Pentecostal Education in Bulgaria a Decade Later

September 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Featured, News

This article was originally authored in 2008

The missionary strategy of Protestant denominations toward Bulgaria within the 19th century effectively included evangelistic, publishing and educational outreaches. The educational paradigms, which the western missionaries introduced, were soon adopted by the Bulgarian people, quickly realized as progressive and successfully implemented in both religious and secular Bulgarian schools. These trends continued in the next several decades, educating Bulgarian youth and producing the first generation of Bulgarian leaders who took their rightful place in political, economical, social and religious structures in the Bulgarian lands.

Unfortunately, when the Communist Revolution took place in Bulgaria, all religious schools, with the exception of the Eastern Orthodox Seminary in Sofia, were closed down and religious education was outlawed. For the next half century, Bulgarian evangelical ministers were destined to do ministry without any former religious education.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the tension for religious education reached its culmination and a number of religious schools were quickly established across Bulgaria. The instruction methods used ranged from Bible study home groups to Bible colleges all to fulfill the niche for religious education. Two important milestones must be mentioned here, and they are the opening of the Logos Bible Academy in the Danube town of Russe and the starting of a long distance program by ORA International.

Naturally, the general trend of Bulgaria’s post communist governments to control these educational institutions resulted in the registration of a religious institute under the Directorate of Religious Affairs, a government agency formed to register, manage and supervise the activity of religious formation on the territory of Bulgaria. It was in this context that the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute (BETI) was formed and registered in the capital Sofia. It included five departments (often called faculties), representing Bulgarian evangelical denominations with a predominant focus on the Pentecostal wing.

The Theological College in Stara Zagora, often mistakenly called a Theological Seminary, was established in 1998 as one of these departments to represent the Bulgarian Church of God. Because of current developments within the Bulgarian Church of God, the department was started in the city of Stara Zagora, located some four hours east of the capital and became the only of the faculties not located in Sofia. Naturally, its location, staff, affiliation and purpose created a sense of independence, both in its theology and structure.

With the acceptance of the new Act of Confessions in 2002, the Bulgarian government employed a more drastic approach toward all religious institutions not fitting the standard denominational profile. Since BETI was among them, the government initiated the process of the Institute’s accreditation with the Ministry of Education. Five years later, the government is yet to grant the accreditation. It was not until the publication of this article in March, 2008 that the Bulgarian Government moved toward finalizing the long-awaited accreditation of BETI.

Meanwhile the Institute’s management is facing a tri-dimensional dilemma which includes economic, cultural and leadership tensions. Some of them have not been resolved due to the lack of recourses; others have not been resolved due to the lack of essential prerequisites in the long-term educational strategy of the school. The following is a list of the challenges, which must be resolved immediately in order for the Institute to continue to operate under the said government accreditation:

1. The school’s baccalaureate program, structured primarily after 20th century American Bible college model, is practically incompatible with the requirements of the Bulgarian Ministry of Education. The dilemma of changing the program to meet the accreditation requirements or to retain the school’s evangelical identity is yet to be resolved on part of BETI as a whole, as well as its theological departments individually.

2. Three masters programs that were to focus on the subjects of Christian counseling, chaplaincy ministry and missions were secured from the Bulgarian government several years ago. However, because of the lack of students and experts on the said topics, only one of them, the master’s program in counseling, has been partially developed. Today, it remains in its initial phase as a distance-learning program, while the other two programs are virtually untouched.

3. It has taken BETI over a decade to comply with the country’s requirements for higher education. In this process, the school has not facilitated the opportunity for religious master’s programs thus missing its mission to become a higher education authority in religious studies.

4. The resistance toward the evangelical movement and more specifically its presence within the educational process of Bulgarian adolescents has resulted in continuous protests on part of the Bulgarian community. They have been followed by restrictions from the government, which has forced the Institute at the periphery of the educational process. Two waves of attacks against Bulgarian evangelicals in 1990-1993, 2002-2004 and the current trend of the government to establish mandatory religious classes for children ages seven to twelve has contributed to this alienation and has forced the inability of evangelical education to find and establish its place within the Bulgaria community. Much of this has to do with the lack of an adequate placement strategy for graduates upon the completion of the college’s program.

5. Furthermore, scholarships for individual students and sponsorship for the colleges of the Institute has weekend since 9/11 creating an economical dilemma with which the Institute is still struggling. The financial crisis has brought about the rethinking of the economic strategy of the Institute, its dependency on religious support sources and its financial self-sufficiency.

6. Additionally, a number of Roma/Gipsy communities have received substantial educational grants from the European Union upon Bulgaria’s official membership. This has taken a great number of the Roma/Gipsy students within the Institute in a different direction.

7. Immigration has also taken its toll on the Institute’s graduates, as many of them have seized the opportunity to continue their training in religious educational institutions abroad, while other have simple forgone their higher religious education in the struggle for personal survival, both groups never to return and practice in Bulgaria.

8. It is also unfortunate, that most of the professionally trained Bulgarians who have graduated with a higher degree in religious studies from foreign colleges and universities, have been unable to find their place within the structure of the BETI and have been employed in educational institutions, religious centers, ministries and missions which often have to do very little with Bulgaria.

9. The denominational affiliation of each of the departments, has contributed to the dilemma of structural incompatibility with the leadership and vision differences between the denominations that are affiliated with the Institute. The recent crises in several of the member dominations have added to the escalation of the above dilemmas and the incapability for the resolution from a denominational standpoint.

10. Naturally, the well-educated graduates have chosen not to occupy themselves with denominational politics both to avoid confrontation and to express their disagreement. This dynamic has been partially ignored by leadership remaining from the period of the underground church when religious education was virtually nonexistent and lacking a complete realization of the power of education. This unnoticed trend, however, endangers Bulgarian Evangelism creating a lack of continuity within the leadership and preparing the context for the emerging leadership crises.

As an educational institution of the Bulgarian Church of God and a member of the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute, the Theological College in Stara Zagora has experienced all of the above dilemmas and more. Its physical distance from the capital Sofia has jeopardized its accreditation with Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education, the latest guidelines of which have constituted that a school department cannot be more than 25 miles away from its main office. Since Stara Zagora is almost 200 miles away, the Church of God Bible College has been forced to find a suitable alternative. One logical solution may be to move the school or parts of the school to a Sofia location.

However, the Stara Zagora Theological College has had very little if any representation in the capital for its decade of existence. A move to Sofia would propose a number of new problems such as the relocation of teachers and a forced split of focus between two campuses. Another immediate challenge would be the development of a long-term financial strategy to meet a budget, which in the capital would be three-four times the cost of the same operation in the city Stara Zagora. And finally, a successful strategy for establishing a new level of cooperation with the rest of the Institute’s departments, which have operated in the capital Sofia for over a decade is a must, before a successful educational program can be initiated by the Bulgarian Theological College at the new location.

Chaplaincy Education for Bulgaria

September 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured, News

chap3The completion of the first Master of Chaplaincy Ministry Program in Bulgaria and its official accreditation with New Bulgarian University in Sofia has raised interest about the educational strategy implemented in the task.

As early as 2001, Cup & Cross Ministries International in partnership with the Bulgarian Church of God invited the Church of God Chaplaincy Commission and implemented the first short-term chaplaincy training in the country since the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Even then it was clear that if chaplaincy was to remain a national focus, a clear educational strategy must be in place. As a result, with the establishment of the Bulgarian Chaplaincy Association in 2005-2006, our team set course toward a three-level national educational strategy on the subject of chaplaincy targeting:

(1) local churches and denominations,

(2) ministers with a calling for chaplain ministry, who are willing to dedicated time and effort in earning a masters degree in the filed,

(3) and last, but not least Bulgarian government agencies who in part would be instrumental in the reestablishment of chaplaincy in all relative areas.

The first of these three tasks was completed fairly easily as churches and evangelical denominations were open toward understanding and embracing chaplaincy, while many pastors and ministers within them had already experienced the need or had served in a similar context. The Bulgarian Chaplaincy Association and Cup & Cross Ministries partnered with the Military Ministry of Agape-Bulgaria, a regional wing of Campus Crusade, and for a bit longer than a year lectures, media materials and personal meeting were brought to several hundred local congregations, as well as national leaders of various denominations, among which the Assemblies of God and the Church of God. As a result virtually all evangelical denominations in Bulgaria were brought in position of supporting chaplaincy, a term which was once foreign, now well informed of its usage and strengths. It was time for step number two.

As early as 2006, students from various church backgrounds and active ministers were invited to participate in the first ever Master’s of Chaplaincy Ministry in the country. Four years later with the partnership of the United Theological Faculty of the Bulgarian Theological Institute in Sofia we were able to bring one of the few complete master’s program in chaplaincy in the world fully contextualized for the Bulgarian cultural and after much work and anticipation with a very timely and necessary international government accredited with the New Bulgarian University. Within the perimeter of the program are the follow modules:

(1) Module 1 was presented by the International Association of Evangelical Chaplains for the intro level module of chaplaincy ministry with special focus on military, police and prison work,

(2) Module 2 was presented by selected faculty members in the filed of Theological Studies from the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute.

