How did God lead Stephen to find former soccer player Nik in Bulgaria? How did their frienship and mutual training develop? How did God deliver them from scares and threats? What can we learn from their experiences?
Thank you so much for finding Entrst Equipping Leaders again. We're back with part two of the conversation between Stephen Olson and Nik Nedelchev about life ministry, travels and adventures behind the Iron Curtain and beyond. Nik is Bulgarian, Stephen is American, and these two guys, well … you just have to listen to Nik praying before the interview to get an idea of his personality.
[00:00:31] Nik Nedelchev: Father, thank you so much for this opportunity from so many thousand miles or kilometers far away. Make the work perfectly of the technology and the people who cooperate with the technology and also give us clear mind to be precise, to be clear when we speak and when we listen. Bless Laurie to be concentrate and to be under your control. Bless Stephen. And also if they are dogs, let them not bark because I'm afraid of them. In Jesus' name. Amen.
[00:01:11] Todd: Yes, Nik is the comic of the two. Let's listen in as the two old friends pick up their story. And, stick around for wise advice from both of these seasoned men of God.
[00:01:23] Nik Nedelchev: I was former football player.
But my father was a military officer before communistic time come and, uh, he disagree to cooperate or to collaborate. That's why everything which was, uh, negative on his files, also became my experience. Now, this was not that bad because I did not, uh, uh, pretend. Being football player, I have enough influence and enough opportunity. But I have terrible experience when I broke my leg and, uh, football was gone. But that time got used.
This opportunity when actually I met Stephen. I was already with, uh, working in one of the best specialist in roofing, but using copper and special other materials. If you are not afraid from height, from bad temperature or good temperature. And I like it. This was well paid job, very risky job, but on the other side, I could do, I was free.
For instance, to do what I want to do. At that time, after I became believer, I give my, uh, life for uh, uh, developing … and I became part of the Bible study group, which was using the materials which the father of Grace have prepared. Uh, I was ordained as a traveling preacher in the Baptist Union, early very early, less than two years after I became believer. And then, uh, later I was, uh, also assistant pastor, but never took position as a full-time pastor. I was paid pastor only eight months. And I see this as one of the biggest, uh, mistakes in my life. But I, that's enough for us.
[00:03:42] Laurie Lind: So yes, Steve? Yeah. So maybe you can talk about those early days of training.
You were sort of doing this on your own, because BEE as such wasn't exactly focusing on Bulgaria yet, but you said, I'm gonna trust God for the money. You were traveling in and out. Uh, talk about that process. Did you develop a team? Did you have trouble crossing the border? What did you tell the border guards you were gonna do when you got into Bulgaria?
[00:04:09] Stephen Olson: You know, I really didn't have any issues at the border. It was, it was really pretty, pretty easygoing, unlike some other countries. And, uh, you know, I think it was, uh, you know, there was always, almost always someone traveled with me, so it wasn't that I was going by myself all the time. There was a body of, of men, sort of young men who had, I guess, 10 to 12 or so that were, I think, more in involved with this.
As we began to open up different groups in different parts of the country, it just, um, things just began to spread. A lot of it was by word of mouth and, um, yeah, I just felt like it was God doing, was doing for, for the time ... That what was happening in the country that this seemed to be right.
[00:05:00] Nik Nedelchev: Now, Stephen, remember that we always show this picture from the summer of 1979. We have one week training in Velingrad. And Stephen came, and this training we consider as the first one, because we have inductive Bible study methods, and also we have Galatians and Romans. Later, E/D course [Evangelism and Discipleship] and we develop our own courses. Knowing God course using Packer's book, and Tozer’s books and several other courses which meet the need.
We have great partners. Slavic Gospel Association was good partner of us and several universities have been good partner with us. Moody Bible Institute was good partner and uh, Philadelphia Biblical University. And Columbia University and several others.
[00:06:06] Laurie Lind: So in all of this you did, you're doing religious things though, under communism and, and, and Stephen is coming in and out of the country.
And I know you've told me before, Nik, you don't like to talk about wild stories of danger and sneaking around just to be dramatic. But do you have any stories, just the same of, of encounters with the authorities or any trouble that you got into during those years?
[00:06:36] Nik Nedelchev: We have many. We have been involved in smuggling Bibles and there are several books about Bible smugglers and just recently somebody says, I have read a book about that and I have seen your pictures even there with your … I say, “Forget about that.”
