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Eleven years ago, it seemed that the beast of communism, which had set its face against the church of Jesus Christ, was dead in Eastern Europe. I remember the 200,000 Bulgarians with raised hands and open souls standing in Sofia's downtown square in 1991. They gathered not to march in honor of the ruling party but to hear an overseas evangelist preach Christ and heal the sick. I was in the crowd, a graduating law student, a former anticommunist revolutionary, and a new Christian. I drank from the invigorating hope and joy that had descended from heaven on that warm summer night. A nation haunted by darkness for years was about to receive a new heart. But things did not go quite the way I hoped.

The beast of communism may have been mortally wounded, but it was not dead. In 1992 came significant reversals regarding religious liberty—the first sign that freedom had not fully arrived. Two years after the collapse of the regime, former communists emerged as socialist capitalists. Their former connections afforded them control of the economy and, with it, the most influential newspapers.

Reading the newspapers became torturous. I fumed at the sensationalistic articles, written like communist propaganda, and aimed at the new wave of American missionaries: Baptists were eating children; American missionaries were feeding drugs to youth in church meetings; Protestant pastors were signing up members of their congregations for ritual suicide ceremonies.

Such outrageous claims fed society's skepticism toward evangelical churches. American evangelicals have worked among Bulgarians since the mid-19th century, but the memory of these missionary contributions was lost during the reign of the Communist Party. Exploiting a historical perception ...

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In the Magazine

October 22, 2001

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