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Just at the time when we felt defeated, God showed us that He is on the throne...


by Tim Awtrey


Failure. When I first saw the title of Kevin Riggs’ book Failing Like Jesus (Randall House, 2010), I thought, “That’s one book I don’t have to read. I’ve got failure down pat.” Our family, after almost four years serving as missionaries in Bulgaria, had little to show for it.

We had just arrived back in Bulgaria from a short stay in the States to attend the National Association of Free Will Baptists. Seeing pastors, church members, and a stadium filled with people praising God had been tremendously encouraging. We also had the opportunity to bring two new members from our mission work in Bulgaria with us. For the first time in their lives, they saw thousands of believers in one place. We returned to Bulgaria ready to assault the gates of hell with the good news of Jesus Christ.

After arriving, however, we sensed a change in some people in the church, especially those who had been part of the church before our arrival. Over the next few months, we realized the small, initial group did not want a church receptive to new believers. They were not willing to pay the price that comes with sharing the gospel. Lydia, several others, and myself found our selves between a rock and a hard place. Should we seek to appease the small group of believers who were here before us or reach new people? At the end of November, after several years of hard work, we found ourselves missionaries without a church.

But the mission was not dead. The calling from Jesus to reach the world still stood. We redoubled our efforts to reach the lost in Bulgaria. We decided to gather a small group to meet at our house. A man of little faith, I thought we might succeed in getting three to four people together to study the Bible. True to form, God had other plans. At our first meeting, 15 people crammed into our little apartment. People sat on the couch, chairs, and floor. Others stood in the doorway. Most amazing to me was the arrival of Alex, a non-believer for whom we had prayed regularly for several years. He declared that since we were making a fresh start as a church, he was going to make a fresh start, too.

Now we had an entirely different problem, one I had not anticipated. What were we going to do with all these people? The neighbors below and above our apartment were not going to put up with all this noise every Sunday morning!

We began looking for a place to meet, knowing that places to rent in Svishtov are extremely hard to find. Yet, in just a few days, God gave us the opportunity to rent a small storefront room right around the corner from our apartment. Amazing! We sent out an appeal to help rent the building. Lydia and I decided to use our savings to get started until the necessary funds could be raised.



Photos: The new storefront location (left); children enjoy a craft project in the new church (right).

We planned for our first service in the new building. We all pitched in to get the building ready for the first service—putting together tables and chairs, throwing on a little paint, fixing the hot water heater, preparing children’s crafts, installing heating for the building, etc. Retirees worked during the day, and others came in after work. In less than a week, we had created a usable place for the first service of New Life Free Will Baptist Church. This small group of new believers chose the name New Life because it reflects the reality of whom they now are in Jesus Christ and what they want their friends, neighbors, and relatives to experience.

In spite of all the difficulties, God has continued to open new doors for us. Just at the time when we felt defeated, He showed us that He is on His throne. Every week since our church restart, non-believers have attended the church service. Contacts Lydia and I have made outside the church have blossomed. We enjoy regular Bible studies with non-believers and discipleship studies with those new to their faith. We’ve had many difficulties, but it feels like a breath of fresh air has infused us.

By any standard, we still have a long way to go. In a city of 50,000, 20 people gathered in a small, storefront building doesn’t spell success. Perhaps though, Jesus’ standard of success and failure is not the same as our own. Failure or success is not contained in the size of the congregation. True failure is failure to go to the lost, offering them “new life!”


About the Writer: Tim Awtrey, his wife Lydia, and kids Yanna and Alex work faithfully in an extremely hard place, a place where hearts often seem as cold as the temperature—post-communist, humanistic Bulgaria. To learn more about their ministry visit


First Free Will Baptist Church in Washington, North Carolina, has partnered with Tim and Lydia Awtrey in Bulgaria since 2008. Below is a sample of some of the things they have done to make a difference in the hard places:

  • September 2008—sent a six-man group to visit, encourage the Awtreys, and see the work first-hand.

  • Christmas 2008—sent 150 shoe box Christmas gifts for outreach (Operation Christmas Child no longer distributes in Bulgaria).

  • 2009 and 2010—delivered quarterly care packages with crafts, games, other needs for children’s ministry.

  • Christmas 2009—sent $1,500 and Christmas cards for use for Christmas children’s outreach.

  • January 2010—sent $2,000 to remodel storage room for children’s classes.

  • April 2010—enjoyed a church team visit for encouragement; two teens joined this trip to interact with Bulgarian youth.

  • Summer 2010—housed Awtreys while in North Carolina for three weeks.

  • Christmas 2010—sent $1,200 and cards for Christmas outreach.

  • 2008-2011—communicate through Sunday morning Skype calls on a regular basis.


©2011 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists