by Robert L. Niklaus
Reports from around the world.
DISCRETION OR VALOR
Romania may have one of the most tolerant of Communist governments in Europe concerning religious matters – or one of the most repressive. It depends on your attitude of discretion or valor.
Gerhard Claas, associate secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, noted in a special report to the Romanian Baptist Union (RBU) that there is "a revival among Baptist Christians in that land." Almost every Baptist congregation has at least doubled its membership since World War II. Older churches and chapels can no longer contain the crowds. One report estimates that 160,000 Baptists worship in 1037 congregations.
Joachim Tunea, former RBU general secretary, claimed, "There has never been so much understanding, freedom and cooperation from the authorities in Romania today. " Outside observers agree that evangelicals in the country enjoy a greater degree of freedom than that known in many Communist nations.
The state permitted the RBU theological seminary enrollment to be increased to forty. Christians may meet more than once on Sunday, and meet also for a mid-week Bible study. New churches are being built and old ones renovated. Bibles are legally imported and 30,000 hymn books have been published.
Romanian Pentecostals have been encouraged as well. J.P. Wildrianne, field director of the Pentecostal European Evangelistic Society (EES), visited Romania last summer. He was received by the president of the government department of cults which handles religious affairs. Mr. Wildrianne found the topranking official sympathetic to his request for a Bible school and the construction of new churches. Permission was granted in a letter written to his office before Mr. Wildrianne left Romania. A permit was also given for the printing of the first manual of instruction for pastors.
During the 90-minute discussion, the president of the department of cults noted the references to Romania in the EES magazine. He said that the authorities were pleased with the mission’s nonpolitical attitude and noninterference concerning Romanian internal affairs.
Permission for the opening of a Bible school with an initial student body of twenty came as welcome news to the growing denomination. An official government estimate puts the Pentecostal membership at 200,000 people meeting in 1,000 churches. This is a 25 percent increase over the previous undated report.
It would seem as if the only problems the fourteen registered religious denominations have in Romania are related to church growth. The Baptists, for example, have 975 congregations and mission stations, and only 156 preachers.
But a cordial church-state relationship is not universal among the Christians. Brethren assemblies, known as Evangelical Christians, tell a different story. According to a report in Interest by a "Canadian commended worker, " Romanian believers "have never enjoyed the many liberties that are taken for granted in most of the western countries. "
In principle, freedom of worship is guaranteed to every citizen. "In practice, things are different. Many Christians are penalized for their faith, being made to suffer in matters of education and choice of profession. Romania, in fact, has one of the most ruthless Communist regimes in Europe."
The Interest article cites the example of a Pentecostal who was jailed for eighteen months for the unauthorized import of Bibles. A Brethren assembly was fined the equivalent of one month’s wages – per person – for meeting illegally. Small groups were forced to merge with larger ones.
A larger and more serious issue of personal integrity is forced upon every Christian through the mandatory oath of allegiance required of professional groups and civil servants. Among other things, the oath obligates the individual to uphold "the socialist ethic" which entails "a hard struggle against retrograde thought" – including religious and mystical thought.
"Some Christians, with great conviction, believe they should pursue a path of accommodation and work within the imposed restraints," observed the Interest writer. "Others, with equal conviction, consider such a path to be one of surrender. It is the age-old question of discretion or valor."
The issue continues to bother Romanian Christians, even those within denominations apparently getting along well with the government. The Romanian Baptist Union had a full airing of the problem during its twenty-seventh Congress, but did not resolve it.
More recently, another element was roughly injected in the religious life of Romania. A major earthquake in March devastated vast areas of eastern and south-central Romania. It shook many citizens from their spiritual complacency. Christian Rosche, a Pentecostal layman fired from a high government post for his Christian witness, gathered facts on events after the earthquake. He told of two army officers praying in the streets, of doctors slipping away from crowded hospital wards to cry out in agony to God. He reported that churches were filled with nonmembers. And some pastors were quoted as saying that a spirit of revival prevailed among their people. Dozens of people declared their faith in God and others recommitted themselves.