(3) While Module 3 in counseling, practicum and thesis completion was finalized by Cup & Cross Ministries International in cooperation with professors from New Bulgarian University.

Now the third level of education is at hand as chaplaincy is already being enforced by NATO and various EU agencies along with the realization on part of the Bulgarian government for the need of chaplaincy in various areas of administration even outside the armed forces, correctional institutions and the medical field. The role of our graduate students, who are now part of a well established and deeply rooted in the Bulgarian history and identity school of thought on how to do chaplaincy ministry, is imperative in this final task. To all that have taken it wholeheartedly, God speed and God bless.

Evangelical Education in Bulgaria

September 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured, News

evangelical-education-bulgariaSeptember 15th marks the beginning of the school year in Bulgaria. For us it is always a very special time, due to our continuous involvement in the development of Evangelical Christian education in Bulgaria through the years. This year we partnered with the Church of God of Prophecy in national leadership training held in Bulgaria. This is the second annual training event we are completing together here, as at the same time earlier this year we participated in the 2009 Development Institute of the Church of God of Prophecy in Cleveland, TN.

Upon the invitation of National Presbyter Peter Georgiev, we traveled to the Danube River port city of Rouse, where the training was held with special guests General Presbyter Clayton Endecott from Frankfurt, Germany and the director of the Tomlinson Ministry Center, Rev. Dr. H.E. Cardin from Cleveland, Tennessee. Lectures and discussions continued all day long as we were able to fellowship with one another during the breaks. The event was broadcasted LIVE on the internet and on Thursday it was watched at the chapel service in our Alma Matter, the Church of God School of Theology, now known as the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. During the brief webcast we prayed for a special blessing over the students and their instructors. The prayer video can be watched at the following internet location: http://worldmissions.tv/user/videos/bulgaria The training sessions and the church services of the conference were recorded and can be viewed online at: http://bibliata.tv/user/videos/peppiy

We will be dynamically involved in three more educational programs as the school year unfolds in Bulgaria as follows: (1) the Church of God national educational strategy in Bulgaria (2) the master’s level program in chaplaincy and (3) a mobile Bible School, with special focus on the practical and effective training of small ministry teams for the needs of local and regional congregations.

The Past, Present and Future of Evangelical Education in Bulgaria

April 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Publication

The missionary strategy of Protestant denominations toward Bulgaria within the 19th century effectively included evangelistic, publishing and educational outreaches. The educational paradigms, which the western missionaries introduced, were soon adopted by the Bulgarian people, quickly realized as progressive and successfully implemented in both religious and secular Bulgarian schools. These trends continued in the next several decades, educating Bulgarian youth and producing the first generation of Bulgarian leaders who took their rightful place in political, economical, social and religious structures in the Bulgarian lands.

Unfortunately, when the Communist Revolution took place in Bulgaria, all religious schools, with the exception of the Eastern Orthodox Seminary in Sofia, were closed down and religious education was outlawed. For the next half century, Bulgarian evangelical ministers were destined to do ministry without any former religious education.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the tension for religious education reached its culmination and a number of religious schools were quickly established across Bulgaria. The instruction methods used ranged from Bible study home groups to Bible colleges all to fulfill the niche for religious education. Two important milestones must be mentioned here, and they are the opening of the Logos Bible Academy in the Danube town of Russe and the starting of a long distance program by ORA International.

Naturally, the general trend of Bulgaria’s post communist governments to control these educational institutions resulted in the registration of a religious institute under the Directorate of Religious Affairs, a government agency formed to register, manage and supervise the activity of religious formation on the territory of Bulgaria. It was in this context that the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute (BETI) was formed and registered in the capital Sofia. It included five departments (often called faculties), representing Bulgarian evangelical denominations with a predominant focus on the Pentecostal wing.

The Theological College in Stara Zagora, often mistakenly called a Theological Seminary, was established in 1998 as one of these departments to represent the Bulgarian Church of God. Because of current developments within the Bulgarian Church of God, the department was started in the city of Stara Zagora, located some four hours east of the capital and became the only of the faculties not located in Sofia. Naturally, its location, staff, affiliation and purpose created a sense of independence, both in its theology and structure.

With the acceptance of the new Act of Confessions in 2002, the Bulgarian government employed a more drastic approach toward all religious institutions not fitting the standard denominational profile. Since BETI was among them, the government initiated the process of the Institute’s accreditation with the Ministry of Education. Five years later, the government is yet to grant the accreditation. It was not until the publication of this article in March, 2008 that the Bulgarian Government moved toward finalizing the long-awaited accreditation of BETI.

