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DIASPORA, EMPIRE AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD

September 19, 2019
Mission to, through, with and from the diaspora church in Europe

As you will be aware, this year’s EEMA conference will be investigating the phenomen of diaspora churches in Europe – whether they are planted by ethnic Europeans migrating within the continent or by people originating in other continents – and asking how these churches navigate between becoming assimilated by the host culture, remaining isolated outposts of their culture of origin or endeavour to develop a ‘kingdom’ culture that transcends both.

This conference will build on the success of two previous initiatives in England, and will bring the learning from those events to a wider European context.  Ben Aldous, a participant in one of those conferences (blogging as The Jazzgoat), commented on it:
“I came away thanking God for the being able to meet Peruvian missiologists, Ethiopian and Lithuanian church planters, Brazilian and Nigerian strategic leaders who are shaping the ecclesial landscape of England in dynamic ways. We have much to learn in pilgrimage together.”

You can read the rest of Ben’s thought-provoking blog here.  If you are involved in mission, church leadership or cross-cultural engagement, can you afford not to join us in Budapest to build on this shared experience and learn together?

Our speakers will include Tayo Arikawe (London City Mission),  John Baxter Brown(Global Connections), Jim Memory, (European Christian Mission), Usha Reifsnider(Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World) and Alex Vlasin (University of Bucharest).

Venue: Hotel Benczur, Budapest
Dates: 25.11.19 (start at 1600) – 27.11.19 (finish at 1400)
Cost: €260 (single room); €215 (twin)

Do please ensure that your networks and agencies know about this event and publicise it for us to ensure the most diverse range of participants possible!

BOOKINGS ARE NOW OPEN!!  JUST CLICK HERE.

Theme 5: Optimism or Despair?

September 7, 2019

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the health of Christianity in Europe? And speaking on behalf of your network, agency or church, what makes you optimistic about the church and mission in Europe?
All the leaders who responded to our questionnaire were optimistic about some aspect of the state of Christianity in Europe, and in some cases markedly so. In short, they all see signs of God working across Europe. A number of common themes emerged from their responses.

Church Planting
Four of the leaders coincided in highlighting church planting initiatives in many countries. Raphael Anzenberger noted that when they started NC2P ten years ago, only three countries were in a national church planting process, whereas today 16 are formally part of their network and in their 2018 gathering 28 nations were represented. Others observed a general “growth of evangelicalism” and “people open to hear about the gospel”. Two specifically mentioned movements of God in Central and Eastern Europe.

Intercession and Mobilisation for Mission
Daniel Constanza of the Pentecostal European Fellowship observes a “renewed fervour for intercession and evangelism in all kinds of forms” and this was echoed by Mike Betts of Relational Mission: “we are mobilising many in prayer right now which will fuel mission”. From a mission agency perspective, John Gilberts of GEM observes “interest of new, younger missionaries to come and serve” and the diaspora church leader, Usha Reifsneider, also sees that “more young people and people who are ready for a second career are joining the work of mission”. Harvey Kwiyani of Liverpool Hope University is more cautious because “most Europeans still do not understand that Europe is a mission field and those who do are still unable to figure out how to engage this new mission field of Europe”.

Younger Leaders
More broadly, the emergence of a new generation of younger leaders was celebrated by many. “God is raising up some amazing younger leaders whose desire is to be part of a movement of God’s Spirit in our content”, said Tony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation. Jeff Carter echoes this: “all the agencies and churches that I work with and for would celebrate the emergence of younger leaders who are standing now on the shoulders of those who waded through the tough times”.

Diaspora Churches
Another common positive theme was the impact of diaspora churches in Europe with six of the leaders making some reference to this. Kent Anderson, Director of ECM Britain, sums this up: “The ethnic church has breathed new fervour and vision into the church in many countries. Faith has returned to Europe!” However, different aspects were evident. Some highlighted the challenge and opportunity of reaching out to refugees and asylum seekers. Others observed that churches are emerging as a result of both internal and inward migration (ie. both between European countries and migration into Europe from outside). Harvey Kwiyani, of Liverpool Hope University, noted that “diaspora churches are growing, and as they grow, they are learning what it takes to reach Europeans with the gospel”, whilst Reifsnider observed that diaspora Christians are now being better understood by Europeans.

