A Romanian Perspective on Mission in Europe

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When  analysing  the  crosscultural  mission  of  the  European Churches,  one  might  see different  characteristics.  We  will share  a  few  observations  from  a Romanian  perspective.

1.  The  need  for  inclusive  language   

Defining  the  concept  of  “mission”  is never  an  easy  task.  Nevertheless,  the different  interpretations  of  its terminology  create  gaps  in understanding  and  serving  in  mission. For  Western  European  churches mission  could  be  translated  as:  “Let’s go  to  other  countries  to  serve.”   However  for  most  Eastern  European countries  missiology  is  merely  similar to  theology.    The  result  is  visible  in the  latter’s  lack  of  passion  and prioritisation  of  missionary  work,  and the  former’s  ignoring  the  needs  of local  involvement.  Using  the  same words  does  not  lead  to    the  same meaning  for  all  the  European countries.  Diminishing  the  connection with  the  source  of  mission,  the  heart of  God  manifested  in  the  love  for people,  decreases  the  desire  and motivation  for  mission.  Integral  and holistic  mission  should  be  better explained  and  more  promoted  among all  churches  in  Europe.     

2.  Unity  in  diversity   

It  is  true  that  churches  in  Eastern European  countries  have  a  small voice  in  mission  and  perhaps  some   think  they  have  nothing  to  say anyway.  But  what  if  their  voice  is expressed  differently  that  the  ones the  Western  Churches  are  used  to hearing?  Would  it  help  to  look  at their  heart  and  strong  desire  to serve  rather  than  their  publications (or  lack  of  them)  and  participation  in European  mission  consultations?   

Moreover,   their  official  church leaders  may  not  always  support mission  but  regular  church  members are  more  committed  to  sacrifice  for it.  How  can  the  church  members  be empowered  to  serve  and  how  can their  leaders  be  encouraged  to  be open  to  invest  more  in  global mission?  A  key  way  could  be  to invite  them  to  come  out  of  their comfort  zone  through    going  to them  out  of  the  comfort  zone  of  preset  mission  agenda.    Listening  to them  and  valuing  their  contribution in  mission  might  help  them  make  the necessary  steps  while  enabling  the western  European  missionaries demonstrate  unity  in  diversity.   

3.  The  presence  of  youth  in  mission

Eastern  European  churches  still incorporate  a  large  youth  presence  in comparison  to  the  Western  European evangelical  churches.  These  people  are eager  to  be  involved  in  mission. Moreover,  all  across  Western  Europe there  are  many  churches  made  up  of people  arriving  from  Eastern  European countries.  The  average  age  of  the membership  in  these  churches  is  30. Therefore,  these  churches  need  to  be encouraged  to  be  involved  in  mission work  and  help  develop  biblical understanding  of  mission.  Generally speaking,  they  are  used  to  regular  prayer and  bible  reading:  values  which  youth from  all  over  Europe  need  to  learn  as the  basis  for  mission.  Efforts  to  pollinate among  these  youth  groups  might eventually  be  worthy  for  missionary efforts,  especially  with  the  arrival  of other  young  people  from  nonEuropean ethnic  groups  which  need  the  Church  in order  to  encounter  Jesus.   

What  are  the  challenges  and opportunities  for  the  gospel?     

Admit  it  or  not,  we  all  depend  on  each other  in  mission.  Churches  in  Eastern European  countries  have  been  greatly impacted  by  the  presence  and  the  work of  Western  European  missionaries. 4.  Would  it  be  possible  to  return  that,   especially  with  the  great  challenge  the Western  European  churches  face  today in  the  arrival  of  a  new  immigrant  wave from  nonEuropean  countries.  Could  the wave  before  that,  the  immigrants  from Eastern  European  countries  help?  Are the  Romanian  and  Ukraine  Diaspora Churches  able  to  engage  in  crosscultural  mission  alongside  the  Western Europe?  What  does  it  take  to  turn  this challenge  into  an  opportunity?   

A  possible  answer  could  be  to  organise meetings  in  the  local  communities  where all  these  churches  are  first  invited  be  a community  of  God and then work together for His glory. Another possible idea could be to open the mission and theological schools to train the Diaspora church members and offer opportunities they never had in their home lands. Partnering and exchanging resources, knowledge and passion might open new opportunities to witness to the new arrivals.   

For many years the church in Western Europe was engaged in social action and poverty relief type of mission, presented to the Eastern European countries and its churches. While this is very important, in some cases the message of the Gospel was overshadowed by these activities. Perhaps it is time to put more effort into presenting the message of the good news and be a life model for the churches where, until now, their life saving goods have focused on helping the communities travel through rough times and poverty. The voice of the Shepherd and  spiritual care might now be more important than physical food. Signs of love need to surpass the basics of daily survival and thus move to the care of emotional and spiritual life. Too many broken marriages and emotional suffering happens today all across Eastern European countries with not much help from the church. Therefore, there is a great opportunity to assist churches and families in their daily struggles with addictions, burnout or creating a balance of life and family.   

Another big challenge is the fear the church displays in mission today. For many years the Western European churches demonstrated a great deal of courage crossing the Iron Curtain and other such obstacles. What can bring back that zeal? Churches in Eastern Europe might fear to lose the resources coming from the Western European churches. Is it possible that the church is becoming timorous? Is this situation increasing as churches across Europe face the reality of encountering believers from other faiths? Partnering together in mission could help both enthuse the zeal and enlarge the potential the churches across Europe have today.   

Where are you seeing signs of life and hope?

Even though the church in Western European countries might be view as weakening, she still has the life of Christ and His power. The long legacy and experience of mission work from Europe to other continents of the world constitute an immense privilege and force for the advancement of the Gospel.   

Very seldom do churches from the  West and the East work together towards such goals. However, they should complement each other, contributing in a partnership that honours the Lord and advances His Kingdom. There is no reason to be shameful or fearful. This Western Church is an example and a model for the Eastern European countries. They have the knowledge (books and research) and the experience so much needed in the mission field. On the other hand, the strong desire to present the gospel around the world with the values and the practices of the churches in Eastern European countries might bring hope to the entire Europe.   

Hope comes only if all work together, hand in hand, to overcome obstacle and challenges. There is a lot of progress to be made. The life and hope in mission comes from unity and “bold humility”, as David Bosch put it. Serving together should not be limited to the needs within Europe but continue to intentionally witness and ministry beyond its continent.   

God broke the chains communism used to stop Christians spreading the Word in Eastern Europe. Today, we pray that He will break the chains that stop churches becoming missional.

Bibliography

Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995

Vlașin, Mission Education in Romanian Evangelical Higher Education, Ed: Universitatea din Bucuresti, 2013

Vlașin,“Roemenië communistische nalatenschap” (Communism legacy on mission), ZN (Evangelical Mission Association Magazine in Nederlands) no 1, 2013, pages 27-29.

Vlasin, “Twenty-Five Years of Mission Movement in Central and Eastern Europe: An indigenous Perspective” in Constantineanu, Macelaru & Himcinschi (Eds.),  Mission in Central and Eastern Europe – Realities, Perspective, Trends, Regnum Edinburgh Centenary series. vol 34.

Alex Vlasin

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