Monty’s Ministry in Bulgaria: April/May 2003

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A country of contrasts is how Bulgaria could be described. It is a very beautiful country but has dilapidated buildings everywhere. There is tremendous poverty—there is high unemployment and those in work sometimes go months without any pay due to cash flow problems experienced by their employers. On the other hand, many people walk around in designer-label clothes. The roads are long and straight—some have good road surfaces while others are full of potholes—we were told that one mountain pass has potholes the size of a small car! The food is delicious and full of flavor as it is basically organically grown, but the people smother everything in salt! The Bulgarians have endured many years of tribulation and suppression, yet they are full of optimism. They have been indoctrinated with atheism and evolutionary teaching and yet they are ready to reject it all and turn to the God of the Bible when they are shown evidence to support the Bible’s claims. Although they have cause to be suspicious of foreigners because of what they have done to them in the past, they eagerly embrace foreign visitors and are kind and generous to them.

It was a great joy for my wife and I to be able to make a return visit to Bulgaria this year. We arrived there on Thursday 24th April and were surprised to find ourselves amidst their Easter celebrations—they celebrate Easter according to the Orthodox calendar—one week later than ours. It is the first time we had experienced two Easters in one year! The pastor who was coming to meet us had to send someone else, as his vehicle had broken down when he was about 20 km away—this reflects the state of most of the vehicles in Bulgaria. People can only afford to have vehicles that are quite old and are, therefore, unreliable—it is also very difficult for them to afford the fuel, let alone the spare parts to repair and maintain them!

We were instead met by Pastor Ivan Hazarbassanov and Dr Lyubka Tantcheva from the Christian Centre in Sofia. This was the first time we had actually visited the capital city of Sofia. There are run-down, tall, grey, blocks of flats lining the streets as well as fine buildings, statues and a magnificent Orthodox Cathedral with gold-clad domed roofs. In a dilapidated looking suburb of this city, there was a subway—we descended it expecting just to cross safely to the other side of the road—imagine our amazement to discover bright, clean rows of fashionable shops lining both walls of this underground street.

I spoke at the Christian Centre, which is run by Pastor Ivan Hazarbassanov, later that day. About 70 people attended, most of them were believers. The church building is at present rented and is a theatre left over from the communist era. This is a temporary measure, as at present the church is having a purpose-built building being constructed. The pastor was most alarmed to discover that we did not have overcoats with us. He wrapped up warmly to enter the building as there was no heating in the building! We had left Britain during the warmest April we could remember experiencing. We arrived in Bulgaria at the end of a very long and cold winter for them. Based on the temperatures we experienced last year we had taken only summer clothes, we were frozen in the church but the welcome of the Bulgarian people was as warm as ever. I spoke about “Creation/Evolution: Can you trust the scientists?” This message was very much appreciated—just as it was last year. People were thrilled with the PowerPoint presentation—in fact, the pastors of every church I visited were eager to ask questions about this equipment and desire to have it for their own churches. At the end of the meeting, it was our joy to have creation materials in the Bulgarian language to give to these needy people.

Last year, we had been very upset when we discovered the need in Bulgaria for materials that explained to them the facts that support Creation and that show errors in the evolutionary account. We had nothing that they would understand to leave with them. During the last twelve months my translator, Pastor Darin Ivanov, together with a number of other people, have worked very hard to get four of our 50 page booklets translated into the Bulgarian language. The booklets were also printed in Bulgaria. It was almost as much of a joy for us to see these materials as it was for the Bulgarians to receive them—to see the delight on their faces as they took away the booklets to read and to share with their friends. The piles of booklets were eagerly devoured at the end of every meeting. Knowing that the Gospel message is in each of these booklets means that the message of salvation will be spread everywhere these booklets go.

The next morning was the Orthodox Calendar’s “Good Friday,” but the Bulgarians call it “Cross Friday.” We were pleased to discover the Lord had answered our prayer regarding the weather as it was a lovely, warm and sunny day. First of all, I recorded a Radio Interview. I was also supposed to record a TV interview but the TV Crew got called away to record another item. I then met Orlin Raykov and his wife, Tsveti—they both had worked hard in getting the booklet Is there really a God? translated and printed in time for the visit to Bulgaria earlier in the month by Dr Terry Mortenson from AiG (USA), organized by Campus Crusade for Christ.

