American Methodist missionaries arrived in Bulgaria in 1857, establishing congregations and founding schools. When Methodist missionary Dr. Albert Long translated the Bible into the modern Eastern Bulgarian language, his decision to use the East Bulgarian dialect for the translation influenced Bulgarian literature for the next 50 years and contributed to the creation of the official national language. Despite the significance of this early pioneering work, the Church had to fight for survival over the next few decades.
From 1947 to 1989, Bulgaria, now under Communist rule, was unwelcoming to the church. Pastors and church members were persecuted, imprisoned, and even killed. Contact between the UMC in Bulgaria and the international Church was prohibited. When the Communist regime fell in 1990, only three of the original 16 congregations remained. Since then, the Church has reorganized, and relations with the Central and Southern Europe Conference and the supervising bishop were renewed.
The Church has been growing steadily with the help of many lay people and young pastors. New work has started in areas where congregations once stood. Worship is held in many languages, including Bulgarian, Turkish, Armenian, and two Roma dialects. Though the region is still challenged by ethnic and religious tensions, Christian witness and outreach model the United Methodist Church in Bulgaria’s peaceful coexistence and collaboration with people of different faiths and ethnicity. Ministries of the Church include social projects, such as providing soup kitchens, literacy courses, children and youth daycare centers, and prison ministry.
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