Our history gives testimony to the fact that though student work is fragile, God is faithful!
BCSU owes its existence to IFES. Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, IFES assigned two people – Gordon Showel-Rogers (England) and Dora Bernhard (Hungary) – the task of beginning regular visits to Bulgaria, with the purpose of establishing a movement there. Gordon worked in Sofia and other student centers in Western Bulgaria, while Dora worked in Varna and Burgas.
At the same time, Rick and Jane Fillingham, a young family who had just graduated from a missionary college, had been praying that God would lead them in their search for an appropriate location to serve. As the changes in Eastern Europe had already begun, their professor suggested that they consider one of these countries. So they began investigating different opportunities for work with IFES in Eastern Europe. During a service in the Pentecostal church in Veliko Tarnovo, Rick was filled with joy and the conviction that this was the country, in which they had to serve.
At the time of his arrival in Bulgaria, Rick had only five students’ addresses and only one of them had shown interest in the student work – Oleg Vassilev. Oleg was studying physics in Sofia. He took Rick to a student group, led by Todor Velchev. With the help of Todor, Oleg and their friends, Rick planned a meeting on March 2nd, 1993 to explain the purpose of the student movement. Twenty students showed up. Thus, in a room, not too far from Rakovski Boulevard in Sofia, the Bulgarian student movement was born. The name BCSU was chosen soon after that at a small student committee, including Todor, Oleg and some other newcomers.
1993 - 1996
In the summer of 1996, Rick and Jane left Bulgaria - leaving behind 5 groups in throughout the country – two in Veliko Tarnovo, and one in Svishtov, Blagoevgrad and Sofia. During this time the first two leaders conferences were organized, as well as two summer national student camps and two Christian rock tours. The first Bulgarian delegation consisting of six students was sent to the European evangelical student conference in Warsaw ’94. Trif and Vanya had agreed to work with BCSU. A number of pastors had also caught the vision to help the student movement. Rick Fillingham’s work prepared the ground for the years of growth which followed.
It was another person, Jim Hopkins from Scotland, who was called by God to steer this growth and see that BCSU remained faithful to its calling as well as its IFES roots. Jim had visited Bulgaria on numerous occasions prior to this to deliver Christian literature during the 80’s. He was also involved in mission work for OM in Plovdiv, Velingrad and Chepelare and had worked with Saltmine in Sliven. Jim and his wife, Muriel, arrived in Sofia late in 1996 to work with BCSU, in the midst of big political changes. The financial situation was disastrous and food availability was terrible. They stood in lines “with everyone else for bread, milk and toilet paper,” sometimes without knowing what they were waiting for. “If it was a long queue it must have been something good,” he commented. They both remember that even in the midst of crisis the Bulgarian people were always extremely polite, helpful and understanding towards them. They discovered that “a real Bulgarian friend is a friend for life, through good times and bad.”
Once Jim was asked why he chose to work in Bulgaria. He answered: “Bulgaria was the first reason … student ministry was the second - and IFES was the deciding factor. I truly believed in the IFES ethos of training indigenous leaders to minister to national students.”
1996 - 1999
It was at this time that BCSU became an indigenous movement and by the end of this period it was officially recognized as an IFES member movement. As a whole, there were many difficulties during this period, but joy prevailed. For the four years of Jim and Muriel’s service they enabled the Bulgarian national team to believe in themselves - trusting that they had the skills and gifts to take BCSU forward into a new era of Bulgarian student ministry. Jim also helped the establishing of BCSU’s publishing house.
The work in Bulgaria grew substantially. In the autumn of 1996 a group was founded in Varna. One of the student participants, Ilia Iliev, was from Burgas. He helped found a student group in Burgas which met in his home. Other universities also opened their doors for the good news. By the end of October groups were formed in Yambol and Shumen. In 1997-98 many cities had multiple groups because they were growing so rapidly: Varna had four groups, Shumen – three, Burgas – two. A group was also being formed in Ruse.
At the same time two more full time workers were employed in Sofia – Stoyka Krasteva and Chavdar Hadjiev. At the same time another worker was appointed in Plovdiv – Nikolay Valchev, who left a year later. His place was to be taken by Roumyana Todorova. After Tim Awtrey and Anthony Anderson, a number of other missionaries came to BCSU – Andrew Lawson, Peter McIlvena and Matthew Lacy. By the summer of 1998 BCSU had groups in 11 towns, consisting of approximately 166 students. Charlie Hadjiev took the role of National Coordinator in 1999 becoming the first Bulgarian in this role.
In 1997 and 1998 two ‘Bible and Life’ conferences were organized. A few national conferences were also organized – ‘Effective Christians in Our Generation’ (Yambol ‘97), ‘He is alive!’ (Youndola ‘98), and ‘At the Areopagus’ (Sofia ’99). The well-known author James Sire (The Universe Next Door) held lectures in Sofia, Burgas and Varna. Forty Bulgarian students took part in the European conference in Evangelism in 1997 in Marburg, Germany. In 1999 the Balkan Student Conference of the IFES movements took place in Youndola, attended by 150 students. This meeting was made possible thanks to the efforts of the IFES coordinator for the Balkans, Dan Dank – an American of Serbian origin, whose big heart for the Balkans made him work tirelessly in those first pioneer years for our movements. During the time of his service until the year 2000 all national movements in this part of Europe were established.
