Several weeks ago I met with a man who is a leader in the Church here in Bulgaria. I asked him to tell me one thing he thought I should know about Sofia. He answered, “You should know that you are not the first ones here. Bulgaria has a long spiritual history.”
All you have to do is walk through downtown to realize the truth of this. There are several churches and beautiful cathedrals. There is also one of the biggest synagogues in Europe and a mosque right in the middle of down town. These are all still in use to this day.
There is also the historic Church of St. George. This fourth century building located right in the middle of the city is considered to be the oldest building in Sofia. Think about that. The oldest building in the city is a church from 1,700 years ago! We are obviously not the first Christians ever to set foot here.
The Cyrillic alphabet used today by most Slavic languages from Russia to Serbia was created by two missionaries from Thessalonica, Greece to translate the Bible into Bulgarian.
Yet, despite this deep spiritual history, there a lack of understanding as to what it means and how it applies to life today. It is our desire to teach (or rather re-teach) the people of Bulgaria about how their spiritual history is applicable to their life today. We want them to see the reality behind the spiritual structures that dot the
To do that, we need to take the advice of our Bulgarian friend and learn about this history. We need to know the spiritual realities of this country. That is why we are devoting a significant portion of our first couple of years here to understanding the culture. It is tempting to just jump in and assume that we know everything. It is easy to believe that we are entering a spiritual vacuum but that is not reality.
“You are not the first ones here.”
Every person in the world has a spiritual understanding that comes from their culture, and their spiritual culture (whether they know it or not) comes from their culture’s history. If you don’t understand the past of where you live and work, you will be less effective in influencing the present.
Even Sasha, who has lived in Bulgaria, most of her life, needs to take the time to reflect on how Bulgaria’s past affects the present. This is not something we often think about, especially in our home cultures. Yet wherever you live, you should take the time to understand why people think and act the way they do. There is always a reason, and the more you understand them the more effective you will be in sharing the love of Jesus with them.