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December 2016 -January 2017


Beyond the Walls


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Out of the Mouths of Babes

By Amy*


“Don’t you know God? I love God. Do you want to know God? Because I think He can help you!”

These are the words my four-year-old daughter shared one day (in very simple Bulgarian) with one of her best friends at preschool. She actually spoke them in a moment when this friend was sitting in “time-out”—something she apparently knew he needed God’s help with! Anna has a very honest and upfront personality, which often results in her receiving her own “time-outs.” But when I heard about this preschool conversation, I felt so thankful that God had given her the courage to share simple words of truth with her friend who most likely had never heard the gospel.

My husband and I also felt challenged—convicted that maybe sharing our faith among the people we came to reach didn’t have to be as scary and complicated as we had thought. Maybe the limitations of which we were keenly aware as first-term missionaries were not as limiting as we felt they were. Maybe the simple ways we were seeing God work in and through our preschool-aged kids could teach us a great deal about effectiveness in ministry.

When we moved to Bulgaria, we quickly learned an important key to reaching people with the gospel is gaining their trust. The years Bulgarians spent under a Communist government contributed to a great suspicion many of them have towards each other and outsiders. To gain credibility and trust in our communities as missionaries, we must find ways to identify with them. One of the most natural ways for our family to identify with others in our community was sending our daughters to Bulgarian preschool only a few months after our arrival in Bulgaria—a decision that wasn’t easy for us. We were blessed to have good teachers for our kids.

I knew it is normal for most moms and kids to be emotional on their first day of preschool. Even so, for me, this day meant releasing my preschooler to spend all day in a place where she couldn’t communicate or be understood. It meant realizing the teacher may not tell me if a problem occurred because of the shame-based culture. It meant spending many months of our first year on the field adjusting to viruses from the preschool to which our bodies weren’t accustomed. It meant responding to my daughter’s tears, confusion, and protests. It meant sleepless nights wondering, “What in the world am I doing to my children? Have I completely blown it by bringing them here?”

One thing we repeated to our children (and ourselves) in the midst of adjusting to school and to a new culture was “When you don’t know what to do, just pray. Remember God is able to do big things in and through your life when you trust Him.” I vividly remember many moments of praying for my oldest daughter during the school day as I pushed my younger daughter’s stroller over the cobblestone streets of our town. I also vividly remember a day when we were at a Bulgarian coffee shop with friends. I overheard Anna whisper a prayer before sipping her hot chocolate. She prayed her teacher would come to church one day and her classmates would learn about Jesus.

I felt rather pessimistic at that point that we would see this take place. We had quickly learned it often takes months or years to earn a person’s trust or friendship in Bulgaria. We knew the probability of Anna’s teachers or classmates trusting us enough to walk into our church building, which many people in our city believed to be a cult, was pretty unlikely. But we continued in prayer anyway, waiting to see what big things God might choose to do.


In spite of our weakness, limitations, and even lack of faith, we saw God help our family begin to identify with kids, parents, and staff members at the school. We could sympathize with other parents struggling to let go of their kids. We strove to deal with problems in a peaceful and humble way, and we saw this make an impression on others. Anna’s classmates soon embraced her as a friend and didn’t shun her because she was a foreigner who couldn’t speak well. As our language abilities improved, we felt less self-conscious making conversations with parents in the foyer and began to sense less suspicion from them than we did in the beginning. Even though we hated making cultural and linguistic mistakes, we were thankful for the way these mistakes kept us humble and often gave us opportunities to relate to people in a better way.

God eventually blessed us with the gift of trust among people in our community as well. Our church in Svishtov had been conducting free English clubs for elementary aged kids for several years and had seen good relationships develop because of this. We decided to start another English club for preschoolers, based on the interest of a few parents we knew from the preschool. We were amazed when some of the same kids Anna had prayed for soon began to attend.

A Bulgarian friend and I spent an hour each week teaching preschoolers simple English through songs, games, and books. It was challenging, but we grew to love the kids and their parents with all our hearts. Relationships of trust continued to grow. There were times when different parents and children stopped attending or distanced themselves from us for various reasons. We wondered if this ministry would dissolve soon after it was started, but God allowed it to continue. He was indeed capable of doing big things!

In the beginning, our preschool English club met in a room that doubled as a church nursery and storage room. The moms usually sat on a couch and chatted during the lessons. One day, as I was teaching the preschoolers, I overheard one mother asking another mom who had just begun attending the church what it was all about. She had been intrigued by signs about the Bible study but did not know what we did or represented. These kinds of conversations continued to take place during our English club. We saw new believers and even “seekers” sharing with others their positive and personal experience with the church and Jesus.

More and more women not only began attending the English clubs but also visiting our church’s Bible studies and worship services. The beautiful thing is most of these women did not come because they were invited by members of our missions team. They came because they had been invited by other Bulgarian moms, and sometimes their kids, who had “tasted and seen” what our ministry was all about.

Needless to say, my heart grew deeply attached to these children and mothers—most to whom God had connected us through our own children. Then came moments when our prayers for these precious friends became especially fervent. We watched two different mothers associated with our English clubs suffer through the unexpected death of their husbands. We watched others struggle through unemployment, divorce, and other serious issues. I didn’t always have the wisdom to give them clear answers, or the language ability to formally disciple them. But I realized I could be involved in the discipleship of these children and mothers who desperately needed to know Jesus. I could pray for them, identify with them, and support them because of the relationship of trust God had provided.

These were simple things I had seen my preschool daughter model in her interactions with her classmates.  When we saw the power of God displayed in our simple attempts to show His love, we saw lives truly changed. We knew, without a doubt, God put us in that place, with those people, for that time.

Ministry to children and through children is an invaluable part of Free Will Baptist missions work in Bulgaria. I hope it is important to you, your family, and your church as well. The time it may take to build trust with parents is worth it. Encouraging children to be “disciples” who are faithful in prayer and witness is one of the most powerful ways we can be a part of reaching the world with the hope of the gospel.

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).


*About the Writer: Amy (full name not disclosed for security purposes) and her husband Jonathan arrived in Svishtov, Bulgaria, in February 2013, joining Tim and Lydia Awtrey in planting New Life FWB Church. They moved to Pleven in October 2016, to lay groundwork for a church in that city.







©2016 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists