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Sergey Dimitrov, 48, posing in Sofia, Bulgaria. As a boy, he became the first Adventist in his village. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

When a Boy Planted a Church in Bulgaria

Classmates taunted him as “Priest” and “The Worshipper.”

By Andrew McChesney

Two Seventh-day Adventist pastors showed up in the Bulgarian village of Bukovlak and went straight to 11-year-old Sergey Dimitrov’s house.

The two men wore suits and ties, and their hair was nicely combed. Father was scared when he saw them. He thought that they were police investigators and maybe they wanted to put him in jail.

Father heaved a sigh of relief when the two men introduced themselves as pastors. Even though religion was illegal in then-communist Bulgaria, a pastor was better than a police investigator.

“Your relative sent us,” a pastor said.

Father invited the visitors into the house.

Father’s relative was a Seventh-day Adventist, and she lived far away. She had asked the pastors to visit Sergey’s sister, who was seriously ill.

Sergey watched with curiosity as the pastors gathered the family together for prayer. Afterward, they promised to pray that her surgery would be successful.

The operation to remove a cyst from the sister’s intestines was dramatic. The electricity failed during the operation, and the surgeon worked by the power of the hospital’s battery. It was a complicated surgery, but it was successful.

After that, Father invited the pastors to return to the house to pray.

The pastors were prepared to do more than pray. They arrived with a bag of children’s crafts and a reel-to-reel children’s Bible movie that could be watched on a hand-cranked projector.

Calling over Sergey, a pastor said, “Go invite your friends to do crafts and watch a movie. We want to teach them about Jesus.”

Sergey ran from house to house as fast as he could in the village of 3,500 people. He was worried that the movie was about to begin. His friends also didn’t want to miss the movie. Some came running barefoot. Others arrived without any pants.

About 45 children crowded into Sergey’s living room and watched the movie. Then they did some crafts and listened to the pastors tell a story from the Bible. At the end, the pastors gave each child a piece of candy.

The children couldn’t wait for the pastors to visit again.

“When will you come again to show us a movie?” they asked.

Two weeks later, the pastors returned with a new movie and new crafts. Sergey ran from house to house to invite his friends. After the movie, crafts, and Bible story, each child received a piece of candy, and they all asked when the pastors would return.

The pastors visited every other week for three months. Sergey kept careful watch of which children were attending and which were missing. He went to the homes of those of were missing and invited them to come. He wanted more children in his house so it would be more fun.

Then the pastors announced to Sergey that this was their last visit. They presented him with a Bible and encouraged him to continue meeting with the children. They told him to share stories from the Bible, just as they had done for the past three months.

Sergey kept the meetings going in his house. Some children at school made fun of him and called him “the Priest” and “the Worshipper.” A few boys jeeringly told him that he would never get married because no woman would want a Christian husband. The words hurt, but Sergey didn’t show any outward response. He only prayed silently, “God, please forgive them.”

One day, a woman called out to Sergey as he walked past her house.

“Hey, Priest,” she said. “Come inside. My son is dying.”

Sergey followed her into the house and found her young son lying unconscious on a bed. He had taken a nasty tumble while riding his bicycle.

Sergey prayed and asked the mother to also pray. When she said she didn’t know how to pray, he instructed her to repeat after him. When she finished, her son opened his eyes. Sitting up, he began to look for his bicycle. His last memory was of riding the bicycle, and he couldn’t understand why he was lying in bed.

Later, Sergey gave the family a Bible that he received from his Adventist relative.

Sergey became the first Seventh-day Adventist in his village when he was baptized at the age of 16. When he was 18, he planted the first Adventist church in the village. The church building was constructed with funds that he solicited from then-General Conference president Robert S. Folkenberg, who was visiting Bulgaria at the time.

Eight of the children who used to visit his house to watch Bible movies also have been baptized, and today they attend the church with their own children. The mother whose son was in the bicycle accident also became an Adventist.

“From a humble beginning, many people were baptized,” said Sergey, who is now 48. “Now 86 members and many visitors come to the church every Sabbath.”

Sergey Dimitrov encouraging children to follow Jesus today. In English and Bulgarian. (Andrew McChesney / Adventist Mission)

Part of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering in first quarter 2020 will help construct a new church building for Sofia West Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sofia, Bulgaria. Thank you for planning a generous offering.