Bulgaria has more than 9,000 prisoners. That’s why, for the United Methodists in the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Conference, there exists an unusual opportunity for outreach and evangelism.
The Rev. Stoyan Stalev, pastor of Aksakovo Methodist Church in Eastern Bulgaria, discovered the great need for prison ministry quite by accident.
It was in 1997, in the middle of July, when a Christian friend asked him: “Would you come with me in a place you don’t know?” Stalev, who was responsible for a congregation almost exclusively consisting of Roma people, said yes.
He could not know that he would regret this decision very soon.
This “unknown” place was a prison, and when he first visited it, he was shocked. There were people with tattoos everywhere on their bodies. Everyone came and wanted to shake hands with him, but they stayed so close to him and smiled with their toothless mouths: The whole picture was frightening! It was as if sin had left on them not only spiritual but physical scars.
The only thing Stalev could say was, “I am glad to be here with you.” Everybody laughed and he wanted to run out immediately.