Saturday 27 March 2021

Bulgaria becomes Army’s 132nd country

GENERAL Brian Peddle has announced that Bulgaria has become the 132nd country in which The Salvation Army is officially at work. The country became part of the Eastern Europe Territory, under territorial leaders Colonels Kelvin and Cheralynne Pethybridge, on 9 March. The work is headed up by Regional Leader Captain Eduard Lebedev and Regional Director of Family Ministries Captain Inna Lebedeva, who are originally from Russia and Moldova respectively. They are supported by pioneer team members Captain Kathleen Johansson, from Australia, and Lieutenant Erik Johansson, from Sweden. 

‘The Salvation Army’ in Bulgarian – a Slavic language that uses Cyrillic characters – is ‘Армията на Cпасението’ (Armiyata na Spasenieto). A Bulgarian Salvation Army red shield has already been designed and registered. Although lockdown and other restrictions have made life far from easy, the new ministry is already beginning to have an influence. Partnerships have been started with local Christian fellowships, particularly Amazing Grace Church, which has a longstanding relationship with several families who live in a slum area on the outskirts of Sofia. 

During Amazing Grace Church’s Christmas distribution of clothes and food, The Salvation Army was able to come alongside and support with small gifts for the children. A number of individuals have been helped with simple food parcels and contact has been made with two Salvationists living in different parts of Bulgaria. Home visits have been possible in the team members’ quarters and in other people’s homes, and the Soldier’s Covenant has been translated into Bulgarian. The pioneering officers have also made contact with several churches in Sofia as well as forming relationships with representatives from an embassy and other influential organisations, all to ensure that people know about The Salvation Army’s presence in Bulgaria and are aware of its mission. 

The Johanssons arrived in Sofia in September and were joined by Captains Lebedev and Lebedeva and their five children in January. All four officers received their appointments in April last year from Colonel Jostein Nielsen, who was then the territorial commander of the Eastern Europe Territory. For Colonel Nielsen, a Norwegian officer, Salvation Army ministry starting in Bulgaria is a dream come true. As the divisional commander of Moldova, he took part in the 2006 celebrations in St Petersburg, Russia, which recognised the 15th anniversary of Army ministry recommencing in eastern Europe. At that congress a Bulgarian flag was presented to recognise a country in which it was believed The Salvation Army would eventually start work. 
In Norway nine years later, having just received an appointment to return to eastern Europe, Jostein had a vivid dream in which he saw a Salvation Army brass band playing in Bulgaria. Later that year, while living in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, he received a phone call out of the blue from Geir Joesendal, a friend of his brother, who was staying nearby. When the two men met and the potential of expanding into Bulgaria came up in conversation, Geir revealed that he had properties and contacts in the country and would be willing to provide assistance. 

Jostein felt that God was opening a door. A year later, after discussion with territorial leaders, he was in Sofia. A representative from the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance told him: ‘Where have you been so long? We have been waiting for you for 20 years!’ In 2019 registration was granted for The Salvation Army to begin work in Bulgaria and, even though lockdown and a worldwide pandemic have caused delays, the prayers from a congress held almost 15 years ago are now being answered. The General said: ‘I am delighted to welcome Bulgaria into the worldwide Salvation Army family. In these days of difficulty, it is fantastic to see God answer prayers made in faith so many years ago in creating this opportunity. God bless Captains Lebedev and Lebedeva, God bless Captain and Lieutenant Johansson and God bless The Salvation Army in Bulgaria.’ – AR

Article in Salvationist 27 Mar 2021: 

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