The Central Church of God Ministry Center in Sofia (Bulgaria) Today

December 30, 2021 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

At the end of each year, we have made it a tradition to share the projects completed in the past months of hard work and labor for the Kingdom. But as we are approaching now 20 years of ministering and teaching with the Church of God denomination together, we have decided to recall some more long-term projects.

Exactly 20 years ago, my wife landed in Sofia, Bulgaria for the first time on a snowy December day. In fact, it was so cold that my mother worrying she would be coming from a much warmer subtropical climate, bought the biggest winter jacket she could find, so we could wrap her with it on the way from the airport. Not the most glorious meeting or welcome party as I recall it today.

I was eager to show her my Church, the Bulgarian Church of God, then second to none in the country with 32,000 membership strong and 400 congregations. Many of them newly started and 28 of them in the two-million people capital alone. The Central Church of God in Sofia, where I preached and ministered in 2001-02, had almost 1,200 people at that time. Its main meeting place was the multifaceted Church of God Ministry Center in a prime location in the growing European capital – a project we had undertaken in 1998 with the faithful will and support of some two dozen Church of God congregations from Florida. The documents from my personal archives tell the story best:

December 2, 2001 – I had just returned from Romania bringing with me World Missions Director Lovell Carry and Field Director (Central/Eastern EU/CIS) Dieter Knospe. They were in Bulgaria on a special visit to transfer the new building to the ownership and operation of the Central Church of God in Sofia per the contract signed with our overseer in the Spring of 2001.

The days of Ministry Weeks 17-19 that followed in December, 2001 and which my wife recorded here: https://cupandcross.com/2001/12/ are excruciating to even remember today. Sunday service with Sunday School and preaching, then again on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Then special Saturday services in Pravetz and many other places. Similar schedule plus the traditional celebration services in the following Christmas week. Repeat again for the New Year’s week. And all of these done in extremely cold weather and tons of snow on the ground – so much that my wife was delayed for days leaving for the States mid-January with all flights out of Sofia cancelled as the ice never melted enough to clear the runway and defrost the airplanes.

And all through this, the building never stopped. Regardless of all difficulties, we were all working eagerly and anticipating greater results. The multifaceted Church of God Center in downtown Sofia was to encapsulate all our ministries and many more, giving our young freedom generation the opportunity of a lifetime to make a difference for the Kingdom…

Today, when the building of our Ministry Center is being sold and it will be used for something the will of the donors never intended it to be, our Church of God denomination in Bulgaria is split to no less than 12 fractions all registered since 2005. All of them still carry a variant of the Church of God name and consist of the same people I grew up with under the Communist Regime of Bulgaria.  We were promised a democratic leadership formed by indigenous people, but instead ended up with mini-bosses, regional micromanaging oversight, multiple splits and everything that characterizes a very typical colonial type of missions.

With the church organizations split time and again until torn into pieces, many of my peers chose alternative paths. Some left the ministry, others were hurt or divorced, a few even died and many simply gave up and moved on. With the rest, I have an appointment at the End of the World!

But none of this gives any pleasure or satisfaction to share. Especially when reminded that the dreams we all once dreamed are now hang on the willow trees by the rivers of Babylon. When reaching those waters of deeply troubled cross-cultural crises of faith and conviction, all bridges to people have sunken with no hope to recover again. God’s Kingdom has no gain in any of this!

Our prayer has hence turned into a prophetic protest for a new reality – not merely for a new mission paradigm, but one of a whole new mission… A Spirit-led ministry that forgoes all man-made politics and business-like models, but instead aims to build a New Church that is nothing less than the very cross-road where we encounter God and others in the Spirit of Pentecost.

 

CONFESSIONS of a Pentecostal Preacher

To Mark Alan
We know not why good people have to die,
but we do know we must tell their story…

Chapter I: Beyond the Church and into God

Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death.
Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.
That is your oath.
~Kingdom
of Heaven (2005)

 

Separation of church from politics of false religiosity

The phone rang heavy and long. It was 4 AM in Bulgaria, but I was already up. A friend on the other end of the line was calling from South Carolina with a warning of some bad situation. The following morning, I was going to be contacted by the Director questioning why we were ministering in churches outside of our denomination.

