The Story of Uncle Kemal – Josh Provow

Lauren Biggs

The Story of Uncle Kemal – Josh Provow

Josh Provow, IM missionary to Bulgaria, shares a recent story from his time volunteering at the local Shumen hospital during the COVID pandemic.
A little context…
The COVID pandemic continues to rage in Bulgaria. In the entire country, the Shumen hospital has more COVID patients than any other hospital. About three weeks ago I went there with a friend to help him get an administrative document from the hospital. I saw first-hand the chaos of forty or fifty people crowding around the security checkpoint trying to get information. Many of them were there to deliver food to their sick family members (food is not freely offered to most patients), but all movement was halted because they were transferring COVID patients from one section to another. I found out that there is a brief window every day in which loved ones can bring food to their relatives and many days the same chaotic scene unfolds.
So I said a quick prayer and walked past the “do not enter” sign into the administrative wing of the hospital. I knocked on the head nurse’s door and she asked what I wanted. I explained that I know nothing about medicine and that I don’t even know how to measure blood pressure, but I thought I could help by taking food deliveries from the central security point and delivering it to the different wards. She looked skeptical, but she went and talked to some sort of director and came back and said, “Okay, when can you start?” Thus began an interesting new adventure in which I go to the hospital and volunteer from 11AM-1PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
The main story…
Okay, so this past Saturday I was back at the hospital doing my thing running up and down the stairs (there are only two functioning staff elevators and they are constantly in use with stretchers and wheelchairs). Around 12PM a man came in and said he has come from a town about 40 minutes away called Provadia (I am attaching a map with pertinent locations). His relative is from a village called Drumevo (my friend E’s aunt is the mayor there and last year with a Hanna Project team we did Operation Christmas Child parties in the preschool and in the grade school). He asked me to deliver some food to his relative named Kemal (name changed) on the ninth floor. He didn’t know which room, but I told him there probably wouldn’t be more than one Kemal and that it was no problem. So up the stairs, I went to the ninth floor.
I arrived panting and sweating and rang the doorbell to the ward. A nurse came and I told her that I have a delivery for a lady named Kemal. She replied: “There’s no lady named Kemal here.” “Okay, where should I look?” “I don’t know, try the tenth floor.” So, I went up to the tenth floor and wandered the hallways, looking for someone who might know where Miss Kemal is staying. No luck. Right about this time a phone started ringing in the sack of food I was carrying. I decided to answer (as one does). Thankfully, it was the relative downstairs, obviously assuming that by now he would be talking to Kemal. I explained the situation and said the best thing I could do is go back downstairs and together we will go to information and ask what room she is in.
So I went downstairs and he and I went by the reception. I said, “Sorry to bother you, but I am having trouble looking for a lady named-“ He cut me off: “No! Kemal is not a lady! He is my uncle!” My eyes went wide. I apologized profusely and it dawned on me that UNCLE Kemal probably was on the ninth floor and the nurse just knew there was no lady by that name. So up I went and lo and behold, we found Uncle Kemal. I went back downstairs, apologized again for the delay and we parted ways.
That afternoon we went on a walk in the woods with Sevdi to find a Medieval monastery carved into a cliff (you all should really visit Bulgaria some time!). On the drive home, my phone started ringing. It was the mayor of Vehtovo. [Side note: Vehtovo is a village about 20 minutes from Shumen where we have an in-home Bible study every Sunday afternoon with a group of Turks.] I answered. She said, “Josh, I found out today that you are working as a volunteer at the hospital.” “Yes, who told you that?” “Today you helped a relative of mine find his uncle Kemal. Do you remember him?” “Yes, how could I forget? Did he tell you how mixed up I got?” “Yes, he told me, but he was so thankful for your help. The security guard told him that you are an American pastor in the city and when he called me and told me about what had happened I realized it must be you. He lives in Provadia and he wants you to go to his city and start a church.” “What? Really? I would love to talk to him about that!”
The mayor gave him my number and the next day (ironically as we were getting into the van to drive to Vehtovo) he called me. He explained that he had access to an old theater that many years ago was used by an Evangelical church but now sits empty. He said, “Josh, I am a Muslim. But I believe that God wants you to come here and start a church. You can come and use the theater, and we will put up advertisements around town and people will come!”
Yesterday I saw him again at the hospital and we talked a little more. Here are where things stand right now: soon we will go to Provadia and sit down and talk with him and find out how serious he is. This is a town that we have never stepped foot in, but a cool fun fact is that it is almost equidistant from our churches in Shumen and Varna. I do not know what God’s perfect will is, but there is no doubt in my mind that He is at work!
The moral of the story…
I am still in awe at the amazing way our God works! Do you realize that if I had known that Kemal is an uncle and not an aunt, it would have cut out 90% of my interaction with this man, and most likely he wouldn’t have found out from the security guard that I am a pastor and the connection wouldn’t have been made with the mayor from Vehtovo? The Holy Spirit put these pieces together in an amazing way so that we could have an open door to share the gospel in a new place. And one of the pieces of the puzzle was my ignorance of Turkish names!
Please pray that God would continue the amazing thing He has started!
UPDATE (Dec 8, 2020 at 8:16AM CST): “Kemal” passed away a few hours ago. Please continue to pray that even through this loss God’s light would shine through!
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Freedom of Religion and the Gospel

Trif Trifonov

Freedom of Religion and the Gospel

“At 4 o’clock in the morning, the doorbell rang, then again and again. There were three strangers there —two were wearing suits and one a military uniform. ‘We have a search warrant,’ said their leader, then he pushed me back and intruded into the sleeping house.

