BULGARIAN CHRISTIAN STUDENT UNION
bul. Hristo Botev 13, et. 4, ap. 8, Sofia, 1606
02/ 953 1092
© Copyright 2013 Bulgarian Christian Student Union. All rights reserved.
Our history gives testimony to the fact
that though student work is fragile,
God is faithful!
BCSU owes its existence to IFES. Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, IFES assigned two people – Gordon Showel-
At the same time, Rick and Jane Fillingham, a young family who had just graduated from a missionary college, had been praying that God would lead them in their search for an appropriate location to serve. As the changes in Eastern Europe had already begun, their professor suggested that they might consider one of these countries. So they began investigating different opportunities for work with IFES in Eastern Europe. IFES referred them to Poland, but after a week long trip in this country, in April 1992, they decided against moving there. Poland was too large, which would mean long absences from home, and Rick and Jane had two young children. After that they went to Bulgaria for a week to get to know the work of another ministry, International Teams. During a service in the Pentecostal church in Veliko Tarnovo, Rick was filled with joy and the conviction that this was the country, in which they had to serve. They immediately sent a letter to the IFES coordinator for Europe, Jonathan Lamb, explaining to him their desire to work in Bulgaria and that they were considering coming with the International Team ministry. They then received an answer from IFES, which mentioned nothing about their desire to go to Bulgaria, but instead offering an opportunity to go to Hungary to help start the Hungarian student movement there. Rick wrote again to Jonathan, declining the offer to work with IFES however soon after wards he received another letter, to discuss an interview in IFES’ head office!
At the time Rick and Jane began rethinking their involvement with International Teams so they decided to go to the interview. It was very brief -
Then one day Jonathan phoned them up and asked them, “Do you still want to work in Bulgaria?” They confirmed their desire and were told that they could go. What brought about this change? After three years of work, Gordon and Dora were still struggling to begin a work in Bulgaria and as they left the country they agreed that Rick and Jane might come and serve. Thus the door for an organized student witness in Bulgaria was finally opening.
Thus in a room, not too far from Rakovski Boulevard in Sofia, the Bulgarian student movement was born. The name BCSU was chosen soon after that at a small student committee, including Todor, Oleg and some other newcomers. Many of the students didn’t stay committed to the group but the core of the group remained.
Rick Fillingham spent five years in Bulgaria. He traveled tirelessly around most of the student centers in the country – Varna, Plovdiv, Burgas, Svishtov, Shoumen, Rousse, Blagoevgrad etc. In the summer of 1996, Rick and Jane left Bulgaria -
At the time of his arrival in Bulgaria, Rick had only five students’ addresses and only one of them had shown interest in the student work – Oleg Vassilev. Oleg was a studying physics in Sofia. He took Rick to a student group, led by Todor Velchev. With the help of Todor, Oleg and their friends, Rick planned a meeting on March 2nd, 1993 to explain the purpose of the student movement. Twenty students showed up, but Rick’s interpreter did not. One of the students tried to interpret but unfortunately he was inexperienced and interpreted the word ‘regeneration’ as ‘reincarnation’. The students began asking themselves, ‘Is this another cult?’
It was at this time that BCSU became an indigenous movement, despite some minor disputes between the nationals and the international team that arose from time to time. In 1999 the movement was accepted as a full member of the IFES movement worldwide. Jim also helped the establishing of BCSU’s publishing house. As a whole, there were many difficulties, but joys prevailed. For the four years of Jim and Muriel’s service they enabled the Bulgarian national team to believe in themselves -
So, the work in Bulgaria grew substantially. In the autumn of 1996 a group was founded in Varna. One of the student participants, Ilia Iliev, was from Bourgas. He helped found a student group in Bourgas which met in his home. Other universities also opened their doors for the Good News. By the end of October groups were formed in Yambol and Shoumen. In 1997-
Rick Fillingham’s work prepared the ground for the years of growth which followed. It was another person, Jim Hopkins from Scotland, who was called by God to steer this growth and see that BCSU remained faithful to its calling as well as its IFES roots.
