No Pith Helmets in Paris
I’ve just returned from ten days in Europe – London, Oxford, Paris and Prague. A small group from The Gathering (11 of us) went together. In the course of those ten days we made visits or heard presentations from 23 different ministries. Yes, that is insane but you should have seen us high-fiving after the final presentation. For me, 23 in ten days is a “personal best”…but that’s not a record I want to break. I took good notes and intend to write it up in segments for the blog and the Board of The Gathering.
However, this morning I wanted to focus on a theme that kept coming up consistently among the group. All of us have visited ministries in Africa, India, Asia, South America, etc. and most of our experience has been with ministries working in the undeveloped parts of those places. We’ve been with the “poorest of the poor” (a phrase I don’t like but will wait for another time to talk about) and trekked around villages in rural areas as well as unimaginable slums in Kenya, South Africa, India and other urban areas. Those trips are not hard to explain to friends. It was most difficult to explain our taking ten days to visit ministries in Europe. Why is that?
First, there are no pith helmets in Paris. There have not been any David Livingston types in France since the monks spreading the influence of the Church among the barbarians in the dark ages. There is no powerful figure standing out for us as a missionary to pagans or the cannibals of London.
Second, one of the paradoxes we encountered was the perception among donors that Europe is completely Christianized and at the same time hopelessly secular. I know it cannot be both but many people see it that way. It has already been “churched” over the course of thousands of years and yet is now written off as beyond the reach of any true faith.
Third, we have been taught that part of the effect of Christian missions has been the civilizing of pagans. How much more civilizing needs to be done in Europe? In fact, we still compare ourselves to sophisticated European civilization in our manners, music and the arts, intellectual accomplishments and habits. When we think of civilization we look to Europe. No further work of civilizing needs to be done.
Fourth, I think many of us are intimidated by secularism in a way we are not by poverty and physical suffering. Our compassion and our pity are far more effective in Africa than Oxford – and that makes us uncomfortable as donors. Some might even argue that evangelicals are not convinced secularists and intellectuals (not always the same thing in Europe) are even opportunities for the Gospel. After all, it was the same who saw the Gospel as foolishness and rejected Paul’s preaching.
Finally, I believe it was J. Oswald Smith who said, “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice until everyone has had an opportunity to hear it at least once.” I know in my upbringing that meant we “shake the dust off our sandals” to the hardened hearts and move on with the proclamation. My sense is others have been brought up to think the same about Europe. They’ve had enough opportunities and have rejected it. Why should we spend precious resources on them when we can reap a bigger harvest in other places?
Again, this is not exhaustive and many of you could fill in all the blanks I’ve left – and I hope you will. I came back to the States with so many thoughts about ministries in Europe and a desire to think about ways those ministries could present themselves to American donors as valid and as worthy as those ministries we support in “needy” countries.
|Terry English||October 28, 2011, 8:06 am|
|I think many donors and churches might also feel they poured many resources into former Communist Central/Eastern Europe countries when the walls came down, and saw little fruit, so moved on. I believe that at that time the local churches in this region had no idea how to use the new freedoms and resources they had, and possibly that people coming from the West had little understanding of the cultural context of the time.
Now things are different. Once again, people in this part of the world are very open to hearing the Gospel, and now local churches are beginning to understand the need to reach out to their unchurched neighbors - but with so few evangelicals here we have a mammoth job ahead of us. Still, I firmly believe that Christ is at work in this part of the world and this time round we'll see lasting Kingdom fruit...... John 4:35 speaks volumes to us right now.
|David Broussard||October 27, 2011, 8:45 pm|
|Yes, access is a central element in Europe. In France, for example, there is not only a lack of resources on the Christian side but a striking void of anything mildly "religious" in the public sphere. With 34% of the population being atheist (and raising the next generation of atheists), and not a church to be found in 36,000 of France's 38,000 communities, there is a serious problem of hearing even the mention of God let alone the Gospel even once. Especially in France's hierarchical social structures, the choice between religion and atheism leaves little room for faith. You're either a cultural Catholic, Protestant, etc. or you're nothing. No one knows in which box to put an Evangelical. So, I would argue (alongside Lee) that Europe in not in a position to hear the Gospel and other "needy" countries are actually experiencing church growth that blows Europe out of the water.
