A quarter of a century ago in Chicago

I left Chicago on this day 25 years ago (July 30, 1995). The Bulgarian church that day held service at 1 PM with 64 Bulgarians and many other internationals in attendance. Bulgarian students from the neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin attended as well. There was even a Bulgarian family from Alaska.

It was a Sunday. I left Chicago to preach in Beloit, WI that night and then left for Washington, D.C. the following morning. While driving north with quite the speed my Carolina blue Grand National began filling with white smoke. At first, I thought the air conditioner was on its last leg in the hot Chicago summer of 1995, but the air remained strong and cold. The cloud proceeded and it was so sensible that I had to slow down and basically stop on the side of the road. In my 30 years of ministry, I have only seen this one more time – in 2011 when the Glory of God descended over a youth camp we were preaching in the Bulgarian mountains. I did finally preach in Beloit and made it to D.C. the next day, but the vision of the cloud remained with me for the next 25 years.

Meanwhile, the word of mouth had spread and the Bulgarian church in Chicago was growing among the Bulgarian diaspora. On October 7, 1995, I was able to visit the church in Chicago again and present it to the National Overseer of the Bulgarian Church of God, Pastor Pavel Ignatov who visited the Bulgarian congregation in Chicago for the first time. By that time, it has become evident that the initial structuring for growth was giving more than expected results. The church became not only the first officially registered Bulgarian Pentecostal congregation in the United States, but also an important social and educational center able to minister to the 100,000 Bulgarians that live in the Great Lake region today.

Called to another mission, I left Chicago on July 30, 1995. The church bulletin upon my departure under Farewell and Appreciation read: “Today we are saying thank you to Dony for a job well done this past summer. He has served our church faithfully, and has been a tremendous blessing to Narragansett Ministries. Immediately following worship this morning, there is a dinner in Dony’s honor in the fellowship hall. And everyone is invited to attend.” Quiescently, while writing this next book for the quarter century anniversary of the Bulgarian Church in Chicago, I was able to find this last bulletin in a box with several dozen letters I had sent weekly to my parents in Bulgaria. Surprising even to myself, those letters contain pictures, documents, dates, growth charts and progression predictions that are surprising even to me today. I remember spending countless nights in prayer, contemplating and strategizing over the new Bulgarian church plant, but I had forgotten all this was carefully documented as a case study.

The church congregation presented me with a plaque that represented my efforts and work in Chicago, which I have also kept until now. Because this plaque represents the prayers and the vision of many who are continuing the work today, establishing and leading Bulgarian churches around the world to providing pastoral care for many who have left the homeland in search for a better life. To these ministers goes my personal token of appreciation and thanks, “Well done thou good and faithful!” For me personally today a quarter of a century later, this plaque represents one very simply thing – I never betrayed my dreams. And in my book, this is well done…