Western Missionaries: Con and Pro
Will We Survive Western Missionaries? Reflections of a Czech Pastor
Editor's Note: The first half of this article was published in the East-West Church & Ministry Report 5 (Fall 1997), 7-8.
Coming to Teach
People who came to work here could be divided roughly into two groups. The first consists of people who really came to help. They are humble, and before they start working here, they try to contact local Christians and they ask about their opinion. It does not necessarily mean they adopt it. I know it is not only possible, but it is probable that the Lord will bring someone who will be able to help us in areas where we are lacking. It is not only possible, it is even probable that someone coming from a distance can see our shortcomings better than we ourselves. It is not a matter of adopting our views but a matter of attitude.
The second group consists of people who have come to do their own thing. But beware: these people do not have it written on their foreheads that they are coming with this attitude. Many of them look humble and they say things like "we know we can learn from you," "we really came to help you," and "we know you have suffered a lot for the Lord." Yes, but do they really mean it? After a few years of experience, I am not misled by these phrases. I know it might be true, but it also might be only a cliche or a smokescreen. Though we had quite a lot of people coming to do their own thing (though always proclaiming they are coming to do the work of Christ), it will be perhaps good to reflect more on those who proclaim, and who themselves believe, that they came not only to teach, but also to learn. How can we recognize that this attitude is genuine? How can they recognize it?
Well, if you come to learn, first you must observe if there is anything to learn. At the first encounter, neither side knows the quality and depth of the Christian walk of the other--unless there is a special supernatural revelation. Because I am aware of this, I never made the decision not to meet with foreigners again--though at times I was so frustrated by meetings with self-righteous and naive brothers and sisters that I was not far from this fatal decision. "Our life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). Neither our visitors nor we can be judged easily by outward appearance only. You have to spend some time with the other party, not only talking to them. Only after spending some time together can you know if you have anything to learn or if you have anything to teach.
From what was said above it is clear that "fact-finding missions" lasting one or two days are of no great value. Of course, you can learn if people share your doctrinal views. And if they don't, you might conclude that they need your help. But you might not be aware of the fact that though they have never heard of some of your fancy doctrines, they are sincere Christians with a pure heart who are after integrity. Are the relationships in your home church at least as good as in the church you are visiting? You should sincerely ask yourself this question before trying to teach anything.
It would be good to be aware of one problem. If your standard of living is higher, you might subconsciously conclude that your spiritual life is better, too. You might be condescending and paternalistic without being aware of it. Since the Czech Republic belongs neither to the richest nations nor the poorest nations, we can make experience both ways. I realized that I can easily become condescending when meeting Christians from Ukraine or Albania, especially when I see they make mistakes or hold erroneous views which we dealt with a long time ago. But do they have something positive which I do not even see?
Buying a Church?
I was interviewed by a man from a big congregation in Canada. After I described the life of our church he asked me about our needs. I told him that we needed a building and that I needed a car. He said, "Well, we might build you a building; we already built a building for a congregation in Trinidad. And we would buy you a car, but you would have to change your name. You would have to call yourself '...church of Canada.' (I omit the first name.) You know, we need it for our tax-deductions." I believe we have to be ready to lose our name for Jesus. We were never instructed to sell our name.
It seems to me that much of Christian life in the West reflects the free-market economy. The free-market economy is good for the economics of the country. Only the fittest companies survive. Bad products do not find buyers and their production must be stopped. Everything is geared to increase productivity and efficiency. Quick solutions and instant products sell well. After spending the longer part of my life under communist rule, I myself know only too well that socialism stifles an economy, whereas a free-market economy enhances the standard of living. However, applying the same in the spiritual realm might not be the best thing. Similarly, I believe that it can be concluded that democracy is the best way of government in the world. Nevertheless, it does not mean that the church is, or should be, a democracy.
