I am currently working for International Teams in Romania as a missionary. I attend a local Romanian church and have lived and worked in the same location in Romania for over two and a half years.
I am writing in response to Mr. Stephen Slocum, Jr.'s letter to the editor that appeared in your summer 1993 issue. Mr. Slocum was responding to an article that Josef Tson wrote in your spring 1993 issue.
My initial reaction to Mr. Slocum's comments are that of insensitivity and lack of understanding for the Romanian Christian people and their situation. He states that there is a tone throughout Mr. Tson's article that implies self seeking efforts on the part of Westerners. On this point he is correct, because that attitude is conveyed by many Westerners coming to Romania. They come for a few weeks with all their video equipment and a truck load of "relief" supplies or an evangelistic team and expect to be treated as if they are the first ones ever to have arrived and as if they have come with all of Romania's answers. As I sit in the pew and expectantly await the Sunday message from the pastor, who is more than adequate at conveying God's Word to the congregation, I, like most around me, am disappointed when yet another Western evangelist stands to take the pulpit. I am embarrassed and even angered as Sunday after Sunday the same basic evangelistic message is preached by Western guests. Not only is the same message preached repeatedly but it is usually overly simplistic and at times contains heresy. The speaker is rarely qualified as a teacher, almost never adapts the content to the local context, and does not understand how to use an interpreter. Thus the message is disjointed, unclear, and at times theologically incorrect. If that is not enough one or two members of the Western "evangelist's" entourage are flashing pictures or taking video of the congregation and guest preacher. One Sunday I recall a group coming from the U.S. and one of the members of the group singing a solo in English. As she arrived at the chorus she called out for the congregation to join in with her. That is absurd. I can't imagine having a guest singer in my church in America singing in Turkish and then half way through the song saying, "Join with me."
Mr. Slocum goes on to say that "since when did we require that evangelists become longterm missionaries and be responsible for the fruits of their campaigns?" My reaction to this is that Christ calls us to be responsible for our actions. If we look at Paul's missionary journeys, he is not rushing from one location to another leaving a wake of overly simplistically evangelized peoples, but he is teaching and training these new children of God concerning true commitment to the Lord and what the consequences of that commitment are all about and how to further spread that good news. Mr. Slocum also writes, "Mr. Tson is really saying that no more converts should be allowed to be made than the local church can absorb." I would challenge Mr. Slocum and say where in the Word was he called to make converts? I read that we are called to make disciples. That takes time, commitment, responsibility, and yes, in the case of Romania, even language learning.
Mr. Slocum ends his editorial by appreciating the warmth of the Romanian Christians. He is right again. They are warm, hospitable, and genuinely giving people. As a result they have an incredible time saying "no" to any Westerner who shows up on a Sunday, unannounced, and expecting to be served. I am familiar with several churches who during the summer months never hear a single message from their regular pastor. If he was resting and recuperating that would be one thing but he is hosting 10-20 Westerners a week and can't even catch his breath.
His final comment is that Romanian Christian leaders would receive the same courteous treatment on visits to the USA. On the first occasion, and okay maybe even the second, but no pastor I know in the US would consecutively give over their pulpit 4-5 months in a row to a stranger off the street who happened to be attending that Sunday morning just because he was a "pastor" from Romania or anywhere else for that matter.
Team Leader/International Teams, Romania
I confess that I am a little troubled by the reference to the "present patriarch and bishops as endemically susceptible to aligning themselves with, or succumbing to, secular power" (Kent Hill and Mark Elliott, "Are Evangelicals Interlopers?," EWC&MR 1 (Summer 1993), 3).
1) This does not take into account at all the attempts--some think the honest and satisfactory attempts--by the present patriarch and some of the bishops to "give an accounting," in a moral sense, to their co-optation by the totalitarian regime. Some former dissidents in Russia remain critical of the present patriarch and other members of the hierarchy. Other former dissidents believe that the patriarch has addressed this difficult issue publicly, honestly, and appropriately.
2) The fact that Protestant groups in Russia have changed their leadership seems to have resulted in the feeling that the co-optation of the former leadership is no issue any longer. Thus the impression is created that there is no problem.
3) It would seem to me that the moral problem of the co-optation of Christian leadership by totalitarian regimes is an endemic, general problem to be assessed by all Christians as a common moral problem, as a failing to which all Christian bodies succumbed.
4) There are significant symptoms that Western Protestant groups are not reluctant to seek a privileged status through collaboration with government structures. Example: CoMission and its arrangement with the Education Ministry of the Russian Federation to provide 12-15 thousand teachers to teach religious morality in public schools in Russia. Is it a privileged status for Orthodoxy which is undesirable, while a privileged status for others is acceptable?
Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky
Ecumenical Officer of The Orthodox Church in America and editor of The Orthodox Church
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© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report