By Tihomir 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. We quickly became immersed in spreading the gospel through mass evangelism. As a team, we held crusades at open air squares and stadiums with crowds of between 20,000 to 40,000 people streaming forward to accept Jesus after each altar call. Miraculous healings were part of every crusade. This was a very significant move of the Lord in our nation.
The religious freedom of Bulgaria, however, also allowed an influx of false religions and cults. After forty-five years of Communism in Bulgaria, people had little knowledge of how to discern truth from false religion. The dangers of these cults were heavily covered by the media. People were warned to stay away from any religious activity, except those of the established official Orthodox church in Bulgaria. 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 were living) with the purpose of making disciples. During the mass evangelism we had preached to thousands of people, and now we had only twenty to thirty people. It was quite an adjustment 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 the United States 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 changed the name of our church to DOVE Christian Fellowship Bulgaria.
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 they are to attending a large meeting where they are known by only a few people.
On Sunday, we conducted a main celebration. During the week, every cell group had its own gathering for fellowship and for putting into practice what they had learned from the Bible. But the real life of 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.
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.
I believe with all my heart that we, as a church of the living God, 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.”