Missionary Sending Movements: A Polish Case Study
The Polish Catholic Church has a longstanding missionary tradition. Today, over 1,000 Polish Catholics serve as missionaries worldwide. One Polish missiologist even estimates 6,000 Polish missionaries serving abroad. To give one example, it is estimated that one-third of all Catholic priests in Austria are Polish. Even during Communist times many Polish missionaries served outside the country.
Biblical Mission Association
Missions is a much newer idea for Protestants. Campus Crusade has sent Polish student workers to Russia and Ukraine, and some local churches have sent a few missionaries. But Biblical Mission Association, founded in 1995, was the first Evangelical Protestant Polish mission agency that had the specific purpose of commissioning cross-cultural missionaries. It consists of four branches: Mission to the East (MttE), Wycliffe-Poland (W-P), Mission to Poles in the East, and Ministry to Ukraine. In 1995, the first two of these branches were small missionary initiatives, trying independently to obtain legal recognition from the Polish government. They became aware of each other and decided to combine forces in order to simplify the registration process. They have a common board, office, and accounting, but in terms of ministry focus and direction they operate independently. Mission to the East is based in Wroclaw, in southwestern Poland, and has primarily Baptist and Navigator roots. It focuses on the former Soviet Union, specifically Central Asia, with a primary emphasis on evangelism and church planting. Wycliffe-Poland, with headquarters in Ustron in south central Poland, has primarily Lutheran and Wycliffe roots. It has people spread around the world from Mali to Central Asia to Australia, concentrating on Wycliffe's Bible translation and literacy work.
The third branch, Mission to Poles in the East, focuses on Polish minorities in Lithuania. The fourth and newest movement, Ministry to Ukraine, recently joined Biblical Mission Association (BSM, using the Polish acronym). The impetus for this ministry came from the president of BSM (currently also director of Wycliffe), and involves ministry to several Gypsy churches and villages in western Ukraine. It provides clothing, supports school teachers, provides meals for school children, and funds church buildings. Wycliffe's specific involvement relates to literacy programs in the schools.
The first Protestant missionary couple departed from Wroclaw for Central Asia in 1993 to join an American team already in place there. Before any Evangelical mission agency was in place, this couple received some financial help from friends, but with no guarantee that more money would come. They were followed in 1994 by a single woman. BSM was founded in 1995, in part to care for these missionaries already on the field. By summer 2000, BSM had 12 full-time missionaries serving in a wide variety of locations, including Tanzania, Mali, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Others were in England and Australia, preparing for further ministry. The mission has around 50 members who pay annual membership fees and attend periodic meetings. In addition to sending and supporting missionaries on the field, BSM has sponsored several projects, the largest of which has been the publication of portions of the New Testament in one of the languages of the Tuareg people in Mali. Other projects include humanitarian and educational aid to Gypsy communities in Ukraine. In Central Asia, BSM missionaries have started an English-language school and some businesses, through which they partially support themselves. BSM publishes a regular magazine, Idzcie [Go].
Mission to the East
Mission to the East (MHE) was formed by two men associated with Biblical Theological Seminary (BTS) in Wroclaw. Through their travels around the Soviet Union, both before and after the 1989 Revolution, they saw the potential for Poles to be involved in missions in that part of the world. The first Polish missionaries went on a short trip to Central Asia in 1992, where they caught the vision for long-term ministry. The next year they returned with almost no money, traveling six days by train and with no idea of what to expect. MttE gradually developed as a way to provide support for this couple and other missionaries who began to join them.
Wycliffe-Poland (W-P) grew out of contacts that a Polish evangelist made with the director of Wycliffe-Germany at a 1990 conference for evangelists in East Germany. He invited this man to Poland and the two of them traveled the country, speaking to churches and student groups. In 1992 they offered the first mini-Summer Institute of Linguistics course, with around 20 participants from all of Poland. Eventually a missions organization, loosely associated with Wycliffe International, was started to motivate and encourage missions from Poland.
Polish missionaries to the East see God at work in the preparation of the conditions for missions on the field. Under Communism, they were required to learn the Russian language in school, but hated it and usually did not give their studies much attention. However, now that freedom has come for Poles to work in Central Asia, Russian is the common language. BTS's president says, "Ironically, God has a great sense of humor: the oppressing factor helped those guys share the gospel in a new situation."
