One cannot overlook the unmistakable hand of God in the amazing life story of Nik Nedelchev, appointed earlier this year as the WEA’s ambassador to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Istanbul and the Orthodox Churches.
Nedelchev was born to an Orthodox family in southern Bulgaria under communist rule. People crossing the border were checked for guns, drugs and Bibles, but the Orthodox Church was permitted to function. However, Nedelchev’s family became isolated from the church after his sister began having epileptic seizures.
When Nedelchev was about three years old, a Greek migrant, whose wife had kicked him out of the house after he became an evangelical Christian, arrived in town. The man didn’t know the local language, but he became a faithful worker. When people thanked him and wondered why he was so servantlike, he would show them a Bulgarian New Testament and say ‘Read here.’ Within six months, a revival broke out in town, with Nik’s parents among the converts. After about three years, a local Orthodox priest was touched by their example and started Bible studies as well.
One day during the months of revival, both of Nik’s parents heard a voice say the same strange word to them. When they shared their experience at a prayer meeting, others said they had heard the same word. Two months later, the Nedelchevs took their daughter to a doctor in Sofia. At the end of the visit, someone came in with a new experimental medicine from a Czech pharmacy. When he mentioned the name of the drug, the Nedelchevs were in shock—it was the word the voice had spoken to them! Nik’s sister took the drug, her seizures ended, and she became a powerful witness to God’s love.
In addition to seeing God’s power displayed from an early age, Nedelchev said, ‘I grew up learning that we were Baptists but that God had a bigger family of the redeemed. I was always told that unity is the only answer for the church to be effective.’ That conviction led him to actively support collaboration among the evangelical churches in Bulgaria and later to serve as head of the Bulgarian and then the European Evangelical Alliance.
After a short career as a professional football player, Nedelchev earned a degree in civil engineering, but his file with the secret police (which contained information on his Christian activities, as he confirmed when the files were made public) kept him from getting a job. However, a friend from his church owned a roofing company and told Nedelchev, ‘If you’re not scared of heights, you’ll never have to worry about work.’ Nedelchev did that work for 22 years. He also joined his church’s teaching and preaching team, but never took a salary because he didn’t need the money and pastors were prime targets for the secret police.
During these years, Nedelchev and his wife directed more than half of their income to supporting Christian literature distribution. Staff from Open Doors and other organizations had a key to a locked tank on their property, to which they would come late at night to leave bags of literature and take money. Nedelchev also formed Biblical Education by Extension in 1979, holding training seminars secretly in private houses or at mountain retreats.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Nedelchev enlisted the help of Sam Ericsson of the Christian Legal Society to recover properties confiscated under Soviet domination, including a seminary, publishing house, and Bible society building.
Regarding his current work as a WEA ambassador, Nedelchev explained, ‘This diplomatic recognition is important for a group that used to be seen as a sect. We now have a tool to communicate with the Orthodox Churches at a high level. For many years, the Orthodox, Catholics and many governments would tell us that we had so many branches, they didn’t know who to talk to.
‘If we want others to respect us, we have to learn how to respect others. We must not live in our comfortable, isolated, evangelical ghetto when we are supposed to be salt and light to the world.’
By WEA’s Theological News