Entrust Equipping Leaders
What do a broken-down Trabant, a renowned father-in-law and the Pope have in common?
June 9, 2023
Nik Nedelchev and Stephen Olson converse: how does a disabled bird provide a spiritual lesson? How do two cops in a police car provide a picture of faith? How does God work through two generations to establish non-formal Christian training across Soviet-dominated Bulgaria?
Guests Nik Nedelchev and Stephen Olson describe their first meeting in Soviet-controlled Poland in 1978, how Nik "accidentally" ended up meeting the future Pope (three times!), how God used a troubled Trabant car to teach some spiritual lessons and how nonformal ministry training permeated Bulgaria during the Cold War.

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Speaker Name  | Start Time  | Text
Todd  | 00;00;00;00  | Thanks for coming back to join us on Entrust Equipping Leaders. Quick trivia question: have you heard of a Trabant? The Trabant was a car, manufactured in the Soviet-controlled East Germany during the Cold War. Famous for being very small, very lightweight and very troublesome. For short, some people called them Trabbies, and you will hear about a wayward Trabbie today. Today, we're launching some storytelling episodes, stories from Entrust’s “cloak and dagger days,” when it was sneaking ministry training behind the Iron Curtain. You’ll hear why that happened then, why it matters now, and how you can be a part of it all going forward. Today, Laurie Lind welcomes Nik Nedelchev from Bulgaria and Stephen Olson, an American who lives in Austria.

Laurie Lind  | 00;00;56;05  |
Welcome to brother Steven Olson and Nik Nedelchev to the Entrust Equipping Leaders podcast. And it's great to see you both. And we have a lot of history to talk about and then things in the present time to talk about. But maybe we can start just with a funny story, which is very exciting. We have a photograph of the two of you standing in front of a beautiful body of water, and I think there's quite a story behind that picture. Can you tell us what's going on there?

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;01;  31;01   | Yes, we have been privileged to be part of that training team with Mr. Stephen, crossing Bulgaria from north to south, from east to west and opposite side. And this was Journey actually, we traveled ...  because my personal I didn't have personal car that time. And we are driving very, very good weather and we enjoy our fellowship.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;02;06;25  | But to have two Americans and one Bulgarian and he's driving, but East European way, their car, it's always fun. That's why we enjoy to stop and take this picture. It was wonderful because now, looking at this picture, see that I was not always say fat. I was only 71 kilograms. And we, after this stop with the beautiful Trabant, was the fun which happened.

Nik Nedelchev   | 00;02;42;17  | But it's happened two times during two trips. I will give you first. This was beautiful mountainous by the way. Now it's the richest area with gold in the Balkan and the Canadians are getting in now, become very, very rich because there is gold. And we after we pass the gold area, discover that everything is okay until the engine of beautiful two cylinder, …  that our Trabbie die.

Laurie Lind  | 00;03;24;23  | Oh no, what a surprise.  Well, sometimes it's surprise, [because have to be at our conference on time].  So, that Trabbie die. We discover there is benzin, or they say different names in different states [gasoline]. But for us, it's benzin. There is electricity, but Trabbie is not working. And it's the very creative Americans says, “You sit in the car and we will push.” Was about five kilometers.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;04;03;18  | Interesting story but this speaks about the coming of people coming from the other side of the world, the courage not to give up or to to make like that [hitchhiking]. We need the transport.  We are on our way. Praise the Lord. Everything finish well. So who was pushing the car and who was sitting in the car?

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;04;35;24  |  I was the driver. Okay. And? And they were strong. Big. The citizens of the greatest nation. But pushing the car. And this is how the the more important is the result.  You want to tell this story about the window. Well five weeks later we're with the same 
Trabbie which was fixed …  the engine problem was so small that if we knew what it is, we could fix ourselves.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;05;13;26  | But next there was crossing the big mountain with a very big difference in level. Elevation almost 3000 meters and then about 500 meters go down in the beautiful Valley of Roses.  Well, that time we are only two: my dear brother Stephen and myself, and we enjoyed to be in the Valley of Roses. So then did something, everything was in front of us, you cannot see anything. It is a window.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;06;00;09  | The windshield shattered?  Yeah. That shield. So the windshield in front of you just completely shattered. That's why,  praise the Lord, you know, we did not care if accident, but Trabbie is not moving very fast and we stop and clean this [all the shattered glass]. And now we say we have no other option except to go and find the repairing shop.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;06;29;15  | What? I was surprised. It was Friday, about lunchtime. People prepare to go beautiful autumn to pick up tomatoes or to pick up whatever there, especially grapes. And we are going and going and driving. Well, it was not easy. Now, what surprised us was that Stephen, who is very spiritual, always have been very spiritual, sees about the spirituality and the presence of the God much better than me.

