Hot Weather in Bulgaria

June 30, 2007 by  
Filed under News

The heat wave that hit Bulgaria in the last week will continue in the next few days, pushing the mercury up to more than a hundred degrees throughout the whole country, the meteorologists warned. The only place in Bulgaria that the temperatures will remain normal for the season is at the northern part of the Black Sea coast. The south-eastern winds will lose their strength later on Wednesday, which will push the mercury even higher.

The heat wave will be felt worst in the north of the country, in the Danube plain, where the temperatures could exceed the record highs for the time of the year, registered in the past century since scientists have started taking daily measurements. The highest temperatures measured on Tuesday were in Eastern Bulgaria, where Burgas broke the temperature record since 1931. Because of the hot weather the number of fires in the crop fields and the forests has significantly risen.

Ministering at Stara Zagora Again

June 25, 2007 by  
Filed under News

This past Sunday we were privileged to minister in the Awakening Church of God in the city Stara Zagora. Stara Zagora is about an hour travel from Yambol and is one of the oldest settlements in Southeastern Europe being at least eight thousand years old. Although we have a long standing relationship with the pastor and many of the members, this is our first time visiting this church and we were welcomed very graciously.

We came to know Pastor Dimitar Luchev (Jimmy) almost 20 years ago while pastoring in Pravetz. Our youth groups often held prayer meetings and youth services with the church in Etropole where he ministered at the time. We continued our relationship with Jimmy and his family during his studies at the Church of God Theological Seminary in Cleveland and we were happy to see them again and to be of assistance to their ministry in Stara Zagora.

With nearly a hundred in attendance, and a large majority of this number being young people, the message was focused on passing on the faith to the next generation. During the alter call the church gather and prayed of the youth of the church. After the service, Jimmy testified of how the sermon was timely and a confirmation for the direction the church was taking. We will continue to support Jimmy and his congregation in prayer and fasting, as they are faithfully taken the journey toward a new level of ministry in the Stara Zagora region.

Services at the Black Sea Again

June 20, 2007 by  
Filed under News

British evangelist David Hathaway was in Bulgaria for an evangelistic crusade in Sofia and Samokov. David is well known to the Bulgarian church, as he and his ministry had smuggled Bibles through the Iron Curtain. For this activity, David was imprisoned for a year in Czechoslovakia in the 80s. He continued his ministry after his release and in 1990 organized the first national Pentecostal conference in Bulgaria after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The conference gathered thousands of Bulgarian Pentecostal believers in a celebration of freedom and grace.

After the crusade, our team traveled to the Black Sea to hold three Sunday services. We ministered at the Dolno Ezerovo church on Sunday morning, where we have been invited to preach for the past two years, but never had a chance to do so until now.

After the service we quickly departed for the Sinemoretz church where we were scheduled to hold a service at 2:00 pm. Sinemoretz is located at the Black Sea coast only a couple of miles away from the boarder of Bulgaria and Turkey. The summer season in Bulgaria has already started and traveling along the coast proved to be a difficulty. As a result, we arrived late, but the believers had gathered and waited our arrival. The congregation gathers in a small garage and as usually the place was packed. We had an anointed communion service and were blessed by their sincerity and faithfulness.

We left Sinemoretz around 4:30 pm and returned to Bourgas for an evening service at the oldest Pentecostal church in Bulgaria. We were able to share with the believers some of our research on Bulgarian Pentecostal history and we were all encouraged by telling the story of our humble beginnings as a Pentecostal movement. We had a very encouraging alter service and remained praying with congregation until dark. After the services, we were able to discuss with the pastoral team the upcoming X event at the Black Sea, which will be broadcast live on television and internet.

Regardless of the torrential rain which has lasted for days now in Bulgaria, our team was also able to travel and minister at the church in Samokov. Our visit there has been long-awaited as the pastor has been asking us to preach for him for sometime now. This is a Roma (Gipsy) church which regardless of the cultural and financial difficulties holds meetings for over 1,000 members on virtually a daily basis. We were happy to be able to minister to the people and to rejoice with them about the grace of God in our lives.

Finally, our team has been invited to participate in the “Year of the Bible” through our website dedicated to the Bulgarian Bible, which ministers daily to over 4,000 Bulgarians both in Bulgaria and around the world.

