A Right Attitude
Do you have the right attitude for ministry? Go as a servant to those you will meet. Be willing to accept and respect the Christians you meet as brothers and sisters in the Lord and to serve their needs with compassion and love. "For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think" (Romans 12:3). Sad to say, some Westerners have shown a superior attitude to Eastern Europeans, many of whom are well-educated and resent the paternalistic or imperialistic attitudes they see in some foreign visitors. Share what you have to offer with sensitivity. Our ways may not be best in a different culture. Sometimes it is hard to accept and admit that we do not have all the answers. Mission teams which say "We are taking Jesus to Russia" show they don't understand the situation at all. Nobody is taking Jesus to Russia. He has been there all the time! His Holy Spirit was moving behind the Iron Curtain before Christians from the West could go there.
Meeting Real Needs
If you are going to meet real needs, you need to ask some important questions: Is what you have to offer, in ministry or in aid, really needed? Have you the resources to back up your offer of help? And will you be able to finish the job?
Is What You Have to Offer Really Needed?
The time comes in all developing countries when it is no longer wise to deliver large quantities of Bibles and Christian literature for free distribution. It is more helpful in the long term to encourage local Christians to set up Christian publishing houses, Christian bookshops, and an indigenous Bible society. One of the best ways to help is to share your skills with others. Someone said that if a man is hungry you could give him a fish, but it is better to give him a fishing rod and show him how to use it. Western Christians have a lot of useful experience, for instance in training church leaders and working with young people. The church in the East may not have had the opportunity to develop these ministries.
There are many opportunities to help with training programs. Christian professionals from the West can make an impact. In Eastern and Central Europe there are lawyers, doctors, nurses, politicians, and other professional people who are open to what their counterparts from the West have to say about their Christian beliefs and how they relate to those professions. Central and Eastern European countries need people with good qualifications who are willing to share their skills and knowledge. These countries have many intelligent and well-trained people who have not had the opportunities to learn modern methods and use the latest technology. Whatever work we do--whether it's publishing, working with teachers, or traditional relief and development projects--we need to teach people, train them, and work with them. That way, when our input ends and we move on somewhere else, these people will be able to carry on by themselves.
Have You the Resources to Back Up Your Offer of Help?
It is better to start a small project which might grow in the future than to attempt something that is too big. Faith is great, but we have to be realistic. If promises are not kept and projects grind to a halt because the money runs out, it will have a negative effect and be a bad testimony. If you see a project that needs your help but you have no money, make it clear that you would like to help but that you cannot begin unless funds can be raised. Many people in Romania have been let down by Western visitors who kept pastors busy taking them to see hospitals and orphanages. The visitors took video tapes and photographs and promised help. They went home and were never heard from again. Later on, local government officials asked the pastors what had happened to the help that was promised. The pastors were embarrassed and upset because, in the eyes of the authorities, Christians were seen to be liars.
Will You Be Able to Finish the Job?
Do not assume that you can do things in the same way and with the same time-scales as you could at home. Many people have seriously underestimated how difficult it would be to accomplish their goals. The simplest task can become a nightmare when you face inefficient bureaucracy, a shortage of basic materials, and poor communication. You will need a lot of determination and commitment to overcome the problems. To sum up, carefully think through what you have to offer. Discuss with experienced workers and your contacts in the country concerned, whether this is the best and most appropriate way to meet the need. When you are sure that you have the resources, tell your contacts what you have to offer. Go ahead only if your offer of help is accepted, is appropriate, and will positively meet a need.
Excerpt from Working in Central and Eastern Europe: Guidelines for Christians (London: Evangelical Missionary Alliance, 1994), reprinted with permission.
Editor's Note: This imminently practical 32-page booklet should be required reading for every missionary candidate to post-Soviet territories. Cost is £1.00 per copy, plus 35p postage for a limited number of remaining copies. Visa, Access, and Euro-Master accepted. Contact:
A leading Russian church historian, Dr. Walter Sawatsky of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), Elkhart, IN, will be offering a distance learning course on the History of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity, spring semester, 1997. Offered on line simultaneously with a traditional offering of the same name at AMBS, the focus of this credit course will be on 2,000 years of Eastern Christianity, but with a concentration on Slavic Orthodoxy. Themes that will be explored include spirituality, theology, monasticism, ministry, mission, suffering, and the church's role in society compared with Western Christianity.
To enroll, contact Ruth Ann Gardner, Registrar, by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Once registered, a distance learning student will receive a password and a course syllabus. Course credit from AMBS may be transferred to another academic institution.
England's Evangelical Missionary Alliance recommends three trucking companies in the United Kingdom which transport goods to Central and Eastern Europe.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies