by Mark Elliott
The demise of Marxist regimes means fundamental changes in Western mission methods.
The rapid demise of Marxist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the equally sudden dismantling of the Soviet Communist Party in the wake of the abortive Moscow coup in August, 1991, are having an ever-increasing impact on the world of East-em European ministry, some of it encouraging, some, not so.
Keston College, for two decades the premier Western center for the study of the church under Marxist regimes, has suffered radical retrenchment in the past two years. Plummeting contributions, apparently due to the mistaken notion that all is now well in the East, have cost Keston its newly expanded research center near London, half of its budget, and nearly two-thirds of its research specialists. The last issue of Keston News Service appeared in July, 1991, an irreplaceable loss to students of the church in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. With a new name, Keston Research, and a new location, Oxford, General Director Michael Bourdeaux’s vision may yet survive. But at present his center appears as a straggling remnant of its former self, and East European ministry is the poorer as a consequence.
Vienna-based Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), known as Eastern European Seminary in the U.S., also is facing the possibility of significant revamping. Founded in 1979 as a cooperative effort of 12 East European ministries, its purpose has been to provide theological texts and training in Eastern Europe where normal residential seminary education was non-existent or severely.limited Now that traditional theological education is possible, BEE is having to rethink its reason for being.
Growth as well as retrenchment can be unsettling, if the present status of Wheaton, Ill.-based Slavic Gospel Association is any indication. Perhaps the largest evangelical East European mission as of 1991, its board is now searching for a new chief executive officer. In September, 1991, SGA’s longtime president Peter Deyneka, Jr., and his wife, Anita, established a new ministry called Peter Deyneka U.S.S.R. Ministries. Also in transition is the Romanian Missionary Society. President Joseph Tson’s move back to his homeland in 1990 has left Ms organization in Wheaton struggling to make the necessary administrative and fund-raising adjustments. Likewise, British-based Radstock Ministries, formerly Friedens-stimme (UK), substantially broadened its focus in 1990 from the U.S.S.R.’s unregistered Baptists to a wider spectrum of evangelical Christians in the Soviet Union.
Western mission perestroika also is having its impact on large organizations with worldwide mandates.For example, the American Bible Society, Campus Crusade for Christ, Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, Navigators, World Vision, and Youth With a Mission have, of late, seen Soviet and East European projects command increasing portions of their budget and staff time. In addition, certain evangelical foundations, including DeMoss and Maclellan, have made major financial commitments in recent years to Soviet and East European initiatives. It also should be noted that for some years Open Doors with Brother Andrew has been shifting from a focus on Marxist lands to a greater concentration on Islam, a shift that can also be seen in research and human rights groups such as Seattle-based Issachar, the Illinois-based Society of St. Stephen, and, in Washington, D.C., Christian Solidarity International and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Name changes also are in order. The Norwegian Misjon bak Jernteppet (Mission Behind the Iron Curtain) is now Norsk Misjon i Ost (Norwegian Mission in the East). As another example, the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Marxism at Wheaton College changed its name in May, 1991, to the Institute for East-West Christian Studies. For at least a year prior to that its director shared with audiences that the program might best be described as the Institute for the Study of Christianity and What’ s Left of Marxism.
In addition to the above, two substantive changes in Western mission procedure and method stem from glasnost and perestroika. The legitimate need in the past for confidentiality in East European ministry rapidly is disappearing. Donors now should expect more openness, which in turn should help answer any remaining questions concerning financial integrity, at least for the large number of missions with membership in the following ac-countability-conscious agencies: the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies, and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
The dramatic decline in East European state interference in church life allows for a parallel increase in Christian out reach. What is to be done? This question served as the title for Lenin’s 1902 call-to-armsblueprinting a successful Marxist revolution. Today, West-em Christians can ask the same question as they seek to assist the cause of Christ in the East. Today, specialization is becoming the watchword as East European churches seek assistance with print, film, and video evangelism; Sunday school to seminary level training; marriage, family, youth, prison, alcohol, and drug counseling; and outreach through sports, camping, and drama, to name a sampling of the burgeoning ministry kaleidoscope.
With hundreds of millions of people disillusioned with Marxism, with the historically unprecedented collapse of East European political barriers, and with hundreds of East European missions being joined by legions of additional ministries new to the region, the simplest of conclusions should be that cooperative efforts are in order. That granted, a first step is to take account of past and present collaborative efforts. To start with, it should be noted that at least 16 East European ministry meetings were held in the U.S. and Europe in 1990-91 to facilitate networking, information sharing, and cooperation.
