TenevEvangelistic zeal flourishes in Bulgaria
Tihomir and Dimka Tenev

I grew up in a Christian family when Bulgaria was ruled by Communism. In 1978 I married Dimka, and God blessed us with two wonderful children–Lydia and Danail.

During the Communist regime, my father became a pastor, but when the church started growing rapidly, the Communists forbade him to preach or pastor the church. As a family we were very active in the life of the church and in Bible smuggling, and because of that, we experienced different forms of persecution.

After the Iron Curtain fell at the end 1989, revival swept through Bulgaria from 1990 to the middle of 1992. In 1990, my wife and I had the privilege to study at a Bible college in England. In 1991, we returned to Bulgaria and formed an evangelistic team and quickly became immersed in spreading the gospel through mass evangelism. As a team, we held crusades at open air squares and stadiums with crowds between 20,000 to 40,000 people streaming forward to accept Jesus after each altar call. Miraculous healings were part of every crusade.

The religious freedom of Bulgaria allowed an influx of false religions and cults. The dangers of these cults were heavily covered by the media. Warnings were broadcast of the need to stay away from any religious activity, except by the established official Orthodox church in Bulgaria.

After forty-five years of Communism in Bulgaria, people had little knowledge of how to discern truth from false religions. Many became skeptical of every religion and no longer attended evangelistic events. It was clear that the time for mass evangelism in Bulgaria was over. In 1993, God spoke to our hearts and we planted a church in Sliven (the city in which we live) with the purpose of making disciples of Jesus. During the mass evangelism we had preached to thousands of people, and now we had only twenty to thirty people. It was difficult now to preach to empty chairs in the hall!

In 1995, God gave us the strategy of the cell church structure. After two years of preparation, we were able to make the transition to a cell church. In 1998, we were invited to attend a cell church conference in America where we met Larry Kreider. The following year, Larry visited our church in Bulgaria. I was touched by his father’s heart and his willingness to help us achieve the vision God has given us as a church. In 1999, we became a part of the DOVE family of churches, and, because of this wonderful relationship, we decided to change the name of our church to DOVE Christian Fellowship Bulgaria.

Today the church in Sliven has fifteen small groups. Thirty-two leaders of these small groups help pastor the church. Working through small groups is completely different than having a program-based large church. People are much more receptive to visiting a small group where they know each other, than attending a mass meeting where just a few people know them. We believe God has given us this biblical structure, and the only thing we are sorry about is that we did not know about it earlier.

We are so happy for the life the church has on a weekly basis. On Sunday, a main celebration is conducted. During the week, every small group has its own gathering for fellowship and for serving each other, by practicing what they have learned from the Bible. But the real life of building the church happens in between these two meetings. People meet individually or as couples and learn how to develop a personal relationship with God, live for Him and make disciples.

We have planted two more churches in other cities of Bulgaria. One of those churches planted three more small groups in different cities in Bulgaria, with the purpose of becoming churches.

In 2005 my wife and I transferred the leadership of the church in Sliven to our son Danail, who serves as senior pastor with his wife, Nora. Since then, my wife and I are committed to spiritual overseeing and spiritual parenting. At the moment, we are overseeing five congregations in Bulgaria, plus the one in Sliven, which is the mother church of DOVE Bulgaria.

Serving God in Bulgaria no longer requires risking one’s physical life, but our zeal for the Lord has not diminished. I do not know if there will be another revival, but I am believing with all of my heart that with or without revival, with or without any freedom—we, as a church of the living God, and as His disciples and followers, will always do what Jesus instructs us in Mathew 28:19-20. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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