I have neighbors who are former secret police, it was years and after changes, they come and they confess, and we are friends now. Some of them passed away. They need spiritual help. But it's interesting how they, they are living 50 meters from our balcony and they never asked me, or, god close their eyes because we have times when 15, 16 people were in our living room and isolation [insulation] is very poor and the family above, the family down, the family on the left, the family on the right, all of them have been members of the communistic party. Never had any problems with those people. Give credit to the power of God and his strategy to protect. Not, we're not clever.
One example. They have been, uh, checking out from 88, no, 81 till 85, every home for people who are in the leadership of religion groups. They never come to our home.
[00:08:18] Laurie Lind: These are miracles. These are absolutely amazing stories. I do think you have one story about being in a house where some kind of exciting things happened, looked like it was gonna be bad. Stephen, can you tell us about that close run in you had?
[00:08:33] Stephen Olson: Well, we, periodically we'd have, uh, sort of getaways ... go to different places in the mountains or go to different places in the country, and one of the fellows who was in the group, his dad had a place that was, uh, out in the countryside. It was a small, really a small house and two floors and um, so we were there, there were about, I don't know, eight or 10 of us, I guess.
Nik, right? Something like that. Mm-hmm. Actually had a couple friends who were from Slovakia who came down also, who were part of it. And, um, and yeah, while we were meeting together, one of the evenings, uh, we heard this banging on the door outside and, uh, you know, I didn't understand what was being said.
Uh, Nik understood. What, what'd he say? Uh, this is the police. You need to surrender or something like this.
[00:09:34] Nik Nedelchev: Yes. “Surrender! You have been discovered!”
[00:09:40] Stephen Olson: Yeah. Yeah. So, so anyway, but it was, uh, of course everyone in the, in the room, there was a little bit, uh, quiet or everything went very quiet. You know, some people's faces got a little white and a little nervous, but the, this, the fellow whose house, uh, one of the students who was responsible for getting us this place, he went outside to check who this was, and he was out there for I don't know how long, maybe 20 minutes, 30 minutes talking to this man. And it just turned out that he was a neighbor who was very, very drunk. And, uh, of course it, uh, we were relieved that it wasn't the police and they weren't gonna come take us all. But I think that the fact was that it, it gave a little bit of a picture for me of just sort of how people, you know, how, how they, these kind of situations would be very, uh, difficult for them and saying, you lived under this kind of thing that could happen.
Most likely it's not gonna happen, but sometimes it did happen and so forth. And so therefore, people, it was, uh, it was quite an experience, one we laugh about afterwards, but it in the moment, it was something that was very serious.
[00:11:01] Laurie Lind: And I think you were describing the house that it, uh, had that been the police , there was no escape out of this house, right?
[00:11:11] Stephen Olson: there, there were bars on the windows, and it was, as I understood it. was a place that was used as a, that the Russians actually used once upon a time for a little prison to hold people in prison.
[00:11:22] Laurie Lind: Just a loud drunken neighbor giving you a big scare after all. My goodness. What about, um, all of your time together? I know you two, Stephen, you came to Bulgaria, but I think the two of you traveled sometimes together, as in, our lovely story about the Trabant and so on. What are some things you, you learned from each other, uh, spiritually, biblically?
I'm sure it wasn't just one way. I'm sure you both were learning from one another.
[00:11:55] Stephen Olson: You know, I think that there were, you know, far as for myself, it was, we just enjoyed being together. I think there was just a … stories, you know, that, that would be told, whether it be from in Bulgaria for some stories that I would share from my own travels in other countries.
We would share about, you know, what the needs were that were present maybe in the situation where we were going. We'd pray together, we would, there were just, uh, I think a real, honest expression of, you know, our thoughts and feelings with each other as we traveled. And, I think the thing with what I really appreciated about Nik is, um, you know, of course Nik was very open and, you know, never met a stranger, I don't think, and that kind of thing.
But he, he, he was willing to, uh, go to places where, yeah, maybe they didn't always agree with us and may maybe they were from different denominations or maybe from a different situation that somehow that God was opening the door to be able to, to, to provide some additional training in the different locations.
Yeah. It just was a good time to be together and we, we, uh, we enjoyed that.
[00:13:15] Laurie Lind: Nik, you had some thoughts about Stephen too, some things you observed about him as a big tall American and so forth. What did you learn from him or what was his example to you?
[00:13:28] Nik Nedelchev: Several things really with the time going. I discover first, Stephen reach me with his patience. Not to confront immediately, even he doesn't like some food or some situation or some, uh, of the cultural issues, but he never confront. Uh, we have confrontation with other people, but Stephen helped me to, to see that there is always opportunity to find a way for, even conflict, uh, solution in the time when things are not okay.
Uh, one thing we discover there was time when we have several Trabant cars and the Trabbie is a small car, but most of the Americans are very long , very tall. And they want to sit, especially when they're on the front seat, to put their hand, uh, no, their feet, across it. And sometimes, uh, crossing they touch the wheel and, uh, they actually give blessing with their dirty shoes, with your hands.
And, uh, Stephen never have done it. But much smaller people have done. When I try to correct them, they say, “Oh, you go and buy bigger car. This car is too small for us.” Those kind of things. This touch my heart because he was very sensitive. But also I will say he was quite good listener.
Uh, what I learned. Time is short. God has given us opportunity for one segment of time to be together. Mm-hmm. And Stephen, show me and help me to use this time the best way. Not to focus on the weakness or the mistakes, but to focus on the success and opportunities.
I developed course.Leadership, about how to train leaders of Christian organizations or parachurch organization, and I was using some of the things which I had learned from Stephen.
[00:16:12] Laurie Lind: In fact, Nik, you wrote a few courses, didn't you? During those years?
[00:16:18] Nik Nedelchev: I wrote several. First course was, uh, manual on stewardship and, uh, this I use with permission, some materials from American, uh, Stewardship Association and ask them permission because I was impressed how to raise funds and how to spend, to be God's faithful instrument and, uh, for our time, for our resources, our gifts, our opportunities, and blah, blah, blah.
Later I asked permission because I was teaching this course in Romania. Uh, Romanians want to be translated into Romanian and they still use on the bachelor master level this course. Another thing, course, which I did was, course which help in leadership development, managing Christian organization, on the area how we can do better leaders.
For something which does not belong to us, was given to us. This is a little mix between stewardship and, uh, management of Christian organization. Another little one, uh, I haven't done it, but I encourage somebody else to do, and it was about cults, cults and religion. And this is official course which we're teaching and, uh, this help because actually Bulgaria is a crossroad from east to west and south to North for many centuries. And several original religions have been started in Bulgaria.
[00:18:14] Laurie Lind: And so you were, you know, you really emerged as a leader in your country on so many levels. I mean, now you're known as a, I mean, you have many titles and you've helped start the Bible School, the Logos Bible School, I think, and you're an ambassador for Entrust and you travel around the world and European Evangelical Alliance. Stephen, did you know you were investing in such a major leader back in the day when you got started with Nik?
[00:18:45] Stephen Olson: You know, I really didn't think much about that. On the one hand, I just felt like that, um, Nik was someone who had a vision for, for young men and women to teach and yeah, we'd just come alongside each other and, and, and I think that, uh, the things that I learned in the country through, sort of, through him and the other Bulgarians.
I took that with myself and went to a lot of other countries, you know, and have, have worked and it doesn't surprise me, uh, as to what, you know, where the Lord has taken Nik. You know, the interesting thing about having worked in many different countries, of course, is that, that God is, has had his people there before we ever came of course, and there, there, there were. Different people like Nik in other countries who God used in very significant and broad, broad ways. And just to be able to have a small part in their lives and for them to have a part in my life has been a true blessing for me.
[00:19:59] Nik Nedelchev: One thing is I always have been, uh, deeply impressed with the ministry of some people, different period of the development of the church and society. One of them was, Moody. Spurgeon. Sankey. And uh, Jonathan Edwards. And I can continue name those people. And I was read ingand I was learning from them.
But one thing is that Billy Graham never visit Bulgaria and my mother-in-law always pray. He has been in all the countries but never in Bulgaria. But I was coordinating two of the campaign of Billy Graham, and it was in 1993. We have so-called [??] with satellites, uh, spreading the good news with satellites to all the European countries, including northern Africa.
1995. It was global from Puerto Rico to all over.
That time, uh, I met two times, uh, Mr. Graham, and he wanted me to go and become part of his European team, and I said no. And, for my surprise, he, when I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and this was 1993, and he says, “Why you don't want to come and be 50 percent, only halftime in our group?”
