East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter 1999, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

From Minnesota to Bulgaria With Love: A Model for Collaborative Ministry

Tom Correll

When most of us read Jesus' promise, "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them," we think in terms of individuals. The Minnesota Coalition for Eastern Europe (MCEE) is proof that the principle also applies to organizations.  MCEE is a network of Minnesota churches, ministries, and individuals committed to working together in evangelistic outreach to the nation of Bulgaria. Our vision statement is to "Honor God through the establishment of a community of evangelical churches that together are discipling the nation of Bulgaria for Jesus Christ." In the five years of its existence God has done wondrous things through MCEE.  But first a bit of history.

Coming Together
MCEE was the brainchild of Al Larson who was, in 1993, the Upper Midwest representative for Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment (ACMC). His goal was that Minneapolis-St. Paul churches might work together on a common missionary project. Through a series of events, several key churches became aware of the needs of Bulgaria, with about 1-1.5 percent evangelicals in a nation of some nine million.  Next, Dwight Gibson of World Evangelical Fellowship led a vision trip to Bulgaria in spring 1994. During this visit the Minnesota delegation met with leaders of the recently reconstituted Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance (BEA). This trip focused primarily on building relationships and searching for avenues through which Minnesota churches could make an impact.  In the meantime, a missionary from Minnesota was preparing to go to Bulgaria to minister with the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting.

Ground Rules
Upon returning, the team reported its findings to those willing to consider working with the partnership. MCEE was launched in 1994 based on the interest of five churches and some key individuals. The ground rules were simple:

First Steps
The Bulgarians' first request was to send Emanuel and Nellie Naydenov and family to seminary in the West to prepare them for ministry with the Bulgarian Biblical Academy Logos. This project (approximately $35,000 per year) was larger than anticipated as a first effort. Also, some MCEE members, fearing brain drain, had reservations about the wisdom of bringing foreign nationals to the U.S. for study. However, the ground rule was, Bulgaria drives the agenda. Bethel Theological Seminary in Minneapolis joined MCEE and provided scholarship help for the Naydenovs. (Nellie is doing an M.A. in marriage and family counseling and will be the first Bulgarian with that degree.) Three churches and a local foundation agreed to cover the balance.

In 1996 MCEE gained the help of Loren Garborg, a retired businessperson with missions experience, who agreed to serve as facilitator for MCEE activities; and in 1997 MCEE and the Bible League opened a Bibles for Missions Thrift Center as a joint venture. All funds generated from the store serve needs in Bulgaria: half to Bible League ministries and half to MCEE projects.  All profits support Bulgarian evangelism, church planting, and Christian literature.  Volunteers from local churches who donate their time to operate the thrift center also take daily breaks to pray for the ministries in Bulgaria.

Goals Set and Missions Accomplished
MCEE has six goals for its efforts:  leadership development, strengthening the evangelical infrastructure, humanitarian assistance, economic development, encouraging relationships between Minnesotans and Bulgarians, and encouraging Bulgarians in the development of a missionary vision. To date, MCEE has provided support for the Naydenovs' education, for a Bulgarian women's ministry, for the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance, for a study of evangelical presence through a national demographic and mapping project, for Bulgaria's only evangelical publisher, and for a $100,000 loan fund for economic development in the city of Plovdiv with training in business principles.  It also has established sister-church relationships between 11 Bulgarian and Minnesota churches, provided humanitarian aid, with particular focus on orphanages, distributed through evangelical churches, supported work on Hebrew and Greek grammars for use in theological education, and assisted in training projects for church planters and church leaders.  Plans also are under way for evangelistic outreach to Bulgarian minorities in Macedonia and Moldova.

In Summary
What has made MCEE effective?  It is, of course, God's work.  But from a human perspective, the following strategies can be credited:  a commitment to Bulgarian leadership in decision-making; a focus on one country and projects that can be completed; a facilitator with a heart and the time for the project; networking and cooperative efforts; creativity in finding new ways to do ministry; and long-term, personal relationships. There are trips between the two countries three, four, or more times per year and most participants have Bulgarian friends.  Today MCEE consists of eight churches, four ministries, two foundations, a regional denomination, and several individual members, all thrilled to find that where two or three groups join in the name of Jesus, He is in their midst, working through them for His kingdom's work.

Tom Correll is missions pastor of Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN.

Members of the Minnesota Coalition for Eastern Europe
Colonial Church
Crystal Evangelical Free Church
Friendship Church
Grace Church of Edina
Grace Church of Roseville
Grace Evangelical Free Church
Oak Grove Church
Wooddale Church

Getsch Family Foundation
Wallestad Foundation

Alliance for Church Planting
Bethel Seminary
Bible League
Conservative Congregational Christian Conference
Evangeilical Christian Publishers Outreach
Robbinsdale Bibles for Missions Thrift Center
The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), Upper Midwest

Tom Correll, "From Minnesota to Bulgaria With Love:  A Model for Collaborative Ministry," East-West Church & Ministry Report 7 (Winter 1999), 8-9.

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© 1999 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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