Forum: What Questions Should Organizational Leaders Be Asking?
Problems and Possibilities in European Ministry Today
by Peter Kuzmic
Only Protestantism in Eastern Europe is largely free of identifying nationality with a particular Christian confession. The shift from totalitarianism to tribalism, and from rights to roots, threatens not only democratic processes in most East European countries, but also any hopes for true religious liberty.
Illusions misinform the present reality of Eastern Europe minus Marx. Sadly, for example, too many take for granted that freedom and the present spiritual hunger will last. We do have unprecedented freedom, and there is a massive search for spiritual realities--a search for God. The spiritual vacuum created by Communism is enormous. However, currently freedom is threatened in numerous locations and the hunger for ultimate truths very likely will decline as the novelty of being able to explore all consumerism and materialism fades. For example, in East Germany, the churches had been full before the Berlin Wall was destroyed and now they are, in many cases, empty, and the Deutschmark is the idol of devotion. Western ministries, therefore, should understand the fleeting nature of East European spiritual hunger and the current willingness to accept any and every offer of spiritual help.
It is amazing how many pastors in Eastern Europe are now overworked, overloaded, and experiencing burnout. Pastors in Eastern Europe who are being invaded by Western ministers and religious tourists on a large scale do not know how to close their doors. Some are losing their spirituality because time is lacking for prayer and Bible study, which earlier had been their priority. And this has to be a concern. One genuine contribution Western ministries could make would be to help establish Christian counseling services for pastors as well as laity.
Even our language betrays us at times. I hear people say, "We are taking Jesus to Russia." Nobody is taking Jesus to Russia. Jesus has been there all the time. If a mission is taking Jesus to Russia, that is not the biblical Jesus--that is an idol! And that idol can very easily be kicked, dethroned, and replaced. In contrast, the Sovereign Lord in Eastern Europe, His Spirit moving where He wills, preceded the arrival of all missionaries. He has kept His Church. It has been purified and, in some ways, strengthened. My hope is that the West can not only assist but can benefit as the East European church tells its story of what it has learned through persecution and suffering.
East European Christian leaders also are concerned with a Western overemphasis on independence and individualism. This quintessentially American trait, it should be remembered, has not only its strengths, but its weaknesses. When U.S. Christians tell East Europeans, "Well, I am an independent," they immediately worry, "What is the problem? To whom are they accountable? Or is there something morally wrong? Why are they independent?"
The traditions of independence are not part of East European culture, church or secular. Instead, the sense of community needs to be strengthened and rebuilt in the sense of mutual accountability and the spirit of interdependence. This is biblical. For in the Body, we are all interdependent as we are dependent on the Lord Who is our Head. Practical implications in missiology include not giving to individuals, but rather to groups and institutions, not giving to presidents of organizations or pastors, but to organizations and churches with systems and treasurers. We already see some tragedies developing in Eastern Europe because of individual relationships which lack proper accountability and interdependence.
East Europeans are not used to telephones. Even people who have this convenience are not used to calling up those they will visit. Nor have Christians seen telefaxes until recently. Now it seems every pastor feels a telefax is a must--and a secretary who knows how to operate it. Likewise, written reports have not been a part of evangelical culture. In fellowships where communication has been primarily oral, written reports come hard. Give them some time and let's train them. Written communication and the improved accountability that it can aid will be helpful, but it will take time and Western patience.
Earlier versions of Forum reports by Peter Kuzmic, Anita Deyneka, and Serge Duss were given at a May, 1992, Chicago consultation sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies, and the Institute for East-West Christian Studies. Full texts are available for $4 each from Dr. Billy Melvin, Executive Director, NAE, P.O. Box 28, Wheaton, IL 60189, Tel: (708) 665-0500, Fax: (708) 665-8575.
Peter Kuzmic is president of Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia.
by Anita Deyneka
The procession of Westerners to Russia and other republics is steady. But how strategic is Christian assistance from afar? How can such assistance be made more strategic?
Take advantage of a new publication designed to assist Christian ministry in the CIS and East Central Europe. The East-West Christian Organizations Directory provides an excellent guide to non-native ministries working in the Commonwealth and East Central Europe. [Editor's note: See page 3 for order information.]
Once a Western church or parachurch ministry is aware of the work of others in the CIS and Eastern Europe, and once it decides where and how to extend its assistance, it should prepare a brief ministry summary in English and in the appropriate East European languages.
Even as Christian organizations form new networks among themselves to respond to the enormous challenge of missions in Eastern Europe, I would suggest that consideration be given to deliberate but cautious and discerning new networks with groups which may not be specifically Christian but which have help to offer. Humanitarian aid and technical expertise is so desperately needed now and can benefit Christian ministry in the Commonwealth and Eastern Europe.
With new freedoms, East European Christians have taken many independent initiatives. For example, in the Commonwealth hundreds of new Christian missions and publishing organizations exist which did not exist before glasnost. New denominations, churches, parachurch organizations, indigenous missions, Bible schools, seminaries, publishing operations, and charities translate into many more indigenous Christian contacts with which Western ministries may form partnerships. It is helpful to remember that the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Union, while important and influential, is not the only evangelical church in the Commonwealth.
Until a few years ago, the few evangelical churches were for most Western Christians the only points of entry into the Soviet Union. Even those contacts were restricted. Now, besides these churches and new parachurch bodies, multiple channels exist for the communication of the gospel, including direct evangelistic ministries through such institutions as the military, prisons, the media, and the educational systems. Each has a developed infrastructure already in place with the potential to influence millions of lives.
The following questions provide a starting point in planning for more effective ministry:
Anita Deyneka is director of research and communications for Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries. She lives in Moscow.
by Serge Duss
Those of you who have staff people who live and work in the CIS, whether it's Moscow, Kiev, or anywhere else, if they're telling you how difficult it is to accomplish the objectives which have been set out for them, please believe them! All of us who are working there who answer to offices in Western Europe or North America are working under 21st century deadlines in a 19th century environment.
In the CIS, we have a well-educated population with enormous [natural] resources. The CIS should be an economic superpower. Instead, as we all know, it's a wreck. Even when the social economy was working well, it was merely an abject failure. It's the world's most outrageous example of squandered potential. There's more timber in the CIS than Canada and the United States combined and it has had a paper shortage for probably the last 15 years.
Looking toward the future in a country that is so desperate and so needy, what kind of assistance should we take? I think we should focus on some of the root causes that have contributed to the incapacity of people to manage their resources and manage their own lives. We need to look at providing aid in those areas that are sustainable. We need to provide the type of aid that will continue on and allow people to control their lives and their communities long after we have left. I say this because the message I've been getting from people throughout the CIS is, "Teach us to solve our problems."
Teaching self-sufficiency and developing self-reliance must be at the core of all projects in the CIS. Whatever work we do, whether it's publishing, whether it's working with teachers, whether it's traditional relief and development projects _ whatever we do, we need to teach them, train them, and help them work with us. That way when our work ends, if we move on to somewhere else, these people will be able to carry on by themselves.
Each organization must ask itself several key questions as it evaluates its role for ministry in the CIS:
Projects need to start out small. They need to be manageable. They need to include the indigenous people that you are working with to make them feel like they are a part. For so long, they have been a part of huge projects and felt dehumanized.
We need to provide mentors. Those with whom we work are looking to us to provide skills and resources, but we also need to be able to teach them and leave behind skills and values that they will be able to use for themselves, for their children, and their children's children.
Serge Duss lives with his family in Moscow, and is program manager for World Vision.
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© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report