I said, “Because I have commitment. I have one portion of life and I'm committed to Bulgaria and the neighboring countries.”
And actually the, the, the vision for Biblical Academy Logos was to teach and spread the gospel and train multiplied churches and leaders for Bulgaria region and beyond. And I told him, “I have no opportunity that I will change my mind.”
This, he blessed me, he prayed for me.
And when he passed away, his son, who became my, my … I was his advisor … we’re talking about ranklin, and uh, he called me and says, “Nik, you have to fly, take flight. I know that you have visa.” And I said, “Why to come?” He said, “You are in the, my father prepare his will, and you are in this group of 50. You have to be at the the funeral.”
And I said, “Well, no way, because tickets are so expensive.” He said, “This is condition. We will pay your hotel, but no way to pay. You have to pay.”
And I went there and when all those presidents from many countries, all those people were there, the leader of the funeral, the one who conduct the funeral was [Sammy Doda??], my good friend from Beirut, from Lebanon, and we have been working together. But the fact is God keep me in a relationship but never allow me to take any official position at that time.
[00:23:47] Laurie Lind: I mean, this is just another evidence of how God's hand was on you, Nik, from a young age. And as Stephen said, the Lord has his people in these countries and people come and find them and, and the thing about it, BEE or Entrust, a lot of people ask us, well, don't you do evangelism? You know, go tell, tell people about the Lord Jesus. Well, of course that's important. No one would deny that. But the calling of Entrust is more finding those key leadership people and pouring into them, equipping them, training them that the might go forward and do the leadership in their countries. It seems like it really played out here in, uh, Stephen identifying some key leaders in Bulgaria and you just making this friendship and, and then look how far that's gone.
So what about as the two of you, um, have had your lives of ministry and growing, what is the advice you want to ass on to the next generation of, of Christians coming up behind you?
[00:24:53] Stephen Olson: Nik, I'll let you go.
[00:24:58] Nik Nedelchev: You are very humble, brother. Uh, number one, redeem the time. Sure, you you make mistakes. Confess your weakness, but then, dDo much better. Second thing, don't work as a, a single leader or, uh, going alone. Because alone you'll go faster. But if you want to go longer, you have to have a team, be a team builder and a leader, part of the team.
Third, never allow your hands to be, to become dirty with touching money. I personally was never involved with money. Money can be great help, but also can be a very bad steward. Mm-hmm. And the last, you have to have a goal. And my goal is finish well. Finish strong.
[00:26:06] Laurie Lind: Finish well and finish strong. And I believe you will. Absolutely.
How about you, Stephen? Advice for leaders coming up behind you?
[00:26:16] Stephen Olson: I think that, uh, one of the most important things is to be committed to the word of God. You know, today so much is being challenged in scripture. And I think that the fact that we need to be developing men and women who have, have a commitment to the word of God, whatever the cost.
And secondly, I think, uh, is that I've just found that it's been important to hold the ministry, whatever you're doing, with open hands. Give God room to work, give room to work in the lives of the men and women that the Lord has placed in your way, which you can help but don't, uh, don't force things, but allow the Spirit to work in their life even as he is worked in yours.
And, uh, and the other thing is to realize that learning is a two-way street. And, and be, be teachable basically. Not only you're encouraging, but, just through, uh, things that you do that you'll be encouraged through those you work with.
And another area that I found is important, that everyone is a great work to value them. You know, we all have different gifts, different uh, personalities, different ways about us that just allowing God to work in that life, somehow or another to encourage him, uh, and the gifts that God is given.
[00:28:03] Todd: Wow. Good advice. Take it from Nik Nedelchev and Stephen Olson.
Stay in God's word.
Stay free from financial entanglement. Redeem your time. It's all really important.
If you missed the first part of this conversation, go back to the previous episode to hear how Stephen and Nik traveled around Bulgaria in an East German Trabant lacking a windshield and how the Holy Spirit apparently entered the car and rode with them.
And next week, plan to listen to our podcast as we hear from a pair of women, one in Canada, one in Latvia, about the joys, ups, downs, laughter, and tears of intercultural ministry together.
Share our podcast with a friend.
And we'll see you next time on Entrust Equipping Leaders.