The Christian community may be divided over the issue of discretion or valor, but there is plenty of work for them all to do in a Communist state that offers some unique opportunities.
Various publications have been excerpting material from the recently published eleventh edition of the Mission Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas (MARC, Monrovia, Calif.).
MARC’s Newsletter went beyond the straight recitation of facts to ask some stimulating questions in a section called "Something to Think About" (January, 1977). The facts cited are worth thinking about.
The total number of overseas personnel is higher than any other time in the history of North American missions (36,950). However, while agencies related to the evangelical mission associations and agencies not related to any association continue to grow in numbers of personnel, agencies associated with the Division of Overseas Ministries/ NCC continue to decline in numbers. Is this good or bad?
The number of Mormon missionaries (Latter-Day Saints) continues to grow dramatically and is now estimated at 20,000 men and women. This one group will probably soon be equal to the total North American Protestant mission force. What does this say about methods used by the Mormons, the effectiveness of using (mostly) the short-term personnel?
One-half of the overseas force belongs to only eighteen agencies. What does this have to say about the responsibilities of these agencies to take the lead in finding better methods of training, education, other ways and means of sharing their know-how with multitudes of smaller agencies?
Three hundred and ten agencies have an income of less than $158,000 and less than twenty-two staff members overseas. What does this say about the need for some new thinking about ways of pr- public services for these agencies that might reduce the tremendous duplication in the services of their home staffs? Or, is this "duplication" really a good thing?
Twenty-six agencies accounted for 50 percent of all reported income from North America. In other words, we have a few very large agencies, and a multitude of much smaller ones. What does this say about the responsibility of these agencies to their smaller associates? What does it say about the ability of large agencies to raise funds?
The number of short-term missionaries continues to increase and now comprises 16 percent of the total mission force, and is forecasted to continue to grow. What does this say about the needs for modifying our plans for utilizing short-termers? How does this relate to the experience of the Mormons, most of whose missionaries are on two-year assignments?
Canadian overseas ministries are growing more rapidly than U.S., both in numbers of personnel and percentage of growth of giving. Is something happening in Canada?
Total North American giving to overseas Protestant ministries is up 67 percent to $656 million. For the first time in years the rate of giving has outstripped the inflation rate. What does this say about the feeling of the North American public toward overseas involvement?
Twenty-eight percent of missionaries reported are establishing churches or doing evangelism. Twenty-five percent report they are supporting or working with national churches, while the remainder (47 percent) are doing other kinds of ministry (education, literature, relief and development, medicine, broadcasting, etc.). Is this good, bad or what?
Countries with dramatic decreases in missionaries during the last three years include India (783 from 1,247), Japan (1,545 from 1,931), Nigeria (802 from 1,032), Pakistan (208 from 306), Uganda (28 from 114) and Zaire (375 from 422). Each case is different. But what does each one mean?
Dr. Wade T. Coggins, Executive Director of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, gleaned some additional statistics from the Mission Handbook. There are 11,903 Catholic missionaries from the U.S. and Canada; the world Protestant missionary force (1975 estimate) is 55,000; the world Catholic missionary force (1975 estimate) is 49,000.
Concerning the distribution of forces: Africa with 10.9 percent of the world’s population receives 26.2 percent of the Protestant missionaries from North America; Asia with 60.5 percent of the population receives 26.8 percent; Latin America with 8.6 percent receives 35.5 percent; Oceania with .6 percent receives 3.7 percent, while Europe (including USSR) with 19.4 percent receives 7.8 percent.
The Handbook lists 4,643 single women among the missionary force – about 12 percent of the total. Single men number 903 -about 3 percent.
SECOND CENTURY MARTYRS
The Christian church in Uganda this year celebrates a century of life and witness born in martyrdom. The second century may mean growth spurred by renewed spilling of Christian blood.
