This trip to Bulgaria was the most interesting one so far. First, we were in three cities. Usually when we travel we are in one or two cities. We were working with local ministers in Sliven where there is a thriving Christian community. One of the things I learned in Sliven is that homeschooling is considered illegal in Bulgaria. Also, Christian private schools are not allowed, except for Orthodox schools. This is not unusual in an Orthodox country. In these countries it is considered normal for the church to have much greater influence than is typical in America and Western Europe. This is a two-edged sword. It means that there is teaching regarding Christian principles in the schools. At the same time, there is less tolerance for evangelical beliefs in public. It is one of the ideals our founding fathers did not want when they envisioned a church that was free from state influence and a world where the state was free from denominational church influence.
While this is somewhat true in Bulgaria there is still an openness to sharing faith in public places. Evangelical churches are allowed to exist and in fact, thrive all over the country. There is also a great tradition of respecting human rights and religious freedoms. There is an organization known as the Rule of Law Institute which is a group of Christian attorneys and judges who have great influence around the country and even beyond.
While we were in Sofia we walked around the local Mosque. The building was surrounded by refugees that have come in from Turkey which shares a border with Bulgaria in the east. The refugees were milling about the Mosque which is the center of their universe in Sofia. This is the first time I have seen groups of refugees in downtown Sofia. They were peacefully sitting around or standing in small groups talking to each other. Several groups were kicking a soccer ball around.