At one meeting, urgency and the need to cooperate figured especially prominently. The three themes of the Evangelization of Russia Conference were:
1.the "greatness of the present opportunity in Russia, with its doors open"; 2) "the necessity of taking up the work at once, or the danger of delay"; and 3) the need for "conducting the work in Russia upon such a broad evangelical basis as not unduly to exhibit to the new Russia the denominational differences which have existed in our evangelical work in America."
These words, spoken at Chicago’s Moody Tabernacle by Dr. Jesse W. Brooks, superintendent of the Chicago Tract Society and chairman of the meeting, date not from 1991, but from 1918. That year was, as this year is, a time of sweeping change for Russia. Urgency and cooperation still should take precedence because it is an open question whether or not the present opportunities will last much longer than the shortlived openings of 1917-18.
The 1918 Chicago conference also makes clear that concern for cooperation in Slavic ministry is not new. Other collaborative efforts followed. A 1941 partnership between Slavic Gospel Association and HCJB radio had Peter Deyneka, Sr., delivering the first-ever evangelical broadcast to the Soviet Union, as it turned out, on the very day of the Nazi invasion. Other quiet combinations of Western ministries working together, especially in Bible production and distribution, could be noted.
The number of glasnost-era partnerships arranged to expedite Bible deliveries is especially noteworthy. Various cooperative agreements to this end, in 1987-89 alone, included at least 28 separate denominations, missions, and Bible societies. In the past year and a half, Slavic Gospel Association may have set a record for East European collaborative efforts by assisting over 50 church and parachurch ministries now responding to perestroika’s open doors. As another example, Wheaton’s Institute for East-West Christian Studies includes a mandate to facilitate East European ministry. In the past six years this has involved consulting and collaborative work with over 80 church and parachurch bodies.
Three recent instances of commendable church and parachurch cooperation deserve mention. In the first case, 1990 saw the Norwegian Bible Society join hands with Pentecostal churches, three Norwegian parachurch ministries, and Sweden’s Institute for Bible Translation to underwrite a gift of 520,000 children’s Bibles in 11 Soviet languages at a cost of $18.7 million. Similarly, a number of organizations helped make a success of John Guest’s Kiev ’91 Crusade in May-June, 1991. SGA provided the evangelist with valuable advice and contacts; Bible Literature International funded nearly 2 million tracts and Gospel booklets distributed during the meetings; The Bible League added 300,000 New Testaments and Bible study booklets, while Eastern European Seminary is assisting in follow-up, discipleship, and church planting. Finally, the summer of 1991 saw 24 Western and U.S.S.R. Christian groups combine in the "Moscow Project" to distribute almost 4 million Scriptures. A striking number of larger-scale cooperative efforts in East European ministry emerged in the 1970s and 1980s.
1975 Literature Information Service 1977 Christian Broadcasters to the Soviet Union (CBSU) 1979 Biblical Education by Extension/ Eastern European Seminary 1985 Mission Forum (formerly East European Missions Research) 1986 Eastern European Advisory Group (Project Jericho-Lausannc Committee for World Evangelization) 1987 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association 1988 Scandinavian missions and Bible societies (working relationships formalized in 1990 under the logo, "New Start in the East") 1988 Coalition for Solidarity with Christians in the Soviet Union 1990 East European Task Force, Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) 1990 Project C.A.R.E. (Coordination of All Resources for Evangelism) 1990 International Literature Associates 1990 Theological Commission Task Force on Eastern Europe, World Evangelical Fellowship 1991 AD2000 Movement 1991 Churches East-West European Relations Network (CEWERN) 1991 USSR Christian Resource Center
These umbrella organizations, in the main, stress coordination among Western groups reaching out to the East. In addition, cooperation needs to be encouraged between Western and Eastern churches and missions. In 1804 the British and Foreign Bible Society helped establish its first sister society, the Russian Bible Society. And out of that partnership came the first-ever Russian vernacular New Testament published in 1821. Likewise, today Western organizations can have a role in the development of indigenous U.S.S.R. and East European missions. To date, in the wake of glasnost, up to 200 such ministries have emerged in the Soviet Union, pretty much spontaneously. Now there is a golden opportunity to assist these organizations, taking into account lessons learned in the laboratory of the modem missions movement. As Luis Bush cautioned in a May, 1991, Consultation on Partnership for World Evangelization, "As we celebrate our oneness in Christ…we struggle to keep out the anti-kingdom traits of power, parochialism, prestige and possessions."
