Sunday, July 30, 2017

July 2017 Bulgaria Trip: An Opportunity to Combat Human Trafficking

By Oleg Turlac

In July 2017, I was on a trip to Bulgaria. Bulgaria for me is a special country indeed. Many of you know that I hold a Moldovan passport. A few of you might know that Turlac family is of Bulgarian descent. In the 19th century my ancestors left Bulgaria (which was occupied by the Ottomans) and settled in Southern Ukraine. From there, my paternal grandparents Ivan and Valentina migrated to Moldova in 1961 when a small Baptist church that they were members of was closed and believers were forced by Communists to flee elsewhere. Bulgarian language was always spoken in our family along with Russian, which everyone living in the Soviet Union had to learn in school. So, since I was 5, I spoke Bulgarian.

About 10 years ago, we crossed paths with Rev. Nikolay Nedelchev, brother in Christ from Bulgaria who served as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sofia. We learned of wonderful evangelistic work that Bulgarian Baptist were doing to reach their fellow countrymen for Jesus Christ. Bulgaria, like Russia and Moldova, is an Eastern Orthodox country with close to 3/4 of the population belonging to Orthodoxy. Baptists are a minority but they, along with Pentecostal and Charismatic believers, are most evangelistic. After World War II, Bulgaria was included into the Soviet camp with heavy domination of Communist ideology. The situation changed only in November of 1989 when under public pressure Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov gave up power. First democratic elections  took place shortly after. At present time, Bulgaria is a member of the European Union.

While in Sofia, Bulgarian capital, I wanted to get better acquainted with Bulgarian Baptist leaders and learn of the work that local Christians were doing. I wanted to see some potential avenues, in which we at Turlac Mission could be involved.

During Sunday worship, I spoke at the First Baptist Church of Sofia, Bulgarian capital. I talked about human trafficking and of how widespread this problem is in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Sofia is one of places, which is popular among sex tourists. Its night clubs cater to European and Arab sex tourists. One can find flyers advertising sex services and night clubs practically everywhere in town.

One observation that I made while in Bulgaria was stunning. I have never seen a country where practically all women that I saw on the streets, were smoking. Not as many men smoked as women, especially those under the age of 30. I am sure that tobacco industry is flourishing with profits made in Bulgaria. According to official data, 35 per cent of Bulgarians are smokers. This situation gave me a great opportunity for conversation with young people about health and spiritual values.

As I talked with Baptist leaders Nikolay and Vlady about gravity of trafficking in Bulgaria, I came to the conclusion that we must support efforts of the First Baptist Church of Sofia in combating this plague. As I discovered, the “Red Lights District” frequented by sex tourists was located within a close proximity to the church. On the part of the church, Christian ladies - members of FBC Sofia -- will go into the “Red Lights District” and will provide hygiene care packages for the young women, serve them coffee and sandwiches, and engage them in conversation that will point them to God.

One of the highlights of my visit to Bulgaria was meeting national missionaries Danchu and Marianna. Danchu was born in Bulgaria. Marianna is of Bulgarian descent but is from Moldova. They serve the Lord in a small town just outside of Sofia. In addition to doing evangelism, Danchu is also publishing a Christian magazine in Bulgarian language. I was able to provide financial support for this wonderful couple.

In Sofia, I also met Vitali K., a dear brother in Christ and Ph.D. student of European Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of Sofia. Vitali is originally from Moldova and is very mission-minded. With his expertise in Church History, his efforts will be quite useful in teaching pastors and church leaders within our Leadership College program. I look forward to going on teaching trips with Vitali. After meeting him, I once again was amazed at how God directs my paths to places where I meet people that, I am sure, will become great partners in mission work.

As I was on my way to Toronto from Sofia (via Istanbul) and sipped coffee at airport cafe in the early hours of the morning, I was thinking of the following. Growing up in the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain, I could never have imagined that I would be involved in international mission work. But I trusted God with my life and dedicated it to His service. And now, as I look at wonderful things that He has done and of how he used me and all of us (and I mean you, my dear friends) to help people around the world and serve His church, I rejoice. My heart is thankful indeed. I serve a great God (Psalm 8:9).