by Johan Lukasse
Project Brussels ’91 is an example of how our metropolitan areas can be evangelized.
From the back window of my house I could see the skyline of Brussels, capital not only of Belgium but also of the European Economic Community. I got into the habit each morning, as I drew the curtains, of praying, "Lord, bless Brussels." It became a daily ritual, to open the curtains, glance at the city of a million people, and say my little prayer.
One day I was shaken when a voice said in my heart, "I am willing to bless Brussels. When are you going to start?" In shock I started to close the curtains, because I did not want to face Brussels in its entirety, to reach it with the gospel. Suddenly I realized how complex, confused, and large a place Brussels really is.
Northern Germanic culture meets French Latin culture in Brussels. Since 1970, French and Flemish have been official languages. Brussels has become the home not only of EEC, NATO, and multinational corporation officials, but also of a variety of ethnic groups through immigration. But God had spoken to me and I decided to share this with a number of other Christian leaders. I visited colleagues, pastors in the city, men faithful to the Bible, leaders of churches of different denominations.
Quite remarkably, we all felt the way. Yes, this was God’s time for Brussels. We most reach the city before 1992, when Western Europe was scheduled to open its internal borders and move toward unity. Further, we agreed that the traditional evangelistic crusade was not the best way to reach everyone in the area.
Eventually, a group of us met in October, 1989. Through the work of God’s Spirit, we came to agreement It seemed to all of us that this was God’s initiative to make a strong, united effort to reach everyone in this city with a clear presentation of the gospel. We realized that no one church or parachurch organization could accomplish this. Through prayer, our hearts were knit together and our desire grew for a joint effort. We started to see Brussels as God sees it, and we were moved by compassion and a willingness to work together.
That was the begin-of Project Brussels "91. I tell the inside story here, what we did and why, so that others might be encouraged to try similar efforts in other great cities around the world.
After our initial meeting to share our common vision, we saw more than ever before our need for unity. We chose a group of 11 people-called the Coordinating Committee- from both churches and parachurch organizations.
We started a monthly prayer meeting open to all the churches, plus a weekly Friday morning meeting for those who could it at that time. We met at the Salvation Army hall and it soon became a holy place, because God started to move among us. He gave us love, and soon a number of reconciliations occurred.
Next to our God-given unity we needed a clearly defined way to work together. Everyone needed to feel safe in cooperating. That is why we reached the following definition: "Cooperation in Project Brussels ’91 means that: (1) Each church or organization is to keep its own identity. (2) Each church or organization will respect the other’s identity. (3) Collaboration is to be limited in time and substance to the goals of Project Brussels ’91. (4) By coordinating efforts we would be able to have an impact on all levels of the population."
In the early days we aimed to reach everyone in Brussels with a clear presentation of the gospel. However, as we moved along and more churches and organizations accepted the vision and made it their own, we saw the need for a clearer purpose statement. This is what we developed:
"Through Project Brussels ’91 we expect to reach the following goals: (1) to reach each inhabitant of Brussels with the presentation of the gospel given in their own language appropriate to their own background; (2) to bring together individuals, churches, and parachurch organizations in the spirit of cooperation in order to accomplish the task of evangelism and follow-up; (3) to advance church growth and mobilize church members; (4) to have a home Bible study in every neighborhood of Brussels by January, 1992."
During our discussions and prayers, we also realized that we had responsibilities to the poor, and that it would be impossible to preach Christ to them unless we showed mercy as well. Although not clearly stated in our purpose statement, we agreed that the needs of the lowest class of our society had to be included.
We started to pray and look for wisdom about how to reach oar goals. Since we had agreed that crusade evangelism would not reach everyone in the city, we struggled to find something different. What should we do instead? Finally, our plan came together based on three principles.
1. Make an inventory of what churches wanted to do in evangelism in 1991, motivate them to carry out their plans and broaden them, and ask them to do this under one banner, Project Brussels ’91. They could use the same logo and slogan, so that even if churches developed different ways of evangelism, they would come out with the same presentation in their advertisements, invitations, and publicity. This would make a tremendous contribution to our collective impact We promised to help one another in coming op with evangelistic plans.
2. Hand out a literature package to every home in greater Brussels. The package would contain one of the Gospels and a brochure to explain the gospel. It would serve as a bridge-building tool to modern, sophisticated Belgians.
We printed it in four colors and included challenging articles geared to a secular, philosophical, scientific mindset We also had more simple presentations for children and all ages. We included a response card with different options. People could order a tape, a book, a subscription to a youth magazine, and so on.
We also decided to include the first lesson of a Bible correspondence course. Many people are nervous about coming to the door and discussing religion, but they might want more information, so we gave them a chance to respond in an impersonal way.
The package was attractively wrapped and sealed in plastic. The overall appearance was appealing and non-threatening. We decided to present them as gifts from the evangelical Christians of Brussels. They were published in French and Flemish, and in many cases they included material in Arabic, Turkish, and English. Eventually, every home in Brussels received a package. Generally, they were very well received, even by Muslims.
3. Our third principle we labeled specific activities. We worked hard to make a public impact. Boring seven months of Project Brussels ’91 we organized more than 100 concerts and nearly 200 open air meetings. What a significant variety we had: preaching, drama, mime, quizzes, children’s activities, sports, a bicycle rally, youth rallies, barbecues, and rock concerts. Each organization contributed something oat of its own expertise, including Youth With a Mission, Operation Mobilization, Youth for Christ, and agencies specializing in children’s work.
The multiple use of all of our principles in the same time frame and under the same slogan and logo eventually made an impact. People throughout Brussels became aware of what was happening and started talking about it.