Nik Nedelchev   | 00;07;06;08  | He says, “Nik I have a feeling that somebody is in the car.  “Somebody? We are only two? The wind is blowing because …"  “No, no, no, no. Somebody’s in the car.”  I slow down there and I saw beautiful dove is sitting comfortable on the backseat and is watching us. A dove, a bird, a dove. Yes. Yeah. Dove.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;07;39;04  | And he says, “This is the Holy Spirit. God is with us now.”  I, who are not that spiritual said, “No, this is dove. But how we can help the dove?”  And we little by little help the dove to go. But the Spirit of the Lord was with us. God was with us. And that's why if somebody say that the one Presbyterian background and one Baptist background does not have any spirituality, that's not correct.

Laurie Lind  | 00;08;18;20  | Do you have any more to add to this story, Stephen? 

Stephen Olson: “No, it was when the windshield shattered and broke, , whatever and then suddenly this dove flew in, we didn't, we didn't, we didn't realize what had happened. But … then we heard this you know that the dove was, warbling, singing in the back, you know. Because it was knocked out. … but it came to consciousness and then it was ready to go.”

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;09;05;13  | Actually one thing I did not say, clear, the dove was not the reason that the windshield was broken. It was later, when it came, it was more than 200 kilometers [with the broken windshield before the dove flew in], maybe we were driving and maybe that came came, sent as a messenger to us from the Lord. 

Laurie Lind  | 00;09;35;09  | OK, so you two have had some adventures! We have established that fact very clearly already. Let's go back to the beginning.( And that trip happened in the early nineties, I believe you said? Yes, it was 1992.) OK, so let's back up to when you first met each other. How and when did you two -- one American from Austria and one a Bulgaria-- n when and where and how did you meet?   

Stephen Olson  | 00;10;23;14  | Well, earlier, this was 1978, and earlier there was someone from our ministry, from Campus Crusade at the time, who went to Bulgaria and with some wrestlers, and they were meeting with the Bulgarian wrestlers, but also the director of our ministry used that as an occasion also to meet with some of the Christian brothers, some of  the believers. And it was then that he met Nik and the family that was there, and the trip was arranged for Nik and three others to come to Poland, and we would have about three or four days together to just basically … it was to be more the basics, or the core teaching of of Campus Crusade for Christ at that time.

Stephen Olson  | 00;10;51;09  | And so we had those, those days together. And yeah, it was really a special time. All of it was in translation. Nik didn't know hardly any English at the time, and there was his sister-in-law,  the one who she could speak English, and she was our translator. And so we had a great time together. But in the midst of this, our time together, a colleague was also with me and every day we would meet in the mornings and then in the afternoons we would go to lunch.

Stephen Olson  | 00;11;27;14  | They would go to lunch. We wouldn't go together.   Laurie Lind: Why was that? That you didn’t go to lunch together?  Stephen Olson: That was more the security issue. Because this was in 1978, communism was still very much alive and well. And, you know, we were a little unsure of of how we should,  whether we should, relate to each other while we were in our free time, when we were going into the city and so forth.

Stephen Olson  | 00;11;51;24  | You're going to the city and so forth. So anyway, we didn't do that. But what we did is that we separated, but then we would come back and then we would meet in the in the late afternoon and evenings. They [the Bulgarians] were actually sleeping at this, it was a Baptist church, small Baptist church. This one day we came back from having lunch and lo and behold, in front of the meeting place, the churc,h there was a police car that was parked there.

Stephen Olson  | 00;12;21;19  | Two policemen were inside, and we decided to wait until the police left and but we waited and waited and waited. And we passed our meeting time. And then finally I said to my colleague, I said, “You know, you remember the story, you know, about Joshua instructing, being instructed to cross the Jordan and the priests were to step in. When they put their foot in the water, the waters would depart.”

Stephen Olson  | 00;12;50;19  | And I said, “You know, that passage has always meant a lot to me because it taught me a lot about faith. You know, that faith is something that is active.” And I said, “You know what I think? I don't think the Lord brought us here to sit in a park. Let's just take this step of faith and go.”

Stephen Olson  | 00;13;10;18  | And at the very moment we rose from our bench, the police car pulled away. Well, you know, that was a, you know, some may call it a coincidence, I mean, whatever they may call it. But for me, that was something that the Lord did in a very special way to show me the importance of exercising faith from the very beginning of the ministry, which I was involved in.
Stephen Olson  | 00;13;36;22  | And so, we took that step of faith. We went in, the police were gone, we had a great time together, and out of that time it was decided that, hey, why not come to Bulgaria with us? We'll maybe take the next step and see what the Lord wants to do with maybe some of the training that we had to offer after that four days or so in Poland.

