The Romanian International Mission: A Case Study
Editor's Note: Previous issues of the East-West Church and Ministry Report 12 (Summer 2004): 9-12; and 12 (Fall 2004): 15-16, carried Scott Klingsmith's findings on Hungarian missions and a Romanian mission in Albania.
Romanian International Mission (Misiunea Internatională Romană--MIR), based in Cluj, Romania, encompasses the mission initiatives of a variety of churches, denominations, foreign and national mission agencies, and concerned individuals. It is not a direct sending agency itself, but many Romanian groups that do send out missionaries are active in MIR.
The Founding of METRO
In September 1999, Gavi Moldovan, president of the Romanian church-planting agency United World Mission (Misiunea Mondială Romônă--MMU), invited a variety of Romanian leaders and expatriate missionaries to a meeting in Cluj. He called this meeting to explore whether a Romanian cross-cultural missions agency should be founded. The result was the Romanian Evangelistic Cross-Cultural Mission (Misiunea Evangelistică Transculturală Romônă--METRO). A second meeting in November 1999 focused on reports prepared by various organizations that had an interest in sending missionaries from Romania. Discussions centered on proposals for a training curriculum, research on other mission organizations in Romania, development of publicity materials, and a METRO draft constitution.
From METRO to MIR
Despite a lack of agreement on whether METRO should develop as an organization or as a network of like-minded organizations, the group made the decision to seek legal registration, which took two years. Soon the name METRO was changed to Misiunea Internatională Romană (MIR), partly to avoid confusion with a chain of large wholesale outlets of the same name which had entered the country. The word mir was also chosen for its positive meaning: it is the word used in John 12:3 for the perfume that Mary poured on Jesus' head. MIR desires to see Romanian missionaries going out to be "the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved" (2 Corinthians 2:15).
MIR was founded to encourage the selection, preparation, sending, and sustaining of Christian cross-cultural missionaries and to provide social-humanitarian help for people worldwide. MIR's current activities include a missionary training school, Scoala de Misiune M.I.R., based in Sibiu. Forty-five students participated in the first session, which lasted one-and-a-half years. A second two-year session followed with 12 to 15 students. In its wake, mission schools have been started in Constanta, Sibiu, Arad, and Timisoara. In addition, the Baptist Seminary in Bucuresti has begun a missions department.
Some Romanians believe that gaining official registration required so much of MIR's energy and activity that it currently is not doing anything significant. As one source said with ironic pride, "We have a stamp!" This relative lack of activity, however, does not disqualify MIR as one of the important mission case studies in East Central Europe, because many of the key people in MIR are important players in the developing missions scene across the country.
The MIR Coalition
Members of MIR include the director of an official mission in the Baptist Union, Sociatatea Internatională Baptistă Română (SIBR), leaders of the Baptist, Pentecostal, and Brethren Unions, the director of the Mission and Evangelism Commission of the Romanian Evangelical Alliance (MMU), some local churches, and Organizatia Studentilor Crestini Evanghelici din Romania (Organization of Evangelical Christian Students in Romania), which is affiliated with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Western mission agencies that participate in MIR include the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting, BEE International, CBInternational, Church Resource Ministries, Evangelism Explosion, Greater Europe Mission, International Teams, OC International, Pioneers, Shield of Faith, and United World Mission, among others. Some non-Western missions participate as well, notably from Korea.
MIR did not appear in a vacuum. It was the culmination of a process that had begun several years before. In November 1997, a group of mostly American missionaries and Romanians met for the first time to establish what they called Partners in Mission Training (PMT). They wanted to establish a network or partnership that would assist the emerging Romanian mission sending movement. Each shared what they were doing and planned ways to encourage Romanians to expand their missions vision and activity. They also started to develop a curriculum for a missionary training program. This network eventually merged with MIR.