East European ministries often speak the obvious truth that new entrants should seek counsel from missions with experience in the region. According to Phill Butler of Seattle-based InterDev, such sharing, whether formalized in partnerships or not, allows missions to "build on existing strengths," permits the most efficient utilization of human and material resources, minimizes duplication, and reduces risk. But as papers delivered at the May, 1991, Working Consultation on Partnership in World Evangelization make clear, the reverse is also true. As numerous ministries just now are in the process of placing their first traditional, resident missionaries in the Soviet Union and East Central Europe, experienced, longstanding missions to developing countries have much hard-earned advice to give.
They will counsel, for example, against establishing churches overly dependent on the West. They will recommend that Christians in the East should be encouraged to move beyond the translating of Western Christian classics to the writing of their own Sunday school curricula and theological texts.
They also will caution that missionaries should not intertwine the preaching of Christ crucified with advocacy for Western culture. In addition, they will counsel against the funding of solo efforts of energetic individual East Europeans whose close accountability to a national church or parachurch body is unclear. Likewise, they will underscore the growing significance of indigenous, non-North American missions in the scheme of world evangelization, a phenomenon in the Soviet Union of truly remarkable dimensions already. And finally, experienced missionaries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America will note the many perils of cross-cultural miscommunication: for example, that the Western concept of time is not sacred, and that the penchant of brusk Americans for hard facts, unvarnished, up front, is unthinkable in many non-Western settings.
That some Western comments should best be left unsaid was never more painfully obvious than in the case of an American preacher speaking to a Soviet audience of over a thousand in the summer of 1991. One thing the U.S.S.R. needed, he was sure, he told his hearers, was deodorant. And he promised to bring his friends cases of it on his next visit. Surely, for the sake of heaven, emissaries of Christ have better things to do than to rail against the evils of body odor. Indeed, it should be argued that the gross cultural insensitiv-ity, here exposed, reeks more than any conceivable perspiration.
To be winsome witnesses, cultural sensitivity is critical. And cultural sensitivity is a product of believers willing to "study to show thyself approved unto God." Of course, a tension exists today between urgency, on the one hand, stemming from fear that the Eastern window of opportunity will close, and, on the other hand, a call for painstaking, disciplined study of languages, history, and culture necessary for long-term effective ministry. In fact, sensitive, immediate responses and a commitment to careful academic preparation can go hand in hand. It is not a case of either/or, but both.
Missionaries who are earnest students of Central and East European culture will be humbled by the complexity of the region and will be better witnesses for their humility. Well read Christian servants heading for Central and Eastern Europe, for example, will recognize that believers emerging from the long, dark night of Marxist repression have a lot to teach the West as well as receive from the West. Manfred Kern of the East German Evangelical Alliance advises would-be Western witnesses to ask questions before offering solutions. If the reverse is the order, he believes, those who come with "ready-made concepts and ready-made programs…will not have a good ministry…because they do not understand our context." The following blanket condemnation does not fit, but there is a point to be gleaned from William Yoder’s warning, "We can’t just burst upon the local scene with the latest magical potions from Wheaton or Arrowhead Springs." Today, the quote might be updated to include Colorado Springs.
Today, Christian servants need to set their sights on Central and Eastern Europe with help in one hand, with the other hand open to receive testimonies of faithfulness in the face of repressive Marxist regimes. At the 1918 Chicago Conference on the Evangelization of Russia, Wheaton College’s second president, Charles Blanchard, spoke for the present day as well as his own: "Most of us have never suffered for our faith very much. Here we are…with one of the most fruitful lands in the world under our feet, and one of the most genial skies in the world over our heads, with absolute religious liberty…What do we owe to two hundred million people who have been under the wheel, in terror of their lives…What does a nation like ours, in circumstances such as ours, owe to a nation like Russia, a nation where the Gospel has never been free?"
To the land that has produced the rich spiritual legacy of the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner"; to the land that has blessed all peoples with the profound spiritual insights of Dostoevsky and Sozhenitsyn; and to the land of countless Christian martyrs of the 20th century, we owe much.
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