Advantages Romanians Bring to Missions
Many Romanian mission leaders were involved in outreach within Romania before they discovered cross-cultural missions. One pastor said that all church members were taught the importance of personally sharing the gospel with non-Christians, so the extension to cross-cultural ministry was natural for them. Some church planters who started hundreds of new churches after 1990 were motivated to go to a different part of the country, where the number of Evangelicals was small. They received a taste of cross-cultural ministry in this way. Most came from Transylvania in the north and west, and went to the south and east of the country, which is seen as culturally quite different. Out of this experience, some have seen the possibilities of moving to new opportunities outside the country.
Another advantage compared to Western missionaries is that many Romanians already speak three or four languages. They also benefit from political ties with the Muslim world continuing from Communist days. A large number of people have experience in the Middle East and North Africa, where they served as engineers or technical consultants. They have a wealth of knowledge that they can share with potential missionaries. Because of past historical ties, Romanians are not seen as a political threat and do not come with any "colonial" or power baggage.
A third advantage concerns lifestyle issues. Coming from a poor country, Romanians are not used to a high standard of living, so they do not have to learn to get by on less. They are much closer to the lifestyle of most of the countries in which they serve. Culturally they are also much closer to eastern countries than are missionaries from the West, serving as a sort of East-West bridge. Finally, the Romanian church has a rich history of endurance against opposition, giving it the ability to relate to those who suffer under persecution. The Romanian church has a good reputation and has one of the largest evangelical populations in Europe.
An American missionary who teaches in the Romanian International Mission (MIR) school says that Romanians have been challenged to go where Westerners cannot. One missionary wrote: "A number of people have sensed that the Lord is telling them that Romania is to be a major missionary sending nation. The idea is that Romania has a destiny to fulfill. God wants it to become a leader in missions in Europe much as Korea and Brazil have become leaders in Asia and South America."
Unfortunately, many Romanian Christians feel that since they suffered during Communist times, they deserve to receive financial help from the West now. Romanian pastors frequently make financial appeals during visits to American, British, and Scandinavian churches, and to churches of the Romanian diaspora in Europe and America. Since 1989 hundreds of church buildings have been constructed, many much larger than needed and largely financed from the outside.
...And Financial Potential
On the other hand, nearly every respondent mentioned that after the 1989 Revolution leaders who traveled outside the country saw and heard of churches which were sending missionaries, despite being poorer and weaker than Romanian churches. Moldova was mentioned as an example of a country much poorer than Romania that spontaneously sent dozens of missionaries across the former Soviet Union. Romanians began to see that they had the human and financial resources to get involved. Not only did church leaders hear and see the needs, but they received invitations to come to other countries. This happened most dramatically at the Hope for the Balkans conference in Sophia, Bulgaria, in 1996, where Romanian leaders heard what they perceived to be a Macedonian call from those present, "Brothers, come and help us."
A Vision for Missions
Against the view that Romania is too poor to support missions stands the view that money goes with vision. These people claim that God will provide if people are faithful to the vision they have received. The secretary of MIR states emphatically:"If we want to develop cross-cultural missions, to the extent that the vision is there, the resources will be there." Respondents point to the calculations published by Russ Mitchell in 1998 which seek to demonstrate that Romanian churches could raise a million dollars a year for missions through minimal contributions of each member (around $2 per person). This would be enough to send some 80 missionaries to surrounding countries.
Education and training for missions has now taken a high priority for missions leaders. Many Bible schools were started in the first five years after the 1989 Revolution. Now mission schools are springing up around the country. The Betania Bible College and Missions School in Sibiu, the Dobrogea Missions and Evangelism School in Constanta, Team Action Missions School in Arad, and a mission school in Timisoara are just a few examples of new programs preparing potential missionaries. In addition, the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement published in Romanian by BEE will be studied in church-based training programs across the country. Most missions training is taking place in the missions and Bible schools and in non-formal programs run by Western missionaries.
On the one hand, the impact of theological education on missions motivation is seen to be negligible. With the exception of an introductory missions course, missions is not found in the curriculum of most theological institutions. On the other hand, some seminaries and Christian universities are starting to adjust their programs in response to the mission interest of students. For instance, the Baptist Seminary in Bucharest has begun a mission department, offering a double major in cooperation with the University of Bucharest. Currently 11 seminary students are enrolled, as well as at least 50 from the university. Emanuel Christian University in Oradea has begun sponsoring short-term experiences in nearby countries, some of them led by professors. The curriculum itself has not been changed, but interest in missions is growing.
The Example of Western Missionaries
Contact with Western missionaries is generally seen by respondents as a positive factor in the rise of missions interest, although there are naturally some more negative voices. On the positive side, two main reasons are given. The first simply is that they are there. The value is not as much what they do as just the fact that they came to help. This was especially encouraging for Romanians who have visited the United States and seen what missionaries had given up. The second and more important reason is that many missionaries have recognized the Romanian church's potential for missions and have repeatedly encouraged Romanians in missions.
On the negative side are concerns about ineffective missionaries. First, not all missionaries are good models of service. Many have not bothered to learn Romanian and after a number of years continue to work through translators. Often they have little understanding of the historical and religious context of Romania and harbor a condescending attitude toward the churches. Sometimes they steal church leaders, offering finances and taking responsibility from Romanians. Second, economic issues come into play. Some missionaries live very well by Romanian standards which creates false expectations about the lifestyle that missionaries should maintain. In addition to a large number of missionaries from the West, missionaries from Brazil, Argentina, Korea, and other non-Western countries are active in Romania. This has challenged some Romanian Christians who see other poorer countries sending missionaries. For some people this has included a shame or competition factor which has motivated them to want to become involved in missions.
In summary, a vision for what God intended for the Romanian church came 1) through contact with Western missionaries who were encouraging them to think about missions, 2) through experiences in other countries, where they saw needs and heard of ways that they could help meet those needs, through seeing what other, non-Western countries were doing in missions with fewer resources, 4) through a desire not to be left behind in what God wanted to do, and 5) through a desire to obey the command Jesus gave to go into all the world and preach the gospel.
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.
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© 2005 East-West Church and Ministry Report