While we're on the topic, I want to mention the work of Pres. Gary Stephens of the Bulgaria Sofia Mission (1997-2000). Pres. Stephens' work is, in my opinion, one of the top Eastern European missionary success stories of the past decade.
I interviewed a number of returned missionaries and Bulgarian members studying at BYU in the mid-1990s, and it seemed that no one had much positive to say about the church situation there. Several cities were opened and then closed due to lack of missionary success (one had only three members after prolonged proselyting efforts), and while some baptisms continued to occur, activity rates were as low as 10-15% in some areas, at least according to the missionaries I spoke with. There was violence against missionaries, harrassment of members, and vandalism of the mission office (bricks thrown through the windows, etc.) Those I interviewed expressed considerable concern and uncertainty about the future prospects of the Church in Bulgaria.
That all changed when Pres. Stephens came along. Pres. Stephens greatly increased activity and retention rates without sacrificing baptism rates. When he left, activity in the mission was reportedly 65% -- one of the highest activity rates in the world for an LDS mission. He also turned the government and public perceptions of the Church from hostility to respect. He led an aggressive, highly successful media campaign in Bulgaria. I've personally seen many of the numerous positive articles about the Church in Bulgarian newspapers that resulted from his efforts, as well as an impressive Bulgarian-language informational packet that he put together for the local media.
In saying this, I don't wish to take anything away from his predecessors, who did a noble work with the limited resources and serious external challenges to work with at the time. I simply want to point out that President Stephens' work was remarkable, even miraculous.
From: 'David Stewart' Date: Wed Oct 4, 2000 11:57 pm Subject: Bulgaria Sofia Mission Update
Recently returned Bulgaria Sofia Mission President Gary Stephens notes:
- New cities with missionaries in Bulgaria -- 'one of the finest little countries in the world:'
Haskovo, Yambol, Veliko Turnovo/Gorna Oryshovitsa
- Total number of Bulgarians baptized: approx. 2500
- Due to immigration, deaths, etc. approx. 1200 remain in Bulgaria.
- A chapel was finished in Sofia and another will be finished in Plovdiv by December 15, 2000
David: 'I was wondering if you might have a few brief words on current activity rates, and what approaches you have found to be most effective in ensuring the long-term retention of new converts.'
Pres. Stephens: 'Activity is better than in the United States. 65% attend every Sunday. The missionaries have been instructed to not baptize just to baptize. Because of this approach those joining the church a very committed, they understand the gospel and what is expected. The Bulgarian people are very good people who have been looking for truth for over 600 years, once it is presented they understand and and except it very readily.'
'I shall go to my grave saying that missionaries... never rise in their entire life above the stature they carve out for themselves in the mission field. I ask the missionaries all over the world to write that in their book, and then read the book ten years from now.' President Henry D. Moyle, Address to California Mission, June 2, 1962
Date: Fri Mar 2, 2001 12:19 pm Subject: Serbia update; Bashkortostan Update
Irena Maric, Serbia: As you said we have branches in Beograd, Novi Sad and Mitrovica. There are few members in Nish and they have apartment where they meet. We don't have missionaries for two years now. Just had a visit from Apostle Holland and his wife! He gave a special blessing for the country and the Church here, so now things will get better! There is about 100 active members, and a lot of those who are inactive. Ok, what else. We are translating the Book of Mormon into Serbian. Here are some picture from LDS site in Croatia. We are not in the same mission with them anymore. Now we belong to Bulgaria mission with the center in Russia.
This Bulgaria update was submitted by Richard Parker on gatheringofisrael.com.
------------------------- There are now four branches in Sofia. There were many cities newly opened at the begining of 2000. As of the time that I departed Bulgaria at the end of May, 2000, there were missionaries serving in these additional cities: Veliko Turnovo, Khaskovo, and Yambol. Also, on the 23 of April, 2000, there was a conference held in the city of Plovdiv. This meeting was presided over by Elder Hancock of the 70, then the area authority for the Europe East Area. This meeting was to organize the Plovdiv district, which consists of the cities of Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Pazardzhik, and Khaskovo. This brings the number of districts in Bulgaria to 2, and the number of branches (okay, I have to admit, I'm not certain at which point a city attains the status of branch, so these are the number of cities wherein missionaries are laboring, plus the 4 branches for the capitol city) to 17. While it is true that at one point there were plans to open the city of Dobrich, it has not yet happened, and there is no branch there.
