and recreational activities that comply with social guidelines.

Kentucky

Kentucky makes an exemption for life-sustaining business and religious organizations that provide “food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life” for people disadvantaged or in need because of the pandemic. However, the organizations must social distance as much as possible, including ending in-person retail.

Michigan

Michigan also makes exceptions for operations, religious and secular, that provide necessities for those in need. The state also does not subject places of worship to penalties for breaking orders when they are used for religious worship.

New Mexico

The state does not include congregations in a church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship in the definition of “mass gatherings” that are barred.

North Carolina

Traveling to and from a place of worship is exempt from the executive order as “leaving the home and travel for essential activities.”

Pennsylvania

Religious institutions are exempt along with lifesaving and sustaining operations, health care, child care for employees of life-sustaining businesses, news media, law enforcement, emergency medical fire fighters and the federal government.

Texas

Religious services, if they cannot be conducted at home or remotely, can be conducted as long as they are consistent with guidelines from the federal government and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Virginia

Attending a place of worship is considered an essential activity in the state along with going to the grocery store or gas station, picking up a prescription or necessary medical care, checking on a relative, getting exercise, and working essential jobs.

Wisconsin

Religious facilities, groups and gatherings must have fewer than 10 people in a room and must adhere to social distancing requirements.

The nationwide move to close churches, synagogues and mosques as part of the broader effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus is meeting some new resistance.

In a new “safer-at-home” order banning many activities, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Wednesday said “attending religious services” is among the “essential” activities that would be permitted. The order came two days after the arrest of a Tampa pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, who held worship services in defiance of a local ban on large gatherings. That ban is now effectively overruled.

Governors in several other states have also designated houses of worship as providing essential services and thus exempt from shutdown orders. Those provisions have come in the wake of criticism, largely from conservatives, that any order to close churches constitutes a violation of the principle of religious freedom.

Liberty Counsel, a legal advocacy group that represents evangelical Christian interests, agreed to represent Howard-Browne and harshly criticized the move to force churches to close.

“Why is it the church can’t meet when it has a constitutional right to do so and has undertaken extraordinary efforts to protect people, but commercial businesses can meet with no constitutional protections and many do nothing to protect anyone?” the organization said in a press release.

A coalition of Catholic leaders on Wednesday similarly issued an open letter calling on authorities to recognize religious services as essential and pleading for the allowance of “some form of a public mass,” especially at Easter.

Many churches and other houses of worship have been forced to close in response to government bans on public gatherings of more than ten people. It is not yet clear whether the broadening move to include religious institutions as essential will allow churches, synagogues, and mosques to reopen.

In several states that do not explicitly mandate church closures, religious leaders are strongly recommended to suspend services.

An executive order issued Tuesday by Texas Governor Greg Abbott explicitly designated religious worship as essential and thus exempt from a mandate that “every person” in the state “minimize social gatherings” and “in-person contact,” and it overruled the local bans on large gatherings that had forced the closure of many Texas churches.

Legal guidance issued in connection with Abbott’s executive order, however, advised that houses of worship “must, whenever possible,” conduct their activities remotely.

Statement of Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne

Apr 2, 2020

My name is Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne. My wife, Adonica, and I are the founders of Revival Ministries International, The River at Tampa Bay Church, River Bible Institute, River School of Worship, and River School of Government in Tampa, Florida. I am the senior pastor of the church. We are a multi-ethnic local church, with an international outreach and influence.
In December 1987, my wife and I, along with our three children, immigrated from our native land of South Africa to the United States. I felt a call from God on my life to preach the gospel and to come to America. I am proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. When I became a citizen, I swore the Oath of Citizenship, before God—to uphold and defend the Constitution—and I have done everything in my power to do just that. My family and I are deeply appreciative to be able to live in this great nation, the beacon of freedom to the world.
The two greatest commandments mentioned by Jesus, to love God and to love people, exemplify my life. My greatest passion in life is to introduce people to Jesus, so they can experience His love and forgiveness.
As you know, I was arrested on trumped-up charges for conducting a church service on Sunday, March 29, which Sheriff Chad Chronister claimed, in a press conference, allegedly violated the Hillsborough County Executive Order that went into effect last Friday, March 27, at 10:00 p.m. The two charges are second-degree misdemeanors that carry a maximum penalty of two months in jail and $500 fine.
The fanfare and drama that surrounded my arrest was completely unnecessary. A simple phone call informing me that I had been charged with violating the Executive Order and needed to come to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office would have sufficed. I would have been willing to turn myself in but was not offered that option. It was unnecessary to send law enforcement to my home. And it was unnecessary to hold a press conference even as I was being arrested.
Before addressing some of the false statements made in the press conference, I want to say that even though the drama and made-for-TV press conference was not appropriate, I do not hold any ill-will toward anyone at the press conference, including Sheriff Chronister. I have the utmost respect for law enforcement. In fact, in January of 2020, I had the pleasure of honoring the Hillsborough County law enforcement by presenting a plaque to Sheriff Chronister at The River at Tampa Bay Church. Afterwards, we held an event for our church community (which includes many from the inner city) to interact with, and build a rapport with, our local police and deputies.
I also want to say that I was treated well and with dignity by the deputies and staff of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office who came to my home and walked me through the booking process.
Sheriff Chronister made statements at the press conference that the arrest was conducted at my home because the church has an arsenal of weapons. This is patently false. The church, like many churches, had armed off-duty deputies on Sunday to provide protection against anyone who might have ill intentions.
A statement was also made that I was “reckless” for holding the church service. With all due respect to Sheriff Chronister, the church went above and beyond the requirements for secular businesses to protect the health and well-being of the people who attended. None of this seems to have been taken into consideration but appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to hyped-up reports by media (who were not in the building at any time).