Malcolm (Marek) Clegg
Malcolm Clegg is a British missionary who has lived in Poland since 1983. He serves with Navigators, teaches missions at BTS, and is president of MttE. Malcolm, or Marek in Polish, has a positive reputation. Poles characterize him as different from most Western missionaries because he speaks Polish well and understands Polish culture. As a student in the Soviet Union in 1977, Clegg met Poles who were smuggling Bibles into Russia. One of the first Westerners to see possibilities for Poles to be involved in missions, his participation at BTS from its inception has given him influence with a wide variety of students. The seminary president recalls that "From the very beginning we knew mostly from Marek Clegg that we would change the mentality of young leaders and we would push them out of the country."
Burkhard Schöttelndreyer and Jurek Marcol
In 1991 Burkhard Schöttelndreyer, director of Wycliffe-Germany, traveled in Poland and other East European countries, encouraging young people with a vision for reaching peoples who did not have the Bible in their own language. He was a key influence on Jurek (Jerzy) Marcol, one of the crucial Polish leaders who today is president of BSM and director of W-P. Jurek became a Christian in 1981 through reading the Bible. The motivation to serve came along with his conversion. He immediately wanted to go to a Bible school in Switzerland to be trained for missions. However, as he and his wife were preparing to go, Poland's declaration of martial law destroyed any chance of their leaving the country. Nevertheless, he learned German and English with a view of possibly using them in cross-cultural ministry. In 1991 he went to a conference for evangelists in former East Germany, where he met Burkhard Schottelendreyer and learned about Wycliffe. Contact with the outside world opened his eyes to the needs of the world and the possibilities for Bible translation work. He worked as a Wycliffe representative for a few years before deciding to start a Polish organization with an emphasis on Bible translation and literacy. Although he originally desired to be a missionary himself, he came to see that he could be more useful if he stayed home as a promoter of missions.
Andrzj Horyza and Zbszek Pawlak
Andrzj Horyza teaches practical theology at BTS and is vice-president of BSM. His interest in missions was kindled primarily by reading about persecuted Christians around the world. "A particular kind of literature stimulated our thinking. Someone gave me a copy of Open Doors Magazine in 1989, the first year anyone could obtain such literature about the persecution of Christians in different countries." As a result of attending an Open Doors conference in 1990, he was motivated to spend a summer in the Soviet Union east of the Urals. He began a prayer group at BTS, which eventually included about half the student body. He took young people with him to the east who never came back the same. A final key person is Zbyszek Pawlak, the first Polish missionary sent out by MttE. He, along with his wife, Asia, first went to Central Asia in 1992 to explore possibilities. In 1993 they went with a one-year commitment and have stayed 11 years so far.
Estimates of the number of participants in longer or shorter term trips within the context of BSM range from dozens to several hundred. Given the small size of Evangelical churches in Poland, this is significant. The number of individuals and churches who support missionaries is growing and the prospects for further growth appear positive, with a number of people either preparing for or considering missionary service.
Funding Polish Missions
Funding for Polish missions presents a mixed picture. On the positive side, beginning in 1994, reforms permitted tax breaks for charitable donations, helping agencies to organize more formally. The director of MttE reports that currently, major support comes from a few Christian businessmen who give large gifts, while a few dozen individuals and a few churches give relatively small gifts. Although most Poles are not in the habit of giving regularly or systematically, they do exhibit great generosity when they see needs, responding spontaneously and practically. They have generously supported flood relief, gifts of Bibles and clothing for Gypsy villages in Ukraine, and the publication of Bible translations in Mali. Such initiatives, one respondent reported, are "bringing new life into the churches."
What Hurts Missions Funding
Negatively, according to several sources, many Polish churches are nearly moribund. Statements such as, "Churches are still pretty dead down the line, " and "The church needs to wake up," are common. Most congregations and pastors are not interested in cross-cultural missions, although a few exceptions can be found. Many young people are frustrated with the state of their churches and desire to see more active ministry outside the church. Some congregations have difficulty seeing the need to minister cross-culturally, especially if their denomination has no church in the next town. Also, Evangelicals have no tradition of cooperation. Pastors are often suspicious of programs that are not sponsored by their denomination. A leader notes: "People aren't used to working together. Pentecostals don't work with Baptists, and certainly don't work with Catholics. Nobody works with Lutherans, because they're sort of half-Catholic anyway. So what's this, who's behind this? Who controls this? Is it Baptist? Not Baptist, then I'm not really interested."
