Worshipers gather at an Eastern Orthodox church in Bulgaria. Though Eastern Orthodoxy is the
country’s official religion, many people are atheist and disinterested in spiritual things. IMB
missionaries say they often face apathy on one side and distrust on the other — the Baptist church and others outside Orthodoxy are viewed as sects. But even in the face of those obstacles, missionaries are seeing glimpses of the Gospel moving through local Baptist churches. IMB
By Grace Thornton
George Gardev remembers the secret police raiding his house twice when he was young. He went to secret Christian meetings, and his family tucked their Bibles away so they wouldn’t be found. “We were a persecuted Christian family,” he said.
But despite his family’s gritty faith, Gardev’s heart hadn’t experienced real change. Christianity was a cause to him, not a relationship. It wasn’t until after the fall of communism when IMB missionary Bill Wardlaw came and preached at Gardev’s church that he heard the Gospel differently.
“Before I thought it was just the right thing to do, and now it seemed like it was a more personal thing to do,” Gardev said.
As he listened to Wardlaw’s sermons, he would go back and talk about them with his grandmother. Over time, God began to change his heart. Today at 39 years old, he’s pastor of the oldest Baptist church in Bulgaria, and he’s seeing God work in the lives of people all around him.
But it’s a slow go. Evangelism there is difficult — on the heels of communism, much of the country is atheist.
IMB missionary Brian Davis says Bulgarians are openly disinterested in religion. The spiritual climate is dark, and the people are desperate for hope, but they’re not looking to find it in the church.
“It’s sad to see,” he said. “We’re praying for the Spirit to work and that God would lead us to the people who are interested.”
One of those is a man who calls himself an intellectual and has welcomed Davis into his home to study the Book of Romans with him. Another is Donka, an 85-year-old widow who comes into the Davises’ home every week for Bible study. She’s a self-proclaimed atheist, but Davis’ wife, Mandy, says she hopes that her heart is slowly changing.
“She has not yet professed faith, but she tells everyone she meets about us and how the world would be better ‘if everyone believed and lived like Brian and Mandy.’ We keep turning her focus from our good works to the ‘why’ behind our good works,” Mandy said.
Gardev’s church is trying the same approach, sharing the Gospel in the context of relationships. Church members are running medical clinics and soup kitchens and helping at orphanages with the goal of showing the community a love that looks different from anything it has ever known.
“Everything we do has only one purpose — to make His name known to others,” Gardev said. “That’s what our main thing is — to give the hope of God.”
Ways to pray
Pray for God to draw people across Bulgaria to see their need for the hope Jesus offers.
Pray for the Davises to be able to build relationships with people who are open to studying the Bible and exploring faith.
Pray for Bulgarian believers like Gardev to show the love of Christ to the community in a way that cultivates interest in Jesus.
Grace Thornton is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama, who writes for a variety of Baptist publications.