After that, I gave a talk at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences at Sofia University. This is a very prestigious group of people who are highly respected scientists and it was quite a privilege to have the opportunity to address them. Dr Lyubka Tantchiva, who had invited me, arranged the meeting and introduced me. I gave a specially prepared talk on “Interpreting the Scientific Evidence.” About 40 people attended this meeting—some of them were Christians while others were not. I was unsure what would happen during the question time and was pleasantly surprised when several people stood up and gave speeches of thanks and appreciation for what they had heard. No one quibbled with anything I had said! Some expressed surprise regarding the Mount St Helens” volcanic eruption that I had talked about in my lecture as none of them knew anything about the incident. This, like many other facts, had been suppressed during the days of communism. Here, as in the church the previous night, the Bulgarian booklets were devoured, as were the materials we had taken in the Russian language.

The evening meeting was again at the Christian Centre in Sofia. As we drew up outside the building we saw a long line of people queuing up to attend the Good Friday Church Service which was being held in the small Orthodox Church next door to our meeting place. Again, about 70 people attended our meeting; some of them were from the Academy. The pastor surprised my wife, Irene, by asking her to give a word of testimony but I know that she was thrilled to be able to tell these people of how she had found the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior. I spoke about “The Flood, Fossils, and Faith.” At the end Pastor Ivan made an appeal and three people responded and publicly prayed the sinners prayer—people from the church will follow them up to make sure they understand the importance of their decision and to help them grow in the Lord. Again there was a huge clamor for the booklets.

On Easter Saturday (26th April), we were taken on our journey to Rousse. On our way we noticed a number of changes since last year. One was that there were more road signs—thanks to the EU which has ploughed a lot of money into the country to help Bulgaria improve its road standards in advance of its applying to become a member of the EU. They must have used material other than aluminum in order to deter the gypsies from stealing these signs. We also noticed tractors in the fields—again we were told that the EU has made cheap loans available to farmers. There were still many farmers ploughing with horse-drawn ploughs, but the majority of the fields seemed to be mechanized. We also noticed that even in the fields that were being tended by hand, there was often a car parked whereas last year there were only carts with horses, mules, or donkeys. We even saw an aeroplane crop spraying. The roads were also in a much better state of repair than last year—again due to EU money.

We briefly visited Bishop Peter’s church in Rousse where the rehearsals were going on in preparation for the Easter Sunday Service. At breakfast on Easter Sunday morning, we discovered that our communication skills were as lacking as last year. Trying to remember to shake our heads for “yes” and nod them for “no” was still as difficult as ever. My wife held up her hand to gesture that we did not want any more toast, only to discover that she had just ordered another five slices! A basket of brightly colored boiled eggs was on display—a Bulgarian Easter tradition—and we were invited to take one each. It was our delight to discover, later on, that a number of the staff at this hotel are Christians and they were thrilled to be given copies of our booklets.

We were taken to Bishop Peter’s church where I was to speak after their shortened Easter Sunday Service. As we arrived at the church everyone was excited because it was Easter. Their tradition is to greet one another with, “Christ is risen!” and then reply to each other with, “He is risen indeed!” As we could not respond in Bulgarian, we resorted to just replying, “Hallelujah!” as this is the same in all languages. It was lovely to experience their excitement at the commemoration of this glorious day.

Someone in the church owns a tulip field and he gave the church hundreds of bright red tulips. Only the heads were used to edge the carpet runners throughout the building—they were also along each of the windowsills and along the edge of the platform that ran the whole width of the building. There were also vases of them. It made a very colorful sight.

The first hour was spent in a normal Easter Service of rejoicing at the fact of worshipping a risen Savior. There were songs, hymns, Bible readings, and a sketch by the children, this was followed by a short (half an hour) Easter sermon by Bishop Peter. Then the meeting was handed over to me and I spoke for just over an hour on “The Flood, Fossils and Faith.” I was able to weave in the Easter message when considering the judgment of Noah’s day and warning of the judgment that is yet to come.

