No. 2 May 2000

Dear friends,

Europe is a mission field. I dare say that weíre all familiar with this notion. Awareness of it has taken on an increasingly sharp focus in the last years. Take for instance the emphasis on "home mission" that emanated from the millennium celebrations of the founding of several European churches. Or take the recent reflections on the nature of the churchesí missionary vocation, undertaken by the Conference of European Churches. Consider also the oft-repeated stress by Pope John Paul II on the need for a re-evangelization of the continent, and the earnest attempts of churches and individuals in the former socialist countries to "fill the gap" in overt Christian witness. Look also at the huge increase in the number of evangelistic agencies and mission bodies that have targeted particular countries or population groups in Europe for their outreach!

Yes, Europe is a mission field. My own awareness of the need for a fresh encounter of the Gospel of Godís love in Christ with the peoples and cultures of Europe has grown enormously in the years Iíve been back here. I used to be one of those who shrugged their shoulders when going by huge church buildings that had been metamorphosed into warehouses or office buildings. Wasnít this inevitable (and perhaps even desirable) in a society "come of age"? After all, those splendid buildings had little to do with the living community of followers of Christ. Other means of expressing faith in the God of Jesus needed to be found.

Whatís more, in my Latin America days, I frankly admired Europeís foreign policy, which countered the interventionist policy of the United States. Knowing that Christians in Europe - even from their minority position - played a key role in influencing attitudes of respect and solidarity towards the region, I was quite sold on the idea that only a little leaven was sufficient for a whole loaf.

But Iíve changed my mind. Though itís always important to recall that proclamation of Godís Reign is to be done "out of weakness", it seems to me that the depth and extent of Europeís spiritual impoverishment call for an attitude adjustment, as they say. To what extent, I now ask myself, is the lack of compassion we feel for the hurting and the complacent in Europe a kind of acculturation of the faith to the individualism and social indifference of the surrounding society? Hasnít the time come to renew hope in the root story of Godís grace even for Europe? Hasnít the moment arrived to express new confidence in the "translatability" of that story into the imaginations and desires of the European people?

This issue of the Ecumenical Letter on Evangelism focuses on the challenges and possibilities of mission as evangelism in modern Europe. It does so, not in a prescriptive way, but by means of examples of present-day efforts to engage in a genuine, personalizing sharing of the good news of salvation. Taken together, these brief texts offer insight into some of the motivations and means of evangelization in Europe, and perhaps provide inspiration and challenge for ministries of spiritual renewal elsewhere. So, read on, and as always, feel free to write us your reactions or further reflections.

May I also draw your attention to the Mailbox section, which carries a few responses recently sent in by our readers? I think youíll find that the Mailbox extends our conversation.

Let me close here. Receive my best wishes for Godís blessings of joy and strength in your life and witness.

Paz y bien,

Rev. Ana Langerak
Executive Secretary
Mission and Evangelism


DID YOU SAY EVANGELISM?

The report that follows was sent in by Pastor Georges Quenon of the United Protestant Church of Belgium (UPCB). I had been intrigued by a short mention of the evangelistic witness of some congregations around LiŤge, in UPCBís news bulletin. How was it, I wondered, that "minority churches" in a secularized and pluralist country like Belgium, took on the challenge of outreach? I urged Pastor Quenon, one of the leaders of this ministry, to write more fully about it.

Dare we still talk about evangelism today? As Christians living in a secular, pluralistic society, the term is synonymous in our minds with proselytism, and relying on old-fashioned methods that no longer strike a chord in our societies. For our society rightly sees itself as open to inter-faith dialogue, pluralism and due respect for the convictions of all its citizens. But does this mean that the churches should abandon their calling to "make disciples", as Christ wished? Some think we have to put an end to all forms of proselytism, however "soft", and leave people to find their own way, following their own convictions, as the truth is no longer the prerogative of any one group or belief. The truth is plural, and in fact it would be more appropriate to speak of truths in the plural. Others still believe in the uniqueness of Christís mission and the salvation he came to bring us. They believe the church must be, in Christís words, "the salt of the earth... and the light of the world" (Matthew 5:13-16).

There is no doubt in my mind that the aspect of witness has to be part of our discipleship but, in our greatly altered societies, we obviously cannot continue to go about it as we did in the past. We have to go towards men and women and walk with them where they are, embodying the savour of the Gospel in our everyday lives, but not forgetting the side that challenges us and requires us to choose. This was the idea behind the campaign to increase awareness of the Gospel, which we recently organized in the LiŤge region.

For seven months, members of various Protestant churches have been going round the towns and countryside of the province distributing by hand 300,000 "reading packages" containing a Gospel, an illustrated magazine with testimonies from local people, a Bible correspondence course, and a reply coupon offering various items free of charge, such as a video cassette and books.

