Weekly column from Bulgaria: Investing in youth


Christian Life

Vlady Raichinov, CNE.news

Voices in the Young Life Camp. Photo Olivia Vendetti-Spahr

Voices shouted in the dark. The team of half a dozen young men, prime in their teenage strength, was making its way through an entangled web of ropes. This was only the beginning of their obstacle course, but their leader, Mirko, was already under attack.

Flashlights blinded the team members from several directions, as shady figures hidden among the trees were shooting water pistols and hurling water balloons against the group.

Vlady Raichinov (1974) is translator of both fiction and theological literature. He is a member of the Union of Bulgarian Journalists, co-hosts a radio program, and writes articles.

Vlady Raichinov

He presides over the Bulgarian Evangelical Society, publisher of "Zornitsa" – the oldest Bulgarian newspaper that has been in print since 1871.

In December 2014, Vlady was ordained as a minister with the Bulgarian Baptist Union and is currently serving in the pastors' team of First Baptist Church, Sofia. He is also vice president of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance.

Vlady and his wife Katya parent a beautiful pre-schooler named Maria.

Their task was simple: to protect Mirko from getting wet. The exercise was intentional. The boys needed this adventure to bond with their team leader, to get to know and trust him better. Day 1 of Young Life Summer Camp 2022 was coming to a close.

Mirko is a fine young man. He has participated in various Young Life events and camps for several years. He first started in 2018, when he experienced a life-changing camp week as a teenager. Until that moment, he had never considered God’s existence. He had never anticipated that He could majorly impact his life. But something about being at camp changed his mind.

A naturally calm and sweet spirit, Mirko grew up in the town of Pernik, an industrial settlement close to Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. When he returned from camp, he expressed a strong interest in Christianity, joined a local church and gradually developed a desire to pass on to others what had been given to him.

Mirko in the lead (left). Photo Vlady Raichinov

And so, in 2022, Mirko became a Young Life leader in his town for the first time. Throughout the year, he has established trust with the next generation of teenagers. With a firm conviction and a remarkable passion, he invests himself in the lives of several young men, challenging, guiding, and accompanying them in their personal development. And when Camp’22 was about to start, Mirko stepped up and invited some of these boys to camp.

Timely method

Young life has a unique approach to training men and women as leaders to invest their lifestyle into new generations. “Young Life doesn’t start with a program”, testifies a staff member on their web page. “It starts with adults who care enough about kids to go to them, on their turf and in their culture, building bridges of authentic friendship. These relationships don’t happen overnight – they take time, patience, trust and consistency.”

In a time and age when many teenagers are spiritually lost in a world without directions and core values, a ministry like this is timely and precious. This is especially true in Bulgaria, a South-East European country that has struggled for over three decades to break free from its post-Communist heritage and mentality. As some young people seek a better life in the West, most remain at home with little personal realisation, few meaningful relationships, and a general sense of pessimism. Youth culture is entangled in a sticky web of gaming, tik-toking, casual dating, and substance abuse, while the previous generations are at a loss of how to understand them or relate to them.

Against this backdrop, Young Life has worked hard to find a more profound solution to those problems. Undergirding its value system is the concept of “incarnational evangelism”, meaning the good news of Christ is best expressed through a shared life. This is based on John 1:14 (“the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory”). It encourages Christians to be intentional in their lifestyle as followers of Jesus so that young people will see the presence of the Lord Jesus in real life, with no strings attached. Young Life leaders learn to treat the next generation with love and understanding, to approach them in their area of interest, because that is precisely what the Son of God first did for us. Everyone who works among young people has to be an authentic embodiment of the Gospel message.

Attracting teens

In 1938, a youth leader from Texas was given a challenge by a local pastor: get teens who do not know Christ to come to church. So the young man took the challenge, went to a local high school, and crafted various ways of connecting students without experience with a church. After building friendships, he started a weekly club, using lots of singing, skits and a simple message. His name was Jim Rayburn.

Mirko on the left. Photo Vlady Raichinov

After graduating from seminary in 1941, Rayburn started Young Life with four of his co-students. Their emphasis was to show youth that faith in God can be fun, exhilarating and life-changing. At first, Young Life worked among suburban high schoolers, and by 1972 it had started ministries in approximately 25 multi-ethnic areas.

Since 1953, Young Life has expanded globally. The movement reaches young people with the Gospel in over 105 countries worldwide. In Europe, there are ministries across most Western and Northern countries. Young life works in Central and Eastern Europe in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Young Life leaders believe in the power of personal presence. Teenagers’ lives are dramatically influenced when caring adults come alongside, sharing God’s love in their language and imparting them a sense of worth, meaning and purpose.

Passing the baton

Since 2012 Young Life in Bulgaria has organised yearly summer camps, its latest in July 2022. This year, there were forty campers from Bulgaria and North Macedonia. The camp was a bright testimony that the two nations could come together on a meaningful project – which was even more special given the current political tension.

The camp participants formed eight “cabin” teams, each one captained by a leader like Mirko. The leaders spent the week with their students, established bonds, gained their friendship and earned their trust. Around 45 volunteers and camp organisers came from Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Albania, Romania, Poland and the United States. Especially meaningful was the participation of volunteers from Ukraine. In a summer when their own country is under military invasion and many of their family members are in severe danger, these men and women served with passion and sacrificial love.

At the end of the day, Mirko’s boys managed to protect him from the water balloons. During this camp, he developed beautiful relationships with his boys on a deeper level. As Jim Rayburn says, “Young Life is people committed to the idea of winning a hearing with kids for the greatest story ever told.” This is precisely what Mirko’s heart is set about. He is consciously incarnating himself into their daily lives.

Photo Vlady Raichinov

After all, this year was particularly meaningful for him for one more reason. A few months before the camp, his church was organising a water baptism service. Initially, Mirko declined his pastor’s prompting. He was not sure if he was ready. However, as the last person was exiting the water, Mirko stood up and shouted, “Wait! I am coming in, too!” And then, without hesitation, he jumped in the water and received his own baptism. This time, the boys of his camp team were not there to “save” him from the water. However, each and every one of them has observed Mirko’s lifestyle, learning from him, studying his character, and absorbing his values.



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