MISSION FORCE AND MISSION FIELD
To discover how better to reach Brussels, we decided to do some research. We wanted to discover the mission force: the number of churches, their membership, and how many Christians would be available for the project. Second, we wanted to find out more about the field (Brussels), its social levels and ethnic groups, and the specific, overriding needs of each group.
We discovered more than 25 nationalities. Out of a million people, 26.5 percent are non-Belgians. In some areas, the percentage of non-Belgians was as high as 57.5 percent. Most of the non-Belgians come from Morocco and Turkey.
The majority of Belgians identify with the Roman Catholic Church, although less than 10 of 100 babies born today are baptized in the church. The second largest religion in Brussels, and by far the most militant, is Islam.
It was very difficult to get information from the churches, but we concluded that "the evangelical Protestants represented no more than 4,000 people, gathered in approximately 55 churches of various denominational affiliations, with no less than eight different languages." In one area of Brussels there was only one evangelical Protestant church for 74,500 people.
It was clear that we could not reach everybody with the same gospel presentation. So we organized different task forces to plan different approaches for the various groups we had identified. This turned out to be an exciting adventure.
For example, the group studying how to reach the poor discovered that there are many different kinds of poverty, and that there is no one single way of reaching the poor. So they formed even smaller task forces: one to reach the prostitutes (3,000 in Brussels, plus 1,500 male prostitutes); one to reach the refugees; one to reach the homeless. At one time we handed out 100 meals a day, plus 300 packed lunches. In cooperation with some other organizations, we opened a small restaurant where we served meals to the homeless, gave free medical and legal advice, and gave a living presentation of the gospel.
Another group wrestled with the problem of approaching politicians. Members organized dinners and made cultural presentations. They invited chamber music groups to play in homes of some ambassadors. This was typical of the wide variety of activities specifically tailored to different segments of society.
We were amazed at the availability of gifted people who cooperated towards the same goal. It was a remarkable experience seeing God provide our needs with people from different churches and Christian organizations. Our multiple presentations of the gospel almost matched the cultural, racial, and religious diversity of Brussels.
In all of the different approaches we made, we tried to practice incarnational evangelism-to get so close to the people and their situations, so we could identify with them and be tuned in to their needs. Our follow-up work was geared to that purpose.
We asked churches to claim a part of Brussels where they would be responsible for the ongoing presentation of the gospel to those who had shown some interest. We advised them not to stick to an area just around the church building. They should choose a part of the city where a number of their strong Christians lived.
We suggested that they invite interested people to home Bible studies called discovery groups. These are sort of halfway houses leading to the church. For post-Christian Belgians, this was to be a place where they could feel at home, ask questions, and express their doubts and their reasons for what they believe.
While Project Brussels ’91 was in full swing, and immediately after, everyone participating claimed it as theirs. This was true for missions, parachurch agencies, and the Brussels churches. Some people saw this in a negative light, but I felt it was positive because it showed they "owned" the project.
Evaluating such a project is not easy. Against the backdrop of the prevailing anti-God, anti-Christian mentality in Brussels, and the remarkable unity we achieved, I think it has to be considered a success. We felt safe in counting at least 40 people who appear to have been genuinely converted. Beyond that, another 100 indicated some kind of decision. New converts have found their way into the churches. But many of those who made decisions were refugees, and since many were expelled from Belgium shortly thereafter, we have not been able to keep in touch with them.
Most of the refugees came from Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union. They sought political asylum, but the government considered economic refugees and sent them back to their respective countries. They returned with Bibles or New Testaments and some kind of literature and testimony in their own languages.
Thirty-seven discovery groups are going, some with 15 to 20 people, others with two or three. These people are wrestling with different questions, trying to the truth. This is a long process, and we hope many will eventually become Christians and join churches.
However, despite our well-planned follow-up, many churches and individual Christians were too slow to pick up on people’s interest. People who are hungry for the gospel must be served immediately, and not made to wait until the time is convenient for us. Organizers of projects like this must check to see if people are visited within 10 days, and then perhaps grant another 10 days. After that, if nothing is done, the names should be given to someone else.
Also on the negative side, we were slow in getting the research we needed from the churches. Very few of them were open to give us the facts we needed to get a clear view of our mission force. Later on, when mutual trust began to build, it was easier to get the numbers. But by then we were already in full operation and the information was too late.
Overall, however, we felt the outcome was very positive. For example, every home in Brussels received a lit-package, and the great majority were handed out personally with a smile and a greeting. Six hundred and seventy people wrote in some kind of response. Forty-five people filled out the quiz and claimed a Bible or New Testament and some kind of literature and testimony in their own languages.
Innumerable phone calls came in, with many different reactions, some of them hostile, but most were positive and thankful. A number of new ministries sprang up and continue to function, such as Hope Restaurant for the poor, the Business International Community which works in that sector of Brussels, the Women’s Committee, services to refugees, and so on.
As far as specific results are concerned, perhaps the most remarkable was what happened among Muslims. They responded more positively than we dreamed was possible. After a second visit, 40 of them invited us back to their homes to explain the Bible, or compare the Bible and the Koran. Some became Christians. Others wrote anonymous letters, confessing that they had found Christ, but did not dare to make it known, fearing for their lives.
It is said that one mark of success is if someone finds an idea worth repeating. We were gratified to learn that a similar project is under way for Antwerp in 1993. Belgium’s second city (pop. 200,000), Antwerp is to become Europe’s cultural capital for that year. Pastors of different denominations have been inspired by Project Brussels ’91 and have decided to join hands for a similar approach to reach their city for the Lord Jesus Christ.
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