'God inspires us so we can inspire others'
The faith lessons learnt by Baptists in Communist-era Bulgaria were shared in the main address during the Baptists Together morning session
The address was given by the Revd Dimitrina (Didi) Oprenova, minister of Sofia Baptist Church in Bulgaria and Vice-President of the Baptist World Alliance, who preached on Hebrews 12:1-3, and Philippians 4:4-7, 9.
Back in 1985 the Baptist church in Sofia numbered around 70 people. The church didn’t have an easy life, she explained. The political system challenged everyone who thought differently. People were sent to prison. Different techniques were used to put people down – arrests, confiscation of literature.
But the church remained. Members were restricted; they were only allowed to worship in their building. ‘But they preached and lifted their hearts to him, and thought God is good,’ said Didi.
One day a strange looking man came. ‘His eyes projected severity. He was sad, and determined.’ Calling him Mr M, Didi explained how he interrupted the evening service, told the congregation he was the new pastor of the church…. and then started preaching about love from Corinthians.
‘He took over everything,’ said Didi, ‘and then began preaching on love!’
Having lost the only place they had to worship to the state, Didi was amazed by the response of the members. They didn’t ‘lose their joy in the Lord’. They continued to meet, secretly now, and organise missions among the Roma people.
‘I was a teenager – I wanted to know what was it that inspired them?’ said Didi. ‘Many young people made a commitment to follow the Lord because of these people.’
The example of these believes illustrated the first major point Didi wanted to share in her address, namely that God inspires through his presence. He is Emmanuel, God with us, and that has an impacts wherever we are.
‘Fix your eyes on Jesus,’ said Didi. ‘We are all different individuals, and we all bring something to where we go. When we’re present somewhere, the somewhere changes.
‘Where God is, is not the same where God is not.’
While God is present, he also creates 'unforgettable memories' to help us run the race of faith, Didi continued. He wants to inspire us, so we can inspire other people.
Bringing the story back to Sofia, she said that God answered the church’s prayers, Mr M moved on and the church had its building back.
In recent years it has completed an ambitious 12-year building project. People were sceptical at first, Didi said, but the project happened. Last year’s European Baptist Federation Council was held there, and the gathering received a visit from the country’s President, unthinkable given events a generation earlier.
She told how Ivan, the pastor of the church at the time it was confiscated by Mr M, was thrown in prison one day, beaten and broken. He prayed ‘God, this is the end, I can go on no longer.’
At that moment, a man appeared in the cell. He said ‘Ivan, it’s not your church. It’s my church. You have to be faithful.’ An unforgettable memory that Ivan shared with Didi.
It emphasised how we are running a race of faith, which is a marathon, Didi said. The great cloud of witnesses in the Hebrews text saw God’s promises fulfilled, and saw that God was present. ‘Do not grow weary, do not lose heart,' she urged delegates, 'Keep on. Keep on.’
Concluding, she said, ‘God is with us. He wants us to be faithful.
'Be inspired, and inspire others.’