Stephen Olson  | 00;14;01;22  | Laurie Lind: What was it that you were learning together [during those four days in Poland?]  Stephen Olson: It was basically some of the core teaching of Crusade at the time, God's love and forgiveness, how to be sure you’re a Christian, how to walk in the Spirit, just all those those core teachings that were characteristic of Crusade’s training.  Laurie Lind:  And were there people at this event from other countries besides Poland and Bulgaria?

Stephen Olson  | 00;14;29;02  | SNo. The only people who were there were just four Bulgarians and two Americans.  Laurie Lind: What do you remember about that time, Nik? 

Nik Nedelchev: One thing, I think I never told this. Stephen, but it's time to to speak the truth with love. That time was just preparation. We were traveling by very cheap trains, and we have to wait for our dates.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;15;03;07  | They[the Americans] left and we stayed two days later [waiting for the next cheap train]. And Billy Graham Association were preparing ... don't forget, this was 1978 … hen the kind of opposition of things were happening and Billy Graham Association prepare Billy Graham visit and they also fixed where he will speak. And one thing I never mention, they invite me and my roommate, not the girls, to show us the church in Krakow where Billy Graham will speak.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;15;52;19  | And they say, “Do you want to see who is the biggest reason why Billy Graham is coming?” And I say, “I have no idea.” They say, “OK, let's go to Wadowice.” It’s the seating place for the cardinal who later became Pope John Paul the Second. Now he gave the blessing. And the two Bulgarians are there and they invite us and the pope.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;16;26;01  | That time, he was the cardinal. And they allow us to get in and not only that, but he bless us. Now I am talking this time it was secret visit and we should never say that we have seen the cardinal from Krakow. After many years, when I was president of European Evangelical Alliance and the cardinal was already Pope John Paul [I could tell some people].

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;17;02;10  | The second [time I met him] I was asked to go and visit him because we wanted the evangelicals in Little Italy to celebrate, to preach, to evangelize. The year 2000 is the year of Jubilee. And I was president of all the Protestants in Europe. He were so kind to meet us and answer positively to the request of the evangelicals in beautiful Italy, especially in the town of Rome.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;17;47;21  | And he gave me a golden medal at that time. And I never told anybody because there was very strong anti-ecumenical thinking in the Catholic movement in some places. But in 2001, Pope came to Bulgaria and yes, who was the first to invite him, was evangelical l believers and the little Catholic [community].  Catholic much smaller, maybe three times now in numbers.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;18;24;27  | He came. He was sick, his physical condition was not good. But I had offices at that time in London and in Stuttgart and in Geneva ..  he saw me and the people try to organize to keep distance, not to transmit diseases. He said, no, no, no. In clear Bulgarian, he says, I have to kiss him here because I met him so many years ago now.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;18;58;18  | I did not remember about the first meeting. I remember the second meeting.  But later he gave me the medal again. And that's why I have two medals.  And he was very open, actually. He encouraged Catholics in Bulgaria to take part in evangelistic  [things], showing Jesus film,  and evangelistic campaign. The follow-up was to be done in Catholic churches there, not the evangelical churches, and also coffee and cakes and the good things for refreshment came from the Catholic churches.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;19;42;24  | Sorry I did not become Catholic, but this was something which I want to tell you because you haven't been with me. But you invite us to be there [in Poland]. First experience with Stephen,  I met the future Pope.   Laurie Lind: And when you say he said, I have to kiss you here. He kissed you on your forehead. Is that right?

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;20;07;19  | When Pope he kiss somebody, this way means that he has a reason. And I ask him why. He says, because you have you are from Slavic country and I speak your language and you are evangelicals helping the little Catholic Church in Bulgaria by giving them literature and distribute the Holy Scripture, and I really want to show publicly the appreciation.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;20;50;25  |
Now, how can I answer [your original question]?  I met several big tall Americans in Krakow and I was thinking, if I have to become spiritual, I have to grow up, but it's too late. I was not a basketball player or tennis player, but still, Stephen became one of my dearest person in my life.  Laurie Lind: Yeah, Stephen is very tall, physically tall. but after you two met in Poland, I mean, what were your impressions of each other or how did your friendship or your relationship continue to proceed?