This possibility moved closer to probability through the fate of the man who was to have headed the church centennial: Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum. He was murdered early this year, either by Uganda President Idi Amin Dada himself or at his express command.
Luwum, who was 53, may have suspected this would happen. While participating in the Pan African Christian Leadership Assembly last December (see April issue, page 74) he told the delegates he would speak out against injustice in his country even if it cost him his life.
The opportunity came quicker than anyone would have thought possible. Six weeks later Amin’s soldiers broke into the archbishop’s residence at night and held him at gunpoint while they conducted a room-to-room search for subversive material.
A week later fifteen Anglican bishops joined Luwum in protesting the intrusion. They expressed even more concern over the murder or disappearance of many ordinary Uganda believers (estimates vary from 25,000 to 300,000). To reinforce the point of religious oppression, the churchmen concluded, "Your Excellency, if it is required, we can give concrete evidence of what is happening because widows and orphans are members of our church."
Two weeks later, on February 16, Luwum’s wife was a widow and his eight children orphans. The flashpoint of Amin’s fury may have been the publication abroad of the protest letter written by the Anglican church leaders.
Luwum was arrested and charged with plotting to overthrow the government. Official sources claim that the archbishop and two cabinet members arrested with him died in an auto collision when they tried to overcome the chauffeur taking them to prison.
Eyewitnesses charge that Amin himself shot Luwum after his soldiers balked at carrying out Amin’s order to execute the archbishop.
Why did Amin murder a respected churchman who had once been his friend and confidant? Was the root cause political or religious?
Probably both. Bishop Festo Kivengere charges that Amin is surrounded by Arab advisors, especially from Libya, who have encouraged him to turn Uganda into a Muslim state.
Amin, himself a Muslim, represents only 5 percent of Uganda’s population. Estimates of the Christian population vary between 50 and 90 percent. Fearing this majority, the president may have viewed the churches’ centennial celebration as a 11 sinister plan to cause chaos." Predictably, he accused the nation’s Christian denominations of being a cover for subversion for the American Central Intelligence Agency.
Anglican Archbishop Donald Coggan of Canterbury did not help relations between the church and government in Uganda. After Luwum’s death he said, "The sooner he (Amin) is overthrown the better. Wherever there is a regime of oppression it is better to overthrow it. I pray for the overthrowing of the regime and the man himself."
Coggan’s prayer goes unanswered and the killing goes on. Amin appears determined to eliminate Christians from any post of leadership in either the government or the army. The two men killed with Luwum were the last Christians in Amin’s cabinet. Army leaders had already been purged.
The massacre of ordinary Ugandan believers was stepped up following the archbishop’s death. The New York Times reported, "A few thousand have disappeared in the last two weeks, the refugees said, and they are thought to be dead. Thousands more are reported in flight and hiding."
Three bishops, including Festo Kivengere and his family, left Uganda under threat of death. The fate of fourteen other bishops is unknown.
The Rt. Rev. Brian Herd, the last English bishop in Uganda, was expelled. He recounted that on the Sunday after Luwum’s death thousands of Christians jammed the cathedral in Kampala to take their stand for the faith. After the service it took a full hour for the people to file out. They passed the empty grave prepared for the martyred archbishop (his body had already been sent to a remote village for burial).
Someone spoke to the Christians as they filed by, "When we see an empty grave, it recalls to us the time when the angels spoke to the women at the first Easter and said, ‘He is not here. He is risen.’ Therefore, instead of being a thing that discourages us, the empty grave speaks to us of the victory we have over death."
Bishop Herd reported, "With this, a great sense of strength and serenity spread through the crowds. Many people were saying that as the first century of the Uganda church began with martyrdom and the church survived, so if the second century continues in the same way, it will certainly not bring the end of the church of Christ.
"It has been mooted in the national press that the church in Uganda is in a state of collapse. With respect, I must stress that this is nonsense. Far from collapsing, the church in Uganda is vigorous, vibrant and of steadfast faith.
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