Bush Winds up European Tour in Bulgaria

June 15, 2007 by  
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By Matthew Brunwasser

SOFIA: President George W. Bush arrived Sunday night in Sofia on the last stop of his eight-day European trip, visiting one of the United States\’ newest and most loyal European allies – where American soldiers are expected to arrive at new military bases in September.

The White House plan for Monday included a tour by Bush and his wife, Laura, of the cultural sites of the Bulgarian capital: the National Archaeological Museum, the National History Museum, for lunch, and a visit with students from the American University in Bulgaria. The visit includes no public appearances beyond that.

“I represent a country that really cares deeply about the human condition,” Bush said in an interview with Bulgarian National Television that was broadcast June 1. “And I bring a spirit of friendship to Bulgaria and its people.”

In addition to seeing the history, culture and natural beauty of the country, “the president wants to highlight Bulgaria as a success story in the Balkans,” a senior U.S. Embassy official said.

The topics of meetings with President Georgi Parvanov and Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev will include the country\’s military modernization, bilateral economic relations, Kosovo, lifting U.S. visa requirements for Bulgarians and the Bulgarian nurses jailed in Libya, whom Bush has called on Tripoli to free.

Bulgaria is among the United States\’ most steadfast allies in “New Europe” and has consistently participated in the so-called Coalition of the Willing, maintaining troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffering 13 casualties in Iraq.

Bill Clinton\’s visit to Bulgaria in 1999 was the first and last here by an American president. Clinton\’s speech drew a crowd estimated at 30,000. At the time Bulgaria was an eager candidate for membership in NATO and the EU. It had just proved its loyalty to NATO by supporting the bombing campaign of its neighbor Serbia, as NATO forces sought to drive Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo.

The Balkan state has questioned the proposed U.S. missile shield in Central Europe because Bulgaria would fall outside the geographical scope of its defensive capabilities, along with the rest of the southern flank of NATO: Turkey, Greece and Romania.

“Our wish is not to find ourselves in a zone of unequal security,” Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin said at news conference last Tuesday. “Clearly this will be one of the questions we will discuss.”

“This is the most legitimate argument to criticize the missile shield,” said Ivan Krastev, of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. “The idea of equal guarantees for all the member states of NATO is the principle of the alliance.”

Other EU member states want the shield discussed in a NATO context, Krastev said, and not on a bilateral basis between the United States and Poland and the Czech Republic.

“This argument gains a certain kind of respectability for Bulgarian foreign policy within the EU,” said Krastev.

Fears about Russia are not expected to figure prominently in the talks in Sofia, in contrast to Bush\’s meetings with leaders in Central Europe. Bulgaria is perhaps the most pro-Russian EU member-state, both historically and in terms of current public attitudes. The Bulgarian people were by far the most Russia-friendly among the 12 European countries included in the 2006 U.S. German Marshall Fund Trans-Atlantic Trends survey.

The U.S.-Bulgaria military cooperation agreement of April 2006 laid out plans for 2,500 U.S. soldiers to be based in Bulgaria on six-month rotations. The details of the facilities have not been finalized but are expected to include two air bases, a training ground and a storage facility.

“We see this as part of the process of the modernization of the army and enhancing the capacity of this army to interact on an operative basis with NATO and U.S. military units,” said Dimitar Tsanchev of the Foreign Ministry.

U.S. President George W. Bush Arrives in Bulgaria

June 10, 2007 by  
Filed under News

U.S. President George W Bush arrived in Bulgaria for the last stop on his European tour on Sunday evening. The presidential plane, Air Force One, arrived at the Sofia International Airport at 7 p.m. local time and Bush stepped on Bulgarian ground 15 minutes later.

The US President and First Lady Laura Bush were met by Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin, US Ambassador to Sofia John Beyrle, the head of Bulgarian presidential cabinet Nikola Kolev and Bulgaria’s Ambassador to US Elena Poptodorova. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov will officially welcome Bush to the country on Monday morning.

