The Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance, a member of World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF), has been granted official registration, which will allow the organization to operate legally throughout the country.

"The wait has been a long one of many years, but not in vain," says Johan Candelin, director of the WEF Religious Liberty Commission.

The registration process began in 1993 in response to a growing anti-evangelical campaign and efforts to restrict the influx of new "sects" into Bulgaria. Escalating media attacks confused evangelical churches with non-Christian sects. Evangelical churches existed in Bulgaria prior to its liberation from Turkey nearly 150 years ago. Lyubomir Mladenov, director of the Directorate of Denominations at the Council of Ministers in Sofia, also promises to grant official registration rights for seminary training for evangelical pastors.

"This is further proof that religious rights are gaining a stronger foothold in the country," says Jun Vencer, international director of WEF. "The greatest challenge ahead will be to soften public attitude, which is still very much against the small Protestant churches."

Nikolay Nedelchev, general secretary of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance, says the signing of the December 16 document granting legal status will have a profound impact. "We can open Bible schools, we can have bank accounts, we can buy property," Nedelchev says. The approval will also enable the alliance to conduct humanitarian aid and to organize training conferences.

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