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What if there is no mission centre?

Let’s continue to examine our desires to do mission, explore other ways people use to serve, listen more to each other and enjoy the mission together.

VISTA JOURNAL AUTOR 404/Alex_Vlasin 30 DE NOVIEMBRE DE 2023 09:30 h
Mikulov is a town in the the Czech Republic, located in the center of Central Europe. / [link]Tadeáš Bednarz[/link] Wikimedia Commons

Opportunity – No (poly)centric mission behind the Iron Curtain



Ever since the 18th century; and the commencement of the modern mission movement initiated by William Carey in English-speaking countries,[1] the desire to craft strategies and give directions became an attractive and necessary effort in order to organise and structure the missionary approach and labour.



A few years later, the need to understand the task before them led to groupings that did not exist before.



When the 1910 Edinburgh mission gathering happened, most Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries were part of the “rest” of the world,[2] meaning they were mission fields in need of exploration and conquering by the mission of the churches in the West.



Between the two World Wars, several countries in CEE experienced persecution while trying to officially establish their newly founded evangelical churches in their respective countries.[3] 



However, while most of the mission gatherings happened during this time, the CEE countries were under heavy persecution and isolation caused by the harsh communist regime and consequently could not be part of any thinking in global missiological development and action.



Also, for many years, the evangelical churches in this part of the world were receiving missionaries from outside who, although paying a high price to cross the Iron Curtain, could understand and contribute very little to the development of missionary thinking and strategies locally due to encountering many limitations there.



Therefore, no mission centres could be initiated by nationals or missionaries behind the Iron Curtain.



[destacate]For many years, no mission centres could be initiated by nationals or missionaries behind the Iron Curtain [/destacate] Despite the adverse context, God’s mission and work took place. Nevertheless, what matrix are we to use when thinking in terms of polycentric and multidirectional mission in this part of the world?



How can the churches kept in isolation and under national persecution stay connected with other similar churches or mission bodies around the globe?



 



Priority – Survival



Soon after the fall of the communist regime in Romania, a Western pastor arrived at the Bucharest Baptist Theological Seminary to teach theology. Dreams of new opportunities to study and serve were in everyone’s minds.



During his speech, he attempted to also explain how mission works by saying that “the golden rule in mission is that whoever has the gold makes the rule.”



Over the years, this statement was repeated several times by influential local leaders when mission was discussed. Not knowing the intentions of the pastor who first voiced it, the intentions of those who repeated it were to argue that a church (or even an association of churches) with little financial resources are not capable of engaging, planning and sending global missionaries.



With isolation and persecution lifted for CEE churches, doors were opened for more help to arrive from other nations to the region, mostly from Western countries.



But has this been helpful to hearten and support the local churches to become able to birth a mission centre in the region? Initially, most received aid was in goods and basic resources.



However, some missionaries came to engage in evangelism and church planting, coupled with teaching and camp ministry. Churches and believers were exposed to what cross-cultural missionary work is and some were invited to join in and go to other nations for missionary work.[4]



Very few responded and even fewer churches engaged in world mission to send and support missionaries. The priority was material and financial survival and if possible, to succeed in their desire to plant and build more churches locally, as well as train and employ more pastors while expanding their theological education programmes.



Consequently, for the leaders of Central and Eastern European evangelical churches, global mission was very low on the priority list. Until recently, very few churches would have a mission committee and almost no resources were destined to be spent and sent towards such effort.



[destacate]The priority for Central and Eastern European evangelical churches was financial survival, to succeed in planting more churches, and train and employ more pastors. Global mission was very low on the priority list[/destacate] Nonetheless, with the help of Western missionaries, some mission structures have started which are mainly offices of international agencies such as Cru, OM, Wycliffe and others, forming national groupings of both international and local initiatives in mission.



On the one hand, there is a frustration voiced by some Western missionaries in CEE at the slow pace at which churches are willing to send missionaries to other nations.



On the other hand, most Western missionaries are loyal to their sending agency and the ministry they were sent to perform. This allows them little involvement with the local church to help them to grow and understand global mission.



Very few have engaged with the local church to understand the mechanism and to contribute from within.



Therefore, it could be easy for a local believer or church to think that polycentric leadership and a multidirectional approach in mission is something the Western churches enjoy and need.



However, within the context of the financial survival of local churches, while thinking about multidirectional mission and polycentric mission leadership in Central and Eastern Europe countries, there are basic questions to be asked: is the help of Western missionaries encouraging local churches to construct their global mission trajectory?



Who can prepare them for times of freedom and the challenges Western churches currently face? What help would they need to become mission initiators and blaze their own trail in global mission? What would the Western missionaries need to know and do in order to help the nationals? How and who can train the Western missionaries for such ministry?



 



Diversity – Is there something more than polycentric mission?



