Comparing what Western missionary Terry Schnake has to say about Christians in the East with what Bulgarian Evangelical Nikolai Nedelchev has to say about Christians from the West, is it fair to suggest that the honeymoon is over in East-West Evangelical relations? Do these two critiques fairly represent relationships and conditions overall? Is one or are both understated or overstated? Are the negative perspectives and circumstances described typical or atypical? Do readers have evidence to corroborate or refute either author?
The editors welcome responses.
In the last four years there has been a great influx of support into the countries of Central Europe. What is the impact of such aid?
A few weeks ago we tried to put it into percentages: about 10 percent is positive and 90 percent is negative.
Some of the donated materials were in bad condition and this gave a wrong impression of the donors and also gave a wrong image of the evangelicals in the country. It also destroyed the spiritual ministry of some of the pastors who were involved in receiving and distributing the donations. There is always a tendency to have friends and to give to those who are your people and to neglect others. What is even more important is that the energy of the people was put into humanitarian aid. This is not bad but it must not come first.
By "humanitarian aid" you mean...?
Mostly food but also clothing, equipment, cars, money for projects which are not realistic and without good management...whose leadership is not in committees but by one person only.
What kind of questions should donors ask themselves before they start giving aid to a country, group, or individual?
The first question should be: What kind of testimony will this be for God? The second question should be: What kind of testimony will it be to people who are not believers? The third question should be: How responsible are the recipients?
In Bulgaria, what do you understand the term "accountability" to mean?
It is our understanding that we must be accountable to God, to each other, to committees. But some understand it in a wrong way. They say that they are accountable only to God. They need not put anything on paper. They say that what the left hand is doing, the right hand must not know. This opened the door for many, many bad things.
Are you able to think of some of the positive aspects of such aid?
The positive help was when people came first to build up relationships. They shared ideas. They shared their experience. They helped the churches with literature and Bibles.
If someone came to you and said "I want to help," what would you think about?
First of all I would want to understand their motives. Why do they want to help me? Is it because they love me and see that I am in need or do they just want to show how big and rich they are? There are great needs here but it is better when donors ask how they can help. I see that as the start of a good relationship.
Many groups have made promises of help which they have not kept. What is the effect of unfulfilled promises?
Mistrust. Our people ask: Why are they playing games with us who are needy? It is better not to promise.
Nikolai Nedelchev, a former professional soccer player, is director of the Bulgarian Biblical Academy-Logos and chairman of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance.
Excerpted with permission from World Evangelical Fellowship's Evangelical World (July 1993), 3.
"Christians persecuted for their faith will be purified of any duplicity in their walk with Christ." This conclusion certainly appears logical, but is it really true? Have we put persecuted Christian brethren on such a pedestal of admiration that we have not objectively analyzed the real effects of religious persecution? How does religious repression affect Christian organizational structures and the people who manage them? Did long decades of censure by a hostile government and the society it controlled cause spiritual purification in the Protestant churches of the Soviet Union?
I want to share some rather surprising preliminary observations that I have made while living in the former Soviet Union. It is my hope to correct some false perceptions held by many Western Christians, which too often have led to serious errors in mission strategies in Soviet successor republics.
While some believers who suffered persecution under the Communists did grow to higher levels of spiritual commitment, this does not appear to have been the norm. Somehow, in the extreme situation of strong repression by a corrupt and dictatorial government, the persecuted took on certain characteristics of the persecutor.
Communism gave birth to foul moral corruption that ate away the very soul of the people it dominated. The deep effects of the resulting absence of ethical and moral values in society also seeped through the walls of churches in the Soviet Union and into the very hearts and minds of church leaders who publicly resisted communism the most.
The Soviet government forced the vast majority of registered Protestant churches under a single power structure (the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists) and in essence empowered that autocratic structure to rule over its subjects using the same repressive methods of intimidation and manipulation that the government used to maintain a submissive populace. Soviet people's lives were controlled by "feudal lords" called "communist party bosses" who obtained obedience by fear of reprisal. Such domination strategies are still being used today in many Protestant churches. Pastors who reject the continued dictatorial leadership style of denominational leaders, and church members who reject that same tendency in their pastors, often receive threats of malicious slander, blackmail, shunning, and even excommunication. Such tactics are still considered acceptable among church leaders who reigned during the Soviet era.
While many Evangelical churches fiercely upheld their right to exist and even risked civil disobedience to maintain what they felt to be a Christian lifestyle, they also, nevertheless, developed a dual personality, an institutionalized hypocrisy with which they became comfortable. What other Christians around the world would have considered unconscionable behavior was considered justifiable under oppressive Soviet conditions.
Many Protestants and their leaders developed external, visible standards of "righteousness" (the Pharisee syndrome) that were easily measurable. This eliminated the struggle with guilt from internal sin. Wearing the correct clothes, saying the correct things, having certain correct attitudes, and submitting to the autocratic rule of a Protestant "priesthood," all were external behaviors which served to confirm church members as true believers. In spite of these external standards of holiness, too often misconduct, including dishonesty, corrupt business dealings, deception, slander, and bribery of government officials, were and are considered tolerable among Evangelicals who have been exposed all their lives to Soviet-style "ends justifying means."
A Call for Spiritual Restoration
Christian believers, now released from Soviet oppression, should aspire to higher standards of personal conduct. We cannot naively continue to pour financial assistance into old, Soviet-era church power structures and into the hands of Soviet-era church leaders, thus fostering the continuation of corrupt autocratic domination. Even though it will not appear "politically correct" within missiological circles, as Christ's followers, we cannot ignore the Apostle Paul's exhortation, "Brothers if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:1-2.)
Let us move beyond the myth, beyond the romantic belief that religious persecution always brings deep spiritual growth and purity. Let us take up the objective diagnostic skills of a spiritual physician. And then we can begin to ask the right questions: what is the illness and how can we help to cure it? It is our duty of love to our fellow believers.
Terry Schnake, president of Word Ministries International, Muncie, IN, currently serves as a missionary in Kiev, Ukraine.
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© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report