by Sharon Mumper
Important news stories from the world of missions.
GERMANY: SLICING THE HUMBLE PIE
"We need to learn from one another." The humility of the sincere comment by western Christian leader Theo Schneider resounds strangely in the halcyon "I told you so" atmosphere of-a reuniting Germany dominated by a wealthy and triumphant western region.
In a year when businesses, political parties, and government offices are busily reuniting, the poor and wretched condition of the former East Germany stands in contrast to the wealth of the western states that most foot the bill and clean up the mess left by some 45 years of communist rule and economic mismanagement.
In the commercial and political community, no one is calling for western humility. Thankfully, the same is not true of the Christian community.
"You can’t deny we had a bad political system and an ineffective economic system," says Manfred Kern, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of the former East Germany. "But the churches were not an integral part of those systems. The church had its own role in society." That role, he says, has not been discredited.
Many western Christian leaders recognize the churches in the East may make a valuable contribution to the West.
"We can learn from the East how to be a Christian in an atheistic society," says Schneider, who is general secretary of the Gnadau Union, the largest Protestant lay movement in Germany. "They can learn from us how to be Christians in freedom."
Many Christian leaders in both the East and West are calling for mutual respect and partnership. They may wish to look at the Evangelical Alliance as a model of cooperation, says Kern.
In fact, says Hartmut Steeb, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of the former West Germany, while politically, East is coming West, the Evangelical Alliance is moving in the opposite direction. The united group will be legally centered in the East, where the alliance grew out of a 100-year-old movement in Bad Blankenburg in eastern Germany.
By the end of this year, most of the country’s denominations and parachurch groups will have reunited. Despite the calls for sensitivity to one another, the road to unity has not been easy.
Eastern and western denominations and associations were able to maintain some fellowship and contact during the nearly 30 years after the easterners were forced by their communist government to away from the West Nevertheless, their widely diverging experiences over the decades have led to broad differences in approach to ideological and practical issues.
Working through these issues has proved both challenging frustrating. Then there are the practical matters of consolidating duplicate seminaries, publishing houses, denominational offices, even duplicate leaders and staff. Staff salaries and church property must be brought up so western standards, now that the still-poor East has moved economically into the western world.
The daunting challenges still before the church in Germany will certainly take all of the humility and mutual respect Christians-both East and West-are able to muster.
A DOOR OPENS IN MONGOLIA
At the end of 1989, as the eyes of the world were focused on the drama playing itself out on the stage of Eastern Europe, another pro-democracy movement, largely ignored by the world, was making history on the high steppes of Mongolia.
For nearly 70 years, the descendants of the feared world conqueror Genghis Khan had endured one of the most repressive communist systems in the world. By April last year a government weakened by four months of massive demonstrations and strikes declared an to the complete control of the Mongolian Communist Party over every segment of society. The effect has been dramatic. Restrictions on religious practice have been largely lifted and foreign Christian organizations-long an anathema to the atheistic government-are being asked for help.
"Mongolia, which has been closed to Christian workers of any kind since 1920, has just opened its front door," Bible translator John Gibbens told delegates to the Asia Missions Congress last year. He said Mongolia’s minister of health had asked for Christian development workers, according to a report in Pulse.
It would be nice to think the requests were the result of an interest in Christianity. In fact, the government is desperate for practical social and medical help-whatever the source.
Medical supplies in Mongolia are in woefully short supply, and without outside help are unlikely to be replenished, according to one mission that is now negotiating with the government to establish medical clinics.
Long a client state of the U.S.S.R., Mongolia’s economic problems are being exacerbated by the Soviet Union’s demand for payment for goods in hard currency. Virtually all the coon-try’s trade has been with its now troubled Soviet neighbor.
Nevertheless, it won’t be easy to help. Outside groups coming in face a dangerously unstable situation, says a British representative of Overseas Missionary Fellowship. "At the moment, the country is anarchic," he says. "There is a great deal of crime; people from the West are going to a place where there is chaos and danger."
Despite this, many Christians are eager to establish a beachhead in a country that has for seven decades vigorously resisted Christian witness, and that today is virtually unreached.
