Today I am talking to Petar Popivanov, the Irish Mission Children’s Ministry sponsor. Our conversation revolves around children and parents, faith and spirituality, and how God’s calling finds us unprepared. Petar, tell us a little bit about yourself, please?
Petar: Thank you Pam for inviting me to share the story of my calling. Just a little bit about myself … I am a Bulgarian working in Dublin in the area of healthcare. I am married and have a ten-year-old daughter.
Pam: Petar, you are the Irish Mission Children’s Ministry sponsor. Tell us more about your calling. When did you notice God was calling you to work with children?
Petar (laughs): Noticed? It was pretty obvious. Pretty much like if you ask Paul, when did you notice Jesus was calling you to become a witness for him? It is hard not to “notice” when God knocks you off your horse. Some years ago, I was asked to “be incharge” of the Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Ranelagh church.
You have to understand that prior to this I had no experience working with children in church. I had just begun returning to church after spending many years away. As a healthcare professional I assumed that if I were to serve God it would be in the area of health. So, I was riding the horse of my expectations, when the unexpected calling came.
Pam: The calling to lead the VBS?
Petar: Well, yes … I was pretty irritated with God at first. It made absolutely no sense to me. I had never attended a VBS before. How could I be responsible for a VBS? And I remember my bold prayer “God, I know I have no idea how to do a VBS. I know that this VBS will be a failure. So, unless you do something about it, it will be a total failure”. To my surprise (and probably everyoneelses) the VBS week turned out to be a huge success.
I remember on the first day there were mainly kids from Adventist families in Dublin. On the second day, some of them brough their neighbours and friends from school and said: “Petar, my friend wasn’t here yesterday but I told him everything we did, and he wants to join us now”. It took me by surprise how, through that event, God created an opportunity for kids to experience His love and care.
Pam: Is that when you realised you were called to serve in Children’s Ministry?
Petar: Yes, this was the moment when I had the “knocking off the horse” experience. I realised that although I had worked for almost two decades in healthcare and could serve in that area, God had a different plan. You have to understand, Pam, how shocking this new calling was for me. Firstly, I never attended church as a child. I grew up in a communist country. None of my parents or grandparents attended any church. So, I had no blueprint to base my new calling on. Secondly, I had left the church community for a long time and, although I had returned and joined Ranelagh church, working with children was simply not on my list of “gifts”. I did not see myself as a children’s person. Thirdly, although I was enjoying teaching my little daughter about God, it never crossed my mind that I could do this on a church or mission wide base.
As if all of this was not enough, I was called to serve in a predominantly female dominated ministry. I mean, think about the churches you know. How many men serve in Children’s Ministry? I am not talking about telling a children’s story every now and then. I mean leading the ministry. I hope this gives you a glimpse of why God’s calling was so unexpected to me. I remember when Ranelagh church asked me a few years ago to lead the Children’s Ministry there, I gave them all these reasons why I shouldn’t do it. Yet, I remembered how Moses was trying to step back by explaining to God how unqualified he was. Then God said: “Moses, you don’t get this, do you? It is not about you and your abilities. It is about Me. Who I am and what I can do.” God doesn’t always call the qualified, but He never fails to qualify those whom He calls.
Pam: Wow, this sounds pretty much like an unexpected calling. How did it develop afterwards?
Petar: Well, in a pretty unexpected way too. As I mentioned, I did not know what a “normal” Children’s Ministry should look like. So, I actually had to discover this through the eyes of a child. As my daughter was growing, I was able to understand how God revealed himself to the little ones. I had to “re-live” my childhood and “re-discover” Him with a child-like mindset. I had to educate myself in the spiritual development of children and learn to understand their needs and abilities.
Pam: It sounds like your experience in Ranelagh church allowed you to grow into this calling and bring it to mission level?
Petar: The challenges I have found in Children’s Ministry at the Irish Mission level are very different from those in my home church. Children’s Ministry in the Irish Mission is still in its infancy. My predecessor, sister Shupai, begun the work and I stepped into what was already established. In the first two months of 2020, I visited Ballinacrow, Belfast, Cork, Kilkenny and Portlaoise churches. What struck me was how differently the Children’s Ministries were structured in the various places. In some churches, there were Children’s Ministry leaders, budgets, various volunteers and activities. In other churches, the “Children’s Ministry” was mainly a single group for Sabbath School and a children’s story. There was so much potential to explore. The pandemic cancelled my visits to the rest of the churches. I am eagerly waiting for the opportunity to visit the churches I have not been able to visit yet. I am in touch with the Children’s Ministry leaders in these churches but have never managed to visit them and provide them the support they need in their local context.
Pam: Yes, the pandemic has forced all of us to re-think how we do ministry. How does the Children’s Ministry in the Irish Mission look today after more than a year of church being closed?
Petar: A few initiatives were born during the pandemic. In March 2020, we began an initiative called “Letters from God”. The “letters” are uploaded on the Irish Mission website, Children’s Ministry leaders then download and post them to the children in their congregations. Even kids in USA, Spain, Finland and Japan have received letters through their leaders. I recently got a request from Kenya, so this ministry is still going around the globe. You can read more about the “Letters from God here
Another initiative is the virtual Kids’ church. It is built on the pre-existing Kids’ church in Ranelagh Church and grew to a mission-wide online experience for kids since September 2020. To date, more than 37 episodes have been premiered. I want to thank the kids and parents across the mission, who pray, sing, make arts and crafts and illustrate the object lessons for each episode. I am thankful for the team of Children’s Ministry leaders in the various churches who facilitate the communication and networking. I am immensely blessed to lead a team of 14 volunteers in Ranelagh who tirelessly work to put together weekly programmes. For more information about kids church go to
The highlight of the year will be VBS 2021. We’ll join the Israelites in their journey through the desert and discover how God still guides us today.
Pam: Sounds like it’s been busy in the Children’s Ministry department. Petar, before we close, can you please share the “secret ingredient” of successful Children’s Ministry?
Petar: I do not assume that if children are born into Adventist families that they inherit the faith automatically. I think we all need to discover God for ourselves. My focus is to create opportunities where kids can experience the goodness of God for themselves. I try to create events where kids, through their senses, can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8). Regardless of whether the kids make a personal choice and decide to become church members when they grow up or not, my aim is very clear. I have been called to lead the children to Jesus. He is more than able to do the rest. Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw everyone to myself” John 12:32. Notice the double I? As adults we too often underestimate the power of grace and invest in short wins by behavioural modification. Yet, God’s grace is amazing in its potential to transform us from the inside out.
Pam: Thank you, Petar, for your time and for what you shared with the wider Irish Mission community. I can’t help but ask you one last question. Have you settled as a man in a “female dominated ministry?”
Petar (laughs): Pam, you unveiled my secret mission – to bring more men into Children’s Ministry. You see, there are almost as many boys as there are girls in our churches. Yet, they are taught faith mainly by women. I personally believe that men teach in a different way. Not better. Not worse. Simply different. So, kids get different experiences. Young boys need more men "models of faith" that they can relate to as they grow up. My plea to the men in the Irish Mission is: next time your wife is asked to lead a children’s Sabbath School group or do the children’s story, simply surprise your church by taking on the challenge yourself!