Stephen Olson  | 00;21;36;00  | Well, you know, we had from that … out of the meeting in Krakow ... we had arranged a meeting that would be in Bulgaria. So  Nik suggested that he would bring together as many of the leaders that he knew in the country to have the opportunity to hear what we had just talked about in Krakow. And we had a couple of days together actually meeting in his home.

Stephen Olson  | 00;22;08;10  | And it was really a very interesting time. They had lots of questions for me, didn't always agree with me. And it was a pretty stimulating kind of time. But out of that, out of that meeting, we just continued to say, okay, let's meet again. Let's meet again, then meet again.

Stephen Olson  | 00;22;28;28  | And and there was a group that  Nik began to bring around him. There were about ten, 12 brothers that would come and meet, plus some girls. And we just began meeting. And basically we were going through … again, I was with Crusade at the time, and and I'd have people who would come with me to travel to do different teaching or different topics.

Stephen Olson  | 00;22;52;19  | And so forth. While we were doing that, I was traveling in other countries, working with BEE at the time and I changed over from Crusade and yeah, as I was using the courses and things in other countries, I thought, well, you know, maybe, maybe this could be of interest, you know, to the brothers there in Bulgaria.

Stephen Olson  | 00;23;19;20  | So I took a course down [to Bulgaria,] the Galatians and Romans course, and let's just see what happens. And it was translated and it was then began to be used in a small way. It was just sort of every time I would go, we would make plans to meet again. Two months later, three months later, every maybe three or four times a year, we would get together.

Stephen Olson  | 00;23;45;05  | There was this transition that went on from what was doing with we were doing with Crusade. We shifted over to the to the facilitating these courses. I think it's important to remember here that in the meeting in Krakow, there was another brother who was there. Nik has mentioned him too, Ruman. Ruman was someone who had a heart for possibly developing a publishing company in the country.

Stephen Olson  | 00;24;18;01  | And there were several other missionaries that I'd gotten to know and Nik got to know, who we are all sort of work together on this. But  one of the brothers had a real desire to help to develop the publishing company. So Ruman was very instrumental along with this one missionary in developing a publishing company.

Stephen Olson  | 00;24;37;20  | It was all underground, but they were developing the system for translating courses and other books and so forth. And and all the while, you know, we would translate, we would have one course translated and another and another. And by 1989, basically when the wall came down, this publishing company began to come out of the ground and it became much more active in finding good translators and and beginning to translate more and more courses.

Stephen Olson  | 00;25;21;20  | So Ruman was particularly very strategic, and as a civil engineer. And so the long story short is that we began to really translate courses very quickly and it provided funding. And I know one of the questions that you've had in the past, you know, BEE wasn't going to be working in Bulgaria and my boss, Jody, Jody Dillow, he was concerned about this because he didn't want to have the thought of raising another sum of money to this small country that was down in the southern part of Europe.

Stephen Olson  | 00;26;00;13  | And I said to Jody, I said, “You don't have to worry about a dime. The Lord’s got it all covered.”  And as time went on, as we needed money, money was provided by different people, individuals, churches, and sometimes later on, there was a foundation that became very interested in the country and really helped to provide the money to be able to translate and print the courses that were done.

Stephen Olson  | 00;26;29;27  | I don't know. It's been maybe 12 to 15 courses that were printed in the country.   Laurie Lind: And what was the need that was being met? I mean, what was available to Bulgarian Christians prior to when you started coming there or what was not available? And why was why were these courses suddenly like, why were they helpful or needed?

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;26;53;15  | It began much earlier. Grace’s father was the one who graduated  medical school in Bulgaria, and also he got converted and he was asked, What do you think for the future? He says, I want to serve the Lord because there are not good literature. Some of the churches in Bulgaria, the largest churches, have been strongly influenced by the liberal theology, And he says, but they are people who need training and I will go wherever God showed me to go.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;27;44;01  | He went to Dallas, Texas, because the person who invited him, his relationship was with Dallas, Texas. But remember, it was 1930, the beginning of the big Depression. He already had university with one semester, [but had not finished]. And that's why he was allowed to to study there. But he could not get his diploma without a university degree. They sent him to Wheaton College, where for two years he completed what is necessary.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;28;23;21  | And at Wheaton College actually he decide that he need to be baptized, took a baptism by faith because he was baptized as a baby and he became part of the College Church and also Bible Church. He has classmat,e roommate, the founder of Tyndale Publishers. I just met his grandson [the grandson of the founder of Tyndale Publishers]. And I met him, Mr. Taylor. Those people became, during the Communistic time, one of the supporters using Slavic Gospel Association and several others.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;29;10;00  | But when the father of Grace returned to the country, he came with desire to start the program, which will be informal because that time was not possible to talk for formal education. And he developed courses which were helping and distribute to the people in typewriter. And this was the first idea which during the communistic time, when everything was restricted, he was known that he has a team of people who are doing this kind of training.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;29;53;02  | But informal training, which was already well known, not the system, but the kind of training. And that's why I will say God orchestrate everything perfectly on the right day.   Laurie Lind: Let's pause for just a brief intermission. I think I need to explain a couple of things that you've already heard and a little bit that is still coming up.

