Evangelicals in the New Europe:
New Nations, Old Problems
Dwight Gibson, World Evangelical Fellowship associate director for North America, interviews Stuart McAllister, general secretary of WEF's European Evangelical Alliance.
As the European director of World Evangelical Fellowship, what contrasts do you see between members in East Central and Western Europe?
The contrasts can be seen:
What tends to unify Evangelicals are joint evangelistic actions, strong external pressure, and visionary leadership. The struggle is always between first and second things. The WEF statement of faith is the instrument of agreement. Here in Europe we also tend to emphasize the Lausanne Covenant. Doctrinal distinctives are felt most in the tension over Charismatic/Pentecostal teachings.
What are some specific examples of Evangelical alliances having positive influences in former Soviet bloc countries?
In Croatia, the Alliance has been able to link denominations and, more importantly, local churches to some degree. They have had contact with the government, the press, and Roman Catholics, which has resulted in a more positive atmosphere. The coordination of aid efforts has been a key function.
In Estonia, the churches have united and are agreed upon the need to reach their people with the gospel and the need to train individuals and congregations in outreach. The result has been a united vision and focused structure.
In Bulgaria, the Evangelical Alliance has provided a unified voice to the authorities regarding the need to protect religious liberty, and has served as a link to the international community for communication.
In Albania, the Alliance was able to discover key Evangelical figures in Albanian history who contributed to language, education, and culture. It put on an excellent program in January 1994, which highlighted Evangelical contributions and raised the profile of Evangelicals in Albania.
In Romania, the Alliance was quick to develop a national vision, and to build a structure whereby international groups would coordinate efforts with local churches. This has resulted in nationwide Christian TV broadcasts, Bible distribution, and correspondence courses.
How can missionaries from Western Europe help the church in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union?
Missionaries from the West can best help by being sensitive and aware of local needs. Training is crucial: in particular, leadership development, evangelistic methods, apologetics, and creativity in outreach. It is important to partner where possible and to target the most unreached areas. One area of concern is a tendency to ignore church history, and to forget the existing churches. A greater historical awareness and cultural sensitivity are needed if Westerners are to help in a significant way.
Looking at the church in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, where will you be putting the focus of your efforts in the next year? Why?
The focus of my efforts will be in Bulgaria, Croatia, and in pursuing new Alliances in Poland and the Baltic countries. In Bulgaria the situation is tense due to constant pressure against Evangelicals (church windows broken, visas refused for missions, registration refused for the Alliance, etc.). We need to keep up our efforts to ensure the Constitution is applied equally to all in Croatia. The Alliance came together in June 1994 to discuss issues and needs. They are in a development phase, and I want to do what I can to facilitate their emerging vision. We continue to pursue contacts with Russia and Poland, as there is a need to communicate on key issues of mutual concern, but also to coordinate efforts and help integrate the various perspectives into the broader European Evangelical scene.
How would you contrast North American and West European ministry in post-Soviet societies?
Ministries originating in the U.S. are big, highly visible, and driven by urgency. There seems to be more of a project/task orientation. The European emphasis is smaller (due to resources), more relational, and, I believe, more long-term. Europeans are more pessimistic and tend to be less eager to launch big events or to project vast outcomes.
What European political, social, and economic trends are most likely to affect Western ministries working in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union?
Politically, the swing to the Right and focus on national purity and history will limit visas and mission possibilities. Socially, the rediscovery of history and identity also challenges the belief up until now that the West is superior. Greater awareness of the world outside is both an opportunity and a threat. Hopefully, it will be recognized as a bridge for mutual exchange and learning. Cultural and artistic contacts should be explored and expanded. Economically, the rapidly growing gap between rich and poor is leading to dire consequences: increasing crime and violence; the fragmentation of society, producing shock and anger; and increasing costs. Rents, property prices, and the cost of living are all rising rapidly. In many cases housing in Prague, Budapest, and Bratislava is more expensive than in Vienna. Alienated youth and the growth of a seemingly permanent underclass are the biggest concerns. The danger from these social ills increases the farther east you go. It is crucial that the economies develop and receive as much help as possible in order to provide a measure of social stability.
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© 1994 Institute for East-West Christian Studies