Saturday 21 October dawned bright and warm in Sofia, Bulgaria, reflecting the joyful mood at the official launch of The Salvation Army’s Bulgaria Region, part of the Eastern Europe Territory. Officers and church members from around the region gathered early for the afternoon meeting to share in fellowship and celebration.
Sixteen young dancers (and a diminutive four-year-old Superman!), sporting bright yellow Salvation Army T-shirts and wide smiles, opened the event with some energetic dancing, encouraging the congregation to clap along to the exuberant pop music.
Bulgaria Regional Director for Family Ministries, Captain Inna Lebedeva welcomed the congregation to this historic event. She said, ‘This is God’s celebration because it is the start of something that God needs to do, and years from now you will remember that you were part of the opening of The Salvation Army in Bulgaria.’ She welcomed international visitors to Bulgaria before volunteer music teacher Semion Vladimirov commenced worship by playing guitar and offering prayer, with the congregation singing ‘How Great Thou Art’.
NOW WE ARE HERE, PRAISE GOD!
Nine young people robed in turquoise came together to sing the worship song ‘Stars will Fade’, before Colonel Jostein Nielsen (Norway, Iceland and the Færoes Territory) shared his testimony of how the Salvation Army region of Bulgaria came into being. He said, ‘Eight years ago, I went to a youth camp in Norway with my wife. That night, I had a dream. I didn’t know much about Bulgaria, but I understood that God was speaking to an old man – because in the Bible it says that old men shall dream dreams. Three months later, I took a phone call from Norway and I was invited to extend the work of The Salvation Army in Eastern Europe! I eventually met with a team from the Evangelical Alliance. They said, “We need you to come, not only as a social work organisation, but also as a church.” Now we are here, praise God!’
WORKING TOGETHER FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Territorial Commander Colonel Kelvin Pethybridge was welcomed to the platform with several visitors who have worked closely with The Salvation Army, and he awarded each of them a certificate of appreciation in recognition of the part they have played in helping the dream become a reality.
The colonel said, ‘We are grateful for the support we have received since coming to Bulgaria and recognise that God has a plan for his people and his Kingdom. We are very grateful to you for helping us to create The Salvation Army here in Bulgaria. We appreciate all that you have done, believing that if we worked together we could create the Kingdom of God here in this place. We give you these certificates as a token of our appreciation.’
Colonel Pethybridge also presented a certificate to Bulgaria Regional Commander Captain Eduard Lebedev as a reminder of the mission of The Salvation Army and to commemorate the official launch of the Army in Bulgaria.
Guest Philip Rashev gave thanks and told some short stories encouraging The Salvation Army never to compromise on what it sees in the word of God. He said, ‘Remember that The Salvation Army is always about other people. We want to bless The Salvation Army here in Bulgaria.’
Greetings were shared from other faith groups before a small team from several churches in Sofia thanked Captains Eduard Lebedev and Inna Lebedeva for their ministry, presenting them with a gift of a painting depicting Jesus as a lion in recognition of their loving ministry.
A WORLDWIDE FAMILY OF SALVATIONISTS
Commissioners Johnny and Eva Kleman (zonal leaders, Europe, International Headquarters) shared a message from General Lyndon Buckingham. Prefacing the message, International Secretary Commissioner Johnny Kleman said, ‘We are responsible for The Salvation Army in Europe. We are in 35 countries in Europe and we are here to present the Salvation Army flag to you. The sun never sets on the Salvation Army flag! The flag has the colours which represent the foundation of all that we believe. The red represents the blood of the Son of God. It is surrounded by the holiness of God, represented by blue. The yellow star in the centre is the fire of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit which is received by each of us. This is why we are in Bulgaria today.’
Having invited Captains Eduard Lebedev and Inna Lebedeva, Bulgaria’s regional leaders, to join him, Commissioner Kleman brought the General’s message, which read: ‘Commissioner Bronwyn and I greet you on this exciting occasion because we cannot be with you in person… Much work has already been done in order for us to have a legal constitution and legislation. Anything we do for God is not in vain. Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Thank you for your faith, prayers and perseverance… There are still people who need to hear the words of Jesus Christ. There are still real needs which need to me met. We are confident in the future because we are confident in God. We trust God in the future because of God’s faithfulness with us in the past… I encourage you to lay your foundation firmly in Jesus Christ. Be assured that you join a worldwide family of Salvationists where the blood and fire flag flies. Your brothers and sisters in Christ pray for and with you. May God richly bless you.’
PRAYER FOR ALL THOSE WHO CALL THE SALVATION ARMY ‘HOME’
Commissioner Eva Kleman, Zonal Secretary for Women’s Ministries, invited the congregation to join her as she prayed for officers, soldiers, leaders and all those who call the Salvation Army ‘home’. She prayed that people would learn to know God through The Salvation Army. She said, ‘We pray that this life would honour you, Father God. We are here because you had a plan, and we hand ourselves over to you and pray that you will continue to guide and lead in the beautiful name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is my great privilege to officially hand over the Salvation Army flag to the leaders in Bulgaria. May God bless the Salvation Army ministry in Bulgaria, the Eastern Europe Territory and worldwide.’
This was followed by a filmed tribute to the work of The Salvation Army in Bulgaria set to music, including ‘What a Friend we Have in Jesus’, ‘How Great Thou Art’ and ‘You are the Way, the Truth and the Life’. Iryna Tomachynska sang a song of celebration and encouraged the congregation to participate, with some of the youngest members joining on stage with enthusiastic dancing.
THE SALVATION ARMY IS HERE IN BULGARIA – HALLELUJAH!
Colonel Pethybridge addressed the congregation, congratulating The Salvation Army in Bulgaria. He said, ‘I heard of a plan for The Salvation Army to be in Bulgaria and here we are! I pay tribute to you this afternoon. You are obedient to God’s word and this vision that God laid on your heart. What could the foundation of God’s work be in Bulgaria? Peter says salvation is found in no one else. We have the name of Jesus as the foundation of all that we do. As a result, people find faith, hope and life through Jesus Christ. We will provide the basics that people need, and always share the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Salvation Army is here in Bulgaria – hallelujah! Whenever we thought this was too difficult, God made a way! God has always provided and placed people in our way to help us achieve this dream. As Christians, we need to stand up and be counted and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, because we worship a miracle-working God. He can do the things that we think are impossible. He will continue to do this in Bulgaria! May the Spirit of God burn within you. There will be others who come to the realisation of the love of God in their lives. We must then speak about what we have seen and heard. May God bless his people in Bulgaria and bring his presence within us. May it be a fire within us sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ so that others may come to faith and hope in him. God bless you!’
Captain Inna Lebedeva reminded everyone that welcoming God into our hearts is the most important thing in our lives. The song ‘A Drop of Innocent Blood’ was sung passionately before a spiritual play by the children showed that there is no blood more precious than that of Jesus Christ. The children also presented a choreographed dance before a parting blessing preceded people sharing refreshments and fellowship in this latest Salvation Army region.