God is weaving the lives of His disciples together to reach marginalised peoples in Bulgaria and form a vibrant tapestry of Jesus-following communities.
Scripture and history show time and again, it is through the collective lives of God’s people, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, that God multiplies new groups of Jesus followers. So it is in Bulgaria, where an exciting movement is happening among marginalised peoples, in particular Turkish Muslims. Through the work of faithful disciples living out their calling to share Christ’s love with others, communities of new believers are forming throughout the country.
Three years ago, Cornel, leader of OM’s work in Romania, relocated a team of nine OM workers from an area with a healthy church presence to a new area in Romania with a large population of Muslim Turks. The people in the new location were so receptive to the gospel that they asked Cornel to also go to their friends and relatives in Bulgaria.
Through their encouragement, Cornel connected with someone in northern Bulgaria, and agreed to visit a community at Christmas time. When he showed up, the people were amazed. They told Cornel: “We thought you were not coming because Christians spend Christmas with their family in their own community. We were testing you…OK, share with us whatever you want to share.”
Cornel visited three different communities. At the third location, after sharing a simple message of Jesus, a Muslim lady came forward and told those gathered her dream from the previous night. A man had come to her and said: “I am Jesus. Follow Me.” When Cornel spoke about the very man she had dreamt about, she knew she had to follow Him. “That was the spark. From there, a lot of people wanted to know more about Jesus. And now it’s like a fire; we cannot stop it,” said Cornel. Over a few months, three new groups of Jesus followers were formed and connected with Romanian churches near the border.
Prompted by the desire to expand the work further, Cornel looked to the south of the country. It was during this time he connected with Nicolay.
From disciple to disciple-maker
Nicolay, a follower of Jesus, also longed to see God’s work expand in Bulgaria, in particular, in places in the country without a gospel presence. When he met Cornel and heard about OM’s vision to go to the unreached, he told him: “I’ve been praying for you.”
Nicolay was no stranger to spreading the good news. Years prior to meeting Cornel, Nicolay had a short-term work opportunity in Italy. While there, he shared the gospel with Jordan, a Bulgarian friend working in the country. Jordan suffered from health issues, and after hearing the gospel, said to God: “Lord, if You exist, heal me.” Nicolai prayed for Jordan, he was healed, and he became a believer. Prior to his relationship with Jesus, Jordan experienced anger problems, but through Christ, he changed. His wife, seeing the difference, also decided to follow Jesus.
One evening, Jordan brought four people to Nicolay. Again, Nicolay shared the gospel, and they too accepted Jesus. Over the following month a pattern developed: during the day, Nicolay worked, and in the evenings, he shared the gospel, and people came to Christ.
Over the next six years, as the church continued to expand, an Italian pastor asked Nicolay: “We prayed for many years for something like this to happen; how are you doing this?” Nicolay responded: “You did all the work. I just threw the seeds.”
Jordan and his wife decided to go to Greece to share the gospel, and after a year, they asked Nicolay to join them. Together they began a new group of Jesus followers among Romanian speakers in the country, quickly expanding from seven people to 30. But Jordan became sick again, this time with a life-threatening illness. After a six-year trial that eventually sent him to Germany for medical treatment, Jordan returned to Bulgaria and re-connected with Nicolay who had also gone back.
Upon returning to Bulgaria, Nicolay yearned to bring the gospel to unreached areas. He decided to start a foundation to that end, but when he approached his church for support, they didn’t share his vision. “To share the gospel, we must do it freely, but to go to people, we need money,” said Nicolay. He began praying for help. At the same time, Cornel, still in the north, asked for a connection in the south. Nicolay’s name was given to him, and a partnership was born between OM and Nicolay’s foundation.
The harvest is plentiful
The foundation, with OM’s help, has planted six new churches among marginalised communities in the south of Bulgaria. The communities are primarily Muslim Turks, Muslim refugees, Ukrainian refugees and Roma people. In most of the villages, Jesus had never been shared before. “Our vision is to go where other people do not want to go. It doesn’t matter if they are Turks or Roma or poor; we go there and help,” said Nicolay.
Jordan, too, has joined the work. On one outreach, a new group of believers formed. Because Nicolay’s heart was to take the gospel to unreached areas, Jordan said he would lead the group when Nicolay moved on. Now Jordan, along with another man, pastors the community that has grown from two people to a church with a youth group and a children’s programme. The church also propels the original vision of the foundation, travelling to unreached areas where they give out brochures and Bibles, pray for healing and meet physical needs. Most of the people they reach cannot afford a Bible or take a bus to church in a different village. OM has helped buy 400 Bibles over the past year.
Marin and his wife, Hristina are among those God reached through Nicolay’s foundation. Their personal testimony includes a powerful healing of their daughter and Marin’s deliverance from alcohol addiction. Seeing God’s power in his own life, Marin began sharing Christ with others: “I was going to the centre of the city, and I was preaching about Jesus, and they told me I was crazy.” But it wasn’t long before Marin and Hristina formed a church in their home, and with the help of the foundation, there are now more than 100 Jesus followers in Marin’s city.
Cornel shared that there are now seven groups of Jesus followers in the south of Bulgaria, and over 150 people have been baptised. While there are currently 20 disciples being trained to make new disciples, Cornel said the need for more disciple-makers is greater: “I see God working among these people. It’s like in the apostolic time. These people, they are marginalised, and not many people want to see them or talk to them. But I see they are open to the gospel, so, I’m passionate; I’m committed to do the ministry among them.”
As the Lord continues to weave the Church together in Bulgaria, pray that He would use His people to reach the 800,000 Turkish Muslims in the country. Pray that more disciples will commit to becoming disciple-makers. Pray that more workers would come to further the ministry among the unreached in Bulgaria.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:37 (ESV)