Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dirty Hope: Bulgaria 2008

I'm just back from twelve days in Svishtov, Bulgaria, a small town on the Romanian border. A group of six of us went to support, encourage, teach and fellowship with the church there, which was planted just over a year ago. It's really really hard to sum up a place like Bulgaria. It's like a heavyweight boxer who eventually wears you down with blow after blow of helplessness and despair. It's really hard to be there and really hard to leave. I loved it! Here are some snapshots of life in Bulgaria.

  • A year ago there was some optimism in the country. They'd just joined the EU and things were looking up. Now however, their funding has been stopped, due to corruption, and the man on the street is in a worse position than he was before, as wages have flat lined but prices have gone up. Two factories face each other across the Danube in Svishtov, the people on the Romanian side earn 2-3 times as much as the people in the Bulgarian factory. Who work 12 hour shifts. 6 days a week.

  • Bulgaria has the highest per capita abortion rate in Europe, and therefore probably the world. Svishtov must have more licensed premises in a smaller area then anywhere i've been, so that's probably not a surprise. The tragedy is the age of the girls involved. We sent time in a school working with 14 and 15 year olds in an English class. It was a lot of fun. What was less fun was seeing those same 14 and 15 year old girls walking into bars near our hotel at 1030 on friday night. There were no bouncers anywhere to be seen. It's not unusual for them to stay out drinking until 330 or 4 the next morning. Tim, who Pastors out there, regularly sees uni students leaving bars and clubs as he walks his children to school the next day. Given the conditions that most of these kids live in, (three or four small rooms, parents, siblings and grandparents) it's perhaps not a shock they don't want to go home.

  • If an unreached people group is a language, ethnicity or nation that can not sustain an indigenous led church, then Bulgaria must be only half a step away from that. Svishtov has 35000 people and one church of about 50-60. Veliko Turnovo has 250000 people and maybe 3 churches numbering about 50-100, Sofia has 2 million people and maybe a dozen churches, a couple who gather over 100 on a sunday morning. Most small towns have no church at all, most big ones, only one. It's shocking. The saddest thing is that when Communism fell in Bulgaria, the people were hungry for truth. Who turned up first? Benny Hinn and his prosperity pals. The prosperity gospel was the first 'gospel' heard freely in Bulgaria for fifty years or so. And it's a bunch of junk. The Evangelical church is still struggling to make up the ground lost by the disillusionment caused in these early years.

  • There is hope. Dirty Hope. In a corrupt, desperate society the only hope is the universally true Gospel. In a happy, comfortable society the same is true. It's good to remember that. The uniqueness of Gospel hope is so clear in places where there simply is no other hope. There is no other hope in Bulgaria apart from Jesus. Every leader always lets these people down. He never will. Living in the west, living in the Bible Belt, it's so easy to forget that. To put hope in people, places or things. That will never ever do. One day these will fail and fall. I love being in Bulgaria, because there i'm reminded that beyond the hopeless despair, there is Hope. The One Hope of the nations. Jesus Christ.


BulgariCA said...

May be is better for you to stay in the US - There are so much happiness! Let's see - value and cost! The US Dollar says - In God We Trust! You like to be in Bulgaria beyond the hopeless despair?! What is know in the US? Why You don't describe icons in the Bulgarian Churches? - Why you don't say any word for the people? How they are much, much warmer and real than Americans? Not that much comparison between Bulgarian Religion (95% Christian Orthodox) and Churches and all thousands of religions and Churches in the US. Who are doing mostly a business? T he Evangelical church will continue to struggle in Bulgaria. NO ANY FUTURE FOR THIS KIND OF RELIGION THERE! PERIOD! NO TRADITIONS!
Remember: The Religion is NOT only one - The God is Only One!One of the distinctive characteristics of the Holy Orthodox Church is its changelessness, its loyalty to the past, its sense of living continuity with the ancient Church. This idea of living continuity may be summed up in one word: Tradition. From 681 - Bulgarian traditions. From Our Lord tells us that when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13) and this promise forms the basis of Orthodox respect for Holy Tradition. The Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest single Christian communion in the world. It is considered by its adherents to be the very same Church established by Christ and his Apostles.As such, the Eastern Orthodox Church views its role as the preserver of the teachings and traditions given to the Early Christians by the Apostles nearly 2,000 years ago and the developer of conciliar interpretations which expand and illuminate the original teachings.
Evgeni Veselinov, LA, CA

FloydTheBarber said...

Hello there,

The Bulgaria people are some of the warmest, friendliest people i've ever had the pleasure to meet and serve. You're right, i should have mentioned that and i'm happy to do so now.

The Bulgarian orthodox church on the other hand, is a heart breaking institution, i've never been in churches that offered less hope, less Gospel than the ones i visited last week. You talk about traditions...where's the Gospel? Where is the once for all time blood? Where is the supremacy of Christ in the Bulgarian orthodox church? Where is the Bible, other than in the hands of the priest? It's sadly as far from the New Testament church as many false religions.

Of course, 95% of Bulgarians claim to be orthodox, but how many of those have an actual saving faith? Even those that do are saved in spite of the church rather than though it. The Evangelical church will continue to slowly grow.

Thanks for you comment, it outlines the reasons why i hope to return to Bg again and again.