The year 1999 marked a turning point for BCSU. After five or six weary years of traveling for Gordon, Dora and Rick, the first permanent groups started in 1995 and their number increased to 19 in 1998. This growth was due to the hard work of our founders as well as to the increase of born again students in the beginning of the 90’s attending the country’s universities. In 1999 a coordinator for Northern Bulgaria had been appointed – Tanya Vladimirova.
The Holy Spirit was at work in the students’ hearts and led the staff workers to the places, where there was a hunger for God’s word and for Christian witness. However, in 1999 the number of incoming students, who were believers, began to sharply decline. This led to a decline in the number of student groups in the country – with 13 in 1999, 10 in 2002, and 8 in 2006.
In 1999 BCSU created its own charter, a Board and a Bulgarian team of workers. At the IFES World Assembly in Seoul, BCSU was accepted to become an official member of the international community. Among the delegates were Stoyka Krasteva and Trif Trifonov. At the next assembly in Holland the delegates included Chavdar Hadjiev and Darena Tsoneva, who took Stoyka’s place in Sofia in 2000.
2000 - 2005
In 2000 BCSU began publishing the Bulgarian translation of the Old Testament commentaries series ‘Tyndale’. Over a three-year period BCSU published the only magazine for non-Christan students ‘TI’ (‘YOU’), which replaced the newspaper ‘Academissimo’ published by the movement. In 1998, BCSU began publication of the first Bulgarian theological magazine ‘Bulgarian Theology’. The distributor Marty Raychinov was part of the team. A Board for the Publishing Department was created which included Charile, Martin and Tsvetelina. With their help in the beginning of the new millennium other interesting titles were published: ‘Elias’, ‘The Psychology of Prayer’, ‘Let the Power be with You’, ‘Cinema and Spirituality’, ‘The Matrix’, ‘Are Christians People?’, ‘Adrian Plas' Holy Diary’ etc. A number of Bible study guidebooks were published as well. The first Bulgarian materials for evangelizing and Bible study were also being created. Because of the increased volume of administrative work, Tsvetelina Ilieva became a full time Administrative Director and soon after that the first web site of the movement was created.
In 2003 Teodora Atanasova became the regional coordinator for Plovdiv and Southern Bulgaria. She was a former leader of the Shoumen group. Teddy was tireless in her travels to Stara Zagora, Kardzhali, and Sliven. Her efforts set up a group in these towns. The group in Plovdiv increased to 25 members.
The group in Veliko Tarnovo is the oldest and has never ceased to exist. After Trif Trifonov met Rick Fillingham, in the autumn of 1992 he founded a group in his room in the student dorm, where he lived at the time. Soon Vanya began helping him in his work and not long after that they became a family. There were so many people who wished to join the group that there was not enough room and so the group split into two groups. The second one was led by Ceci and Miro Ilievi. By 1999, the number of the students diminished and the group was again united to create one in the city. In spite of the great efforts of Tanya Vladimirova the group went through a deep crisis in the beginning of the new century, but in 2005 its number reached 20-25 members again. During that time the active members were Petio Valkov, Daniela Dragova and Tsvetomir Banov. In the period 2004-2006 the group was noted to be the most stable in the country. Interestingly, the group in V. Tarnovo has produced the largest number of BCSU workers so far – Trif and Vanya Trifonov, Tanya Vladimirova, Ceci Ilieva and Petio Valkov.
As it has already been mentioned, the years 2000-2006 were characterized with the decrease of number of students in the groups. The BCSU staff team decided to take measures so that the student groups would have a greater confidence to witness and to make disciples of Christ. The national coordinator Chavdar Hadjiev wrote the witnessing material ‘Who is He?’
With the help of UCCF England, Mark’s gospel was published in a style attractive and suited to students. A few unbelieving students attended the groups organized for the purpose of studying the book of Mark. In 2001, BCSU published another material, called ‘Alternative’, for students interested in learning more about Jesus. The discussions included issues like the truth, career, success, fate, freedom, and guilt. Again a lot of new people joined the groups in Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Varna and Shumen as a result of these discussions.
The groups in Sofia, Shumen and Varna organized the distribution of ‘TI’ magazine accompanied by an inquiry and invitation for non-Christians to join the discussion groups. About ten students from Varna and Shumen groups organized the distribution of ‘TI’ magazine in the student dorms in Burgas University ‘Assen Zlatarov’ with the idea to start a group there. Two years later it became a reality, and this led to the establishment of new contacts and the organization of the summer projects for cultural exchange in 2003 and 2004 in the same dorm. In 2002 the summer project was hosted in Varna; in 2005 the project was held in Veliko Tarnovo, and in 2006 – in Sozopol. These projects have turned out to be the most effective means of sharing the good news due to the informal and friendly style of its program.
