New centre in Bulgaria opened after years of work | Mission East

New centre in Bulgaria opened after years of work

The opening of Church and Social Centre in Bulgaria is celebrated.
Happy children from the neighbourhood in Sofia are joyfull at the celebration.

Saturday June 11th was a great day in the 20-year history of Mission East.
On that day, together with our local partner in Bulgaria and our international partner in America, Church of God, we celebrated the official opening of the Church and Social Centre in Sofia. This was the fruit of several years’ work of establishing such a centre in the Bulgarian capital.
The centre has functioned since 2008, but only during recent months have all the necessary agreements been made with the authorities, paving the way for the centre to fully function according to the original intention, i.e. that from the centre would come a range of social initiatives benefiting the many thousand poor Bulgarians – in particular the Roma – in need of concrete support, but also in need of an education and a hope for a better future.
A long story
The involvement of Mission East in Bulgaria dates back to 1997, 10 years before the country entered the EU. At that time, and also today, a large part of the Bulgarian population are hit by financial problems, including unemployment, which is currently at 35 % of the working population.
From 2000 and onwards, the country actually experienced an improvement, but recent years have again seen a downturn in the wake of the financial crisis. The large underprivileged part of the population is mainly made up of the Roma (formerly known as the gypsies), who officially make up 750,000 of the 7.5 million large population, unofficially however twice as many.
From 1997, Mission East’s partner in the country, the Bulgarian Church of God, carried out a range of projects benefitting vulnerable Bulgarians: The elderly were fed in soup kitchens, food was given to street children, children in orphanages were sent to summer camps, a potato project outside the town of Samokov provided food, humanitarian shipments were sent from Denmark and Scotland, and the church was assisted in the organisation of its social work.
A former tobacco warehouse was bought
In the beginning, Mission East raised a total of USD 250,000 toward these projects from supporters in Denmark and the UK. But already in 1998, the idea was born to gather the many social projects in a joint centre, from where the initiatives could be organized – a Social Centre in the middle of the capital Sofia.
In 1999, a former tobacco warehouse was bought, and the renovation of the centre could start. During the years until 2005, Mission East spent more than USD 1.8 million on the purchase and renovation of the Church and Social Centre.
Of this amount, USD 285,000 had been raised through our supporters in Denmark – including the Y’s Men’s Clubs – and our partner in Scotland, Blythswood Care. Most of the funds, however, i.e. more than USD 1.5 million, came from the mother church in the US.
Things turn difficult
The role of Mission East was to control the finances and to provide technical assistance on the building project, with expertise from both a Danish architect and a Danish construction engineer. For years, this meant frequent travel to Bulgaria in order to supervise all phases in the construction of the building.
During the period after 2005, the project entered a difficult phase, with concerns about the legal aspects of the project. These aspects were only clarified in 2008, after which time the centre was taken into use.
But only this year things have finally fallen into place, with the last renovations and the necessary permits in place.
Now we see the fruit of the many efforts.
A dream comes true
And what a release it was to see the dream from 1999 come true. Vulnerable elderly are now fed in the kitchen of the centre, aid is distribution to the Roma population in the ghettos of the city, the children from the ghettos gather in the centre, the young can now get training in plumbing, electrical works and construction, and special courses are given in computers and English. Eight different churches now use the building for their meetings.
And the social authorities of the capital city are enthused to have a modern centre where the socially vulnerable can get help!
For the actual official inauguration of the centre, the large meeting room was filled with several hundred excited Bulgarians, a Roma orchestra from the town of Sliven led the singing, and speeches were held by Bulgarian and foreign participants.
From Denmark, Arne Christensen of the Y’s Men’s Clubs participated, as did the volunteer construction engineer advisor, Leif Martin Jensen, and René and Kim Hartzner from Mission East.
Together we could celebrate that our dream from 1999 had come true!
See more pictures from the celebration here.