Partnership
Several leaders also noted the growing number of partnerships across geographic, cultural, linguistic and denominational borders. “There is a growing willingness to cooperate and join forces among evangelical groups”, said Frank Hinkelmann of the EEA. John Carter takes this even further: “There is a platform for open dialogue and a chance to work together…to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to all generations and cultures for those who call Europe home”. Cueva calls this new spirit of misión: “reciprocal collaboration”.

The Church
If there was one theme which elicited both optimistic and pessimistic comments, it was in regard to the church. Several of the leaders pointed to the emergence of more missional forms of church and that many churches have “become places of welcome and grace for people who have been displaced”. But others highlighted persistent institutionalism and the need to develop new wineskins for the new wine that God is fermenting in Europe. Frank Hinkelmann, the President of the European Evangelical Alliance, in particular noted “the erosion of Biblical authority in a number of churches and denominations”. This is undoubtedly a result of the secular public domain which is a reason for pessimism for many, though Tony Peck sees “more Christians “getting out there” in the world of politics and society to witness to Gospel values in a secular pluralist society”.

Hope for Europe
Yet the ultimate reason for hope is not to be found in the signs of optimism listed above but in the promise of God, and that came through loud and clear in the responses from this group of leaders: “Christ has made promises over his church that cannot fail”; “God is sovereign and He is in control of everything….God’s kingdom will be established sooner or later; “The Church belongs to God and God will not forget Europe”; “Jesus promised that he WILL build his church”.

The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin was once interviewed on the radio. The journalist asked, “Bishop Newbigin, are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future of the church?” His response was categorical: “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead”.

The leaders interviewed for this edition of Vista see many signs of hope in Europe today, but they all agree that the ultimate reason for hope is the gospel itself: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ is on the throne and will come again in glory.

Read more in Vista 33: Who speaks for Europe?

Theme 4: The Headline

August 31, 2019

Speaking on behalf of your network, agency or church, what do you think is the most important message to be communicated about mission in Europe today?
This question elicited some very passionate, interesting and profound reflections. Overall, there was universal acceptance that Europe is a valid mission field, a point that was stressed by Harvey Kwiyani and also by Kent Anderson, who used the provocative phrase “the Dark Continent” when describing the spiritual state of Europe today. The fact that several respondents felt it necessary to justify Europe as a mission field is something which will no doubt both concern and motivate those involved in mission here.

There was a divergence of opinion over how to understand and describe Europe today, an important issue similar chord with his claim that, despite “spiritual fatigue” in the church in Europe, “ because our understanding of Europe helps frame our missional approaches. Pulling no punches, American Jeff Carter notes that “Europe has drifted from being the foundation of the Christian faith, to a secular wasteland that is a shadow of its former glory… [in which] the young are no longer interested oreven aware of their spiritual need.”

But others found signs of vitality and reasons for encouragement: Richard Bromley of ICS says that, whilst organised religion “has taken a battering,” this does not necessarily mean that Europe can be regarded “a post-Christian continent.” Ultimately, he argues, there “is still a background noise of faith and the message of Christ still resonates with people,” and the future will see “small communities that faithfully proclaim Jesus Christ, refreshed and vitalised by brothers and sisters from the rest of the world.” Samuel Cueva struck a similar chord with his claim that, despite “spiritual fatigue” in the church in Europe, “there is still hope for Europe… because the Gospel always produces hope, peace, justice and freedom.” The current state of Europe should therefore be seen as “a great opportunity for the whole [global] church.”