In 2003 Jason Lane, the founder of Innovista, the media ministry in IFES, was invited to the country. With his help, the BCSU team went through a training course, later published as ‘Friendship Witness’. It was based on two well-known materials – ‘Contagious Christian’ and ‘One to One’. In the same year, almost all the groups went through this course and this was repeated periodically in the following years. The idea was that the groups shouldn’t lose focus on evangelism. During this time BCSU also organized a series of ten consecutive lectures by John Lenox, Jurgen Schpies and Martin Haizmann in Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Shumen, Ruse and Veliko Tarnovo.
Another highlight in the witnessing activities in 2003-2005 was the Alpha groups. At the beginning Alpha groups were organized in Sofia and Varna and both were attended by a number of unbelievers. Alpha in Varna continued for three years. More than 40 unbelieving students passed through the course, some of whom kept going to church groups and even became student leaders
In the year 2000 Darena Tsoneva began working for BCSU. Her responsibility was the universities throughout Sofia, as well as the work in Blagoevgrad. She brought to the work her incredible energy and ideas and in a short time period won the students’ hearts. Quite a few future leaders came out under her leadership and care.
The group in Blagoevgrad was formed in 2003 and included many active students. In 2004-2005 Darena and Eti shared the care of this group
In 2003 BCSU approved a program for volunteers. Among the first volunteers was Marieta Marinova, who lived in Sofia and traveled to Blagoevgrad to coordinate the group there. The other voluntary worker was Ivo Michailov, who started work in 2003 in Shumen. He played a decisive role in the organization of a group of graduates from Shumen University and later took on the responsibility for the student group there. During 2006, he designed the BCSU web site. Ivelina Nikolova successfully founded a group of former students in her home town Dobrich, which unfortunately fell apart after she left for Sofia in 2005.
In 2004 Teodora Atanasova left BCSU in order to begin an academic career in Shumen University. Liliana Krasteva took over the group in Plovdiv. In 2006 Liliana’s place was taken by Peter Valkov, a previous leader of Veliko Tarnovo group. He lived in Sofia and traveled to Plovdiv.
In the summer of 2004, Charlie Hadjiev resigned as the national coordinator in order to study theology at Oxford. Trif Trifonov was appointed as his replacement. Charlie created a great foundation for the work - writing its statutes, editing the doctrinal basis, appointing 5 BCSU workers, looking after the relationship with the Board, creating a number of gospel materials, and training workers and students. With his unique gifts and leadership talent during these 5 years, he left a lasting impact on the development of the movement.
2005 - 2015
In August 2005 Craig Weyrens arrived in Varna. He was sent by InterVarsity USA and had brought teams of students to our evangelical summer projects in 2003 and 2004 . After an intensive course in Bulgarian and an active work with the Varna group, he moved to Blagoevgrad in 2006 with the purpose of taking responsibility for the group there. His other duties included traveling around the country in order to train students in discipleship and evangelism. Craig took every chance to search for financial partners for BCSU among friends and groups in America. In 2007 he moved to Veliko Tarnovo, where he got married to Tanya Vladimirova. After a year of sabbatical, they moved to Sofia to serve the ministry there. During their sabbatical, Tanya and Craig worked on creating a program for volunteers, which began in full force in the fall of 2010.
In 2006 Darena assumed the position of National Director of BCSU. She served faithfully in this role for ten years. At this time there were only five full-time employees working in the whole country, with only three of them paid by BCSU. The need for volunteer staff was enormous and for this reason the team began seriously recruiting them. In June 2013, due to greater financial difficulties in BCSU, Trif and Vanya Trifonovi had to leave the movement. In their place a new worker - Desislava Momcheva from Burgas, began work in September 2013.
In November 2013, BCSU celebrated their 20 year anniversary at the National Forum. The main speaker for the event was Rick Fillingham, the original founder of BCSU, who spoke on the theme of “Treasure”.
In the same year, BCSU launched two new annual activities: a Bible competition, with the help of Scripture Union, and Trilogy - an inductive Bible study camp. In 2014, a new InterVarsity worker, Elizabeth Howald arrived in the country. She lived in Sofia and cared for English club and the international student group.
2016 - present
In 2016, Craig Weyrens took on the role of National Director. He wrote two books that are used by BCSU students all over Bulgaria: "Practical Discipleship" and "Practical Evangelism". BCSU, with the help of the Bulgarian Biblical Society, also published a material called "Uncover". This material enabled students to discover for themselves who Jesus is.
Alkhe Spies came to Bulgaria in 2016 for three years as a missionary from Germany. She and Liz Howald worked actively among international students in Sofia and contributed significantly to the development of this ministry, both in the capital and in many parts of the country.
In 2017, a new apprenticeship program called Barnabas was launched. This program became the training program for future volunteers in the BCSU.
The staff team worked hard during these years to raise funds for the student ministry. As a result of God's mercy, they were able to raise funds to hire another worker. In 2018 they hired a graduate student from Veliko Tarnovo - Ivan Ivanov - to continue the work in Central Bulgaria.