Yet strategic giving opportunities do exist. But, I believe we need to look deeper to find them. It's relatively simple to understand how a gift to a materially and spiritually poor nation can bring forth fruit, but it takes a little more digging in Europe. Even though (to your point Lee) most think European Christians have money, they really don't - most in France, for example, are low to lower middle class and only account for 0.7% of the population. And, of course, everything costs much more in Europe than in countries with other investment opportunities for the Gospel. These two things alone could deter individual giving.
But what about the influence that the EU has on the world? It is a major crossroads (France being one of the central locations with more Muslims and Jewish people that any other EU nation). In fact, if you imagine the world's countries as fixed structures (like bays into which the tide flows) and the tides are time and what they carry are generations of ideas and people, the tide went out from Europe with the Huguenots, the Reformation and seeded/fertilized many many nations. The past several centuries, we've been watching the tide roll in with atheism, communism, secular humanism, and, frankly, Islam. So what is going to happen to these people? What is God doing with them? How is He going to transform them to be a fresh wave of evangelists to the nations once again when the tide goes out?
I think this is where you have to look for strategic investments in Europe - where is the tide going and how do we target those areas that are going to be most influential when the tide rolls out? A simple example is Muslim evangelism where you have access to large groups of Arabs who can go back to their families' countries (potentially) more easily than European heritage believers. Could Europe send the first wave of Muslim Background Believers into the Middle East to evangelize? God knows the future, but in seeking him and diligently examining the various ministries, current events, and historical events, we can have a great picture of what God could be up to.
In fact, I'd argue that because Europe has the longest history with the Church apart from Israel, that in some aspects it may be easier in some aspects to discern what God may be doing and where opportunities are.. Just think of all we can observe even in the last century about how God (and Satan) has moved in Europe and where the battle lines are truly drawn.
Just some thoughts...
|Fred Smith||October 27, 2011, 7:08 pm|
|David - Try as they might, Christ the Tiger has not been tamed by the bureaucrats. Granted, they are good at taming, declawing, neutering, spaying and domesticating some other tigers in their world, they have failed and will always fail in the other. He's still prowling around just to make them frustrated. As to the needs in our own country you are right. Still, I don't think it is an either/or question. I think I am right in saying 95% (or more) of the resources of the Church in the US are still spent on the maintenance and programs of the US church. Very little of the whole amount goes outside the country. I think that is increasing but the increase is not making much of a dent in the whole. I know the President's policy of "lead from behind" is not particulary popular with some (especially in Texas) but I think it's a better way to approach missions in Europe. We don't need an "invasion" model. We need a silent partner model more often. The needs of our own country are not declining or going away and more churches need to be more aware of those local needs. I see some encouraging signs of that. You probably don't want to get me started on building programs, do you?|
|Lee Behar||October 27, 2011, 3:40 pm|
|Fred, I think this is great. Your four reasons are on target, though I have not personally experienced (or interacted with those who have articulated) reason #3. To me the reason that is at least important as these is that American donors think that Europeans have all the money they need. But as we learned during our trip, this is an overly simplistic and non-culture appreciating theory. US donors, even with small gifts, can make a huge difference in Europe.
Whether it was Smith who said “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice until everyone has had an opportunity to hear it at least once.” or not, I’ve always been frustrated by that view. While I can see it apply on an individual basis (and I don’t know the original context of the statement), it certainly cannot apply to Europe (or any other “reached” country) on the whole. That’s because it has been multiple generations since the majority of Europeans have ‘heard’ the gospel in a way they could understand it.
The question then comes to "access". It's said that Europeans have "access" to the gospel, so they don't need outside resources. Again, such a view is overly simplistic. It's only a technicality that Europeans have access to the gospel. The vast majority have no culturally relevant way of receiving the gospel. Most will never hear or (more importantly) see the biblical gospel in a practical way in their life times. They probably won't have a friend or a relative that can demonstrate the love of Christ to them.
Dozens of European ministries can use donations from US givers very strategically.
Thanks for your reflections, Fred. Keep them coming...
|David Galloway||October 27, 2011, 2:09 pm|
|Interesting thoughts, fresh, insightful....as usual.
As I read your thoughts about Europe and the notion of Mr. Smith from a presupposition as to the limited resources of time and energy, a pragmatism that is natively appealing to me, my thoughts turn toward home and the cultural captivity of the Gospel in our domestic setting. I am interested in hearing you and your friends reflect on the "mission field" abroad and the opportunities to serve in those "needy" countries. And yet, in our own land, God is used to bless and explain away our lifestyles and lack of justice. The image that echoes is of how Christ the Tiger has been tamed by religious bureaucrats into a house pet.
I look forward to hearing more insights, my friend.