Church News carried the story of the completion of the new mission home (they noted that it was the first Church-built building, but in actuality, it is the old Cuban Embassy, which the Church has purchased and renovated -- it's beautiful!) and the dedication thereof in June, 2000. In the same story, they mentioned the groundbreaking for a chapel in the city of Plovdiv. That chapel has since been completed. The members started meeting there on February 18, 2001. On February 20, 2001, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Hancock visited Bulgaria with their wives. While I have heard none of the details of their visit, I can only assume it was for the dedication of the building. This brings the count of Church-owned buildings in Bulgaria to two. On the main page for Bulgaria, it says that only the Book of Mormon selections is available, while the full translation of the Book of Mormon was completed and started distribution on Mother's Day, May 9, 1999. Having spoken with the translation department of the Distribution Center, they have informed me that the Bulgarian Triple (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl Of Great Price) is expected to be available by August, 2002.
Hopefully, some of this information will be able to help out those people seeking current information on Bulgaria. It is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of today, March 28, 2001. If you have any questions, or if I can offer any other help, please let me know. Thank you.
From: 'David Stewart' Date: Wed Jan 17, 2001 1:41 am Subject: Mission News Updates
Bulgaria Plovdiv Chapel From Jill Rasmussen
'Hi everyone...this is Jill in Bulgaria, just back from the US. In answer to the question, the Plovdiv chapel is still being worked on. I spoke to the mission president in December and he said it might be February or so. We are in the snow season now, so we will see how it goes. I will keep you posted.'
From: 'David Stewart' Sun Nov 12, 2000 2:30 amSubject: Religion News
NEW RELIGIOUS LAWS IN BULGARIA Summarized from Tolerance Foundation Bulletin, Sofia, November 8, 2000
The Draft Denominations Act has been submitted to the Bulgarian parliament for a second and final reading, despite the protests of human rights advocates and representatives of over sixty religious denominations. The Bulgarian Draft Denominations Act, which has been called the 'worst in all Eastern Europe,' will allow government ministers to control the curricula of religious training institutions. Human rights groups also note that the law claims wide-reaching and vague powers to 'control the activities of the various faiths with reference to their compliance.' Perhaps the most restrictive regulation is the prohibition of religious organizations to use public buildings unless there is a separate entrance. The Tolerance Foundation notes that this is likely to pose difficulties for small congregations without their own meetinghouse that meet in rented public buildings.
Date: Fri Mar 2, 2001 7:35 pm Subject: Bulgaria update
From Jill Rasmussen
After reading about Serbia, I should let you know the latest in Bulgaria also!
Elder Holland just completed his tour of Africa and then visited here also. Bulgaria mission is now responsible for Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey. Elder Holland flew to Istanbul and then came to Serbia and Bulgaria. On Feb. 20th we had an incredibly spiritual meeting with Elder and Sister Holland, Elder and Sister Hancock (Area Authority from Moscow), and Elder and Sister Galbraith (mission president). All the members in Bulgaria were invited, but it was a Tuesday, so many could not leave work. Missionaries had meetings prior, so this was only for members. 300 members were in attendance-from all over the mission- Rousse, Varna, Sofia, Blagoevgrad etc. The meeting was held in Plovdiv where the first official church building has just been completed and will be dedicated on March 18th. The setting was wonderful, the spirit incredibly strong, and yes, Elder Holland left a powerful and moving blessing upon the members, non-members and country of Bulgaria.
It was such a spiritual boost to the members and we feel positive and know that good things will happen. One thing he spoke about was the miracle of this church. He reminded us that this is, and we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that it will never be taken from the earth. It is the 'stone cut without hands' and will continue to grow. He reminded us that we are the people whom the Prophets of old saw in vision and gave them hope for the future. He called up two young men to the stand. One of them was 14. He said that Joseph Smith was this age when he received the first vision, and this is part of the miracle of the restored gospel. It begins with one and moves on and will move on to cover the earth. He also issued a warning. To never leave the boat, to never leave the church-because it is true and will lead to happiness.