At The Lausanne Congress in 1974, two Latin American voices were heard and it changed the outcome of the gathering. Escobar and Padilla, were both trained in and spent years in  Western countries, which enabled them to engage and advocate for social justice, something their countries of origin needed the most at that time.



What is needed most today in CEE countries?  What does a church in survival mode need the most, but which they may find difficult to express?



In the past years, the voices from Central and Eastern Europe were forcefully silenced by harsh political regimes, but God heard them clearly and used it to ignite the hearts of many believers from the region, who willingly paid the price of suffering in order to continue the work of the Church within those given limitations.



Likewise, over many years their example inspired the mobilisation of a great Western missionary force sent out in challenging locations around the world.



As for the churches in CEE, they inherited from the past mutual support among the believers and much prayer and bible reading, which together created the resilience base for the present times and what was to come.



This rather simplistic method proved to be very powerful to the believers and local churches. There are many other churches in various non-Western countries whose voices may be different but not loud.



The churches in the West want global direction and macro systems while churches in other cultures find more value in relationships and partnerships. What can the weak voices teach those who have the platform to call for strategies and global systems as the way forward?



Without prior exposure to cross-cultural mission and concrete involvement in global mission activities, CEE churches may lack the audience’s language (professional and literal) and risk being misunderstood.



[destacate]The churches in the West want global direction and macro systems while churches in other cultures find more value in relationships and partnerships. What can the weak voices teach those who have the platform to call for strategies and global systems as the way forward? [/destacate] Their explanations may lack coherence to the listener, perhaps even distorting the existing reality regarding the mission in the respective region.  Hence, who has the patience and listening skills to hear and discern the weak voices’ message to the global mission?



Today, the voices from Central and Eastern Europe are not loud. What to do with those feeble voices who might be different than those suggesting polycentrism?



They may not ask for a simple decentralisation either but instead they need perhaps other working ways to join world mission.



What if there are different views and ways to engage in mission? Where is the place for such voices to be heard? What if those that have different views do not have the capacity and language to express their thoughts, their understandings and practices?



What do we do if their mission takes place in a subtle but sublime way, without claims of becoming a specific centre or to give direction, but with a simple understanding of the love of God and as a result of a beautiful walk with Him?



The answer could be that what the CEE churches need the most is living together in the love of God. The kind of love that flows from the Father to form the unity of the church that Jesus prayed for in John 17 and Bosch so beautifully fashioned as: “Mission has its origin in the heart of God. God is a fountain of sending love. This is the deepest source of mission. It is impossible to penetrate deeper still; there is mission because God loves people”[5].



Could this theme be heard by mission leaders and initiate a global gathering where everyone learns how to listen, be humble and enables the flow of love needed for unbelievers to acknowledge God’s presence among his people?  



And what if themes such as this never surface in our global gatherings but rather are enjoyed and efficiently used locally for the glory of our Father?  



This might be the time to learn about the local movement of the Holy Spirit and connect together in what our God loves.



In conclusion, let’s continue to examine our desires to do mission, explore other ways other people use to serve, listen more to each other and enjoy the Missio Dei together.



Alex Vlasin is currently serving as missionary with Barnabas International offering missionary training and member care, as well as being a visiting lecturer at the Baptist Theology Faculty, Bucharest University.



Vista is an online journal offering research-based information about mission in Europe. Founded in 2010, each themed edition covers a variety of perspectives on crucial issues for mission. Download the latest edition or read individual articles here. This article first appeared in the november 2023 edition of Vista Journal. 



 



Endnotes



[1] See Carey’s Enquiry who promotes new ways of thinking for “missionary apologetic and strategy,” in A. Ernest Payne, "Carey's 'Enquiry',” Evangelical Review of Theology 17, no. 3 (July 1993), 313.



[2] We will refer to Central and Easter European (CEE) countries as those countries who are in the eastern part of Europe starting from Poland, Former Yugoslavian Federation all the way to Greece in the south and Belarus in the north.  The political map of Central and Eastern Europe . Later, most of these countries would be placed behind the Iron Curtain that divided Europe between the communists and the free world.



[3] For a good explanation of what is Eastern Europe and its historical development in the midst of persecution and pain see: Peter Kuzmič, Christianity in Eastern Europe: A Story of Pain, Glory, Persecution and Freedom in “Mission in Central and Eastern Europe – Realities, Perspective, Trends,” Edited by Constantineanu C., Macelaru M., Himcinschi M., Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series, Vol 34, Regnum, Oxford 2016, pages 13-29.



[4] Read the impact of 25 years of mission work in CEE, in: A. Vlasin, Twenty-Five Years of Mission Movement in Central and Easter Europe: An indigenous Perspective in “Mission in Central and Eastern Europe – Realities, Perspective, Trends,” pages 56-66.  



[5] David Bosch, "Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission." Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995, p. 392.


 

 


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