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Bulgaria, Thai-Burma agonies recounted to BWA leaders

WASHINGTON (BP)–The sufferings of Baptists in Bulgaria and refugees along the Thai-Burma border were underscored during the semiannual meeting of the Baptist World Alliance executive committee March 3-6 in Washington.

“My country is a very sick country … a country in agony,” said Theo Angelov, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Bulgaria. “The hope and enthusiasm of change with all of the possibilities is almost gone.”

Bulgaria’s new “communist” rulers, as Angelov described them, have ruined the country and pushed it into economic collapse, with 300 to 1,000 percent inflation. “The prices in the shops rise,” he said, “but not the salaries or the money.”

Especially hard hit are pensioners with inadequate incomes for food and medicine, Angelov said. A cruel winter has caused many older people to turn off their heat because they cannot afford to pay their bills, he said, commenting, “It is a sad sight to see old people digging in the trash for food and homeless children on the street.”

Many of the pastors are suffering, Angelov said, with one Baptist pastor recently saying he had bread for only five days with his salary.

Bulgaria currently has about one week of reserves in wheat and flour, Angelov recounted, and the country cannot afford to buy on credit because of pushing the prices up even more.

Eighty to 90 percent of almost a million Turkish people and more than 500,000 Gypsies are unemployed, Angelov said, and there has been a complete collapse of health care.

“In spite of that, the churches are filled,” Angelov said, “as people are trying to find hope. Our Baptist churches give hope as well as food.”

In the face of the needs, the Baptist union has distributed more than 8,000 parcels of food around the whole country, half of which has gone to Baptist churches and some to orphanages and kindergartens, Angelov said. The union also has given people money for heat, he said.

Angelov said Bulgarian Baptists have received enormous help from all over Europe and the United States. He noted the churches in Romania, which they had helped in 1989, now were returning the help. The church in Timisoara had been particularly generous in flour, sugar and medicines.

Baptist World Aid is planning a major wheat shipment to Bulgaria and Baptists around the world are asked to pray that the government will open doors for the food supplies.

“Yes, there is hope,” Angelov said, “because we are no longer under communistic rule. Bulgarians know how to work hard and Jesus Christ has helped us in so many difficulties and will help us again.”

Concerning Karen refugees from Burma on the Thailand border, the BWA executive committee heard of their need not only for food and medical supplies but also for help from world governments to solve their political situation.

Thousands of Karen refugees live along the Thai-Burma border, forced there because of a continuing civil war with the SLORC government of Myanmar. Many of the refugees are Baptists who welcomed a BWA team that included Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary; Tony Cupit, director of study and research; Thorwald Lorenzen, head of BWA’s human rights commission; and Edwin Lopez, Asian Baptist Fellowship regional secretary.

After the BWA team report, the executive committee agreed to ask Baptists around the world to write to their governments on behalf of the refugees and to ask the government leaders of Myanmar to stop raiding the camps.

John Simpson, superintendent of the Baptist Union of Victoria, Australia, reported the union has formed a partnership with the Karen refugees and continues to send money and encourage Australian Baptists to visit.

Paul Montacute of Baptist World Aid (BWAid) noted many Baptist groups already are helping through the Burma Border Consortium and missionaries of the American Baptist Churches, USA, in Thailand.

Liberia and Albania also were listed as concerns during the BWA meeting.

Emile Sam-Peal, general secretary of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, Inc., thanked Baptists around the world for the support and encouragement Liberian Baptists received during the long years of their civil war which hopefully will end soon.

“I do not know what the Baptists of Liberia would have done without the help and support from our greater Baptist community,” Sam-Peal said. “We need your continuing support. We need you to help us rebuild Liberia.”

Sam-Peal voiced concern over the thousands of young people who have carried weapons for more than four years and now must be taught to live with peace and be equipped with new skills to have productive lives.

As reports came in during the meeting on the political unrest in Albania, Karl Heinz Walter, regional secretary for the European Baptist Federation, said many of the missionaries in Baptist-related churches have been evacuated. The Albanian churches nevertheless are experiencing growth and have a strong fellowship, Walter said, and they have begun making plans to carry on their work in the absence of missionary assistance.

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  • Wendy Ryan