In the afternoon we traveled to Borova for the church’s Sunday afternoon meeting. This is the church where our interpreter, Darin Ivanov, is the pastor. We visited this church last year—in fact it is where we held our very first meeting. We noticed many improvements to this building—a new tiled floor, a platform, office furniture for the pastor and there was even a table for the projector—no need this year to have a makeshift table from a chair and medicine cabinet! Most interesting of all though, was the fact that the church had grown in number—it had more than doubled in the year and there were over 50 people there. In Bulgaria, people take a lot of notice of educated people and they respect their advice. Although the local GP in this town is not yet a Christian he has been greatly impressed by the Creation magazine that Darin has given him. This has caused him to encourage people from the town to attend this church even though he does not attend it himself!

The weather when we awoke on Easter Monday (28th April) was again cold and very wet. We had a long journey ahead of us—about 250 miles from Rousse, on the banks of the River Danube, to Burgas which is situated on the Black Sea coast. Unfortunately, we could not see much of the beautiful scenery due to the poor visibility caused by the rain. It was about 3:30 PM when we reached the hotel, and we had a short time to settle in before being met by the pastor of the Evangelical Church at 5:00 PM. We were delighted to discover a Bulgarian Gideon Bible in our room. Pastor Zivko Tonchev escorted us to a theatre which they hire for their church services. This theatre is located next to the university. About 250 people attended this meeting where I spoke on “Creation/Evolution: Can you Trust the Scientists?” There was a huge clamor for the booklets at the end of the meeting and some people were holding them lovingly to their chests.

On Tuesday 29th April, we had a fairly short journey to Varna, further along the Black Sea coast. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny once more. However, Darin’s car developed a problem due to having changed from his winter tires to the summer tires—the wheels needed balancing. We went to an ordinary repair garage so that the wheels could be balanced. There were more contrasts here. We went into the office/waiting area and found the cleanest building you can imagine with a magnificent marble staircase leading to the toilets—the toilets were the cleanest we experienced in Bulgaria. It cost less than three pounds to get the wheels balanced—this will give you a small idea of how poor the people in Bulgaria are and how much in need of aid many of them are.

We stopped for lunch at a very pretty seaside town called Nesebar—it is very popular with tourists. The town was bustling with activity as they prepared for the holiday season. Roads were being resurfaced, buildings refurbished, boats were being painted and fishing nets were being repaired—you could not help but think of the disciples mending their nets when the Lord passed by and called them to follow Him and become fishers of men.

We arrived at Varna at about 4:00 PM and checked into our hotel, had a short rest and then walked to the church which was only a few streets away. This church is the biggest Pentecostal Church in the area with about 650 people that attend on a Sunday morning. Pastor Nikolay Kokonchev is very pleased with his building which is about five years old—it is one of the few purpose built church buildings in the country. After setting up everything in preparation for the meeting we were greeted with a hug by a fellow Welshman, Jack Jones, who works for the Life International Seafarers Mission. He was delighted with our Bulgarian booklets and will be able to use them together with the ones we have in Albanian and Romanian. It was exciting to have another contact for distributing these much needed materials. About 150 people attended this meeting when I spoke about “Dinosaurs and the Bible.” The message was well received and, apart from people devouring the booklets once more, people also queued up to ask me questions. One young lady very kindly gave me a gift of some fossils including two beautiful sea urchins. One lady took a pile of the booklets so that she can take them into the prison to help try to win the prisoners for the Lord.

At the end of this meeting Pastor Nikolay Kokonchev insisted that we record his reaction to the meeting which is as follows:

“As the pastor of this church I am very thankful to the Lord, and to Dr White, for this lecture. People from the church are very excited with what they heard. We have guests here from other cities, we have many students who came especially to listen to this and this is what they shared with me. They said that many times they have been asked the same questions that were put today about the Noah’s Ark, how dinosaurs got in the ark etc. and they could not answer precisely through the Bible. So this lecture greatly helped them in this direction and I can really say you really did a great job. Knowing the past and the culture of our people and the atheism which we have been brought up into, we can really see how everybody was taught in the terms of evolution so this ministry is a great help to the church here, thank you.”

