Youth Revival in Bulgaria
September 25, 2013
Fun, fellowship, and opportunities for spiritual growth draw hundreds of young people to evangelistic events held in various locations in Bulgaria.
In 865 A.D., the nation of Bulgaria adopted Christianity as its state religion. Steeped in tradition, it’s still true today that Bulgarian identity is almost synonymous with Eastern Orthodoxy.
Yet something is missing. Devotion for God has waned. Blame it on 50 years of communist repression, the growing Islamic presence, or the sway of changing times. Whatever the reason, many Bulgarians are feeling disillusioned about matters of faith. In the case of the younger generation, some have rejected religion altogether.
A Christian Aid-assisted evangelical ministry called Good News Churches wants to reverse that trend. In a landscape of shifting sands, they seek to give Bulgarian youth a firm foundation in Jesus Christ—a faith that won’t be uprooted by political ideologies or the latest fad.
This summer the ministry celebrated the 12th year of “New Wave,” a national Christian youth program that draws thousands of participants to an annual camp and to other high energy events.
“It is exciting to see young people on fire for Jesus and with a deep desire to serve Him,” said a gospel worker with the ministry, who together with his wife serve as national coordinators for New Wave.
The main event took place in July, when a throng of enthusiastic young people between the ages of 14 and 25 gathered for Spirit-filled worship and fellowship at a week-long camp near the Black Sea. In addition to Bulgarians, the camp was attended by dozens of youth from other countries in Eastern Europe.
Participants divided into small groups for in-depth Bible study and prayer. Among the topics they discussed were how to share their faith and ways to experience a deeper relationship with Christ.
“Every year we have about 20 people baptized in water and many more filled with the Spirit,” the missionary said. “A lot of parents are testifying of the change that has taken place in the lives of their children after the New Wave summer camps.”
Mini-revivals are held in the spring and the fall, bringing together 2,000 young people for a day of praising God and fervent prayer. Unlike the summer retreats, these events take place in rented sports arenas or cultural halls in large cities which can be easily accessed via public transportation from outlying towns and villages.
The youth rallies are making an impact. Some attendees commit their hearts to Christ for the first time. Strengthened in their faith, many teens return to their communities and become a witness for the Lord to their friends and relatives. Others discover their calling to become church leaders, pastors, and missionaries whose outreach will have long-term effects on the future of their nation.
The New Wave events have borne so much spiritual fruit among the youth in Bulgaria that a similar national movement has been replicated in Albania. Called “United Youth for Christ,” the event draws about 400 youth from Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. The “wave” continues to spread throughout the region, as Romanian churches have also requested assistance in organizing events for the youth in their country.
A New Era
Today’s generation lives in a different world compared to what their parents and grandparents experienced during the communist years of 1944 to 1989. There is more freedom, both politically and socially. Gone too is the system that oppressed religious activities of all denominations and faiths.
Although Bulgaria’s constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion, Orthodoxy is officially recognized as the traditional religion of the country. An estimated 82 percent of Bulgaria’s 7 million inhabitants identify themselves as Orthodox.
Evangelical Christianity, considered a sect by many Bulgarians, is slowly gaining acceptance, especially among youth. Protestants comprise just 1.9 percent of the country’s population, up from a mere 0.4 percent in 1980.
Authenticity is what young adults are looking for, and ministry leaders want them to know what it means to have a genuine, life-transforming walk with the Savior—no matter what their religious affiliation may be.
“Our vision is to invest in young people’s lives, to develop the gifts they have and their character, and to teach them to show mercy to those that are neglected and rejected in society,” said one Christian Aid-assisted missionary.
A summer camp participant is baptized in the Black Sea.
One challenge that hasn’t changed since their parents’ generation is the chokehold of poverty. According to the National Statistical Institute, over 70,000 Bulgarian young adults were registered as unemployed in August, and 24 percent of them are up to 29 years of age. As a result, some of the country’s best and brightest youth are emigrating to other European countries for jobs and money.
Others seek solace in alcohol and drugs, or experience failed relationships that contribute to the nation’s high abortion and divorce rates.
Finding a sure and steady anchor in Christ is their only hope.
Bringing the Good News to all Bulgarians
The influence of a Christian mentor can play a crucial role in shaping the direction of a youth’s future—and may point them to full-time ministry. That’s what happened to Zhivko Tonchev. He grew up admiring the dedication displayed by his grandfather, an evangelical pastor who shared the gospel and the love of Jesus even when the communist-led government deemed such actions illegal.
The move toward democracy eventually reopened doors for preaching the good news freely, and in 1990 Zhivko and his wife Nellie felt God nudging them to start an evangelical church. The couple knew they would face opposition from the Orthodox community. Local authorities initially looked upon them with suspicion. They pressed on nevertheless and named their place of worship the Good News Church.
Joined by other believers, the Tonchevs witnessed on the streets and handed out tracts. The ministry quickly grew as God added new members to their church family and more outreach programs. Today the congregation numbers more than 500 people.
Every year the church hosts conferences where hundreds of Christian leaders receive training and encouragement. Inspired by Zhivko’s example, several pioneer missionaries have joined the movement now known as Good News Churches (GNC). The churches they pastor are in association with GNC, which channels much-needed funds to poor congregations throughout Bulgaria.
Large crowds gather for praise and worship at a youth revival.
While economic times are difficult for everyone, those experiencing the most hardship are the Gypsies and Muslim Turks. Through the ministry of GNC, families in these outcast or forgotten communities are experiencing the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
Christian Aid has come alongside GNC, providing financial assistance to church planters and pastors who minister to small congregations of Turkish and Gypsy believers. Poor themselves, the pastors struggle to afford food, clothing, and other basic necessities for their families.
One Turkish pastor received funds to reach Muslims through a feeding program in his village in the Rodopi Mountains. He also appreciated the support from Christian Aid donors that helped him meet the material needs for his own children.
In a Gypsy community, 22 goats were purchased to supply milk and meat to needy families. Each goat produces enough milk to make a jar of yogurt.
Praise God for the revival taking place among the youth of Bulgaria, the churches being planted in Gypsy and Turkish communities, and the mighty moving of His Spirit that is changing lives daily. Pray for revival to sweep across the country and the entire Balkan region.