Under the auspices of PMT, OC missionary Russ Mitchell wrote a paper in 1998 promoting "Mission for Romanians," which survey respondents mentioned frequently as a significant factor in opening their eyes to the potential for mission. (This document is available in Romanian and in English under the title, "Mobilizing Romanians for Missions," at the OC International Web site: http://www.oci.ro/Missions/Articles/misiune_pentru_romani.htm.) Mitchell argued that Romania had the personnel and financial resources to send at least 80 Romanian missionaries, without a great stretch of faith. At least one key pastor was gripped by the potential expressed and began to distribute this paper to other leaders. The Missions and Evangelism Commission of the Romanian Evangelical Alliance eventually published it under the title Misiune pentru Romani, which gave it an even wider audience. Other key mission sending motivators included American missionaries Stan Downes, Dwight Poggemiller, Steve Farina, and Tom Keppeler.
One of the first times the topic of foreign missions became public was at a national missions conference for Baptist pastors in fall 1998. Several times Vasile Talos, president of the Baptist Union, spoke passionately and convincingly of the need for Romanians to launch cross-cultural missions. He exhorted pastors to move beyond their old paradigms of ministry within the church, pushing them to think of outreach beyond their walls and their borders.
Gelu Paul, leader of a student movement in Timisoara, returned from theological studies at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in the United States with the vision to see Romanians involved in missions. One of the first young Romanian leaders to begin talking about missions, he worked for ten years to see the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course translated and published in Romanian. (See the Impact-Media Web site, http://www.impact-media.ro/impact/detaliu.php?id=42, for further information on the Romanian translation, edited by Jonathan Lewis, O Introducere in Misiunea Crestina Mondiala Conteporana: Basele Biblice si Istorice, 2001-2002.) Now he is the pastor of a new church in Timisoara, which has already sent one young woman to India and has another woman preparing for service with Wycliffe. Several other people are considering missions, particularly to East Asia.
Gavi Moldovan, a Pentecostal layman, desired to see God use him in evangelism. After the 1989 Revolution, his goal was to see churches planted throughout his province. Gradually, through the ministry of MMU, he encouraged church planting all over Romania. Finally, through exposure to the outside world and hearing pleas for Romanians to come help in the Balkans, he saw Romania's potential as a mission force. Moldovan's vision led him to issue invitations to the first consultation, which ended in the initiation of MIR and his appointment as MIR's secretary.
Benjamin Poplacean, an influential Baptist pastor and leader of a Bible school, was initially resistant to the idea of missions, seeing how great the needs in Romania still were. However, after reading the paper by Russ Mitchell and being challenged by missionary colleagues, he, too, began to catch the vision. As the leader of the Missions and Evangelism Commission of the Romanian Evangelical Alliance, Poplacean spread the vision through a variety of channels and became the president of MIR.
Romanian Missionaries Worldwide
What is important to note is that Talos, Paul, Moldovan, and Poplacean were already leaders with a broad national platform for spreading the vision. When they began to speak about the urgency of missions, they had a ready audience. Since the 1989 Revolution, Romania has sent short and longer term missionaries to a wide range of countries, including Afghanistan, Albania, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Libya, Macedonia, Moldova, Pakistan, Russia (particularly Siberia), Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. In addition, several people are working cross-culturally within Romania, particularly with Turks and Gypsies.
Many Romanians also have been on short-term mission trips. The number of short-termers is undoubtedly in the hundreds. Many young people have served with Operation Mobilization and Youth With a Mission in various projects, and many of the missions schools and seminaries are encouraging or requiring a short-term experience as part of their program.
A growing number of (particularly young) people are gaining an interest in missions. This can be seen by increased attendance at regional mission conferences, and by the attendance of around 50 people at the TEMA missions conference in Holland, despite difficulties in getting visas. Further, around 500 students participated in the missions conference Explo Domi in Timisoara over New Year's 2000, and large numbers have participated in short-term trips.
Scott Klingsmith is a missionary with CBInternational 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.
Scott Klingsmith, "The Romanian International Mission: A Case Study," East-West Church & Ministry Report 13 (Spring 2005), 8-9.
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