I Chose a Better Career
As told by Plamen Kostadinov
IT WAS almost noontime when I woke up. Everywhere on the floor there were empty bottles, and the overfilled ashtrays were stinking. There was nothing left from the euphoria of the previous night’s party. I felt frustrated and lonelier than ever. Everything seemed so meaningless! Let me tell you how I came to be in this sad state.
By the time I was 14 years old, I was pursuing a career in art. It was the summer of 1980. My father had just told me that I was admitted to the art college in the town of Troyan, Bulgaria. I was very happy. In the fall of that year, I moved from my hometown, Lovech, to Troyan.
I liked living far from my parents and doing whatever I wanted. I started smoking, and from time to time, I would get drunk with my school friends. Smoking and drinking were not permitted at school. Breaking the rules made it even more exciting for me.
My love of art continued to grow. I excelled in my drawing skills, and a desire for fame grew within me. After completing my five years of schooling in Troyan, I wanted to continue my education at the Art Academy in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. This was the most prestigious training center in all of Bulgaria. In 1988, I was admitted to the academy as one of only eight successful candidates selected from the whole country. How proud I was of my success! One day, I looked into the mirror and said to myself with pride, ‘Well, Plamen, now there is no doubt that you will become a famous artist!’
Shaping of the Old Personality
Soon I began to dress in black, and I grew long hair and a beard. This was considered obligatory for an artist. I adopted what I thought was the traditional Bohemian lifestyle of an artist. That included renting a room in the artists’ quarters and keeping it in disarray and as cluttered as possible. I then took in a cat with its three little kittens and a little dog. Squandering money was also part of my lifestyle.
Yet, my passion for art kept growing. I was constantly painting, using abstract depictions to represent the fantastic world of my imagination. I even painted on the walls of my room. This, I thought, was the start of a glorious career.
An integral part of my lifestyle was frequent partying with my fellow students. We often gathered in my room, listening to music and drinking heavily, even when preparing for an exam. Our philosophical discussions centered on music, art, and the purpose of life. Often, we spoke about supernatural forces and extraterrestrials. These discussions triggered my imagination, prompting new ideas for my next painting. I wanted to enjoy those feelings of euphoria longer, but they lasted only as long as I was drunk. Usually, by the next day, there was not even a trace of this enthusiasm.
After living such a life for some ten years, I felt dissatisfied. In contrast with the brilliant colors used for my paintings, it was getting darker and darker inside of me, and I felt the grip of loneliness. My dreams of becoming a famous artist began to fade. I was depressed and did not know how to move on with my life. That was the moment described at the beginning of my story.
Rescued by the Truth
In 1990, I decided to exhibit my art in Lovech. I invited Yanita, an acquaintance from the academy in Sofia, to participate in the exhibition, since she was also from Lovech. When the exhibition closed, Yanita and I went to a nearby restaurant to celebrate. During the course of our conversation, she began speaking about the things she was learning from her study of the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. She spoke to me about a new world foretold in the Bible. That sparked my interest.
Yanita continued her Bible studies in Sofia, and from time to time, she brought me Bible literature. I will never forget how eagerly I read through the brochure “Look! I Am Making All Things New” and how in just a few days I devoured the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth.* It was not difficult for me to accept that God exists, and I immediately wanted to know how to pray. I remember my first prayer. On my knees, I sincerely expressed my concerns to Jehovah. I was fully convinced that he was listening to me. Inner joy and peace began replacing my loneliness.
In Sofia, Yanita introduced me to a married couple who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They offered to study the Bible with me and invited me to their meetings. I remember my first meeting in June 1991. I arrived two hours early and waited in a little park. Nervous, uneasy, and full of doubts, I wondered whether they would receive me well. To my surprise, everyone gave me a warm welcome in spite of my bizarre Bohemian appearance. From that time on, I attended the meetings regularly and had a Bible study twice a week.
I was thrilled when I received my first personal Bible. Never before in my life had I read anything so marvelous and striking as the wisdom expressed in the Sermon on the Mount! As my study progressed, I personally experienced the transforming power of God’s Word as expressed at Ephesians 4:23: “You should be made new in the force actuating your mind.” I stopped smoking and changed my unkempt appearance. The change was so profound that one day when my father came to meet me at the train station in Lovech, he passed me by, failing to recognize me.
I started to take note of my surroundings. The mess in my room, the painted walls, and the stench of cigarette smoke no longer spurred my creativity. I felt the urge to clean up everything. I painted the walls white and thus wiped out the three-eyed alien creature that I had painted on the wall.
Needless to say, my friends soon abandoned me, but they were quickly replaced by the many people I met at Christian meetings, who remain my dear friends to this day. With such upbuilding association, I progressed quickly. On March 22, 1992, I was baptized at the first assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bulgaria, which was held in the city of Plovdiv.
Coming Back to Lovech
Although I knew that it would not be easy for an artist to make a living in a small town, I decided that following my graduation I would return to Lovech. I realized that, at least for me, it would be very difficult to pursue a successful career in art and at the same time put God’s Kingdom in first place in my life. So I decided to change my career plans and become a volunteer Bible teacher. While I was still at the Art Academy, Yanita, who had graduated three years before me, was already zealously teaching Bible truths in Lovech. She was the only Witness there.
By the time I moved back to Lovech, there was a small group of people studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting people from house to house and offering them the hope for the future that I had embraced. I decided to engage in this work on a full-time basis.
In time, however, difficulties arose. In 1994 our official registration as a religious organization was canceled and a very extensive slanderous media campaign was launched.* Often, the Witnesses were summoned to the police station and our literature was confiscated. During those difficult times, we could not legally gather for meetings in public places. Nevertheless, we regularly held our meetings in a 130-square-foot [12 m2] room adjoining Yanita’s house. On one occasion we managed to fit 42 people into that tiny room. So as not to disturb the neighbors, we closed the window while singing Kingdom songs. At times, when the temperature outside was high, it would get hot and steamy inside the room, but we were happy to be together.
Blessings From Jehovah
I greatly admired Yanita’s zeal for true worship, and with the passing of time, romantic feelings developed between us. We were married on May 11, 1996. Despite differences in our personalities, we complement one another in a wonderful way. She is my closest friend and helper. I am grateful to Jehovah for giving me a wife whose “value is far more than that of corals.”—Proverbs 31:10.
Some of my former friends made a career as artists, the way of life I once dreamed of. However, I am thankful that I chose what I view as a better career. I have helped many individuals to find purpose in their lives, and they are now my spiritual brothers and sisters. Any fame or recognition that I might have achieved as an artist doesn’t compare with the blessings I have enjoyed in Jehovah’s service. I am happy that I came to know intimately the greatest Artist, Jehovah God.
Both published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Live Forever book is now out of print.
In 1998, after appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was reregistered in Bulgaria.
[Picture on page 12]
With my wife, Yanita