Looking Out of the Corner of Their Eyes: An Analysis of the Trend in Spiritual Development of Youth in Bulgaria
The Bulgarian Pentecostal movement is rooted in the Azusa Street Holiness Revival, which began in April of 1906. As a result of the revival, which followed throughout the United States less than a decade later, denominations such as the Church of God (1896) and Assemblies of God (1914) were established and sent missionaries to foreign lands including Bulgaria. After Assemblies of God missionaries to Eastern Europe Zaplishny and Voronaev embarked on their missionary endeavors in the 1920s, Bulgaria officially received the message of Pentecost. However, when Communist Dictatorship began in 1944, religious freedom was repressed and forced Pentecostal believers underground for 45 years until the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
From this oppression, Christians became creative in where and how they would gather. Services were held in secret rooms, moving from one house to the next and literally underground. During difficult times they would even gather in secluded mountain plains and hold services, which would last for days at a time. Even to this day, this tradition is kept where every year believers will assemble together for a time of praise and worship. And it is from these times that branched other church movements, which attempt to replicate this experience with a focus on evangelizing the youth of Bulgaria. However, some of these attempts have not been very successful. These movements successfully target young people, but the experiences which they are having are not as their fathers and grandfathers. Unfortunately, they are somewhat superficial and have become a time of leisure and socialization. There has been a perversion of the genuine experiences of the past in this attempt to simply copy what is happening without having a sincerely encounter with God. The church attempts to keep the tradition without having the experience.
Yet, in the midst of these movements of camps, rallies, mega services, concerts, there are young people which do have a genuine encounter and are on fire for God. But unfortunately, these movements with a lack of a better word are not properly equipped with a follow through plan in which the youth can be plugged into a local church where they can be discipled. It is almost as if the churches do not have an internal program for youth because they are relying on the many external activities to minister to their youth.
Many Bulgarian congregations are struggling with how to motivate their youth locally. They are confused why during the times of conferences and camps youth appear to be on fire for God, but when they return to their local church, for the ones who have a local church, they “lose” this drive. The simple, simple answer to this is that our youth are lacking in a strong internal biblical foundation. Youth need this foundation to build on in order to genuinely grow in Christ. Therefore, the churches’ focus should be to educate our children and give a solid Biblical basis as opposed to waiting until they are lost to gather them in a camp and attempt to reach them. If ones motivation is based internally, no external factor will be needed to motivate your youth. There is no substitute for an internal passion for Christ for when something is internal it does not come and go with a movement or trend. This foundation comes from our fathers and mothers and from the local church.
Youth are ready for a serious authentic move of the Spirit, which is Biblical based in the foundation of the roots from which their faith is grounded. When understanding from where you came, you will be able to appreciate your here and now. Meaning that in identifying with your roots you know who you are and do not waiver with movements. But for those whom have had a genuine encounter on the mountain tops, so to speak, where are they to go? Who will father them? With the crisis in leadership in the churches of Bulgaria, there is a spirit of discouragement and distrust among believers. This is harsh to say, but should not be kept silent simply because of pride. Only when Bulgaria is ready to recognize this, will it be ready to genuinely minister to youth. It is only then that the young people will have a place to go and someone to minister to them. For how can one minister to another when they themselves are occupied with bitterness and power.
Children from birth watch everything. All is new to them, everything is interesting and they are instinctively curios. This curiosity is a God given desire in order to learn and grow. When a child is learning to pray they are told to bow their heads, close their eyes and listen to the words of their parents, but if you observe this process closely you will notice that a child will at first peak around. Why do they do this? Initially, one might think that a child is just playing around and not taking prayer seriously, however this is not the case. They look out of the corner of their eye and peak around in order to watch and see what you do and how to pray. They cannot learn when their eyes are closed. They have never before closed their eyes to pray and need a model.
So just as children look to their fathers and mothers to learn how to pray, the Bulgarian youth are looking to their spiritual fathers to know how to pray. With much sorrow I say the following: these children do not like what they are seeing. They peak out of the corner of their eye and see arguing, hostility, selfishness, depression, burnt-out, and worst of all, they do not see their fathers praying. They do not see their fathers fasting. If a father does not pray or fast how will the children know how to do these biblical acts. This lack of spiritual discipline leads to a rebellion against the church in which you hear from the mouths of babes “I believe in God, but I don’t believe in the church”. This factual quote should be eye opening. Yet instead, we keep our eyes wide shut. We need to overcome the lie that if we do not see things or problems, they do not exist. It is time to listen to what we know is truth.
So on one hand, we have a lost generation that does not have any faith in organized religion and on the other, we have a generation of youth that is hungry if not starved. They are hungry for solid foods and tired of living off babes milk. They are ready for a real experience and need spiritual parents. Who is willing to be that spiritual father? Who is willing to stop arguing? Who is willing to open their house again to be a home for the spiritual orphans of Bulgaria? Let the church once again be a place of refuge and not a place to be prostituted out to the highest bidder. Let the pastor genuinely be a father again instead of a corrupt politician. Let the children of Bulgarian have a voice, because if their voice is taken away today, they will have no future tomorrow and be lost for an eternity. This is not a price we should be willing to pay.
This article is based on a word the Lord gave me on 09/09/2010 that “The Children of Bulgaria are looking out of the corner of their eyes up to their fathers and not liking what they are seeing”.
-Kathryn N. Donev