For others, the key message to be communicated relates to how Christians must work together in this challenging European context. Raphael Anzenberger finds it “really exciting… that European countries [and their churches] are collaborating together.” Similarly, Joke Haaijer defines the key message as “work together, find each other’s strengths.” Jeff Carter shrewdly observes that Europe’s diversity of cultures and languages could either mean “rich collaboration in mission” or “silos of isolation and division,” and therefore encourages “brothers and sisters to work together to show a better way. The only way.” This point is echoed by Usha Reifsnider, who also emphasizes the need for humility and a learning attitude: “Be prepared to learn and be led by people from places, generations, cultures, languages and ideologies that you never considered.”

Our final answer to the question of the most important message comes from John Gilberts of Greater Europe Mission. He conveys a real sense of urgency when he says “the influx of immigrants and refugees into Europe is an unprecedented opportunity. We need to mobilize and seize the day!” If further missionary motivation were needed, he adds: “we are convinced that if Jesus were here today you would find Him among the boats in Lesvos and container homes and refugee camps in all the great cities of Europe.”

Read more in Vista 33: Who speaks for Europe?

Theme 3: Vox Pop

August 24, 2019

In what ways do you or your agency/church make a distinct contribution in outlining a vision or addressing a challenge for mission in Europe?

In answering this question, respondents demonstrated a wide range of approaches and contributions to mission in Europe. Some saw one of their key contributions as being an ability to draw people together, such as “a yearly conference gathering leaders from across the continent” (Daniel Costanza of PEF) or “a think tank of national leaders,” as reported by Raphael Anzenberger, whose organization already draws in leaders from 16 European countries who discuss mission strategy together (more information is at nc2p.org).

The European Evangelical Alliance’s Frank Hinkelmann explained how the EEA’s unique contribution was equipping national Evangelical Alliances and helping them “establish networks and special interest groups within their countries to reach out to their fellow countrymen.” Others echoed this emphasis on equipping people to work within their own culture – for example the European Baptist Foundation has empowered some 250 people to plant churches in their own culture, and the EBF’s role is to provide support for thisindigenous work. Approximately 15,000 new believers are reported to be the fruit of this initiative.

Others emphasized their role in creating partnerships – and were keen to stress the genuineness of such partnerships. John Gilberts of Greater Europe Mission described how they create church to church partnerships and, with 70 years’ experience, “have a unique role in effectively bringing US and Canadian churches together with some of the best on-the-ground ministries in Europe.” Key to this is GEM’s ability to “smooth intercultural issues and help both sides avoid the typical ‘bumps in the road’.” Representatives of migrant churches and diaspora movements also stressed the importance of relationships, specifically two-way and equal ones.

Samuel Cueva of the “Misión para el Tercer Milenio” Movement (MTM) explained their work to “develop two-way mission bridges for the fulfilment of God’s mission in all continents, and promotion of a theology of reciprocal mission collaboration.” This reciprocity was seen as essential and it was deemed necessary to be intentional about working towards it, as in the case of Latin American mission partners working with European mission partners in Europe, according to Cueva’s examples. With something of an outsider’s perspective on Europe, Jeff Carter also highlighted the importance of “filial respect” and “mutual support.”

Some specific examples were also given: Richard Bromley of ICS saw their distinct contribution as a “frontier agency” to be “always pushing… challenging the [Anglican] church to adapt and faithfully reach out to what is, not what was.” Dr Harvey Kwiyani, Programme Leader of MA African Christianity at Liverpool Hope University, explained how his focus is on providing cross-cultural training to diaspora Christians in the UK and across Europe. And Joke Haaijer of OneHope saw their distinctive as “activating churches for missions to children and youth.”

Overall, therefore, we see a wide range of contributions towards outlining a vision for mission in Europe, including facilitating, improving communication, equipping, partnering, challenging, training and mobilising.

Read more in Vista 33: Who speaks for Europe?

