When Parush Parushev, an esteemed visiting scholar from Bulgaria, was forced to give up his plush hotel room in a four-star hotel in Krakow, Poland, to Catholic pilgrims, he was both bewildered and outraged.
Parushev, a highly educated and much-respected scientist, had been promised the special accommodations en route to deliver a speech for an international gathering of industrial mathematicians in 1980.
Thousands of Catholics had walked for days, some for weeks, in harsh December weather in order to attend a special Mass led by the Cardinal Primus of Poland, the hotel receptionist explained. They were to receive the highest level of hospitality, so his room had been sold to accommodate them.
“It dawned on me that in Communist Poland there was a movement strong enough to call people from all over the country and these people were expected and respected guests,” Parushev recalled for Tony Cupit in Cupit’s book Stars Lighting Up the Sky: Stories of Contemporary Christian Heroes. “There seemed to be something terribly wrong with the way communism was expressing itself in Poland.”
The incident provoked even deeper questions within Parushev, a lifelong communist who had for some time struggled to reconcile inconsistencies he had begun to see within that system.
Born into an influential communist family in Bulgaria, Parushev had pursued a career as a scientist. His studies led him to Soviet Russia for 10 years. He had first seen this as a wonderful opportunity to experience what life under mature communism would eventually be like for Bulgarians. Once there, however, he became aware that the system was not as perfect as he had thought.
High divorce rates and pervasive alcohol abuse combined with fear, secrecy, loneliness and isolation to make for a less than idyllic existence for Soviet Russians and an even more difficult one for foreigners such as Parushev.
His conversations later with Catholic Christians in Poland further fueled his questions about the rightness of communism.
Back in his native country, as his commitment to communism waned, so did his standing within the Communist Party. His outstanding academic work continued, and it was his analytical mind, in part, that caused him to stumble on the bits of Christianity he had encountered.
With his wife Nina, also a scientist, Parushev obtained a Bible in Bulgarian, though the book had been officially banned. Together they began to read it; always, though, as scientists.
One day a coworker discovered Nina reading the Bible and asked her if she understood what she read. At first reluctant to admit she did not, she finally acknowledged that although she and her husband had been reading the Bible for some time, neither understood its message.
The woman then invited the Parushevs to attend a Bible study. “It was in that Baptist community that my wife and I for the first time made a connection between a community living out its faith, the Bible that enlightens and informs this faith, and the persons who have been transformed by their faith and instructed by reading the Bible together,” Parushev said.
Their commitment to Christ and involvement in Bulgarian Baptist life soon followed. Later they obtained master’s degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and pursued doctoral studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. Shortly after that, Parushev joined the staff of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, where he now serves.
“True Christian life is always in the making,” he says. “We do not know what God has in store ahead. God’s ways with us are always surprising, challenging and sometimes uneasy. Yet perhaps those uneasy turns at the end turn out to be a special blessing.”
That certainly explains how someone destined for greatness within the Communist Party now pours his life into teaching the truths of the gospel he once struggled to understand.
Parushev has written about the cultural, racial, linguistic, economic and political barriers that must overcome in order to do missions effectively today. His lesson is one in Acacia Resources’ newest online adult Sunday school curriculum, Leading Churches into 21st Century Missions: 13 Lessons in Acts.
Jan Turrentine is curriculum editor for Acacia Resources.