Here are some raw notes I took recently from a friend who knows this dear brother in Christ.
Beginning around 1972, he pastored a church in the town of Kardjaly, located in southern Bulgaria's Rodopi Mountains, during the communist era. The church was right next door to the police station. He was so on fire for God and moving in the gifts of the Spirit that he was found out by the police.
They arrested him and sent him and his wife into exile. They were sentenced to 5 years in a town where there were no Christians, only Turk Bulgarians (Muslims) and hard-core communists. He was stripped of his official right to be a pastor, so his credentials were taken away and he was not legally allowed to function in this capacity.
He was given hard labor to do, which he had never done before. He was a very learned and intelligent man. He and his wife were required to sign in at the government office in the morning and then sign in again in the evening to prove they had not fled the town.
People there knew he was a pastor. So as time went on, these people began to come to his home, sometimes at midnight, to inquire with him. He returned from exile in 1979. Since then there is a church that exists in that village from those believers who came to Christ through this man’s witness for Christ.
After he returned from exile, he went to live in Plovdiv. Of course, his “criminal” records followed him, so it was difficult to find work. He eventually found a good job. He was still not allowed to function as a pastor legally. Yet he started another secret prayer group in the home of an old lady. They would meet Monday through Friday from 12 to 2 PM. He also had various other groups meeting secretly in the homes on different nights of the week. All the members of this secret, home prayer group went on to be leaders in the Body of Christ.
When the political changes happened in 1990, Mladen was once again recognized as a pastor. He emerged as pastor of the Plovdiv church. This is the church that my friend Marina and all the believers I am connected with in this area were a part of at one point! What a testimony of fruitfulness and multiplication!
My friend, Marina was one of those people who was part of Mladen's secret prayer group. She is now a PhD in Leadership Studies and heads up the ORA International ministry for the nation of Bulgaria. Marina came to the Lord through her sister, Zlatka, who came to the Lord through her cousin Nadia. Let's look at the testimonies of Nadia, then Zlatka, and finally Marina.
Marina’s cousin, Nadyezhka, is known affectionately as "Nadia". Her name means Hope and she had two sisters named Faith and Charity, but the Bulgarian versions of those names, Vyera and Lyubov.
She was a prolific and talented writer of poems and novels, but she did not yet know Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
In the communist days, all written works had to be submitted to the government censorship committee, so they could check it and make sure you were not saying anything against the government. They would decide whether to allow your works to be published.
Every time she submitted her works to the committee by mail, they would write back saying, “Yes, you have talent. But keep practicing and one day your works will be published.” Then she found out eventually that the president of this government organization was publishing her works under his own name as his own works. She was crushed.
She went into her room and closed the door. She wanted to end her life. She looked up and cried out, “IF there is a God, where is Truth?!” Suddenly a very bright light appeared in the corner of the room. An open Bible appeared in the beam of light and a voice said, “This is the Truth.”
She did not even own a Bible. She went and told an old lady who had been praying for her to be saved. She said, “I know you have told me about Jesus, and I have not believed.” Then she told her about the vision in her room. The old lady gave her own Bible to Nadia.
Nadia became a believer. She was married at the time. She raised all of her children to serve the Lord and they are all serving him today in 2009. Nadia is a mature, elder woman now.
It was through her that Marina’s sister Zlatka came to Christ.
Here is the story of how Marina came to Christ through her sister Zlatka.
Zlatka came to Christ through her cousin Nadia. She then attended the secret prayer meetings
She invited her sister Marina, my friend, to the public church services, but Marina did not go at first.
Marina would hear Zlatka going around the house singing and speaking in these strange languages. One day Zlatka decided she would stay home. That day Marina decided this would be the day she would visit her sister’s church, but without her sister.
She went to the meeting and heard the pastor of the church preaching from Acts 13 about worshipping the “unknown God” named Jesus.
She went home and began to read her sister’s Bible. She started with Genesis and read Exodus, but when she got to Leviticus and Numbers, she was lost. She then started to read the New Testament. That touched her heart more than the Old Testament.
God began to get a hold of Marina's heart. She would wait until her family was gone to bed and then she would be up late crying out to God in repentance for her sins.
Her sister soon made arrangements to take her to the home of an old couple that was 82 years old, who had opened their home for prayer. So it was Marina, her sister Zlatka, and two other ladies went to the old couple’s home. They met there on May 15, 1980. That day she became a believer and was baptized in the Holy Spirit all on the same day.
Once Marina gave her life to Jesus, she was invited to attend the secret prayer meetings. She continued to attend these every weekday from 12-2PM for 10 years, plus many of the groups that met at night.
As previously mentioned, it is worth repeating that all of the people who attended these meetings are still serving the Lord today in leadership roles.
The police did not know about this meeting, since they would have stopped it if they knew. Church meetings were only allowed in public buildings. The secret police would attend these meetings to make sure everything was bland. She said the believers always knew who the secret police were that attended the church services, so the police were not too secret.
If the pastor started to preach on the gifts of the Spirit or telling people to evangelize others, the police would call him down to the police station and tell him to tone it down and stop that.
The church was not allowed to have any programs or outreach. There was no social work among the poor, the sick, or those in prison. Sunday School was forbidden, since “Children must be trained by the government!” No teaching them the Bible in church in a way they can understand.
You were not allowed to own more than one Bible. So there were no Bible bookstores or stockpiles, except secretly. People like brother Andrew would smuggle Bibles into Bulgaria and the other countries that were behind the iron curtain.
Marina did not have her own Bible for 3 years after she was saved. She was reading her sister’s. The way you would get a new Bible was that while you were at the prayer meeting and you were bent over kneeling in prayer, someone would quietly come up behind you and slip a Bible under your arm. You would not own who gave it to you, so that if the police asked you who gave it to you, there would be no way for you to divulge the person’s name.
The other way it could be done is that a person could write their name in a Bible and then give it to you. They were legally allowed to give you their own Bible, as long as they didn’t own a second one. So as long as the police thought that someone gave you their personal Bible, it would be considered legal.
So Marina came to Christ through her sister, Zlatka, who came through her cousin Nadia. Both Marina and Zlatka attended Mladen's secret prayer meetings. As for Pastor Mladen, he is still serving as a pastor today in Asenograd. Mladen’s life has borne much fruit and he has truly multiplied. All of this through small groups during the days of communism.
Believers have met in small house groups in Bulgaria going back to communist times. It has been a very effective way to build the church for decades.
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.