Theme 2: Opening the Floor

August 17, 2019

How can we make sure that these voices are heard? What kinds of platform can we provide for them to speak from?
Given our tentative identification in Theme 1 of some of the voices being marginalised or ignored within European mission today, the next step is obvious: how can we do more to help these voices be heard? This was widely acknowledged to be a “tricky question,” though a range of options were hopefully suggested. In terms of practical barriers preventing some from participating, Raphael Anzenberger noted that “the issue of English as a language is a huge one… unless there are strong mechanisms to ensure translation, no matter what the platform is, their voice won’t be heard.” Other church leaders emphasized the role of regional forums, and the importance of raising indigenous leaders from amongst the different nations and ethnicities.

A first step towards including marginalised voices will need to be positively affirming them, says Tony Peck of the European Baptist Federation, and deliberately ensuring that in any organised events, different voices (e.g. men’s and women’s) “are equally featured in the discussion of issues that concern us.” Other respondents also spoke of steps that need to be taken to create “intentional relationships” and to invite members of emerging mission movements into reciprocal collaborations. Interestingly, several respondents used the metaphor of inviting others to the/God’s table, and this is indeed a rich metaphor with powerful connotations.

The EEA’s Frank Hinkelmann rightly stressed the importance of two-directional openness, requiring “a changed mindset by the ‘old’ European churches as well as a willingness to interact with them by the ‘new’ (migrant) European churches.”

However, there were also two words of warnings, from different perspectives. Kent Anderson of ECM cautioned that discernment remains necessary when selecting or listening to alternative voices: “Not every young or ethnic voice has something important to say.” Those who have, however, should be quoted and promoted whenever possible by more mainstream leaders. The second word of warning comes from Usha Reifsnider of the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World. Current leaders and influencers should try to be involved in the world of others, and “allow them to create platforms that are beyond your ability to imagine.” The very act of giving power or voice to another can, at times, remain an exercise in control if we remain the ones determining the platform or the terms of the debate.

What can be done to ensure the widest possible range of voices continue to be heard by the global evangelical community that supports mission in Europe?
Again, there was a wide range of suggestions and an acknowledgement that there may be no easy solutions. Perhaps the most popular suggestion was more gatherings where different voices can be heard, and dialogue entered into.

For Daniel Costanza of the Pentecostal European Fellowship, something like a three-yearly consultation involving key movements would be desirable. Similarly, Jeff Carter called for “more opportunities to provide venues and conferences to invite dialogue,” and Harvey Kwiyani identified the importance of having platforms where “we all engage one another as equals, helping one another see God in a new light and learning from one another.” In a similar vein, there were also pleas for mission gatherings to be characterised by even more sharing, openness and togetherness – for example, John Gilberts urged the formation of “new, non-denominational or cross-denominational gatherings” and that agencies and churches share European ‘superstars’ with high profile within their domain.

Tony Peck argued that the best way to ensure that the widest range of voices is heard, is by our having “a Gospel generosity that embraces healthy diversity as a gift and not a problem, and ensuring that all parts of the diverse evangelical family are included.”

From amongst the respondents for this research came several cris de coeur for Western Europeans or those representing traditional and established churches to learn from others: “Be prepared to learn from people who do not look, sound, teach, train and practise the way you always have,” implores Usha Reifsnider, who argues that since “the highest proportion of Christ followers are now from the Majority World and women, then theology and mission should follow suit.” Like Usha, Jeff Carter emphasizes the role of seminaries and mission training colleges across Europe, which he believes should be “teaching inclusive and embracing ministry… it’s a brand-new world, let’s listen to one another!”

A final way to ensure that evangelicals are listening to the widest possible range of voices, is to be a spiritually-aware people. As Richard Bromley of the Intercontinental Church Society notes, we need to be “generous in our listening and see what the Spirit is saying,” a point echoed by Samuel Cueva who calls the Church to recognise that, in Europe, “God is on the move, and He is doing something different.” Listening to God, and listening to marginalised or minority voices, should be twin priorities for the European church.

Read more in Vista 33: Who speaks for Europe?