Bush will meet President Georgi Parvanov and Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev on Monday. A round-table discussion with students from the American University in Bulgaria has also been scheduled. The US president is expected to give reassurances on lifting visas for Bulgarians and support the efforts to free the medics sentenced to death in Libya. Other issues include future military and economic cooperation, as well as Bulgaria’s progress in the fight against corruption, with Bush set to declare his support for the establishment of a foundation that would help strengthen the rule of law in the Balkan country. The future of Kosovo is also likely to feature in talks with Parvanov, with Bush throwing his support behind the independence of the province during his seven-hour visit to Albania on Sunday.

Bulgaria is the last stop on Bush’ week-long European tour, which included the G8 summit in Germany, as well as stops in the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy and Albania. A total of 3.500 police officers will take care of the security in Sofia, focusing on two security zones in the downtown of the city and the area around the airport, Boyana, Mladost, Dragalevtsi and Studentski Grad districts. Bush is the second sitting US President to come to Bulgaria, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Bill Clinton, who visited the country in November 1999.

First Bulgarian Mission in Chicago (1907)

June 5, 2007 by  
Filed under Missions

In May 1907, sponsored by the Chicago Tract Society, Petko Vasilev opened the Bulgarian Christian House in Chicago. The facilities had beds and a kitchen and served as a hotel and a shelter for new immigrants. In 1908, the name was changed to Bulgarian Christian Society and later was relocated several times.

A second similar work was started at the same time by Daniel Protoff called the Russian Christian Mission. Located in Chicago, it supported church services and a Bible school. In 1909, the City Missionary Society called Basil Keusseff to lead the mission. Keusseff was a Bulgarian born minister who was converted in Romania and was a graduate of the school in Samokov and Cliff College in Sheffield, England. In the 1890s, Keusseff pastored the Baptist church in Lom and then moved to Pittsburgh where he worked with Robert Bamber, pastor of the Turtle Creek Christian Church. The mission ministered to Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian and Turkish minorities.

Around 1910, the ministry of the Bulgarian Christian Society was aided by Reverend Paul Mishkoff, a student at Moody Bible Institute. Coming from a poor but strong Protestant family, Mishkoff was called to preach at a very early age. He studied in the school at Samokov and was often sent to preach in the nearby villages. After finishing the school, Mishkoff decided to come and study at the Moody Bible Institute. He was helped by a Methodist missionary who gave him four dollars – the price of a third-class ticket from Sofia to New York where he was put on the immigrant’s train to Chicago. He was denied admission to Moody with the explanation that there was neither room nor funds for him. With no job and no money, the young preacher had to find food at the saloons where it was offered free for ones who drank. During his struggles, Mishkoff had lost all his possessions except a pocket size New Testament. In his personal story, he recalled, “But I had the copy of the Bulgarian Testament in my pocket not only to keep it, but to read it when I was sitting on the benches of the Union Station and other public places night after night. My soul was wakened anew. An ambition was roused in me: I must prepare myself for a preacher any way.” Through a financial miracle, Mishkoff was eventually able to graduate from the Moody Bible Institute. During the course of his studies, he was supported by Chicago Tract Society and he was able to minister to the 5,000 Bulgarians living in Chicago.

Around 1910, the Bulgarian Christian Society established a library which served the Bulgarian community for over twenty years. The congregation of the mission numbered about fifty. The ministry included English classes and immigration law seminars.

Several changes in the leadership of the mission began in 1921. In 1924, the mission was headed by Zaprian Vidoloff and the mission was renamed the Bulgarian Christian Mission. Vidoloff was a graduate of the Samokov School in 1910, a student of philosophy at the University of Sofia and a graduate of Union Theological College in Chicago. He entered pastoral ministry in 1915 and later served as the secretary of the Baptist Union. At the same time, he was secretary of the Bulgarian legation in Washington, D.C. from 1921 to 1923.

All Bulgarian religious organizations initiated by evangelicals before 1930 existed as missions. In February 1932, the First Bulgarian Church pastored by Joseph Hristov was started in Chicago.

The Roma who Found Religion

June 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Missions

By Nick Thorpe – BBC News, Lom, Bulgaria

The lives of Roma (gypsies) are often portrayed as being full of poverty and discrimination. However, for some in the Bulgarian town of Lom, religion and hard work are helping them build new, prosperous lives.