The truth was we had ministered in some 300 local churches across the Balkan country of Bulgaria crossing all denominational boundaries and gathering youth from just about every confession. God had used us not only to reach and minister and to lead, but to step into an untouched spiritual realm, to undertake an unfamiliar ministry paradigm and to approach a brand new dimension of reality where He was to be the center of it all. And we had obeyed without questions. Now it was time to pay the price!

* * *

Our denomination, the one to which I remain both critically loyal and loyally critical, spreads over some five generations. Through its century old existence, the struggles and tension between theology and praxis has been in the center. And there, in the very essence of Pentecostalism itself, while some are always celebrating and being celebrated in the office or temple, others are always pushed in the periphery of normal life, hidden from the world behind closed doors and seeking a much deeper experience with God.

These modern day mystics are not only forgotten, but often forbidden. For their riot for righteousness cannot be conceived, contained and controlled by the religious norms of organized officiality. They speak as prophets to a world they so fervently try to escape from, about a reality that does not exist in the normal believer’s mindset. A stage of spirituality that cannot be preached without being lived in the social existence. And a relationship of God that goes far beyond common relationism and into God himself. That God, Who does not abide in offices and temples, but on the cross outside of the city walls…

But I knew nothing of this until that cold winter morning when the phone rang through darkness of the night. Knowing what is coming, rarely changes what we have done to get here.

7 Years in Bulgaria: CONFESSIONS of a Pentecostal Preacher
by Dony K. Donev, D.Min.
Upcoming Releases for United States (October, 2020)

Bulgarian Churches in North America: The Unrealized Spiritual Harvest as a Paradigm for Cross-Cultural Ministries among Migrant and Disfranchised Ethnic Groups in America Today

October 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Books, Featured, News

bulgarian-church ….A closer examination of the ministry and structure of the network of Bulgarian churches in North America will give answers to essential issues of cross-cultural evangelism and ministry for the Church of God. Unfortunately, until now very little has proven effective in exploring, pursuing and implementing cross-cultural paradigms within the ministry opportunities in communities formed by immigrants from post-Communist countries. As a result, these communities have remained untouched by the eldership and resources available within the Church of God denomination. There are presently no leaders trained by the Church of God for the needs of these migrant communities. Thus, a great urban harvest in large metropolises, where the Church of God has not been historically present in a strong way, remains ungathered. Although, through these communities, the Church of God has the unique opportunity to experience the post-Communist revival from Eastern Europe in a local Western setting… (p.84, Chapter III: Contextual Assessment, Historical Background, Structural Analyses and Demographics of Immigration in a Paradigm for Cross-Cultural Ministries among Migrant and Disfranchised Ethnic Groups in America Today) Read complete paper (PDF)

How to Start a Bulgarian Church in America from A-to-Z

The Persecution of Christians Today

August 30, 2004 by  
Filed under News

martyrdom1By Johan Candelin

Let me start by saying that many people find it very surprising, even unbelievable, that in today’s world the largest group of people being persecuted for their faith are Christians. This seems all the more unusual because Christianity is the world’s largest religion. I am fully aware that other religions, whether Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or others also suffer in various contexts, and we shall address these situations in subsequent articles. However, for the present we will focus on Christians, due to the urgency of the situation. Incredibly, more than 200 million people in over 60 nations are being denied their basic human rights for one reason only: they are Christians. The main reason Christians are being persecuted today is the simple fact that Christianity is growing fastest in countries where human rights are being violated or do not exist. One of my tasks as director of the Religious Liberty Commission is to represent these Christians – both Catholic and Protestant – at the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, as well as in other contexts. I would therefore like to give a brief analysis of the global situation regarding persecution of Christians. This analysis is based on reports from 114 countries and personal visits to many countries where Christian people suffer.

THE GREAT PARADIGM SHIFT
The persecution of Christians goes hand-in-hand with some important trends taking place around the world. I’d like to name five:

1. Conflicts tend increasingly to occur within states, rather than between them. In such situations, religious tensions are likely to increase. We are all familiar with the heart-rending struggles in Kosovo, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Chechnya, Northern Ireland and East Timor, to name but a few.

The whole structure of the UN was created after the Second World War, and is designed to solve conflicts between states, not within them. Human rights are increasingly at the core of civil conflict, and added to that is the way countries like China, Russia and Indonesia interpret the whole issue of human rights – in other words, that human rights are each country’s own internal affair. This places two fundamental principles on a collision course with one another: the sovereignty of the state, and the universal nature of human rights.

2. Many countries with a colonial past are seeking their own identity. Very often, this has strong ties to a religion. We see this clearly, for example, in Asia: Pakistan adheres to Islam, India to Hinduism, Indonesia also to Islam, and Sri Lanka to Buddhism.

It is worth noting that the search for a national identity is strongest in five of the eight countries that together make up more than half of the world population. These are China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In each of these countries, Christians are finding themselves in increasingly tense situations, because they are painted as bearers of the religion brought by former colonial powers, and thus are considered a threat to national harmony.

3. Developments in the Muslim world are likely to have an increasing impact on the lives of Christians within the next decade. The population growth in the Arab world is 4.3 per cent, compared with economic growth of only 0.5 per cent. The population is very young, and this creates the conditions for the growth of radical elements.

4. There is a great difference between the West’s view of reality and that of the developing countries. The West often interprets global thinking as its own world view written large. But ways of thinking, interpretation and culture differ far more than Westerners think. The West must be ready to listen, and to listen as never before.

5. I would like to say something here about the growth of the Christian Church. There is a clear misunderstanding in Europe today that religion is no longer relevant to the modern world. Nothing could be further from the truth. The amazing fact is that of the world’s six billion people, only a tiny proportion – 151 million – call themselves atheists. There are two billion Christians, 1.2 billion Muslims, 786 million Hindus and 362 million Buddhists. Religion is, and will continue to be, at the very centre of our world, at the centre of the conflicts within it, and also at the centre of how these conflicts are resolved in the next Millennium.

These five paradigm shifts are the principle reasons Christians are being persecuted today, and most likely why it will continue in the future. However, there is a sixth paradigm shift that is very important. This is partnership. The European Union is an example of political partnership, and in the financial world, we hear almost daily of some significant merger. The trend toward partnership is clear, and all of us can work very effectively together to help guarantee the human rights of Christians. At the same time, I want to stress again that religious liberty should apply to every person on this planet, regardless of their religion. The broadest international basis we have for cooperation in helping suffering Christians is the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights of 1949, especially Articles 18 and 19.

Simply put, they say that every person should have the freedom to adhere to and practice the religion he or she chooses, and to change religion without coming under pressure as a result. This obviously includes the right to keep one’s religion without being forced into another. In fact, religious rights could be said to be a principle building block, even the cornerstone, of human rights.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY PERSECUTION?
It is clear that not all persecution has to do with religion. Many people are persecuted for ethnic, social and political reasons, but they also happen to be Christians. How do we know the difference between that kind of persecution and persecution based on their faith alone? I think we can answer it by asking a simple question: “If a person changes their religion to the majority religion of the country, will things get better for them?” If the answer is “yes,” then it seems that the persecution is solely on religious grounds. And by persecution I mean the lack of full human rights, together with some kind of suffering.

Literally hundreds of thousands of people today are being killed, brutalized, sold as slaves, imprisoned, tortured, threatened, discriminated against and arrested solely because they are Christians. They are being subjected to persecution and suffering, the extent of which we can hardly begin to comprehend, because of their faith. They ask us to shatter the silence and use our voices to express their cries. This plea is directed at us, wherever we are, today.

Persecution seems to pass through three phases. The first is disinformation. Disinformation begins more often than not in the media. Through printed articles, radio, television and other means, Christians are robbed of their good reputation and their right to answer the accusations made against them. The public opinion that easily results from being constantly fed such disinformation will not protect Christians from the second step, which is discrimination. Discrimination relegates Christians to a ‘second-class’ citizenship with inferior legal, social, political and economic standing than the majority in the country. The third stage is persecution. Once the first two steps have been taken, persecution can be practiced without normal protective measures taking place. Persecution can arise from the state, the police or military, extreme organizations, mobs, paramilitary groups, or representatives of other religions.