Growing up in Communist Bulgaria, Ceitci Demirkova was taught to believe that she was just part of the crowd and that she wasn’t any better than the person beside her. It wasn’t until she was 16 years old that her eyes were opened to the possibility of doing something more with her life, and the resulting journey she took has impacted the lives of thousands of impoverished children.
4word: You were born and raised in Bulgaria, a former Communist country. Describe for us what life was like there.
Ceitci: For the first 16 years of my life, all I knew was the Communist way of life in Bulgaria. It was a very structured and regimented environment that limited a person’s ability to thrive as an individual. Communism degrades the individuality of each person, regardless of their skills or potential, people are left with no dignity or value of human life. Looking back now, I can see that it was a very depressed culture, but as a child growing up, I saw it only as an organized structure that promoted uniformity.
The schools in Bulgaria were a good example of this idea of organized structure. Every student attending school had to wear a specific uniform with a red tie, which signified that we were a part of the Communist party. If, for some reason, you did not have your tie on when you got to school or the tie was not ironed and placed properly around your neck, you were sent home and asked to return with your parents. This was a type of fear mechanism used not only in the school system but throughout various aspects in life. Because of this, I grew up very shy, insecure, and suicidal with no idea of who I was as a person or what I wanted to do with my life.
4word: Your journey of coming to America started when you were 19 years old with $100 to your name and a vocabulary of 100 words of English. Was it a culture shock to come to America? What drew you to come here, and was it difficult to leave the life you knew in Bulgaria?
Ceitci: America was definitely a big shock. I came here three and a half years after Communism had fallen in Bulgaria, and it took me almost two years after my arrival to assimilate the American culture into my thought process and lifestyle. I had grown up without the ability to choose. For example, our grocery stores offered only one variety of everything, and in order to purchase something, you had to point to it and a store clerk would pick it up for you. You could not touch anything in the store, as per the regulated system. When I came to America and went to a Wal-Mart for the first time, I could not believe the amount of options available! I was able to touch the things I wanted to buy!
Christmas was another new experience for me. Growing up, we celebrated only New Years, and Christmas was not a part of the celebration. The Communist party was god; no other deity existed. The Orthodox Church was state run, and it represented that Bulgaria was a Christian nation, but most people didn’t have a relationship with Christ. After I came to know Christ, I began to celebrate Christmas alone, as the rest of my family were not believers. My first real Christmas was when I came to America in December of 1994.
After giving my life to the Lord at age 16, I began to read the Bible and felt God’s call on my life to become a preacher and travel around the world. I had studied German for 5 years, and as a German translator, it was natural for me to think that studying at a Bible School in Germany would be the best option. When I mentioned this dream to my family, they thought I was crazy. No one had ever left Bulgaria to live abroad.
Upon graduating from the German High School at age 18, I met a family of American missionaries who were living in Bulgaria. They were going back to the States to complete their missions training at Victory Bible Institute in Tulsa, OK. I heard about the Bible School, and when I began to pray, God spoke to me and said: “You are supposed to go to the States and study at Victory Bible Institute, not in Germany.” At that moment, I knew I had to come to America. Through a series of miracles, I obtained a visa, learned English, and came to the States a few months after I graduated from high school.
In a way, it was hard to leave my family and friends, and at the same time, it wasn’t. I was excited to learn about God and be educated on how to fulfill the vision He had placed on my heart. Also, when you are that young, you don’t really think about all of the impossibilities of what you’ll face in a new country. You are just excited! I showed up in America knowing that God wanted me to come, and that is when my entire journey of faith began. I learned English in two months and started classes at Victory Bible Institute in January 1995.
4word: How did you go from being a student to founding your nonprofit Ceitci Demirkova Ministries? What were your goals for your nonprofit, and have you seen those goals achieved?
Ceitci: Part of my training at Victory included missions and cross-cultural relations. One of the missions programs that I was a part of taught us how to establish a nonprofit. At that time, I was twenty years old and thought that I had to save the world by the time I was twenty-one. I had to get a nonprofit organization going! A church in Altoona, Kansas, that had been my sponsor to come to America, opened a nonprofit service agency, and I became one of their first clients. I ran my finances and operations through their agency for the first six years that Ceitci Demirkova Ministries was in existence. I created my mailing list with names of people that I met on the street or at stores. I knew I wanted to help people, but I needed help to get started.
The initial goal in starting this ministry was to help children in Bulgaria. I wanted to help orphans and children who were abandoned on the streets. I had grown up in poverty, so I knew what it was like to live in that environment. When I first began my nonprofit, no one knew me, and no one knew about my cause, therefore I couldn’t give much. I would save $1 a month, and at the end of the year, I would send $12 to a child in an orphanage in Bulgaria. Even though I was only able to help that one child, I was still beginning to see my dream, helping every helpless child in Bulgaria, come true.
Two years after starting my ministry, I went to Holland and found out that many of the young girls and kids from the orphanages in Bulgaria were taken and sold as prostitutes at the Red Light District in Amsterdam. In the early 90’s, no one talked about trafficking, but it existed in the dark streets of many countries. Girls, ages 7-13, were used sexually in this District. After seeing this, I went back to Bulgaria determined to do something. The best possible way I saw to stop this was to simply educate these children, their parents, and the staff at the orphanages. This is how Changing a Generation came about.