The good pastor, Iliya (Elijah) Georgiev was not at his church when we arrived in Humata, a suburb of Lom. We found him in a brown shirt, pouring the concrete foundations of a new outhouse for his animals, beside his home. A short, wiry man, he shouted his greetings as he worked, as a cousin slung him bucket after bucket. Handshakes could come later, when the precious grey liquid had set.

Music and mirth rose from Humata, whose name means something like mud, the silt or sediment of a river. A bloodshot sun sank at Iliya’s shoulder as he worked, painting his world a deep orange.

The settlement is built on a ridge, and behind the houses, a cliff falls suddenly onto a green plain below, dotted with brown horses. And finally a river, which flows into another river. The Danube.

But something was different here from so many gypsy neighbourhoods I have visited. Everyone was busy. They have built a church, rebuilt their own homes, and found an energy and purpose in their lives which seems, to a stranger at least, almost miraculous

These people are Pentecostalists – a church movement which has spread like wildfire among the gypsies of Eastern Europe in particular – a form of religion which fits better with their own mythology, than the strict rituals of Orthodox or Catholic. It is also giving a people much derided as work shy, a protestant work ethic.

“I stole, I drank, I was lazy,” Iliya told us later, with a twinkle in his eye, playing the caricature of a gypsy villain, on a stage of his own carpentry. “And then I got a life-threatening illness. And I started to pray.” That was 10 years ago.

With God’s help, he said, his whole neighborhood practices Christianity now. Together they have built a church, rebuilt their own homes, and found an energy and purpose in their lives which seems, to a stranger at least, almost miraculous.

Prayer meeting
Sixteen people, young and old, squeezed into a living room. We sat in a circle. The prayers came thick and fast, between a chant and a mumble, rising and falling like waves. A babe in arms. Wide-eyed children. Toothless ladies, shy girls and middle-aged men.

“Does anyone have a problem?” asked a young man in a denim jacket. One girl said her mother was working in Italy, and had a heart complaint. A man said he was deep in debt. A woman said her cousin was pregnant: “Could we pray for a safe delivery?” We sat in a circle. The prayers came thick and fast, between a chant and a mumble, rising and falling like waves.

“Now I’m going to tell you a story,” said the prayer leader. “A man was driving a bus down a steep hill. There was a cliff on one side, a ravine on the other. “Suddenly, a child ran out into the middle of the road. In the split second that followed, he had to make an appalling choice. “To kill the child, or all his passengers.”

The man paused for a moment. His audience froze. I felt angry. Why was he telling this story in front of children? “He drove straight into the child,” the man continued. “There was blood all over the windscreen. The passengers ran forward, remonstrating with him. “You should have killed us instead,” they shouted. “How could you kill an innocent child?”

“Then there was a deep silence.” On the bus and in the room. “Then the driver spoke. ‘That child was my own son,” he said, “and his name was Jesus.”

Better education
Earlier the same day, we sat with Nikolai Kirilov and other local gypsy leaders, in a restaurant beside the Danube. They all spoke English. The river stretched before us like an ancient, pungent, grey-green lion, the barges on its coat just scratches.

“Ten years ago, when we started our association with Roma Lom, only 5% of the gypsy children finished high school. Now it’s 75%.” The numbers come thick and fast here too, like prayers that have been answered. Until the year 2000, only five gypsies from the town had ever finished university. Now more than 40 have. “Everything depends on education,” says Nikolai, “if kids don’t get good marks at school, they can\’t play in the football team.”

There are 32,000 people in Lom, about half of them Roma. Four neighborhoods, three gypsy sub-groups, three different dialects of the Romany language. And lots of mixed marriages. “It\’s important that we teach Romany culture and language” he says. “But even more important that we teach Bulgarian. That will be more useful to them.\’

After an hour of conversation, I remark that he has not uttered the words discrimination, segregation or prejudice, the normal narrative of the Roma activist. He shrugs. “Those words have been devalued by overuse,” he says.

So we talk about politics. Is he not afraid of Bulgaria\’s new, ultra-nationalist party Ataka, which blames all Bulgaria\’s ills on gypsies and Turks? “My nightmare is that we create a crazy ethnic party of our own. Then the conflict would really start,” is his answer.