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Oct/Nov 2006







growing up communist

by Linda Awtrey

To learn more about Free Will Baptist International Missions, visit

Lydia Awtrey grew up in communist Bulgaria. This is her story.

The Wall Fell

In 1946, when the communists came to power in Bulgaria, they declared God “Enemy Number One.” Bonfires destroyed Bibles and religious materials. Laws made it illegal to own a Bible. All pastors and priests were rounded up, tried, and convicted as American spies. Most were imprisoned and tortured, or murdered. The new government wanted to erase the idea of God.

Churches closed, with the exception of a few government-sanctioned Orthodox churches with regime-appointed pastors. These churches functioned as museums to dead, useless religion.

Children were taught God does not exist. If a child attended a sanctioned church, his name was recorded and he was isolated from all privilege. To gain admission to college, students were required to take and pass an atheism test. Higher education was denied to Christians.

The government assigned housing and jobs. Since the government operated on the premise that any Christian was a threat to the country, believers and their families were sent to remote areas. Officials researched genealogies to identify Christian families and isolate them.

The communist regime succeeded in creating a great fear of the idea of God. Not only was belief in God wrong and dangerous, the government said it was stupid. By the end of the1940s, the evangelical movement was almost completely eradicated from Bulgaria. Bibles were obsolete and little evidence of God survived.

This is the environment in which I grew up.

In 1988, when the Berlin Wall fell, I was ready to enter college. I knew science and math, but had never heard the name of Jesus or the good news of the gospel. At age 20, I was a good student at a medical college, preparing for a successful life. I made good grades, had friends, and participated in parties. But I was miserable on the inside. In my heart, life was meaningless. It seemed there was no one I could really count on. I became depressed, even though it seemed I had everything going for me.

While visiting my hometown, I ran into a friend who surprised me. He was different. I knew he had stopped smoking, drinking, and partying—but there was something more. He had hope in his eyes. He had something I had not seen in anyone else.

When I asked what was different, he told me he had met Jesus Christ and had become a born again, evangelical Christian. I laughed, because I did not know Jesus and did not understand. He invited me to church, and I went with him to a very small, evangelical church.

I began reading the Bible and investigating the claims of Christianity. After two months, I decided I believed what the Bible taught and I decided to become a Christian. But, I did not like the church, or want to become a part of it. I was the last one to arrive for services, and the first one to leave. I liked the teachings of the Bible and enjoyed listening to the message, but I was not willing to make friends with the people and become part of the fellowship.

My friend encouraged me to attend a weekend youth retreat. While there, God really changed my heart. The people at the retreat demonstrated un-manipulative love—something I had never witnessed before. All I had ever known was love given to gain something in return. These Christians seemed to love with no other motive than because they had been loved by Christ.

I decided to commit myself to Christ fully. I also committed myself to His Church. I am now a fully committed Christian and believe very strongly in the local church. Even a flawed church is better than no church. It is difficult to live your faith without the support and encouragement of a good church.

This is why Tim and I feel called to go to Bulgaria, to plant churches so people can know Christ and be part of a church that loves them without any other agenda.

About the Author:
The Free Will Baptist International Missions Department recently approved Bulgaria as a new field for missionary outreach. Lydia and Tim Awtrey have been appointed as the first career missionaries to that field. To find out more, visit



©2007 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists