Republic of Bulgaria
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The Republic of Bulgaria is situated on the east of Europe’s Balkan Peninsula with an eastern coastline along the Black Sea. Moving clockwise around Bulgaria the borders are shared with Turkey to the southeast, Greece, Yugoslavia, Macedonia and Romania. The Danube forms much of the northern border between Romania and Bulgaria. Covering an area of nearly 111,000 sq km (43,000 sq miles) Bulgaria’s landscape is defined by three mountain ranges and two expanses of lowlands. The population in 2002 was approximately 8.2 million but that figure was estimated to have dropped to just over 8 million by 2005. Most modern Bulgarians are descendant from Bulgars who arrived from north of the Danube in the late seventh century and soon established dominance over the Slavic races whom had occupied the territory for the two centuries previous. Perhaps because of its location Bulgaria has been subject to domination by outside groups throughout much of its history –dating back to Roman control in the years before Christ. Byzantine domination in the eleventh and twelfth centuries was followed by a short period of independence before five centuries of control by the Turks, beginning in 1396. Russian intervention ended the Ottoman control of Bulgaria in 1878. Full independence came in 1908 when Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg was elected ruler and soon assumed the title of Tsar. During the First and Second World Wars the borders changed several times. Present boundaries were fixed in a 1947 treaty. From then until the early 1990s Bulgaria became one of the Soviet Unions most loyal satellites. Since that time Bulgaria has made tentative moves toward a free market economy but inflation, foreign debt and worker unrest have slowed the development of Bulgaria. The National Assembly is Bulgaria’s single legislative body.
Economically Bulgaria is far from robust. Wheat, maize and cereals are the main agricultural products however Bulgaria’s vineyards produce some of southern Europe’s finest wines. Contributing significantly to the economy is tourism with ten million visitors a year drawn to the Black Sea coastline and beaches.
Christianity is the dominant religion in Bulgaria, a fact that is sometimes attributed to a Byzantine monk who in the year 865 painted a picture of Hell on the palace walls of Tsar Boris I frightening him into accepting Orthodox Christianity! Presently, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church claims 85% of the population. Islam claims the minority with 13% of the population. A diversity of other Catholic and Protestant groups are also represented in Bulgaria.
Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union Bulgaria was the focus of missionaries of the American a cappella Churches of Christ but on a small scale. Polish evangelist Mike Dawidow visited Bulgaria in 1990 and advertised the World Bible School and distributed free Bibles; several thousand responded! The World Bible Translation Center has since printed an easy-to-read New Testament in Bulgarian to help meet this enormous response. Sofia was the recipient of relief sent by American congregations in an effort led by Nat Cooper of Ireland. Richard Walker, for many years an evangelist in Germany, and Tom Black made exploratory forays into Bulgaria in 1990 that led to a conference on Christianity the following year. A congregation was established in Sofia that benefited from an international ministerial team serving on a rotating basis. This team included Dino Roussos from Athens, Eli Levi from Tel Aviv, Murray Czetzotka from Vienna and Nat Cooper.
In the years immediately after the fall of communism a great deal of mission activity took place in Bulgaria including evangelistic campaigns in Sofia and Blagoevgrad, where a short-lived Bible training center operated, seminars in Borgas and Plovdiv, and Vacation Bible Schools. Bibles and correspondence courses were sent into Bulgaria from Sopot, Poland. On occasion these efforts met with government opposition. The assembly place of the Sofia congregation was closed down by the police on November 18, 1994 after a complaint that the church was not registered. Afterwards the congregation met in homes. While there was a brief period of religious openness in Bulgaria following the fall of communism there has since been a tightening down on groups other than the Orthodox Church.
Bill McDonough of Partners in Progress has been active in Bulgaria. Among the American missionaries representing the Churches of Christ have been Mike Banks, Clay Backeen, Steve Kenney, Roger Massey, Brian McLemore, Becky Walker and others. As noted previously the work in Bulgaria has been multi-national with workers coming from several other countries to share in the evangelization of Bulgaria.
Sheryl Black, the daughter of Richard and Elaine Walker, and her husband Tom, worked with the church in Bulgaria in the late 1990s reporting a congregation with 150 in attendance for worship and more than fifty in Bible class. Often the congregation met with no heat, no electricity and with only candles for light. This is one example that shows the great need of the church in Bulgaria.
White Fields Evangelism, a mission organization of the American Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, has also had some contact in Bulgaria the extent of which is unknown at this time. Training Christians for Ministry, International, an education ministry with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A. and an educational center at Haus Edelweis outside of Vienna, Austria trains Christian leaders from throughout eastern and southern Europe. In 2003 there were sixteen Bulgarians students enrolled in TCM’s program working toward certificates or master of arts degrees.
International Churches of Christ planted the Sofia Church of Christ in 1996.
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a partnership with the Union of Evangelical Congregational Churches in Bulgaria.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
Revised by Gary Holloway November 13, 2013
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