In a free-market economy you must advertise your product. And advertising is usually connected with the obvious or hidden belittling of other similar products. It is quite often connected with exaggerations and boasting. And that is precisely what we can see with many "ministries," especially, though not exclusively, in the area of healing. We can hear or read many uncorroborated claims and many empty promises of what mighty things God will do through this or that ministry. What a contradiction to the New Testament pattern! There Jesus ordered people not to speak about what He did, and in spite of that news about him spread like fire. In our days, in spite of so much self-promotion on the part of some of the "Christian ministers," the world is unimpressed. Why? In the spiritual realm, exaggeration is counter-productive. Self-promotion is abhorrent to God.
Yet we can read so often: "This conference is going to be different than any other you have attended. It will be of special significance for you." One U.S.-based group working now in the Czech Republic likes to announce that its activity (e.g., a drama performance) will be the "peak event of Christian life in the country this year" or something similar. The world is disgusted by these extravagant and empty claims. I have to confess that in this case I side with the world. Self-promotion, boasting, self-exaltation! Is this the spirit of Jesus?
For a time, I was afraid that this superficial form of Christianity, backed by a lot of money, would sweep us away. And it still can happen. But I am more at ease than three or four years ago. I see that these churches have a double effect: They take away some sheep from the existing churches, and in a way they function like a revolving door. They can make themselves visible and audible because of strong advertising which they can afford, backed by wealthy groups abroad, and by their show that they gain some "converts." But the turnover is great.
Across Denominational Lines
Only a week after the "Velvet Revolution" we started an organization called "Christian Missionary Society." This organization now plays a vital role in the Czech Republic. The word "Missionary" does not imply that its main task is "missions." In 1989, we tried to make this organization open to everybody, from the Roman Catholics on the one side to the Pentecostals and Charismatics on the other. And Roman Catholics would find it difficult to accept it if there would be anything "evangelical" in the name. In addition to that, the Catholics did not use the term "evangelism" or similar terms; instead of "evangelism" they spoke of "apostolate." Missions was something on which all could unite. Initially the Roman Catholics participated in C.M.S. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic representative soon resigned after pressure from the Catholic hierarchy, and extreme charismatics (especially the Faith Movement people) did not want to participate either. In spite of this, C.M.S. grew in significance and now it provides a platform for many groups in the country. It publishes a monthly, Life of Faith, which is the only Christian periodical in the country which is not subsidized from abroad and can "feed" itself.
The aim of C.M.S. is to facilitate meetings of pastors across denominational lines and to coordinate our activities. One of the important achievements was the translation and publishing of the New Testament. (We have already started work on the Old Testament.) Our first missionary couple has been sent out through C.M.S. This was accomplished because of our united effort. It was above the means of individual, isolated congregations.
In spite of the worthwhile projects mentioned, I see the greatest significance of C.M.S. not in projects, but in facilitating fellowship between pastors and churches. In many areas of the country you find smaller groups of pastors from different denominations who meet with some regularity for prayer and who concentrate their efforts on prayer initiatives and evangelism. It is more difficult (though it is, of course, still possible) now to fall into the trap of regarding yourself as the best, as the most important, as the most "progressive," or as the most fruitful Christian in the neighborhood. We can also avoid to a large extent the overlapping of worthwhile activities.
Thanks to Western Friends
I believe in the unity of the body of Christ. I believe that we need each other. I have written some critical remarks, but I want to stress that I owe much to our brothers and sisters abroad. I was taught by foreigners. I owe much to the Navigators, to Grace Korean Church from Norwalk, CA, to Wolfhard Margies and Pavel Neustupny, to Derek and Ruth Prince, to John MacFarlane, to John Howarton, Don Prokop, Sarah Cross, Liz Spruell, Jim Goll, and Rick Olmstead, to mention at least some among many others. Our church is thankful for the ministry of Larry Winnes and David Snell, who are both supported by individual sponsors. We could not pay them.
But I mustered the courage to speak about problems which are real and which are sometimes swept under the carpet. If we are after integrity and really deep relationships, we should speak about these matters. In no case do I want to sound like we are self-sufficient. We still have no building--and we need one. But I am convinced that the best help consists in deep, long-term relationships. For me to sit down with Rick Olmstead or Jim Goll probably means even more than to hear them preach. Critical friendship is possibly of the greatest value for us. I prefer being told what I am doing wrong more than being praised for past achievements.
