On July 30, 1899, Mischa Markow, a Serbian missionary who preached throughout Europe, baptized Argir Dimitrov, the first Bulgarian convert, near Constanta, Romania.1
In Romania, Markow and Dimitrov preached in four languages and baptized several converts before being banished by local authorities.2 In June 1900, Markow and Michael Dimitrov, a Bulgarian convert baptized in Bucharest, preached in Ruse and Sofia in Bulgaria.3 After several weeks in Sofia, Markow was arrested, interrogated, and banished before baptizing any converts.4
The restored gospel was not preached again in Bulgaria for 90 years. As the Communist era ended, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles traveled to Sofia with other Church leaders. In February 1990, during a meeting with government officials, Elder Nelson asked what the Church could do for Bulgaria and was asked to send English teachers.
That fall, six missionaries, most with formal teaching experience, began teaching English classes in Sofia, Pravets, and Smolyan. In Sofia, Elder Morris and Sister Annetta Mower found several members of the Church—baptized elsewhere in Europe—already living in the area. On October 14, 1990, the Mowers began holding weekly Church services in their apartment. Within a month, more than 50 people were cramming into the Mowers’ tiny apartment for the weekly meetings.5 When the first proselytizing missionaries arrived in November, six people were awaiting baptism.6 As interest in the Church grew, the need for a mission headquartered in Bulgaria was soon clear.
One morning in April 1991, Kiril and Nevenka Kiriakov were at their home in Virginia when the telephone rang. Nevenka immediately recognized the familiar voice: “May I speak with Brother Kiriakov?” then-Elder Thomas S. Monson asked.7
“Certainly,” she responded. Before she could hand the phone to Kiril, however, Elder Monson continued, “How would you feel if your husband were called as the first mission president in Bulgaria?”8
Kiril and Nevenka had fled Bulgaria in 1963 with their children, Julia and Peter, and joined the Church in France before settling in the United States. Although Communist authorities had threatened Kiril with death and his family with life imprisonment if they ever returned, Kiril had been promised in a blessing that he would preach the gospel in Bulgaria. With a new government in place, they felt safe to return. Despite Kiril’s significant health concerns, he and Nevenka courageously accepted a call to serve.9 “I was anxious to see all my relatives and friends,” Nevenka said, “and share with them the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”10
As Kiril and Nevenka prepared to return to their homeland, the first missionaries who would serve under their leadership were arriving at the missionary training center in Provo, Utah, USA. The language teacher who greeted them on their first day was Julia Kiriakov Caswell, Kiril and Nevenka’s daughter.11
In July 1991, the Bulgaria Sofia Mission officially opened. Through the faith, perseverance, and efforts of the local members and the missionaries, the Church soon received official recognition.12 By the end of 1991, more than 150 Bulgarian Saints had been baptized.13
Decades before the opportunity to preach the gospel in Bulgaria would become a reality, the Lord started making preparations. Despite the Church’s long absence in the country and early difficulties, the faith and diligence of those whom the Lord prepared opened the door for many others to receive the restored gospel.
Whom has the Lord prepared for you to share the gospel with? How has He prepared the way for you? Know that miracles await you as you seek opportunities to proclaim the gospel, “according to that portion of Spirit and power which shall be given unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 71:1).