SOFIA, Bulgaria After years of meeting in places such as galleries and old movie theaters that were cold and dirty and often had broken out windows, members from four branches in the Sofia, Bulgaria, area joined Elder Charles Didier and other Church leaders June 18 to dedicate the first meetinghouse in the country.
This meetinghouse comes 10 years after the mission was organized July 1, 1990, when there were about 50 members, mostly in Sofia.
"This represents the first building where Church members will be able to meet on a regular basis. It is a message for them that the Church is here to stay in Bulgaria," said Elder Charles Didier of the Seventy and current president of the Europe East Area. "It represents the Church in action and will enable the members to bring their friends and to have them participate in Church services."
The meetinghouse serves as the central location for the Church in Bulgaria with the chapel on the first floor, a kitchen and reception area along with mission offices located on the second, and the mission president's home on the third.
The building is uniquely Bulgarian. Furniture was made by Bulgarian craftsmen, much of it hand-carved. The beautiful rugs were purchased from Bulgarian mills. Both the interior and exterior of the building are painted white, with the chairs and most of the furnishings on the main floor designed in blue.
More than 150 people toured the building during a four-day open house prior to dedication. Members of the media and dignitaries visited the first two days. President Gary R. Stephens of the Bulgaria Sofia Mission gave them an overview of the doctrines of the Church and spoke of its worldwide missionary program, as well as humanitarian aid and family history effort. Some visitors were taught missionary discussions at their request.
During the open house, 11-year-old Dilian Jekov took it upon himself to greet visitors as they entered. A missionary told how young Dilian greeted "a large man who came into the building" and asked him if he could tell the man about the Church.
Somewhat shocked by Dilian's boldness, the man accepted an explanation and talked for nearly an hour.
More than 150 people gathered for the dedicatory service on June 18. Proceedings of the meeting were broadcast to overflow areas in the building.
President Georgi P. Dermenjiev of the Sofia District said all Bulgarians will benefit from the building. The meetinghouse was built by the Church, but the work was done by Bulgarians.
In his comments, President Stephens remarked how shortly after arriving in the country, he and his wife noticed the beauty of the people. "Now, three years later, these are better than merely good looking people;" he said, "the Bulgarian people are the choicest people."
Among those in the congregation for the dedication were Nikolie Manchev Angelov and his 14-year-old daughter, Lilia. Brother Angelov first met the missionaries about six years ago. He read a pamphlet they gave him, but then promptly threw it away. A friend later gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon. After reading a portion of it, he returned the book. Another close friend, Tony Kikolova Kostova, then invited Brother Angelov to meet the missionaries. He accepted the opportunity with the intent to confuse and belittle them.
But when his questions were answered sometimes before they were stated his attitude changed and he came to realize "that God had an effect on his life."
Brother Angelov said the first time he attended a Church meeting was in a very poor building where he felt the members' love and knew he was with good people. He was baptized the same day as his daughter Lilia, as well as two other daughters, a niece, and Tony, his friend.
Lilia said she knew the gospel was true after the second missionary discussion and pleaded with her father to keep taking her to Church.
Also in the congregation was Kapka Andrianova who first saw missionaries one day while she was skateboarding in Varna, a city by the Black Sea. She was angry and went up to the missionaries and told them Bulgaria had enough trouble without them causing more. Then, for some reason, she began to cry.
For the next three days, she said she "partied with her friends," day and night. But on the third day, she didn't feel liking partying any more. She prepared herself for church, then went looking for the meetinghouse.
She didn't want to leave the building after the meeting and felt no desire to see her friends again. She took the missionary discussions and was baptized in August 1997 in the Black Sea. She recounted how the village priest, a close friend of hers until he died, once had told her to "keep looking, there is much more."
Kapka served a mission in England and will attend Brigham Young University in the fall. Her sister, Tzvetelina Zlatkova, is awaiting her mission call.
On June 17, a day prior to the dedication of the Sofia meetinghouse, ground was broken for a meetinghouse in Plovdiv, a second meetinghouse in Bulgaria. Skies were overcast as more than 130 dignitaries, media and Church members gathered for the groundbreaking.
In his comments, Elder Didier thanked the authorities who restored freedom to the country and made the construction of the meetinghouse possible. "We are not here to compete with anyone, and we want to assure that no one has anything to fear from us."
Rosan Giorgiev, president of the Plovdiv Branch, said that since 1992, the Church in Plovdiv has met in an assortment of buildings. "It will be a great blessing to the members of the branch, as well as have a great impact on the people of Plovdiv," he said.
Six shovels painted in the colors of the Bulgarian flag white, green and red were used in the groundbreaking. After Church leaders turned the earth, the shovels were given to the children of Nasko Koprinarov to also break ground. Brother Koprinarov is a member of three years who celebrates his 80th birthday in July.
There are 20 missionaries from Bulgaria serving in Russia, England, France and other areas of the world.