Jim had visited Bulgaria on numerous occasions to deliver Christian literature during the 80’s (much to the annoyance of the authorities at the time). He was also involved in mission work for OM in Plovdiv, Velingrad and Chepelare and had worked with Saltmine in Sliven. One of Jim’s former lecturers from Glasgow Bible College first approached him about the position of IFES Team Leader in Bulgaria as Jim was finishing his MTh. Then Jonathan Lamb traveled to Glasgow to interview Jim and offer him the job. Later, while musing on the reasons why he accepted the offer, Jim says: “Bulgaria was the first reason … student ministry was the second -
Jim and Muriel arrived in Sofia late in 1996, in the midst of big political changes. Within the first few weeks of their arrival they “jumped for freedom” with over 100,000 other protestors outside Nevski Cathedral. The financial situation was disastrous and food availability was terrible. They stood in lines “with everyone else for bread, milk and toilet paper,” sometimes without knowing what they were waiting for – “if it was a long queue it must have been something good,” he commented (which often meant soft toilet paper!). They both remember that even in the midst of crisis the Bulgarian people were always extremely polite, helpful and understanding towards them. They discovered that “a real Bulgarian friend is a friend for life, through good times and bad.”
At the same time two more full time workers were employed in Sofia – Stoyka Krasteva and Chavdar Hadjiev. There was a group of student who met from various universities in Sofia, as well as a group solely for economics students . Later other groups in Sofia also were formed. Attempts were made to found a group for students from the Technical University and another one for international students. At the same time another worker was appointed in Plovdiv – Nikolay Valchev, who left a year later. His place was to be taken by Roumyana Todorova. A coordinator for Northern Bulgaria had been appointed – Tanya Vladimirova. After Tim Awtrey and Anthony Anderson, a number of other missionaries came to BCSU – Andrew Lawson (who spent five years in Bulgaria), Peter McIlvena and Matthew Lacy. At this time the national coordinator was also a foreigner – Jim Hopkins. His place was taken by Chavdar Hadjiev – the first Bulgarian coordinator elected in 1999. By the summer of 1998 BCSU had groups in 11 towns, consisting of approximately 166 students.
n 1997 and 1998 two ‘Bible and Life’ conferences were organized. A few national conferences took place as well – ‘Effective Christians in Our Generation’ (Yambol’ 97), ‘Alive is He, alive!’ (Youndola’ 98) In 1998, two graduate conferences took place – ‘You are not alone’ and ‘Work – a challenge and worship’. The well-
The year 1999 marked a turning point for BCSU. After five or six weary years of traveling for Gordon, Dora and Rick, the first permanent groups started in 1995 and their number increased to 19 in 1998. This growth was due to the hard work of our founders as well as to the increase of born again students in the beginning of the 90’s attending the country’s universities. The Holy Spirit was at work in the students’ hearts and led the staff workers to the places, where there was a hunger for God’s word and for Christian witness. However, in 1999 the number of incoming students, who were believers, began to sharply decline. This led to a decline in the number of student groups in the country – with 13 in 1999, 10 in 2002, and 8 in 2006.
In 1999 BCSU created its own charter, a Board and a Bulgarian team of workers. At the IFES World Assembly in Seoul, BCSU was accepted to become an official member of the international community. Among the delegates were Stoyka Krasteva and Trif Trifonov. At the next assembly in Holland the delegates included Chavdar Hadjiev and Darena Tsoneva.
Since 2000 BCSU has begun publishing the Bulgarian translation of the Old Testament commentaries series ‘Tyndale’. Over a three-
The group in Veliko Tarnovo is the oldest and has never ceased to exist. After Trif Trifonov met Rick Fillingham, in the autumn of 1992 he founded a group in his room in the student dorm, where he lived at the time. Soon Vanya began helping him in his work and not long after that they became a family. There were so many people who wished to join the group that there was not enough room and so the group split into two groups. The second one was led by Ceci and Miro Ilievi. After these two families graduated, the leadership baton was passed to Daniela Nikolova and Hristo Hristov. They were succeeded by Elsa Marinova and Ventsy Georgiev. By 1999, the number of the students diminished and the group was again united to create one in the city. In spite of the unstoppable efforts of Tanya Vladimirova the group went through a deep crisis in the beginning of the new century, but in 2005 its number reached 20-
As it has already been mentioned, the years 2000-
Another highlight in the witnessing activities in 2003-
In the year 2000 Darena Tsoneva began working for BCSU. Her responsibility was the universities throughout Sofia, as well as the work in Blagoevgrad. She brought to the work her incredible energy and ideas and in a short time period won the students’ hearts. Quite a few future leaders came out under her leadership and care. From 1998 to 2000 these were Ani Dimitrova (later on OEC secretary), Marieta Marinova (Studio 865), Teodora Paligorova, Dimitar Yunchov, Zhechka Stoyanova, and Nikolay Zlatev. From 2001 to 2005 the group leader was Peter Rashev (later a youth leader at ‘Good News’ church), Nadezhda Mitkova, Ivona Lazarova and Georgi Todorov. In the end of this period leaders were Petya Vassileva, Simeon Tanchev and Martin Kalinov. This is also the place to mention the summer project with Portuguese students in Dryanovo, organised by Darena in 2002 with the help of Sofia group.