Laurie Lind  | 00;30;24;28  | So we're listening to a conversation between Nik Nedelchev of Bulgaria, and Stephen Olson, who is American and lives with his Austrian wife in Austria. As Nik talks about Grace, that’s his wife. So Nik is married to Grace, and it was Grace's father who was that Bulgarian man who traveled to Dallas and to Wheaton to go to Bible College and seminary and then returned to Bulgaria in about 1930 and really brought Christian ministry training to Bulgaria, maybe for more or less the first time and in a non-formal or informal manner, which was the setup that Entrust began to use, when Entrust showed up a few years later.

Laurie Lind  | 00;31;11;11  |  So Nik is telling us that that non-formal training, the groundwork, had already been laid for that kind of low key, quiet training, especially under the Soviet regime. When Nik talks about the changes, he's referring to the end of Soviet rule in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe and basically the coming of freedom as of about 1989.

Laurie Lind  | 00;31;37;13  | And you hear a lot of references by both Nik and Stephen to BEE, or “bee.” It almost sounds like they're saying the name of a little bug. But BEE was Biblical Education by Extension. And that was the early name for this non-formal ministry training that was being taken into these communist countries secretly before the changes, as Nik says.

Nik Nedelchev  | 00;32;03;27  | So having explained all that, let's get back to the story from Nik.  Nik Nedelchev: After the changes, the roups grew up and we had 18 groups with over 600 students in them. We are beginning to have foreign missionaries. But even after 1990, to come and live in Bulgaria, no one came. I mean, people were coming and leaving. But actually this motivate local Bulgarians to use 2 Timothy 2:2, and to put in practice.

Stephen Olson  | 00;32;45;17  | And you know, I've always looked at the ministry of BEE in the sense that you know God is provides a season of time where it's something that has a lot of fruit from it. But it also develops I think people in the country to where they would begin writing their own materials. They began they are learning different ways to teach it.

Stephen Olson  | 00;33;12;20  | It's been a catalyst in many ways. As we see in Bulgaria now there's so much more goes on ... also now in other countries. Yeah, people remember BEE, but there's much more going on now because there's so many of these young men, women, who are teachers, pastors, lay leaders, wherever across the country.

Laurie Lind  | 00;33;40;08  | So the main point of today was to hear how Nik and Stephen first met each other, which ends up was back in 1978 in Poland, and how that led to ministry training happening in Bulgaria to the point now where a whole women's training organization is running so smoothly that Enrust and BEE don't even know anymore how many groups there are, how many women are involved.

Laurie Lind  | 00;34;09;03  | It's entirely owned and run by Bulgarian women who are continuously equipping and training further generations of women to serve other women in the local church. Also, some of the early men that were trained by Entrust are now running their own training organizations completely; Bible school, seminary-level training across the country, and even training the people group that is known as the Roma.

Laurie Lind  | 00;34;36;12  | We sometimes erroneously call them gypsies, but the Roma people, leaders are getting ministry training as a result of those early days of training behind the Iron Curtain that Stephen and Nik were part of. We'll stop here for today. Pick it up again next time with another adventure story, with Nik praying -- which in and of itself is quite beautiful and also entertaining -- I must say.

Laurie Lind  | 00;35;03;08  | And then some advice for us, for next generations coming up, from these two seasoned men of God, followers of Jesus, and things they've learned through the years that we can learn from. So I hope you can join us again next time. 

Todd  | 00;35;25;08  | Thanks so much for listening. We'll pick up the conversation next time with Stephen Olson and his good friend Nik Nedelchev telling about their heart-wrenching scare in a barred prison-like building in Bulgaria. Meanwhile, please consider this: men and women are eager for ministry training now in many parts of the world, just as Nik and his Bulgarian friends were back in the day. Is God tugging your heart to do as Stephen did, to take some risks and come alongside people like that? If so, get in touch. Go to www.entrust4.org. Click “Join Us” and fill out an interest form. That just starts the conversation. No obligation. That’s www.entrust4.org. We would love to dialogue with you. And join us next time for Entrust Equipping Leaders!