Similar comments were made by all the other pastors where I ministered.

After visiting Burgas and Varna, both of which are popular holiday resorts for Westerners, we could understand why people who have been to Bulgaria on holiday do not appreciate what a poor and needy country Bulgaria is. These cities are quite magnificent and in total contrast to much of the rest of the country. There are many stylish and clean shops, magnificent hotels, a multitude of restaurants—in fact just about everything any tourist could wish for. However, the price of a meal in the best of restaurants should give the holidaymakers an idea of the standard of living—for example a three course meal for three people in one of the best restaurants cost about £11 (including drinks).

Wednesday 30th April was to be a rest day as we had another long journey back to Rousse and Pastor Darin Ivanov, our interpreter, had church commitments of his own. Again the weather was glorious—in fact, Bulgaria was experiencing one of its hottest springs ever with temperatures of 35°C. At first Darin was upset not to be able to find the highway (i.e. motorway) back to Rousse but soon we all were delighted with the problem as we discovered a fossil forest at the side of the road. We stopped the car and wandered through it for a while. It was rather annoying as our camera jammed for the second time on the trip and so we missed recording the amazing phenomena on film. The place was full of fossils and for Darin it was the first experience of looking for fossils, he got firmly hooked and is even thinking of doing a geology course.

Thursday 1st May was another glorious day. We met Darin just before 10:00 AM and he took us to visit the printers who had produced the booklets—they are not yet Christians but gave a better price than the Christian printers. They had to read the booklets for proofreading reasons and were intrigued by the message they contain. They even attended the meeting we took in Rousse so that they could hear my message. They took us to a nearby café where we sat in the sunshine chatting over our refreshments. We saw a gypsy taking a bear that was chained for a walk and begging—this is a very cruel practice that Bulgaria is trying to stop. After this, we spent some time with Darin when I showed him how to use the PowerPoint equipment for talks. We encouraged Darin to begin talking about this subject himself as he is very knowledgeable about Creation and Evolution and has a real grasp of how it can be used to evangelize his nation. I made a copy of the PowerPoint presentations I used in Bulgaria and gave them to Darin.

Unfortunately, the timing of this visit coincided with an extended holiday period which meant that places of interest we wanted to visit, such as the museum, were closed. The library was also closed and so we were unable to meet the librarian who had become a Christian after reading Creation magazine. However, we were able to look at the model of Noah’s Ark that Darin and Bishop Peter had commissioned to be built for an exhibition in their church. It will also be taken on tour around the country. They have some very good ideas of ways to try to reach their nation for the Lord.

Later in the afternoon, we began our journey to Silistra. This year the road has been finished and so we did not experience being diverted through a potato field! However, we did see some storks including one sitting in its nest which was built at the top of a telegraph post! In Silistra it was good to meet up with Pastor Jenko again—he is an interesting character who was a KGB agent before his conversion. He was being trained to betray Christians (amongst other things) but the Lord confronted him with the Gospel and he repented and became a Christian himself! About 80 people attended this meeting where I spoke on “The Flood, Fossils and Faith.” We were particularly thrilled that the headmaster of the local school attended this meeting—he is not a Christian but was very interested in the message and even asked questions. He was pleased to accept a set of our booklets and asked for more of them so that he can make them available in the school. He wants to make sure that Creation and the truths of Noah’s Flood are taught in his school! It was so refreshing to find a head-teacher who was so open minded and willing to accept the truths of Scripture when presented in a credible form.

On Friday 2nd May, Darin and his wife Vessy met us at 10:00 AM and took us to the church to sort out booklets for the rest of the trip. It was 11:00 AM before we left for our very long journey to Plovdiv. It was the hottest day we had experienced and we all were dripping with perspiration. Our long journey south involved us climbing over the Shipka Pass on the Balkan Mountains. The pass marks the site of a tremendous battle between the Turks, Bulgarians and Russians. This was when, after much encouragement from our Prime Minister William Gladstone, the Russians went to help liberate Bulgaria from the 500 year rule of the Turks at the end of the 19th Century. Many Russians lost their lives and there are a number of monuments as well as a Russian Orthodox Church to commemorate this event. The northern side of the Shipka Pass had very good roads but the minute we passed over the top of the mountain it was like entering a different world—the roads were full of potholes. This does not make any sense to us as the south is wealthier than the north. Eventually we arrived in Plovdiv at 4:45 PM—the Hotel was one of the most splendid ones we have ever seen—the reception area was magnificent.

The pastor met us at 5:30 PM ready for the meeting that was to start at 6:00 PM. However, we did not arrive at the church until 6:00 PM. This was no problem to the Bulgarians with their relaxed attitude. Pastor Bojidar Simeonov was a delightful man and gave us a very warm welcome. About 60 people attended this meeting and seemed to enjoy the talk on “The Flood, Fossils, and Faith.” The pastor insisted on putting a dish by the booklets and urged his people to place a donation when taking the booklets. At the end of the evening this money was given to us to go towards printing more booklets—we filled with tears at the thought of their sacrificial giving.

I was then interviewed for a magazine article. This church produces an excellent colored magazine on very good quality paper. Pastor Bojidar has been gripped by the importance and need for the Creation message to reach out to his nation and has reproduced (with permission) some of the articles from Creation magazine. It was so encouraging for us to meet people who know that Creation evangelism is the way to reach their nation for the Lord and are doing something about it. Pastor Bojidar is having a new church building built at the moment. They have raised most of the money they need by the sacrificial giving of his congregation who not only gave what money they could, but who also gave their jewelry and watches. They hope to raise the remainder before too long.

On Saturday 3rd May, we left Plovidiv at 10:30 AM for another long journey back over the Balkans. We had to go back over the same mountain pass as the previous day due to the fact that the other pass, that was nearer our destination, had potholes in the road that were bigger than our car! This day seemed even hotter than the previous day and we eventually arrived in Lovech at 5:30 PM. We stayed in the apartment belonging to the church. We were so exhausted that we were glad there was no meeting that night.

Sunday 4th May was our last full day in Bulgaria. We awoke to a power cut that only affected our apartment. We were met by Pastor George Michailov and taken the short journey to his church. We arrived at the church just in time for the 10:00 AM service. About 100 people were there. The platform was still decorated for Easter and had a large wooden cross in the center of the stage—it was made from crude tree trunks, with an inscription on the top of it saying in Bulgarian “Jesus King of the Jews’—it was very effective. I spoke on “The Flood, Fossils, and Faith” and again it was extremely well received. Pastor George also encouraged his people to make a donation for the booklets and so we were given more money to plough back into printing more of them. After lunch we sadly bade farewell to Darin and his wife Vessy as they returned to Rousse where the Lord has called them to serve Him. Although the electricity in the apartment where we were staying was restored it again failed later that evening.

On Monday 5th May, an American couple, Ron and Michele, who are evangelists in Pastor George’s church in Lovech took us to Sofia to catch our flight back to the UK.

As the plane took off our eyes filled with tears and we prayed that the Lord will visit this land of Bulgaria with a revival and that this nation will become a spiritual example to the rest of the world. We were sad to leave but this time we did not feel as though we had abandoned them. Being able to leave behind the booklets that explain things like Is there really a God?, Dinosaurs and the Bible, The Origin of Races, and Where did Cain get his Wife?, and knowing that each one contains the Gospel message—we knew that we had left Bulgaria with answers. These booklets will keep on reaching to people’s hearts and minds during the months to come.

If you would like to support our ministry to Bulgaria (we return again on 6th May 2004) or if you would like to donate towards more booklets being produced for Bulgaria then please send your donation to the UK office and mark it “for European Ministry.” Please pray for the nation of Bulgaria and for all of those Christians in that country who are trying to reach their fellow countrymen for the Savior. Please pray for Darin and the many others involved in producing these booklets and pray that they will help many to trust the Bible from the very first verse.

[See also Dr Terry Mortenson's (AiG–US) report on his Spring 2003 ministry in Bulgaria.]


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