Meanwhile the Institute’s management is facing a tri-dimensional dilemma which includes economic, cultural and leadership tensions. Some of them have not been resolved due to the lack of recourses; others have not been resolved due to the lack of essential prerequisites in the long-term educational strategy of the school. The following is a list of the challenges, which must be resolved immediately in order for the Institute to continue to operate under the said government accreditation:

1. The school’s baccalaureate program, structured primarily after 20th century American Bible college model, is practically incompatible with the requirements of the Bulgarian Ministry of Education. The dilemma of changing the program to meet the accreditation requirements or to retain the school’s evangelical identity is yet to be resolved on part of BETI as a whole, as well as its theological departments individually.

2. Three masters programs that were to focus on the subjects of Christian counseling, chaplaincy ministry and missions were secured from the Bulgarian government several years ago. However, because of the lack of students and experts on the said topics, only one of them, the master’s program in counseling, has been partially developed. Today, it remains in its initial phase as a distance-learning program, while the other two programs are virtually untouched.

3. It has taken BETI over a decade to comply with the country’s requirements for higher education. In this process, the school has not facilitated the opportunity for religious master’s programs thus missing its mission to become a higher education authority in religious studies.

4. The resistance toward the evangelical movement and more specifically its presence within the educational process of Bulgarian adolescents has resulted in continuous protests on part of the Bulgarian community. They have been followed by restrictions from the government, which has forced the Institute at the periphery of the educational process. Two waves of attacks against Bulgarian evangelicals in 1990-1993, 2002-2004 and the current trend of the government to establish mandatory religious classes for children ages seven to twelve has contributed to this alienation and has forced the inability of evangelical education to find and establish its place within the Bulgaria community. Much of this has to do with the lack of an adequate placement strategy for graduates upon the completion of the college’s program.

5. Furthermore, scholarships for individual students and sponsorship for the colleges of the Institute has weekend since 9/11 creating an economical dilemma with which the Institute is still struggling. The financial crisis has brought about the rethinking of the economic strategy of the Institute, its dependency on religious support sources and its financial self-sufficiency.

6. Additionally, a number of Roma/Gipsy communities have received substantial educational grants from the European Union upon Bulgaria’s official membership. This has taken a great number of the Roma/Gipsy students within the Institute in a different direction.

7. Immigration has also taken its toll on the Institute’s graduates, as many of them have seized the opportunity to continue their training in religious educational institutions abroad, while other have simple forgone their higher religious education in the struggle for personal survival, both groups never to return and practice in Bulgaria.

8. It is also unfortunate, that most of the professionally trained Bulgarians who have graduated with a higher degree in religious studies from foreign colleges and universities, have been unable to find their place within the structure of the BETI and have been employed in educational institutions, religious centers, ministries and missions which often have to do very little with Bulgaria.

9. The denominational affiliation of each of the departments, has contributed to the dilemma of structural incompatibility with the leadership and vision differences between the denominations that are affiliated with the Institute. The recent crises in several of the member dominations have added to the escalation of the above dilemmas and the incapability for the resolution from a denominational standpoint.

10. Naturally, the well-educated graduates have chosen not to occupy themselves with denominational politics both to avoid confrontation and to express their disagreement. This dynamic has been partially ignored by leadership remaining from the period of the underground church when religious education was virtually nonexistent and lacking a complete realization of the power of education. This unnoticed trend, however, endangers Bulgarian Evangelism creating a lack of continuity within the leadership and preparing the context for the emerging leadership crises.

As an educational institution of the Bulgarian Church of God and a member of the Bulgarian Evangelical Theological Institute, the Theological College in Stara Zagora has experienced all of the above dilemmas and more. Its physical distance from the capital Sofia has jeopardized its accreditation with Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education, the latest guidelines of which have constituted that a school department cannot be more than 25 miles away from its main office. Since Stara Zagora is almost 200 miles away, the Church of God Bible College has been forced to find a suitable alternative. One logical solution may be to move the school or parts of the school to a Sofia location.

However, the Stara Zagora Theological College has had very little if any representation in the capital for its decade of existence. A move to Sofia would propose a number of new problems such as the relocation of teachers and a forced split of focus between two campuses. Another immediate challenge would be the development of a long-term financial strategy to meet a budget, which in the capital would be three-four times the cost of the same operation in the city Stara Zagora. And finally, a successful strategy for establishing a new level of cooperation with the rest of the Institute’s departments, which have operated in the capital Sofia for over a decade is a must, before a successful educational program can be initiated by the Bulgarian Theological College at the new location.