Many people are getting poorer. Unemployment is high, sometimes up to half the congregation. Evangelicals, where Polish missionaries have their contacts, typically belong to the poorer part of society. In addition to this difficulty at home, missions abroad are getting more expensive. As one example, when the first missionaries went to Central Asia, they needed $150 per month; now they need about $750 per month. Before, travel was very cheap; now it costs around $2,000 to move a family here. Consequently, the percentage of income coming from Poland is getting smaller. Currently MttE covers 25 to 30 percent of costs, obviously making partnership with outsiders necessary. Finally, where poverty is not the impediment to giving, people are becoming more attracted to what money can buy. As one leader says, "If you come on Sunday, you will see that we struggle with the same problems as other churches--lack of parking spaces."Nevertheless, in general, Poles surveyed felt that a clear missions vision and motivation would allow significant giving, even given a difficult financial reality. "I think the Polish church could very easily be self-supported and could easily support 100 percent of missions efforts, but like many other sinners we feed ourselves first." Still, one mission leader says, "Now is time to help those who have less."
Western Missionaries: Pro and Con
As one might expect, various opinions, at times totally conflicting, were heard on the question of the influence of Western missionaries on the Polish mission movement. Some spoke of the time before the 1989 Revolution when they interacted with Western missionaries from Operation Mobilization, Navigators, and Biblical Education by Extension who did not necessarily talk about Poles being involved in missions, but impressed on a generation of young leaders the fact that they needed to be active in sharing their faith to reach their world. Missionaries provided models of people who were willing to make great sacrifices to help people of other countries.
A second view is that Western missionaries had absolutely no influence, either positive or negative, with the significant exception of Marek Clegg, who is not seen as a typical Western missionary. A third view is that missionaries have been a big factor. A pastor cited SEND International and CBI missionaries, noting one single woman in particular who has modeled missionary life for a whole group of young women.
In contrast, Poles suffered from some Western missionaries' insensitivity and the relatively high standard of living they enjoyed. Polish leaders also reported being treated like cheap labor, translating for outsiders when they themselves were capable of preaching and teaching. They felt manipulated, or watched others being manipulated, by the promise of money or the threat of losing money. Now that Poles are missionaries themselves, they have to wrestle with the same issues from the other side. They have the money and resources to help and serve in poorer countries. Particularly in Ukraine they are the rich ones, who come in for short trips from the outside and use translators. They are attempting to avoid the mistakes they perceived when they were the receivers, but they recognize that the issues are not as clear cut as they previously thought.
The Advantages of Polish Missionaries
Respondents enumerated several of the advantages Polish missionaries have enjoyed, especially those working in Central Asia. Many, especially older, Poles speak the Russian language, allowing them to move rapidly into ministry. In one Central Asian situation American missionaries recognized the effectiveness of Poles and switched places, putting them in charge of local mission work. Second, the living standard was not so different, at least when Poles began in the early 1990s. It was relatively cheap for them to live in Central Asia. Third, the cultural gap is not as big as for Westerners, and Poles do not need visas. Further, since Poles do not have much money, they focus on relationships. People they serve likewise have little money and value relationships. Finally, Poles' experience under Soviet domination has prepared them well for ministry in certain countries. They go to Central Asia as fellow sufferers at the hands of Communist overlords.
The goal of MttE was actually to create an alternate missionary network that would be non-Western funded, using non-Western methodology. "This was our desire from the start. What we do will be eastern: eastern methods, eastern approach, eastern mentality, reproducible." Adds a colleague: "We're trying to do something that has our Slavic atmosphere rooted in our relational cultures." This nontraditional approach has opened doors where Westerners might not be welcomed and where outsiders would need more time to adapt to be effective.
Scott Klingsmith is a missionary with CBI International and lives in Vienna, Austria. Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Scott Klingsmith, "Factors in the Rise of Missionary Sending Movements in East-Central Europe," Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity International University, 2002.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Scott Klingsmith, "Factors in the Rise of Missionary Sending Movements in East-Central Europe," Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity International University, 2002.
Contact information for the Biblical Mission Association is: Box 39, Ul. Cieszynska 47, 43-450 Ustron, Poland; E-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.bsm.pik-net.pl.
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 2005 East-West Church and Ministry Report