Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Bulgaria

Published: Monday, Jan. 25, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 7,205,000; Members, 2,124; Branches, 20; Missions, 1;Districts, 2; persent LDS, .03, or one in 3,392; Europe East Area.

Located on the eastern Balkan peninsula on the Black Sea, Bulgaria has a population, with an Orthodox background in religion, that speaks Bulgarian, Turkish and Greek.

Hungarian-born Mischa Markow was a prominent early missionary to the Balkans. While working in Constantinople, he met Argir Dimitrov, a Bulgarian who was investigating the Church. Markow invited Dimitrov to join him in proselyting in Romania. While there, Dimitrov was converted and was baptized by Markow on 30 July 1899. Dimitrov was likely the first Bulgarian convert, and certainly the first Bulgarian missionary.

Markow visited Bulgaria in the summer of 1900 where he registered with the police and received permission to preach. Several ministers allowed him to address their congregations. Soon he was challenged by a Protestant minister who paid for newspaper ads warning people not to attend Markow's scheduled lectures. The result was overflow meetings and enthusiastic interest. A group of clergymen soon became alarmed at Markow's popularity. They had him arrested on charges that he falsified his registration form by listing himself as a minister of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rather than as a Mormon minister. Despite many appeals, Markow was banished from the country.

The first-known translation of the Book of Mormon into Bulgarian was a manuscript prepared by Bulgarian Latter-day Saint Evangeline Kokotanova Coy in the 1930s. She also prepared complete translations of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. In the early 1970s, Julia Caswell produced a manuscript translation as well. In 1980, the Church printed selections from the Book of Mormon in Bulgarian. It could not be made available to people in Bulgaria because of government policies against religious texts, but was utilized by Bulgarian speakers in other countries. A small number of Bulgarians living outside their country joined the Church during this era. The complete translation of the Book of Mormon was first published in February 1999.

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy visited Bulgarian leaders in October 1988 hoping for an opportunity to become established there. Their efforts did not meet with success because government policies did not allow the establishment of new religious groups. Elders Nelson and Ringger returned on 13 February 1990 after the fall of the Communist regime and were cordially greeted by officials of the new government.

On 12 September 1990, six missionaries under direction of the Austria Vienna East Mission entered the country. They were Morris and Annetta Mower, Delbert and Marilyn Fowler, Judy Gubler, and Rose Marie Daigle. The Mowers worked in Sofia, the Fowlers in Pravets, and Sisters Gubler and Daigle at the Bulgarian National School of Language in Smolyan. All six missionaries taught English classes.

They were joined on 13 November 1990 by Elders Jon Trent Warner and David Garner who had worked in Yugoslavia, and Elders Christian Elggren and Timothy Kuta who were transferred from the Germany Frankfurt Mission. These elders also helped teach English classes and took part in other charitable endeavors until changes in the law allowed them to proselyte.

The first LDS meeting in Bulgaria was held 1 October 1990. It was a fireside where Austria Vienna East Mission President Dennis B. Neuenschwander spoke. It was held in the Mower's small apartment at Tsar Asen 22a in Sofia. The first church service was held 7 October 1990, also at the Mower's apartment. The first official meeting place for the Church was a rented hall at Parchevich 49 in Sofia.

On 24 November 1990, Emil and Diana Christov with their two sons Rumen and Evgeny, and Ventsislav and Mirela Lazarov were baptized, the first-known baptisms in Bulgaria.

On 1 July 1991 the Bulgaria Sofia Mission was created with Bulgarian native Kiril P. Kiriakov as president. Kiriakov, his wife, Nevenka, and their children Julia and Peter had departed Communist Bulgaria, moving to Algeria on a government appointment in 1963, then fleeing to France in June 1965 where they received political asylum. While in Rennes, France, they met the missionaries and were baptized in June 1966, and emigrated to the United States in 1969. That same year, Kiril Kiriakov received his patriarchal blessing which promised that he would preach the gospel to his people in Bulgaria. The declaration seemed impossible at the time, but was fulfilled in April 1991 when the call to serve was extended by Thomas S. Monson.

Also on 1 July 1991, the first two Bulgarian Church units were created, the Mladost and Sofia Central branches, both in Sofia. Nine days later, on 10 July 1991, the Church was formally recognized by the Bulgarian government.

In November 1992, Bulgarian converts Ivan D. Djambov and Lubomir Z. Traykov began service as the first post-Communism Bulgarian missionaries. Elder Djambov served in the Germany Hamburg Mission and Elder Traykov in the Ukraine Kiev Mission.

In 1993, pediatricians, ophthalmologists, audiologists and others working through the Europe Area Presidency and Church Humanitarian Services went to Bulgaria to help train doctors and nurses to improve health care of children. Other LDS volunteers served in hospitals and educational institutions. Also, through Church Humanitarian Services, educators traveled to Bulgaria to strengthen special education programs, and two Bulgarian school administrators were brought to Utah and Idaho for a tour of training facilities. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Seventy visited Church humanitarian projects in Sofia during May 1993.

Rapid growth of Church membership in the capital city of Sofia necessitated creation of six more branches between November 1991 and March 1993. During the same period, the Plovdiv Branch in the city of Plovdiv was created on 8 November 1992. Beginning in the mid 1990s, branches were begun in other Bulgarian cities including Burgas, Varna, Shumen, Ruse, Veliko Turnovo, Blagoevgrad and Dobrich.

During August 1995, 39 Bulgarians participated in an excursion to the Freiberg Germany Temple. Other temple excursions occurred in 1995 and 1996. By October 1996, 138 Bulgarians had received the ordinances of the temple.

In 1999, the first youth conference in Bulgaria was held in Batak, where 106 youth attended workshops and meetings and participated in games and a talent show. Membership in 1999 was 1,367.

The first Church-built structure in Bulgaria, a building that included a meetinghouse, offices for the Bulgaria Sofia Mission, and a home for the mission president and his wife, was dedicated in Sofia on 18 June 2000, by Europe East Area president Charles Didier of the Seventy. The day before, ground was broken for a second meetinghouse in Bulgaria in Plovdiv.

By mid-year 2000, 20 missionaries from Bulgaria were serving in Russia, England, France and other areas of the world.

By 2002, membership reached 1,927.

Sources: Bulgaria Sofia Mission, Annual historical reports, 1993-2001, and Mission files, 1981-1993, Church Archives; Nevenka L. Kiriakov, My Life Story, 2004, Church Archives; Kahlile B. Mehr, "Keeping Promises: the LDS Church Enters Bulgaria, 1990-1994," BYU Studies 36; Lyn Jacobs, Mormon non-English Scriptures, Hymnals, and Periodicals, 1830-1986, 1986; "Mischa Markow: Missionary to the Balkans," Ensign, June 1980; "First Meetinghouse Dedicated in Bulgaria," Ensign, October 2000; "LDS Bulgarians Come Together for Historic Dedication," Church News, 8 July 2000.

Mission — 1

(As of Oct. 1, 2009; shown with historical number.)

(259) BULGARIA SOFIA MISSION

Ul. Marin Drinov No. 21

1504 Sofia

Bulgaria