4word: Tell us about Changing a Generation’s mission,and the impact this outreach is having in Bulgaria, Ghana, and Uganda.
Ceitci: In 2008, we created Changing a Generation as a branch to Ceitci Demirkova Ministries. This outreach plays a big part in my heart to help children. If we’re changing even one life, we’re still changing a generation. I talk more about this in the video below.
Our mission is providing education for children. If the children are in orphanages, we provide them with food, clothing, and other items as needs arise. For children who come from impoverished homes, we get them back to school by providing them with their school tuition, uniforms, school supplies, and anything else they need to become consistent students. If these children receive an education, they will have a better chance to find a job and succeed later in life.
We have three basic structures to the outreach:
- Empower the person: allowing children and young people to discover their destinies
- Educate the mind: provide children with the tools they need to succeed
- Endeavor to achieve success: supplement their spiritual, emotional, and physical needs
Every month, close to 1000 children go through our programs in Bulgaria, Ghana, and Uganda. In total, thousands of children have been impacted by Changing a Generation over the past 19 years. In Uganda, 40% of our children have graduated and gone on to pursue higher education; just recently, we had five students who completed their college degrees and will become doctors. In Bulgaria, education is very valued and is actually free through the public system; however, many children don’t attend school because of the cost of uniforms and school supplies. We come alongside the local school system and provide these items to students in need, as well as offer after-school classes in English and practical skills. Around 50% of the Bulgarian children that we have assisted have graduated and others are still enrolled in high school. Our outreach is still in the beginning stages in Ghana, so we have not had students graduate from high school yet.
4word: In 2011, you began working with The Pacific Institute in Seattle with the goal of impacting your home country of Bulgaria. What are you hoping to accomplish, and how has The Pacific Institute been able to help?
Ceitci: I met the founders of The Pacific Institute (TPI), Lou and Diane Tice, and shared with them the vision I had for restructuring the laws and policies of the Bulgarian education system so that the dignity and value of children would be elevated. Preventing human trafficking was also a major area of concern as Bulgaria is one of the top three nations in the European Union with the highest amount of human trafficking.
Our nonprofit was simply not able to make enough of an impact on the national educational system and create an overall cultural change. With the 43 years of experience of The Pacific Institute, we were able to introduce their high-performance curriculum and practices to the leaders in the business and government sectors in Bulgaria. Partnering with TPI, we went to Bulgaria and approached the governmental system starting with the prime minister and his cabinet. We wanted to help bring a better understanding of how beliefs, habits, attitudes, and expectations are formed and thus create a healthier environment for people to thrive and achieve their potential.
In 2011, we hosted 16 people from the top tiers of influence in Bulgaria in Seattle, WA. They had the opportunity to be educated in TPI’s curriculum so that they could begin to build Bulgarian society in new ways. In 2012, we were also able to host the newly elected president of Bulgaria and his delegation during his visit with Bill Gates and President Obama. We had the opportunity to share with him our vision for the educational system of Bulgaria and how we could impact the lives of 1.5 million children.
One of our main focuses for reforming the education system is to introduce more practical, hands-on approaches to learning, rather than just engraining facts and book knowledge. We believe that by giving students a chance to put their knowledge into practice, we will see these children dream bigger and go on to pursue greater things for their futures and the future of Bulgaria.
4word: You have overcome many challenges in your life. What advice do you have for those at the starting point of a major life’s journey?
Ceitci: Everything that I have accomplished in my personal life, as well as with our nonprofit, always begins with a challenge, simply because of the work we do. Observers seem to think that what we do is easy, and the reason they may think this is because I view every problem that arises as temporary instead of permanent. Many people try to apply a permanent solution to a temporary problem in their life.
When you are presented with a problem of any size in your life, don’t feel like you have to address it immediately. Take a step back from it, pray, seek counsel from those you trust. You never know the variety of options that are available to you to combat your problem until you seek them out.
The biggest thing that has helped me in my life is to know this ultimate truth: God is always for me, and knowing that He is for me means that the problem that has entered my life was not initiated by Him. We create problems for ourselves, sometimes other people create problems for us, but God is always on our side. Based on this belief, I have always approached every problem with the idea that there is a solution, and I don’t have to be discouraged, because I will find a way through with His help.
You have to learn and understand who Christ is in your life. He has to be the center of your life in the good times as well as the bad. When He becomes everything in your life, then no matter what happens, you will always know that you are not on this earth to please others. You are here to please God, and at the end, that’s all that ever matters.
What challenges have you come up against in your life? Ceitci left everything she knew and transitioned her life into an entirely different culture. This brave and trusting move allowed her to acknowledge God’s plan for her life and act on it. No matter how daunting God’s call may be, never doubt that He will see you through to the end.
Born and raised in Bulgaria, a former Communist country, Ceitci’s story is one of tragedy to triumph and poverty to richness. Arriving in the United States at age 19 with $100 and 100 words of English, her ultimate passion and purpose was, and still is, helping people. Her personal stories of overcoming life’s challenges and not stopping in the face of betrayal, discouragement or sickness are intertwined with her messages of hope, truth, love and purpose.