With the help of UCCF England, Mark’s gospel was published in a style attractive and suited to students. A few unbelieving students attended the groups organized for the purpose of studying the book of Mark. In 2001, BCSU published another material, called ‘Alternative’, for students interested in learning more about Jesus. The discussions included issues like the truth, career, success, fate, freedom, and guilt. Again a lot of new people joined the groups in Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Varna and Shoumen as a result of these discussions. The groups in Sofia, Shoumen and Varna organized the distribution of ‘TI’ magazine accompanied by an inquiry and invitation for non-
In 2003 Jason Lane, the founder of the media ministry within IFES, called Innovista, was invited to the country. With his help, the BCSU team went through a training course, later published as ‘Friendly Witness’. It was based on two well-
The group in Blagoevgrad was formed in 2003 and included many active students like: Anatoly, Kristina Mladenova, Sylvana Petrova and Maria Arabadji. In 2004-
In 2003 BCSU approved a program for voluntary workers. The plan was that for volunteers to become part of the team, but would work on a voluntary basis. Among the first volunteers was Marieta Marinova, who lived in Sofia and traveled to Blagoevgrad to coordinate the group there. The other voluntary worker was Ivo Michailov, who started work in 2003 in Shoumen. He played a decisive role in the organization of a group of graduates from Shoumen University and later on took the responsibility for the student group there. During 2006, he designed the new BCSU web site. Ivelina Nikolova successfully founded a group of former students in her home town Dobrich, which unfortunately fell apart after she left for Sofia in 2005.
In 2004 Teodora Atanasova left BCSU in order to begin an academic career in Shoumen University. Liliana Krasteva took over the group in Plovdiv from her. After Teodora’s departure, a large number of the students graduated and others simply stopped meeting with the group. As in many other cases, it turned out that with the departure of a charismatic leader, everything had to start from a scratch…After all she’ll be remembered by her colleagues and students as the person who’s given her heart to BCSU. Despite her poor health, she traveled constantly and encouraged the students to meet and work for the growth of His Kingdom. After her leaving a few students continued to meet and study the Bible, but their efforts to organize activities for unbelievers weren’t particularly successful. In 2006 Liliana’s place was taken by Peter Valkov, a previous leader of Veliko Tarnovo group. He lived in Sofia and traveled to Plovdiv.
In August 2005 Craig Weyrens arrived in Varna. He was a worker from InterVarsity USA and for three years had brought teams of students to our evangelical summer projects. After an intensive course in Bulgarian and an active work with the Varna group, from the autumn of 2006 he moved to Blagoevgrad with the purpose to take responsibility for the group there. His other duties included traveling around the country in order to train on discipleship and evangelism. Craig also takes every chance to search for sponsorship for BCSU among friends and groups in America. In 2007 he moved to Veliko Tarnovo, where he got married to Tanya Vladimirova. After a year of sabbatical, they moved to Sofia to serve the ministry there. During their sabbatical, Tanya and Craig worked on creating a program for volunteers, which began in full force in the fall of 2010. This program is now running and more and more volunteers are being added to the structure and ministry of BCSU.
In the entire country, for many years there were five full time workers, three of who where paid by BCSU -
In November 2013, BCSU celebrated their 20 year anniversary at the National Forum. The main speaker for the event was Rick Fillingham, the original founder of BCSU, who spoke on the theme of “Treasure”.
In 2014 a new worker arrived from InterVarsity: Elizabeth Howald. She worked in Sofia -