Earlier this year, I was driving my father-in-law from Sofia back to his hometown of Kostenets. As we drove over the Vakarel pass the beautiful Ihtiman valley spread out before us with the massive snow capped Rilla mountain to our right. As we gazed at this breathtaking site I mentioned how beautiful Bulgaria is. My father-in-law responded by saying, “It’s a piece of heaven.”
Bulgaria certainly seems like a piece of heaven to me. I love it here. I think it’s beautiful, and I love the people and culture. I have close friends and family in Bulgaria. This place is my home.
Yet there are many people who don’t think that highly of Bulgaria. Part of the reason for this is that we get some bad press. Generally speaking, the only news westerners hear about Bulgaria is bad news. “Bulgaria is one of the European Union’s poorest country.” “Bulgarian immigrants are taking Western jobs.” “Bulgaria is overcrowded with refugees.” These are not exactly the most flattering headlines.
Often times, this hidden little gem of a country gets overlooked or scoffed at as a sort of backwoods place with poorly educated people. It is not a fair view of Bulgaria, but it is a common one.
Back in the first century there was a tiny little town that people viewed in a similar way to how they might view Bulgaria today. It was so decidedly below average that one first century leader once asked if anything good could come from there. In this town there once lived a man who had a very common name that today would be translated as “Joshua.” Joshua was of a minority people group in his country and a member of a minority religion. When he grew up he went into ministry. His ministry lasted for just three years when he was condemned by the religious and academic elites of the time and executed by the local Roman governor.
But Joshua’s story did not end there. You see the town in question was Nazareth, and the name "Joshua," when referring to Him, is more commonly translated as "Jesus." Out of this little town of Nazareth, pathetic in every way, came a man who would transform the world. Nazareth was so much a part of who Jesus was, that one of the early names for Christianity was “The Nazarene Sect” (Acts 24:5).
Just as Heaven came to Nazareth, and transformed the world, I believe God can take this little piece of Heaven called Bulgaria and transform the world. We are strategically placed between Europe and Asia, and not to far from Africa. People from all over the world come through here. We merely need the right people who are willing to give everything for God that the light of Jesus might shine around the world out of Bulgaria.
Sometimes I look around Bulgaria and ask, “Is this heaven?”
No. It’s Nazareth.