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Aussies help raise the flag in Bulgaria

Aussies help raise the flag in Bulgaria

Aussies help raise the flag in Bulgaria

18 March 2021

Bulgaria’s new regional leaders, Captains Eduard and Inna Lebedev (centre), with Eastern Europe territorial leaders Colonels Cheralynne and Kelvin Pethybridge.

By International Communications with additional reporting by Darryl Whitecross

Bulgarian leadersBulgaria’s Pioneer Team members, Captain Kathleen Johansson and Lieutenant Erik Johansson. 

Bulgaria has become the latest country to fly the ‘blood and fire’ flag of The Salvation Army, with Australia having a special link to the occasion.

General Brian Peddle announced on 9 March that Bulgaria had become the 132nd country in which The Salvation Army is officially at work. The country has joined the Army’s Eastern Europe Territory, which is led by Australian officers Colonels Kelvin and Cheralynne Pethybridge.

The Australian connection doesn’t stop there. Among the officers appointed to help lead the work in Bulgaria is Australia’s Captain Kathleen Johansson. Born in Adelaide and raised in Perth, Kathleen and her Swedish husband Lieutenant Erik Johansson have been appointed as Pioneer Team members to support Bulgarian regional leaders Captains Eduard and Inna Lebedev.

Kathleen said it was “quite a privilege” to pioneer the work in Bulgaria. She said COVID-19 restrictions on travel to the country, including the arrival of the Lebedevs, and meeting together had delayed the official launch, which could have happened much earlier.

“Maybe in the future there’ll be a chance for us to invite everyone to some kind of opening ceremony, but for now we are just getting on with the day-to-day ... making connections with churches and organisations and getting to know our neighbours and new friends and telling them about Jesus,” Kathleen said.

General Peddle said he was “delighted” to welcome Bulgaria into the worldwide Army family: “In these days of difficulty, it is fantastic to see God answer prayers made in faith so many years ago in creating this opportunity.

“God bless Captains Lebedev and Lebedeva, God bless Captain and Lieutenant Johannson and God bless The Salvation Army in Bulgaria.”

Ministry already underway

The new Salvation Army Bulgarian red shield.

‘The Salvation Army’ in Bulgarian, a Slavic language, is written using Cyrillic characters: ‘Армията на Cпасението’ (Armiyata na Spasenieto). A Bulgarian red shield has been designed and registered and the Soldier’s Covenant/Articles of War translated into Bulgarian.

Despite lockdown and other restrictions enforced due to COVID-19 having made life far from easy in the country, the new Army ministry is already making its presence felt.

Partnerships have been started with Christian fellowships, particularly Amazing Grace Church [AGC], which has a longstanding relationship with several families who live in a slum area on the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. During AGC's Christmas distribution of clothes and food, the Army was able to draw alongside and support with small gifts for the children.

Dream come true

Kathleen and Erik arrived in Sofia in September last year and were joined by Eduard and Inna and their five children in January. Eduard, originally from Russia, is to be the Regional Leader and Inna, originally from Moldova, is to be the Regional Director of Family Ministries. All four officers were given their appointments in April last year by Colonel Jostein Nielsen, who was then commander of Eastern Europe Territory.

For Jostein, a Norwegian officer, an Army ministry starting in Bulgaria is literally a dream come true. As Divisional Commander for Moldova, he took part in the celebrations in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2006 that recognised the 15th anniversary of Army ministry recommencing in Eastern Europe and then growing behind the former Iron Curtain. At that congress, a Bulgarian flag was presented to recognise a country in which it was believed the Army would eventually ‘open fire’.

Back in Norway nine years later, having just received an appointment to return to Eastern Europe, Jostein said he had a vivid dream in which he saw an Army brass band playing in Bulgaria. Later that year, now living in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, he received a telephone call from Geir Joesendal, a friend of his brother, who was staying nearby. When the two men met and the potential of expanding into Bulgaria came up in conversation, Geir revealed that he had properties and contacts in the country and that he would be willing to provide assistance.

Jostein said he felt that God was opening a door and, after discussion with his territorial leaders, a year later he was in Sofia, talking to a representative from the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance who told him: “Where have you been so long? We have been waiting for you for 20 years.”

In May 2019, registration was granted for the Army to begin work in Bulgaria almost 15 years after the St Petersburg celebrations.

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