Making Christ known in Bulgaria
Lauren Pratt | April 02, 2018
College is a time of discovery for many, a time to learn where one’s passions and priorities lie. For Caleb Waller and his wife, Sarah, college was a time when they both realized the importance of taking the gospel to those who have never heard it.
Today, almost 10 years later, the couple, along with their 11-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter, serve in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“Having the joy of being able to communicate the gospel regularly to people who have never heard it is what keeps us here,” said Caleb. “On the tough days, we fall back on that.”
Caleb never would have guessed that with his communications degree and a law enforcement background from North Carolina, he would end up becoming a missionary in Europe.
Now he and Sarah, who has a background in teaching, are serving the Lord in ways they never thought they would.
What happens to those people who have never heard the gospel?
It was this question in 2009 that burdened the Wallers and ignited a passion within them to do something about it.
The Lord led them step by step to discover their role in the Great Commission. From asking their small group leader for guidance to stepping onto Bulgarian soil for the first time as missionaries, the Lord was faithful in the process.
While trying to figure out their role in missions, Caleb and Sarah prayed for an opportunity to go on a short-term trip overseas to become more familiar with overseas missions.
On a nine-day mission trip Peru, Caleb heard the Lord’s call to give his life to this work.
“While we were there, the Lord said, ‘This is what I’m going to ask you to do for the rest of your life,’” he recalled. “We still weren’t quite sure what that would look like, where it would be or how it would all play out.”
It was that initial jolt of the reality of deep lostness that eventually led Caleb and his wife to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in 2012, where he is pursuing a Master of Divinity in International Church Planting and a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies. In 2015, the Wallers left for Bulgaria to serve as church planters with the International Mission Board (IMB).
For two and a half years, they have served alongside the Baptist Union in Bulgaria as well as a foundation started by the IMB. Through the foundation, the Wallers can do outreach projects in schools, hospitals and orphanages as well as teach English. This outreach would be far less likely to occur under the banner of a Christian organization.
“If we can come in as a more secular foundation that aims at bettering the community through a number of different ways, then we have access,” said Caleb. “Through that we build relationships, and then through that we’re able to share the gospel.”
In fact, Caleb has never met anyone outside of evangelicals who have heard the true story of Jesus Christ.
“I have never once shared the gospel with a Bulgarian and had them tell me that they had heard it before,” said Caleb.
During their time in Bulgaria so far, the Wallers have overcome the hurdle of full-time language learning and have worked with their local church members to encourage them toward Great-Commission living.
The Wallers went through a process of discovering the spiritual climate of Bulgaria. Looking at the data of an 80 percent Orthodox Christian culture led Caleb to believe he would be working with many who were nominally Christian. However, as he got to know the Bulgarian people, he realized many are agnostic, and others are superstitious.
“There is a very strong belief in the supernatural, but it typically shows up in the form of evil spirits and almost in an animistic-type system,” said Caleb, explaining that they are concerned with what colors they wear and keeping with traditions for good luck.
Along with its religious context, Bulgaria has a history of Communism that has an effect on both Christians and non-Christians.
“If you’re interacting with the 80-year-old Bulgarian that had a little bit of Orthodoxy thrown in with a little bit of Communism, it’s a little bit different than if you’re meeting a 22-year-old who never was alive during Communism,” said Caleb.
Ever since his evangelism class at Southeastern, Caleb has loved sharing the grand narrative of Scripture and has found it to be the key way to share the gospel with Bulgarians.
“They need context for Christianity and the gospel rather than just the propositional truth that they’re sinners and they need God because they think they already have him in a lot of ways,” said Caleb.
The Wallers have seen how Christians who lived during the Communist era and the generations that followed seem to lack passion for the Great Commission the way they would hope.
“You either had to conform to whatever the state’s expectation of the church was, which was not a healthy version, or you had to hide it,” said Caleb. “So people were just less likely to broadcast their faith to their neighbor because it would often land people in jail or prison.”
While the Wallers feel a burden for the health of the local church, they also know that the best way to be a catalyst for change is to be a humble and active participant in it.
“The Bulgarian people have a long history,” said Caleb. “They’re very proud people, so they don’t always take well to the know-it-all American who comes in and says, ‘I can fix all your problems.’ It is a trust-building process that takes time.”
Caleb looks back on his time on the SEBTS campus as invaluable to his ministry in Bulgaria. From his evangelism and missions classes to theology and ethics, he often references what he learned in the classroom on the mission field.
Even though the learning experience “may at times seem sterile,” his reminder to students is to soak up this time because life and ministry get messy and seminary education provides a firm foundation on which to stand.
As Caleb states, “Here on the field is where life collides with theology.”
Ways to pray for the Wallers:
- For those who have heard the gospel to come to repentance of sin and faith in Christ
- For national believers to have a greater passion for the Great Commission
- For their coming stateside assignment in the fall
- For logistics as they transition to IMB career missionaries
From our local community to the outermost parts of the world, Southeastern students and alumni are reaching people with the gospel by fulfilling the Great Commission. Using the model of Acts 1:8, we want to highlight these stories of how our Southeastern family is serving in North Carolina, North America and around the world. Acts 1:8 Stories create a collective and consistent way to tell the story of Southeastern, one person at a time. From local pastors to missionaries among the unreached, God is doing a great work among students and alumni. Where are they now and where are they going? We can’t wait for you to find out!