By Ginny Whitehouse
Presian Vlaiakov sings at the Sofia (Bulgaria) United Methodist Church. Vlaiakov, the son of a single mother, said his commitment to the church grew out of the love and help the church showed him as a child. Photo by the Rev. Mihail Stefanov.
Presian Vlaiakov has happy memories of his childhood in Dobrich, Bulgaria: Running outside with friends all day in the summer and playing in The United Methodist Church day care after school.
His mind skips over his father, an alcoholic who left before he was born, and the poor neighborhood where he grew up in his town near the Romanian border.
Instead, he speaks of his mother, a much-loved community nurse, working hard to support her son and daughter, despite being shunned by family for getting a divorce. Vlaiakov remembers his mother taking him to church and together finding a community there.
“I went to the day care center, then I was invited to participate and go to worship. Since then, I am in the church,” Vlaiakov said.
The church provided stability and safety in an unstable time. Divorce still is a source of stigma in Bulgaria, but even more so during the time of communism. Even now, 80 percent of single mothers get no child care support from family or their children’s fathers, according to the Bulgarian Fund for Women.
Bulgarian K-12 public schools operate in two half-day shifts: from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., then from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Children are on their own for the rest of the time a parent is working, unless child care can be arranged. That’s where The United Methodist Church day care stepped in, Vlaiakov said.