General Brian Peddle has announced that Bulgaria has become the 132nd country in which The Salvation Army is officially at work. The country became part of the Eastern Europe Territory, under territorial leaders Colonels Cheralynne and Kelvin Pethybridge, on 9 March 2021.
The work is headed up by Captain Eduard Lebedev (Regional Leader, Bulgaria) and Captain Inna Lebedeva (Regional Director of Family Ministries, Bulgaria), who are originally from Russia and Moldova respectively. They are supported by Swedish officer Lieutenant Erik Johannson and Captain Kathleen Johannson, an Australian, who are officially designated as Pioneer Team Members.
‘The Salvation Army’ in Bulgarian – a Slavic language which is written using Cyrillic characters – is ‘Армията на Cпасението’ (Armiyata na Spasenieto). A Bulgarian Salvation Army Red Shield has already been designed and registered.
Although lockdown and other restrictions have made life far from easy, the new Salvation Army ministry is already beginning to have an influence. Partnerships have been started with local Christian fellowships, particularly Amazing Grace Church, which has linked The Salvation Army with a Roma settlement in a slum area on the outskirts of Sofia. Around 35 families who live on the site were visited before Christmas and given clothes, food, toys and hygiene articles.
A number of individuals have been helped with simple food parcels and contact has been made with two Salvationists living in different parts of Bulgaria. Home visits have been possible in the teams' quarters and in other people's homes, and the Soldier’s Covenant/Articles of War has been translated into Bulgarian.
The pioneering officers have also made contact with several local churches in Sofia as well as forming relationships with representatives from an embassy and other influential organisations, all to ensure that people know about The Salvation Army’s presence in Bulgaria and are aware of its mission.
The Johannsons arrived in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, in September 2020 and were joined by the Captains Lebedev and Lebedeva and their five children in January 2021. All four officers had actually received their appointments in April 2020 from Colonel Jostein Nielsen, who was then commander of Eastern Europe Territory.
For Colonel Nielsen, a Norwegian officer, Salvation Army ministry starting in Bulgaria is literally a dream come true! As divisional commander for Moldova, he took part in the celebrations in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2006 which recognised the 15th anniversary of Salvation Army ministry recommencing in Eastern Europe and then growing behind the former Iron Curtain. At that congress, a Bulgarian flag had been presented to recognise a country in which it was believed The Salvation Army would eventually ‘open fire’.
Back in Norway nine years later, having just received an appointment to return to Eastern Europe, Jostein had a vivid dream in which he saw a Salvation Army brass band playing in Bulgaria. Later that year, now living in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, he received a phone call out of the blue from Geir Joesendal, a friend of his brother, who was staying nearby. When the two men met and the potential of expanding into Bulgaria came up in conversation, Geir revealed that he had properties and contacts in the country and that he would be willing to provide assistance.
Jostein felt that God was opening a door and, after discussion with his territorial leaders, a year later he was in Sofia, talking to a representative from the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance who told him: ‘Where have you been so long? We have been waiting for you for 20 years!’
In 2019, registration was granted for The Salvation Army to begin work in Bulgaria and, even though lockdown and a worldwide pandemic have caused delays, the prayers from a 15th anniversary congress held almost 15 years ago are now being answered.
The General says: ‘I am delighted to welcome Bulgaria into the worldwide Salvation Army family. In these days of difficulty, it is fantastic to see God answer prayers made in faith so many years ago in creating this opportunity. God bless Captains Lebedev and Lebedeva, God bless Captain and Lieutenant Johannson and God bless The Salvation Army in Bulgaria.’
Report by IHQ Communications