Tortured for His Faith

In 1947, Haralan I. Popov, a prominent pastor in Bulgaria, was arrested and falsely accused of “being a spy” for the United States and Great Britain.Pastor Popov spent 13 ½ years in 16 Communist prisons and concentration camps for his uncompromising faith in Jesus Christ. His prominence as a devote Christian leader brought him severe physical torture at the hands of the Soviet KGB and their Bulgarian quislings. His amazing testimony of Christian courage is recorded in his autobiography, Tortured For His Faith (Zondervan Publishers).

Forbidden to leave Bulgaria

Upon Haralan’s arrest, his wife Ruth, a Swedish missionary to Bulgaria, was forbidden to leave Bulgaria for her homeland. After four relentless years, through the help of the Swedish government, she finally received permission to leave with her two children, Rhoda and Paul. In Sweden, she received invitations to speak in the Churches that had supported her missionary work in Bulgaria. She spoke about her husband’s imprisonment, and other pastors, for their faith. This led to invitations to speak at large conferences where she began educating churches and denominations that although tradition methods of missionary ministry were no longer possible, there still was a way to work behind the Iron Curtain.Ruth Popov refused to give up hope of the eventual release of her husband from prison. She encouraged Christians to organize prayer groups and petitions on his behalf and other imprisoned Christians.

Radio broadcasts behind the Iron Curtain

In 1963, Pastor Popov, through a miraculous release, was reunited with his family in Sweden. He immediately focused all his energy to awaken society to the plight of persecuted Christians and to bring God’s Word back into Communist countries where Bibles had been confiscated and burned. Haralan’s vision was clear, to be “A Voice and a Helping Hand” church. He began broadcasting God’s Word behind the Iron Curtain through Transworld Radio and IBRA with the support of churches in Sweden and Norway.Haralan was the first person to broadcast the Gospel message in the Bulgarian language, despite the Communists efforts to jam his broadcasts. Listeners behind the Iron Curtain were blessed, and members of the Bulgarian church he had faithfully served received encouragement. Yet still, Haralan’s heart remained torn for his fellow-countrymen and the prisoners still suffering in cells he once shared. He wanted to do more.

Bible printing, distribution

In 1972 Haralan founded ECL-Evangelism to Communist Lands, now DOHI-Door of Hope International. DOHI began the project Operation Jericho, a Bible printing ministry to secretly distribute Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. We printed 200,000 Bibles and New Testaments and smuggled them behind the Iron Wall. We encouraged people to pray that the Word of God would penetrate and bring down the modern wall of Jericho, the Iron Curtain. Through our New Testament Letter Ministry, more than one million New Testaments were distributed into Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.Early in our ministry, DOHI began a Bible Courier program through which thousands upon thousands of Bibles and Christian literature were “smuggled” behind communist borders in specially prepared vehicles. For the 1980 Moscow Olympics, DOHI printed and secretly delivered into Russia, 500,000 Russian New Testament, disguised by a cover depicting the Olympic Torch.

Another major undertaking was translating, printing and distributing Thomas Nelsons Open Bible-Study Bible in Bulgarian, Romanian and Russian. These Bibles were later dubbed as the “Portable Bible School” for pastors. DOHI has produced Children’s Bibles and song books in various languages, the Haley’s Handbook in Romanian and the Chinese Spoken Bible.

Religious Freedom

Many of DOHI’s staff were immigrants of Communist oppression resulting in DOHI often being at the forefront of the immigration movement. Concentrating on about 1,000 of the most extreme cases of Christian persecution, we generated Prayer and Action bulletins which documented specific needs. A worldwide prayer chain flourished into fervent bases of support.
From 1967-1975 we attended Senate hearings, protested at the World Council of Churches headquarters, worked with the Human Rights Commission, and made great strides with the Helsinki monitoring group. President Reagan relied on our extensive knowledge and invited Haralan’s son Paul to assist his speech writers on a speech he delivered referring to the plight of Christians in Russia.
Our courier network secretly delivered sponsorship invitations for Russian families to the West. One of the first two families became known as the Embassy Seven when they stormed the American Embassy in Moscow and made world news. DOHI published a book, Let My People Go, featuring the Embassy Seven which later became a film with Efram Zimbalist Jr. and broadcast on TV throughout the United States.

From father to son

Haralan Popov yearned to visit his homeland, Bulgaria. For twenty-six years he had been separated from his native country and the people he loved so much. God made a way for his dream to come true. Despite his 81 years and failing health, Haralan enjoyed a wonderful visit back to Bulgaria. When he walked into the Sunday morning service of the church he had previously pastored for many years, a young brother rose to offer the elderly man of slow, unsteady gait his seat.. As he sat, tears streaming down his face, praising God, a man next to him stared at him with astonishment. Word quickly spread throughout the church and people began to weep.Haralan Popov, their old pastor and friend had returned!

On November 13, 1988, a few weeks after returning from his beloved Bulgaria, Haralan Popov died. After more than 50 years of ministry, he went home to his Heavenly Father.Paul H. Popov, the son of Dr. Haralan Popov, has worked side-by-side with his father from the beginning his ministry. He has been Door of Hope International’s President since 1980 carrying on the work his father began.