It will be noted soon in the church news, but until that time, I though I would share this with you.
************** Jill M. Rasmussen--C/O AUBG #1 Blagoevgrad 2700--Bulgaria--Europe (359) 73/88224--FAX (+359 73/80079)
From: 'David Stewart' Date: Sun Oct 29, 2000 6:33 pm Subject: Full Book of Mormon published in Bulgarian, Albanian
This is forwarded from anonymous submitter at .
The full Book of Mormon was published in Bulgarian in 1999, to replace the old selections. Under the recent leadership of President Gary Stephens, who returned home in July of 2000, the official attitude towards the Church in Bulgaria experienced a turnaround, and both government opposition and local violence against the Church has all but disappeared. The Church just completed a brand new meeting house and mission home in Sofia, which is a joy to the Saints in Bulgaria.
The Book of Mormon was published in Albanian in December of 1999. The D&C is currently in translation and it is anticipated that it will be published sometime in 2002.
The Book of Mormon is currently being translated into Serbian.
Date: September 11, 2000 To: All Bulgarian missionaries and members From: President David B. Galbraith, Bulgaria Sofia Mission Re: Realignment of European missions
There is interesting news just breaking. The First Presidency has reorganized the European missions. Actually it's more a realignment. Anyway, heretofore there have been three Area Presidents all operating out of Frankfurt: Europe East, Europe North, and Europe West. Europe North will now be renamed Europe Central. Europe East which included the former Soviet countries (including Bulgaria) will be moved lock, stock, and barrel to Moscow and will lose some of its missions in the process. Europe West and Central will stay in Frankfurt.
Our new headquarters will be Moscow and it includes Bulgaria, Armenia, Lithuania (including Latvia and Estonia), Russia Moscow, Russia Moscow South, Russia Novosibirsk, Russia Samara, Russia St. Petersburg, Russia Rostov, Russia Vladivostok (this is a new one formerly tied to the Pacific region), Russia Yekateringburg, Ukraine Donetsk, and Ukraine Kiev. That's 13 missions with a church membership of 14,000. Europe East also includes all the 'stan' countries, but they are not missions yet, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
For some interesting reason, Europe East loses Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Romania, Albania, Slovenia, and Greece. All these countries, plus Moldova (you can't get to heaven without knowing where this one is), Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, all go to the newly created Europe Central.
OK, so you are weary of all these strange names, but if you ever thought this was an American Church, forget it. America, you are outnumbered! The day has already arrived when faithful members say 'Provo, I've never heard of it!' Is it in the Emirates somewhere?
Perhaps even more interesting to us here in Bulgaria is that in a letter from Elder Holland of September 7th, Bulgaria is given responsibility for Macedonia, Serbia, and last but not least: Turkey! Instead of being responsible for 8.5 million Bulgarians, as of 1 September, the mission is now responsible for 85 million souls in 4 countries. No mission exists yet in Macedonia although the lawyers are working on getting recognition. It could take anywhere from several months to a year. There have been full-time missionaries in Serbia, but given the potential dislike for anyone from a NATO country it is unlikely that we will send missionaries there. There are 3 branches of faithful Saints in Serbia: Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Sremska Mitrovitca. Also in Turkey the Church is in the process of seeking recognition. In the meantime there are proselyting couples in that country and 4 branches: Istanbul, Izmir, Adana, and Ankara.
The Church is in compliance with the Savior's admonition to 'go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.' (Mark 16:15) We are truly living in exciting times and Bulgaria is honored for having been given the added responsibility for preparing these three other nations for the time when they will be missions in their own right and have their own mission presidents. For the foreseeable future, ONLY the mission office will feel the extra load. We invite your faith and prayers on behalf of these nations that the Church will be recognized in due course and that this great latter-day work in these nations will go forward, for the First President has determined that with respect to these nations 'the field is white ready to harvest.' (D&C 4)
President David B. Galbraith