“Within three hours they rummaged everything—books, beds, cabinets, drawers. When at about 7 the sunshine shone through the window, they ordered me to go with them for a ‘little inquiry’….”

Thank God, this is not a story of the present. But it is not fiction either. It’s a real story. This took place in the life of a Bulgarian pastor, Haralan Popov, in the first years of the communist regime.

Earlier this year, our parliament tried hard to violate [our] fundamental rights. For now, it looks like evangelical churches won a victory. The relative freedom we have enjoyed will, more or less, continue.

Bulgaria’s restrictive law-making is happening against the backdrop of a new wave of persecution in the Middle East, India, Northern Africa, and China, as well as the resurgence of nationalism in Europe.

Many fear the church won’t be able to do the Great Commission. Our wings will be cut off and we won’t be able to fly to the unreached; our legs will be amputated so we can’t go to the needy; our hands will be broken and unable to reach the hungry.

During communism, the church survived but didn’t thrive. She was deprived of her best leaders, had no access to the public arena, and found evangelism a risky business.

Other voices say the church needs to be shaken up and sifted, so the chaff is separated from the wheat (Matthew 3:12). The proponents of this view point to communist China. In the last 30 years, Christianity has grown to more than 100 million adherents in China.

Though persecuted, the Early Church, also grew rapidly in number. Persecution caused many to flee and take the gospel to the ends of the Roman world.

If we believe God is our King, no restrictions in secular laws should be able to hinder the gospel.

Personally, I think as Christians we should treasure and defend our freedom of religion because God created us with this “unalienable right.” Religious freedom is rooted in the Scriptures and is at the heart of the gospel.

God doesn’t coerce but invites his followers in a relationship with Him. God is love, and love presupposes freedom. Christian commitment to religious freedom reflects our beliefs about the character of the Creator.

Secondly, the struggle for religious freedom is part and parcel of the second great commandment to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:38). God has given each human being dignity. When the basic human right of religious freedom is not granted, human dignity is damaged.

And, last, restrictions on religious freedom hinder people from hearing the gospel and receiving the greatest gift imaginable: salvation and eternal life.

It is true Christianity in China is growing rapidly, in spite of restrictions and pressure from the state. Yet, how can we be sure it would not grow even faster if freedom of religion were made available in the vast country. The rapid evangelization of South Korea provides a case in point.

Plato said, “The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Once we paid that penalty. We are still recovering from that evil. May God give us wisdom and courage to defend our religious freedom and make sure all Bulgarian citizens have access to the gospel.


Trif Trifonov and his family serve as missionaries in Bulgaria. The World Missions Offering provides some of his support. This blog is excerpted from an article written for ONE Magazine. Read the whole article here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Do You Know?

Clint Morgan

Do You Know?

Interesting facts about a country always intrigue me. When I am going on a trip, I generally spend time studying about my destination. I don’t hesitate to look at the “fun facts” section.

Below I’ve listed intriguing facts about a country where we have an IM team. Without jumping ahead, do you know what country the questions and facts refer to?

  • What country in Europe hasn’t changed its name since it was established in 681 AD?
  • What country has never lost a single flag in battle?
  • Where was yogurt first produced?
  • John Vincent Atanasoff, a physicist and inventor, best known for inventing the first electronic digital computer has ancestral roots in what country?
  • The Rila Cross is a wooden cross with 140 microscopic scenes from the Bible featuring more than 1,500 figures. The largest of them is no bigger than a grain of rice. This magnificent cross can be found in what country?
  • In 1976, UNESCO declared the ancient calendar of what country to be the most accurate in the world?
  • IM has its first truly international team in what country?

Those facts are interesting and fun. The following are more sobering and are the reason we set November 10, 2016, aside as a special day of prayer for this country:

  • 88.7% of the population claim to belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. This country has been traditionally Christian (as in Eastern Orthodox) since the adoption of Christianity as the state religion in 865 A.D.
  • 5.8% of the population says they follow no religion at all.
  • 12.8% are Muslim with the Sunni sect making up the largest percentage.
  • less than 1% consider themselves evangelical Christian.

All of the previous information is in reference to one country—Bulgaria. Rich in history, this is a country with a bleak future if evangelical Christianity doesn’t make great strides there.

The Orthodox Church is a major obstruction to the advancement of the gospel in Bulgaria. Orthodoxy is considered the religion of the country and its people. If you are Bulgarian you are Orthodox, even if you are an atheist. This alone creates an enormous barrier to the reception of the Good News.

I want to challenge you to set aside November 10 to join with the believers in Bulgaria to pray for a great movement of God’s Spirit. Our IM team in Bulgaria is:


Print Friendly, PDF & Email