Dan Drápal is pastor of the Prague Christian Fellowship (Krestanské Spolecenství, Praha) in the Czech Republic. His article is excerpted from a 36-page booklet of the same title, reprinted with permission.
Western Missionaries: Con and Pro
It would be difficult to exaggerate the contribution of the majority of Western missionaries in the work of spreading the Gospel in our country. Without their unselfish labor in Russia and in the rest of the former Soviet Union, millions of people would have been deprived of the opportunity to hear about the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. The multitude of evangelistic campaigns conducted by Billy Graham, the Navigators, New Life [Campus Crusade], International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, Biblical Education by Extension [now Church Leadership International], East-West Ministries, and others were all directed at spreading the word to the people of Russia. I myself accepted Jesus Christ at an evangelistic meeting at Moscow State University in May 1991. Since then, I have taken part in spreading the good news in institutes of higher learning here in the capital.
Evangelistic methods change as conditions change. Nowadays, one of the most successful forms of spreading the good news is academic conferences held for various disciplines where Christians bear witness to Christ. Small-group Bible studies have appeared wherever evangelistic campaigns have been held and follow-up with new believers has been conducted patiently, persistently, and on a regular basis. We are also indebted to Western missionaries for the method of organizing these small groups.
Thanks be to God for the zeal of Western missionaries for the preparation of national workers. Special schools were created for the training of these workers, and existing schools, institutes, and seminaries have also been helped by missionaries. Without donations from foreign missionaries and the churches that sent them, the enormous amounts of money and effort invested in the spiritual development of my country would have been impossible. The generous help, initially in providing Bibles and afterwards in the organization of Christian publishers, has also helped disseminate the Gospel.
I especially wish to call attention to the compassion which Western missionaries have shown in rendering aid to orphanages, to the homeless and incarcerated, and to the poor. In their work for the spiritual development of our society, Western missionaries have made many other contributions: the organization of prayer meetings; the use of various kinds of prayer at conferences; and the "prayer chain" method. Many countries have also supported us in prayer.
The work of spiritual mentoring is especially urgent in the post-Soviet period. No Christian literature alone can guide the living spiritual growth of new believers. No one, save a spiritual mentor, can teach them to pray regularly and to walk with God. All of this is especially important for the spiritual nourishment of young Christians. Nowadays, I am in charge of educating the leaders of women's ministries at newly formed churches. Especially helpful in this work has been Rol' zhenshchini v tserkvi, a translation of Susan Hunt's Leadership for Women in the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991). Other valuable books translated, or being translated, include Susan Hunt, Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Model for Women (Wheaton, IL: Franklin, TN: Crossway Books, Legacy Communications, 1993); Susan Hunt, By Design: God's Distinctive Calling for Women (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998); Evelyn Christenson, What Happens When Women Pray (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1975); and Vickie Kraft, Women Mentoring Women: Ways to Start, Maintain, and Expand a Biblical Women's Ministry (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992). The use of books by foreign authors will undoubtedly lead to the appearance of more Christian authors in Russia. However, at the present time we need to adapt existing foreign publications to our specific national culture.
I would also like to note several shortcomings in the work of foreign missionaries. In the first place, there is frequently an antagonistic relationship among mission groups. This lessens the effectiveness of evangelism. In the second place, the lack of any central clearinghouse prevents people from receiving necessary notice of published material and hinders negotiations for publication rights.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the many authors and missionaries who have helped me and my fellow Russians to come to know and follow Christ.
Editor's Note: To purchase a copy of Susan Hunt's book on leadership in Russian, please write to: V.A. Karchazhkina, Box 17, Moscow 107113, Russia.
Valentina Aleksandrovna Karchazhkina, born in Rostov-on-Don, graduated from the Moscow Foreign Language Institute in 1965. She holds a candidate (doctorate) degree and is a docent in philology. In 1991 she received Jesus Christ at an evangelistic meeting at Moscow State University and was subsequently trained in discipleship by East-West Ministries. Dr. Karchazhkina works in the Word of Christ Church and at East-West Ministries, where she coordinates the preparation of leaders for women's ministry.
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© 1998 Institute for East-West Christian Studies