A statement was also made that we ignored repeated warnings. This is patently untrue! On Thursday, Sheriff Chronister spoke to some of our staff by speaker phone. I was also present. After we told Sheriff Chronister that we were enforcing six-foot social distancing, had installed over $100,000 of high-grade hospital air purifiers, and were taking other actions to protect the health of anyone who attended, he said the church could operate on Sunday, and that he had no intention to close the church or arrest anyone. The order then became effective on Friday night at 10:00 p.m. On Saturday, we prepared our building, and our staff and ushers, to take all possible, reasonable precautions. On Sunday, we held our usual meeting with the precautions (listed below) in place. At NO time, before or during the service, did we receive any “warnings” from the Sheriff or any other official.

The March 27 “Safer-at-Home” order contains, in paragraph 3, 42 sub-paragraphs of exceptions, including “religious personnel.” Following this long list of exceptions, in paragraph 5, the order adds another huge exception: “Businesses which are not described in paragraph 3, and are able to maintain the required physical distancing (6 feet) may operate.” (emphasis added). In other words, any business that is not in the long list of specific exceptions, is also exempted if it is able to comply with the six-feet separation between people. In such case, there is no limit on the number of people who can be present.

The church took extra precautions to more than comply with the Executive Order, which included the following:

  • Persons who were concerned for their health or had physical symptoms of any kind, were encouraged to stay home;
  • Every person who entered the church received hand sanitizer;
  • All the staff wore gloves;
  • The church enforced the six-foot distance between family groups in the auditorium as well as in the overflow rooms;
  • In the farmer’s market and coffee shop in the lobby, the six-foot distance was enforced with the floor specifically marked;
  • The church spent over $100,000 on a hospital grade purification system set up throughout the church that provide continuous infectious microbial reduction (CIMR) that is rated to kill microbes, including those in the Coronavirus family.

The church sanctuary has moveable chairs. Chairs were removed from the sanctuary so that the remaining chairs were separated by six feet. Any small group that may have been closer than six feet were family members that came to the church together. This six-foot separation was maintained throughout the church.

The church took every precaution to protect the people who attended. In fact, the kinds of precautions the church undertook cannot be found existing in many commercial business establishments that freely operate in Hillsborough County under this Executive Order.

The Executive Order on its face, and as applied, discriminates against religious services and gatherings, despite the fact that the First Amendment provides express protections to houses of worship and assembly. There is no similar constitutional protection for commercial businesses; yet houses of worship and religious gatherings are singled out for discrimination. The State of Florida’s Executive Order exempts churches, as does the Orange County Executive Order, and many other county orders. Yesterday, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a new Executive Order that states attending “religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship” are “Essential Activities.” Surely, Hillsborough County could follow their lead and not violate the Constitution. There are other means available to achieve the interest that we all share to protect human life.

The word of my arrest has traveled around the world. While I have received vulgar verbal abuse and death threats from people who do not know me and are not familiar with the facts, I have also received many words of support and prayer. Many people are deeply concerned that in America a pastor would be arrested.

As my wife and I prayed about what we should do this weekend, we have decided to close the church for this upcoming Sunday service, for the protection of our people in this antagonistic climate, in large part created by media hype and misrepresentations, which have undoubtedly been exacerbated by Sheriff Chronister’s exaggerated and outright false accounts of the situation. We do not make this decision lightly. This is Palm Sunday. We are entering the time of year that is most important to Christians around the world in which we remember and celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We did not hold church to defy any order; nor did we hold church to send a political message. We did not hold church for self-promotion or financial motives, as some have wrongly accused. We held church because it is our mission to save souls and help people, and because we in good faith did everything possible to comply with the Executive Order. Indeed, Sheriff Chronister told us last Thursday that we could hold church.

At this point, we believe it is prudent to take a pause by not opening the church doors this Sunday. This will allow an opportunity for people to take a deep breath and calm down. No matter your view on this matter, I encourage you to take a step back and reconsider the options. I believe we can better balance the health and safety of our community without throwing out the Constitution.

At this time, I have not made any decision about Easter Sunday or services thereafter. Adonica and I are praying and seeking the Lord for wisdom. I will say, however, that the church cannot be closed indefinitely. We believe that there are less restrictive means available to balance all the various interests.

My attorneys at Liberty Counsel will vigorously defend me against this unlawful arrest. I have also authorized my attorneys at Liberty Counsel to file a federal challenge to the Hillsborough County Executive Order. As I said earlier, this order violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutional. I have authorized this constitutional challenge for several reasons.

First, I have already been arrested once on trumped-up charges. I am a law-abiding citizen, who respects law enforcement. Like any normal law-abiding person, I would prefer not to be arrested again. A second arrest could escalate to a higher criminal penalty, or even a felony. No one wants to face criminal charges. My attorneys at Liberty Counsel are representing me on the criminal case, which we will move to dismiss.

Second, because of the publicity, the vitriol and death threats that have been directed at us and the church, I feel compelled by these threats to not meet this upcoming Sunday for the protection of our pastors, staff, and congregation. Also, I love my pastoral staff at The River, and they love us and are in agreement with our stance to obey the Word of God and also to stand up for our constitutional rights. If the church holds service this coming Sunday and the Sheriff chooses to arrest me again under this unconstitutional Executive Order, he will probably have to arrest all of our pastors for preaching in my place. Personally, I do not want to put my pastoral staff in a position of having to choose between criminal arrest or carrying out our God-given mission to worship together and lead people to Jesus.

Third, The River Church provides many ministries more than services where we physically gather together to worship. We have various training schools, and we also provide food and clothing to people in need. The Farmer’s Market and the weekly food boxes we provide are greatly needed at this time to help needy and hurting families. These ministries need to continue to operate to help people. We have many inner-city people who do not have the luxury of watching church online at home. We feel obligated to continue to serve them in person and to make sure we continue to provide groceries to them every week. People in our community need help more than ever in this time of crisis, and the church is where many of them turn for spiritual and material help. We need to be able to minister, without unreasonably restrictive measures, to their spiritual and material needs. Church is a body of believers that cannot be substituted online, especially for people who do not have access to the internet, or their internet is too slow to watch video. Our church helps hurting people and those in need, both spiritually and physically. There is no substitute for meeting together to help one another. This can be done while also protecting the health and welfare of those who attend.

No one wants to face arrest for a criminal charge just for exercising a constitutional right. The threat of arrest, and worse, actual arrest, operates as a significant chill to the exercise of constitutional rights. No one should have to choose between the two. Even in times of crisis, the courts are open to protect our constitutional rights. We hope and trust that the authorities in this case would re-consider their actions and choose to uphold the Constitution, for all of our sakes, basing their decisions on actual facts and correctly applying any and all of the law, rather than succumbing to pressure from certain antagonistic media.

May God grant us wisdom and blessings as we approach this sacred time of Palm Sunday and Easter.

 

Vision for Bulgarian Evangelical Churches Completed in 2020

April 1, 2020 by  
Filed under Featured, News

bulgarian-churchOver a decade ago, after publishing Bulgarian Churches in North America: Analytical Overview and Church Planting Proposal for Bulgarian American Congregations Considering Cultural, Economical and Leadership Dimensions, we purposed to explore the possibility of implementing the church planning program among Bulgarian Diasporas in various destination countries of migration.

With this in mind, we carried the vision for establishing 20 Bulgarian churches outside of Bulgaria by the year 2020. Cyprus, the United Kingdom and Canada were among the first to successfully implement our program. Bulgarian migrant communities in France, Italy and especially Spain and Germany followed with great enthusiasm – there are 7 Bulgarian evangelical churches active in Span today, and 18 in Germany.

Of course, not all parts of the program proved to be efficient. The program’s modules and training that was implemented, however, have produced 47 strong church plants thus far and the number is growing every month. The program proposed has been confirmed by the leadership we have received from the Holy Spirit. Our commitment to seize the opportunity and work toward adding more Bulgarian churches by the year 2020 has by far surpassed all expectations.

Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in the European  Union (2020 Report)

Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in America (2020 Report)

  • Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in Chicago (2020 Report)
  • Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in Texas (2020 Report)
  • Bulgarian Evangelical Churches – West Coast (2020 Report)
  • Atlanta (active since 1996)
  • Los Angeles (occasional/outreach of the Foursquare Church – Mission Hills, CA)
  • Las Vegas (outreach of the Foursquare Church – http://lasvegaschurch.tv)
  • San Francisco (occasional/inactive since 2012, Berkeley University/Concord, CA)

Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in Canada (2020 Report)

  • Toronto (inactive since 2007)
  • Toronto/Slavic (active since 2009)
  • Montreal (occasional/inactive since 2012)

CURRENTLY INACTIVE CHURCHES/CONGREGATIONS:

  • New York, NY (currently inactive)
  • Buffalo, NY  (occasional/inactive)
  • Jacksonville, FL  (occasional/inactive since 2014)
  • Ft. Lauderdale / Miami  (currently inactive)
  • Washington State, Seattle area (currently inactive)
  • Minneapolis, MN (occasional/inactive since 2015)

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