With a population of about two million, Mongolia boasts perhaps a handful of Christians.
Buddhism, once an important element in Mongolian society, is beginning to make a comeback after decades of systematic repression by the communist government. Some Christians see in the religion’s resurgence a spiritual hunger that could lead some to investigate Christianity.
Those who do so will have a valuable new tool, a recent translation of the New Testament into Mongolia’s national language. The United Bible Society, which sponsored me translation, has received permission to import the New Testament into Mongolia.
MALAWI’S SQUEEZE ON DISSENT
Apparently unaffected by the democracy movement shaking many African nations, leaders of pencil-thin Malawi, squeezed like a tube of toothpaste between larger neighbors, manage to keep a tight lid on dissent. President-for-life Hastings Banda has had enemies. Most are now dead or in prison.
Although a relatively poor country, until recent years Malawi was able to feed itself. But limited resources, a growing population, and an influx of thousands of refugees from devastated Mozambique have taken their toll. Child malnutrition now is comparable to that of Ethiopia, according to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund.
To make matters worse, a deteriorating human rights record is endangering the flow of international aid which Banda’s loud anti-communist rhetoric has guaranteed the country over nearly three decades. Despite the very real danger of losing part or all of the international aid it desperately needs, Banda doesn’t seem inclined to bend to outside criticism.
But Malawi is also a land of contrasts. Despite repression that includes imprisonment of government critics without trial, occasional use of torture, and severe press restrictions, Christians have been free to worship, evangelize, and publish.
The target of intense missionary activity for a century, Malawi is largely evangelized. Nearly 70 percent of the population is Christian, more than half of whom are Protestant. The rest of the population is evenly divided between African tribal religions and Islam.
Today, many are nominal third and fourth generation Christians. Nevertheless, many evangelical groups have been experiencing rapid growth, even among the traditionally Muslim Yao peoples. In recent years, for example, the Evangelical Baptist Church of Malawi has planted dozens of churches, including many among the Yao. Their biggest problem today, like that of other rapidly-growing groups, is securing trained leaders for the new churches.
ARAB CHRISTIANS AT RISK
When The Economist of London noted in an article last fall the decimation of the Christian population in the Middle East, they stated, "Today there are fewer than 12 million Christians in the Arab world, only 6 percent of the population."
The news journal obviously intended to impress the reader with the low numbers. But, in a world where "Arab" and "Muslim" may strike the ordinary observer as synonyms, the revelation of the existence of 12 million Christians in the Arab world may be astounding.
Nevertheless, the journal is correct in noting a massive Christian outflow from the Middle East in recent decades. Persecution by Muslim or Jewish majorities, war, civil strife, and of educational or job opportunities have all contributed to the Chris-depopulation of the Middle East.
In many countries today, the tiny, despised Christian population that remains is a largely invisible presence. Events in the Persian Gulf region have changed some of that as Arab Christians have reached out to help refugees and others suffering in the melee.
Egyptian Christians trapped in Kuwait were able to minister to Kuwaitis and other members of the international community in both practical and spiritual ways. When they finally were permitted to leave, some stayed behind, despite obvious dangers, to continue what had become a fruitful ministry.
In Jordan, Christians won the respect of Muslim neighbors and the appreciation of refugees when they responded quickly and generously to the desperate needs of the thousands who flooded into Jordan after the invasion of Kuwait. From both Kuwait and Jordan reports have come of the conversion of people impressed with the sacrificial witness of Christians.
The long-term effect of the conflict on the Christian Arab population remains to be seen. Nevertheless, some are predicting greater opportunities for tentmaking witness in the aftermath of the Gulf crisis.
One Middle Eastern Youth With A Mission leader predicts mass departures from the Gulf states will leave an employee vacuum that may be filled by Christians. "Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be available. It will be a real window of opportunity, like the boom that took place in the early 1970s." The big question, he says, is whether Christians will be ready to take advantage of the opportunities.
Certainly also the church worldwide should be praying for the Arab Christians who have so far opted to stay, or who have no other choice but to live in a largely unfriendly Muslim world, where Christian growth and success often bring persecution.
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