Monday, March 16, 2020

Eastern Europe 1990: Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria from our hotel balcony

Blog Note: I had hoped to make each of these posts correspond to the actual day in 1990, but as I said before, there is just too much to tell to limit each country to a single post; especially if we were there for several days.

We were met at the Sofia, Bulgaria airport on Monday, March 12 by Church of God National Overseer Pavel Ignatov and several of his associates, including Peter, his interpreter, and taken to the Park Hotel Moskva. Louise took the afternoon off to catch up on her rest and I hit the streets of Sofia with my cameras.

Downtown Sofia
A mix of the modern and the ancient.
Sofians enjoy a warm day in March.

That evening we were joined by the Rev. Paul Lauster from Berlin, the Eastern European Director for the Church of God, and taken to a mass rally in a rented movie theater -- the first time ever for all the Churches of God in Sofia to assemble in one place. It was standing room only, with packed balconies, stairs, and the lobby, with more standing outside. It was a joyous, enthusiastic group, estimated at 800-1000 people.

The all-city Church of God assembly.
The first in history for Bulgaria.
A worshipper at the rally.

After the rally we were taken to a nice restaurant on the mountain outside Sofia and entertained with live folk music by a foursome that featured a gypsy violinist.
Those Bulgarians fortunate enough to own cars keep their
windshield wipers locked inside except when it's raining.
Sometimes, though, the thieves even steal headlights.
The meat display shelves in Sofia's largest supermarket.
Under Socialism, everyone is equal. No one has anything.

We were in Sofia most of the next day, then set off in late afternoon for a church in a small town east of Sofia, arriving just before dark. After a 45-minute service, and with all kinds of food pushed into our hands by the hospitable villagers, we set off at high speed through the dark to another service at another small village church. Another brief service, then another high-speed drive to still another small church.

Pavel Ignatov and Paul Lauster pray over a young man
with cerebral palsy at one of the rural churches.

I should mention that we were traveling in a pair of Ladas, which were FIATS made in Russia under license from the Italians. One was driven by Pavel and the other by his brother. With four of us in each car we were fairly comfortable except for the fact that Pavel and Ronan drove at a steady 160 kph (that's about 100 miles per hour, if you don't know your metrics), over roads most of us would hesitate to tackle at half that speed. Not to mention that it was a very dark night.

Suddenly, Pavel slammed on the brakes. Being both a fatalist and a believer in the sovereignty of God (a potent combination!), I was asleep, so I missed the sight of the large wild boar who briefly challenged us for possession of the road. Fortunately, he thought better of it in time to save us all some bother.

After the third service of the evening there was another reckless, breathless, 60-mile ride to the city of Shumen, where we checked into a fairly new government hotel for the night.

(All photographs were made with Olympus OM and Leica M cameras and lenses, plus a 100-300mm f4 Tokina lens in Olympus mount. Films were Fujichrome 100D and 400D.)

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