Expatriate Christian Workers and Czech Evangelicals
In 1995-2000, forty-five full-time missionaries worked in the Czech Republic.1 In addition, short-term workers came to the Czech Republic organizing English camps, sport activities, and other forms of outreach. The focus in this article will be the relationship between non-charismatic Protestant missionaries and local evangelical churches in the Czech Republic, especially the Evangelical Brethren Free Church (Cirkev bratrskahe). The Czech Evangelical Brethren originated with the formation of the Free Reformed Church in Prague in 1880. Today, it includes 6,000 members in 59 local churches. From1995 to 2005, this denomination arranged partnerships with seven Western mission organizations: the Evangelical Free Church Mission, Mission to the World, SEND International, TEAM,
Covenant Mission, Athletes in Action, and the German Alliance Mission.
Low-Profile Western Help
People of great empathy and understanding came from Slavic Gospel Association (SGA), European Christian Mission (ECM), and other organizations to minister in Czechoslovakia. Later, in the 1980s when state oppression of the church diminished, visiting missionaries organized seminars in flats. It was similar structure to that used by political dissidents associated with Vaclav Havel and others.2 The idea was based on the legal possibility that even in a police state one was allowed to meet with friends in one’s private house or flat. Therefore one or two people
From abroad came for a visit to a family, and other “friends” of the family were invited. Thus, missionaries
met with “friends” who were key Christian leaders, lay pastors, and church workers preparing for the ministry. Such seminars were mostly interdenominational. Navigators developed this opportunity which had a significant impact on the progress of personal evangelism, the only possible evangelistic method at that time. Later, Biblical Education by Extension and Child Evangelism Fellowship used this network for the education of lay pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday School teachers.
False and True Missionaries
After the political changes in 1989, Czech Christian leaders were full of expectations, hope, and sympathy for new teams of missionaries coming to help local churches with mission and evangelism. Very soon, however, it became clear that the word missionary had different meanings. Instead of workers involved in mission, some missionaries came to Czechoslovakia as “experts” ready to teach. Pavel Cerný, one of the key leaders of the evangelical movement in the Czech Republic, characterized these so-called missionaries in this way: In our context, the word “expert” means someone who is really very experienced in the theory and practice of some ministry and particular work. We find it very offensive to discover that some missionary who comes to our country as an expert, let’s say in
church planting, has never planted a church before.
We have met many so-called experts who just know some theory. Many national leaders through the years became almost angry hearing some missionary saying: “We have ‘know-how’ and you have people to do it; ten steps how to plant a church; seven steps how to make your church grow; etc.! But there are no functioning examples, no models of that ministry in our context.” To do mission work in a foreign country and to avoid studying local church history, theological vocabulary, and ecclesiology is arrogance.
This failure means very often not to do mission work but to split and multiply denominations.3It should be noted that most such “experts “quickly left or were asked to quit their ministry. At the same time, other Western missionaries came as servants with a real love for the Lord and for the Czech people. They helped and are still helping in the process of evangelization and church planting.
Czech versus Missionary Expectations
Czech leaders made mistakes, as well, by not clearly communicating their expectations for expatriates: What should their responsibilities be and what goals were to be set for their involvement? A survey of 216Czech Evangelicals conducted in 2003 included questions on collaboration between local churches and expatriate missionaries. Among those surveyed,89 said they had had experience with expatriate mission workers, while 127 had not. Most missionaries mentioned had come from the United States, with the remainder coming from 11 other countries: England, Ireland, Germany, South Korea, Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Holland, Switzerland, Australia,
and Slovenia. Respondents favored work with missionaries in local churches over church planting efforts. In contrast, missionaries working in the Czech Republic viewed the planting of new churches in partnership with Czech workers as their primary goal.
For Czechs, the concept of church planting is a very new area of missions. In addition, church leaders prefer to enlarge their local church rather than invest resources in planting a daughter church. Survey findings also indicate that missionary involvement in local Czech churches includes service as church elders, preaching, teaching, working with children and youth, and organizing evening clubs withdrew-evangelism in mind. Those surveyed spoke favorably of mission efforts involving weekend retreats, English camps, sports camps, and teaching English in public schools and homes. While most respondents viewed Western missionaries positively, some were singled out as doctrinally insensitive, demonstrating a lack of qualifications for ministry, and performing poorly in comparison with nationals.4
Overcoming Age-Old Catholic-Protestant Tensions
During the era of atheistic Communism, trials and executions occurred and all churches suffered. For the first time in 500 years, the Roman Catholic Church possessed absolutely no political power. The state confiscated all its property, arrested many priests and bishops, and liquidated monastic orders. The Catholic Church was reduced to the same level as Protestant denominations. While in the twentieth century Protestant numbers increased up to the Communist takeover, only to fall below their 1910totals, Catholic numbers dropped dramatically throughout the century.
Some Protestant pastors and Catholic priests found themselves in the same prisons. Relationships became stronger because Communists defined all Christians as the common enemy. Possibly as a result of this shared experience, Czech Protestants and Catholics have unusually positive fellowship. However, many expatriate workers, especially from the United States, do not know this history and do not understand the reasons for the close ties between
Czech Protestants and Catholics.
Making Mission Partnerships Work
One Czech evangelical denomination (that prefers not to be identified) concluded partnership agreements with two mission agencies from the United States that stipulated that the Czech partner would have no financial responsibilities for any U.S. missionaries. Such contractual agreements put expatriates in a difficult position, financially supported and dependent on the sending side, but simultaneously subordinate to, and commissioned by, national church leaders. Practice confirms that such partnerships do not always function well. Missiologist Gail Van Rheenen describes one appropriate approach to financing mission partnerships that he defines as the indigenous partnership model. For the specific context of the Czech Republic, the present author supports variation of this arrangement in which a self-supported national denomination or local church agrees to partner with a foreign mission agency willing to provide financial help. Van Rheenen maintains that, in certain contexts, foreign money (if used carefully) can empower missions without creating dependency.” In this case, support money from both sides can be shared according to the needs of a particular church mission activity or church planting project. To be effective, such a partnership requires mature leaders. Also, money, “rather than going directly to the recipient, should go through a local accountability structure.” Partners should mutually decide the duration of the partnership, accountability for use of money, and methodologies for their specific mission tasks.” 6 Also, it is important to judge whether or not goals are reached and the degree to which common vision is still mutually shared. Such an evaluation procedure should be a natural part of any partnership agreement. One mission agency even suggested that partners plan evaluation retreats to insure that both are “singing from the same sheet ofmusic.”7 According to Ed Dayton and D.A. Fraser, it is important to set aside specific times to evaluate performance and the effectiveness of a partnership.8
The Czech Republic, in spite of its rich Christian tradition, is largely a mission field. More than 70 percent of its ten million inhabitants are evangelized .Joint mission projects are welcomed if the mission church relationship is based on the conviction that “sending and receiving churches are on an equalbasis.”9 A credible and challenging partnership must be based on mutual respect and trust and requires the building and maintaining of good relationships. National Christian leaders need to formulate the status and roles of expatriates transparently in order that missionaries can be sure their ministry is relevant. Expatriate workers must be aware of the long and painful history of the Czech church, the reality of lingering influences of the Communist era, and the strong secularization process that has taken place in the last century. Basic principles of cooperation between Czechs and expatriates must be expressed in partnership agreements which clearly state the philosophy of ministry and the responsibilities of both partners.
The way to fulfill particular mission projects based on a contractual partnership is to build a credible team that embodies an attitude of equality. Unimportant part of all planning, goal setting, and decision-making is clear communication. As T.C. Shelling points out, “To communicate a promise one has to communicate the commitment that goes with it; and to communicate a commitment requires more than the communication of words. One has to communicate evidence that the commitment exists.”10
Another important characteristic of any partnership will be each side’s respect for the other’s value system.
In conclusion, it can be said that expatriate workers have done considerable work during the last 15 years that Czech nationals value highly. At the same time, in the changing contours of mission in the Czech Republic, new possibilities are emerging for expatriates and nationals to work together.
Edited excerpt published with permission from Daniel Fajfr, “A Critical and Evaluative Study of the Roles and
Partnership of Expatriate Christian Workers and Czech Evangelicals,” Master of Theology thesis, International
Baptist Theological Seminary and the University of Wales,2005.
1 Czech Evangelical Alliance, Basic Information About Evangelical Churches in the Czech Republic in the Years
1990-2000 (Prague: CEA, 2002).
2 E. Kristova, Vaclav Havel - Biography (Brno: Atlantis,
3 Pavel Èerny, “Churches and Missions in Dialogue,”Lecture at the Consultation on Mission, EuropeanEvangelical Alliance, Budapest, 1996, 1-2.
4 D. Bena, Zásady spolupráce zahraniènich misionárù smisstnim sborem v. èeských podminkách [The Principles of
Cooperation with Foreign Missionaries in the Czech Context], Pastoral Seminar (Rybniste, 2004), 1. Partof this paper includes a survey of church leaders fromwhich testimonies are quoted.
5 Evangelický týdenik-Kostniche Jiskry, Czech interdenominational weekly newspaper, No. 18, May1996, 3.
6 “Using Money in Missions: Four Perspectives,”Monthly Missiological Perspectives, No. 15, 2-3,
8 Ed R. Dayton and D.A. Fraser, Planning Strategies for World Evangelization, (Monrovia, CA; MARC, 1990),
9 Daniel Rickett and Dotsey Welliver, eds., Supporting Indigenous Ministries (Wheaton, IL: Billy Graham Center, 1997); G.V. Peters, “Pauline Patterns of Church-Mission Relationships,” in ibid.
10 T.C. Shelling, The Strategy of Conflict (New York:Galaxy, 1963), 147.
Daniel Fajfr is a pastor and teacher of evangelism admission, Prague, Czech Republic