Teddy and her friend Suzy are high school students and Adventists living in Montana, a city in northwestern Bulgaria. They were concerned about their friend, Claudia, who was spending too much time with the wrong crowd at school. The girls began praying for their friend.
Teddy made a special effort to spend time with Claudia, inviting her to go shopping or share a pizza and a good laugh. One day Claudia said, “I didn’t know that Christians could have so much fun! You and Suzy are really fun people!”
Claudia liked going to discos, and Teddy wasn’t sure if she would enjoy a religious meeting. But she invited Claudia to Friday evening vespers, adding that the group loves to sing and have a good time while they study the Bible.
Claudia went, and she loved it. She began attending regularly and joined other youth activities. When Claudia’s other friends invited her to the disco, she told them that she had found a better place to spend her time—in church!
That’s how God’s message is spreading among the Romani people—friend to friend.
Most Romani (Gypsy) people in Bulgaria retain their traditional language and culture. When one Romani in this closely knit culture finds Christ, others follow. In the city of Kyustendil [KYOOS-ten-dil] in western Bulgaria, the Adventist church has exploded among the Romani people. Today one out of every 11 Romani in this city is an Adventist.
The biggest challenge to membership growth is finding meeting halls that are appropriate for worship. Money is a challenge, for the majority of Romani are manual laborers and don’t earn a large salary. Other Adventists in Bulgaria are helping all they can, but they too struggle financially.
While the Romani living in the Montana area of northwestern Bulgaria tend to value education more than the average, they face other challenges. The area has retained a stronger Communist and atheistic view of life, which makes it more difficult to reach both the Romani and the Bulgarian populations with the gospel. While the close ties among the Romani community make it easier to share the gospel with other members of the community, the atheistic mind-set leaves individuals more resistant to the gospel.
When the current Adventist pastor, Radev, first arrived to lead the Montana Romani congregation, just 15 Romani Adventists met with the Bulgarian congregation. The group held a successful evangelistic series among the Romani, and several people were baptized. A group of Romani who had been working overseas returned and joined the congregation.
Several members lived in a small town some 20 miles [about 30 kilometers] from Montana. Today this town also has a church with 20 members and about 15 visitors plus children.
“We’re seeing an opening in the mind-set of the Romani people,” Pastor Radev says. “More people come to listen to the message God has for them. They haven’t yet made decisions to join God’s family, but they are listening and learning.”
About 5,000 Romani live in the town of Montana, a city of about 40,000 in the in the northwestern corner of Bulgaria. That’s one Romani for every eight people in the city. The Romani church has 45 members and about 30 regular visitors. In addition, about 20 children regularly attend their own services in a nearby house. The believers meet in an old café, an unheated building with thin walls and no electricity or running water in the heart of the Romani community.
The church has purchased a piece of land in the community, and a new church is under construction there. The members work to help make their dream of a church come true. The church will seat about 180 and will include rooms for the children and youth. While this sounds like a large church for a congregation of 70 or 80 people, past experience has shown that once the church is built, it will be filled. “We’re planning for growth, but we need to build the church before we can realize that growth,” Pastor Radev says.
The church members look forward to the day that they can hold outreach programs in the community, including small-group meetings and evangelistic series. That’s difficult now, as the café where they worship is inadequate. But soon the day will come when the new church opens and the Romani people will flood in.