Apart from the thousand replies we have received, we have also drawn some interesting lessons about what a mission of this kind can contribute to the life of the churches, especially in the following areas:

Growing unity among the different churches
In organizing a campaign like this people are brought together round a project that is directed outwards towards others, and not inward on themselves and their own particular characteristics (which are often a source of conflict).

If the church rediscovers its missionary spirit it will be more attentive to that which unites it and which is at the core of its message. This campaign brought us all back into dialogue, which in turn made us realize that for years we had been misunderstanding and judging one another, creating prejudices and divisions that took us further and further away from the essentials.

Thanks to this dialogue we have been able to rediscover the other churches, and have learned to appreciate and forgive one another and break down the absurd and scandalous walls of division and preconceived ideas. We have learned to work together, sustaining a common project and managing it over an extended period of time.

The growing visibility of the Protestant churches
This campaign obliged us to respond to the questions and spiritual needs of people living in areas where there are no Protestant communities. Cells had to be set up and it is hoped these may give birth to new communities.

The press was also contacted; we organized press conferences and encouraged publicity through articles. All this, plus the mass distribution of reading material, enabled a large number of people to find out about the essentials of our Protestant confession and its message, and the possibility of making contact with the churches.

The church is taking its place in the city, it is moving outside of its own walls, and proving that it is useful and becoming the "church for others". In doing so, it is accomplishing its mission while at the same time re-discovering its own deeper identity and raison díÍtre.

Quantitative and qualitative growth
By qualitative growth I mean that each member becomes conscious of his or her calling and responsibilities. A campaign of this nature cannot be carried out by just a few; everyone has to be involved in the work, though not necessarily all in the same way. Some will give their time, others will be involved through prayer, yet others by material giving... they learn that the church is the concern of everyone and not just of the "specialists." In doing this work, many people come to realize that they lack skills in this or that area, which creates a need for training, which in turn leads to greater maturity for the church.

By quantitative growth I also mean adding new people to the existing churches, or the creation of new churches. As it grows in both these ways the church is cured and set free of its navel-gazing habits and the mistaken, hide-bound attitudes that result. It is also liberated from the comfortable drone of a theology directed exclusively inwards and addressed to "insiders". The churchís great raison díÍtre is all those people outside its walls.

In questioning itself the church is questioned When people from the outside, with no religious background, join the church communities, they bring with them their burdens, their questions and their needs. It is not enough then for the church simply to transmit a discourse; it has to get as close as possible to them in quite practical ways. Our faith has to be a "demonstration" of our proclamation of the Gospel; otherwise our proclamation serves nothing. The church must allow itself to be called into question concerning a way of acting that no longer corresponds to present-day reality. It has to restructure itself and be innovative and creative.

It must, for instance, equip itself with the means to respond to a wide variety of requests for help from people who are marginalized by society. Through providing social, psychological and educational support to such people, and by giving help to couples and families in need, the church demonstrates the very love of God that it proclaims.

Once more the church becomes a witness to Godís action
As it goes towards others and meets them in their need, the church rapidly becomes conscious of its own powerlessness and weakness. And then it turns to God, calling upon him for divine power and aid. In so doing it rediscovers the spiritual dimension, which gave strength to Elijah when he spoke to the widow of Sarepta, or to Jesus at Lazarusí tomb, or again to Peter and John before the paralyzed man who called out to them at the temple gate.

The church regains its spiritual energy in prayer and spiritual struggle, and new horizons are opened up for it. Then the church once again becomes a place of unexpected answers, of miracles; a place where God is at work.

Yes, the church still has a place in society, a place that it alone can occupy, because it is through the church that Christ wants to speak and act so that his love may be shown and poured out in the lives of our contemporaries.


STARTING AFRESH - CHRISTIANS INVITE YOU FOR A TALK

The example below describes a missionary project in East Germany. It was submitted by Rev. Hans Zinnow, of the Federation of Mission Services, in Berlin, Germany. Mr Zinnow had written to us in response to the report on the vitality of evangelistic witness in Cuba (ELE, July 1999). His letter to that effect is quoted in the Mailbox, and his description there of the context of this effort is well worth reading.

First, a few details about how our missionary project is organized:

  • We take the phone book and ring up everyone living in a particular town or district;
  • We ask them if they would like to receive a free paperback in which Christians in our town talk about their faith;
  • We phone those who ask to receive it again after two weeks and give them an invitation to five discussion sessions about matters of life and faith;
  • This missionary outreach is concluded with a worship service.

    Conviction 1: Letís stop talking in public about money and job cuts
    Those are subjects for "internal usage" only in the church! Other people suffer from these problems much more than we do.
    Let us get back to the task given us by Jesus Christ, that is, to go into all the world and call people in Jesusí name to be his disciples.
    Let us speak positively about our faith in God. We cannot let representatives of sects to be the first contacts that secularized people find to talk to.

    Conviction 2: Letís give people in our country a chance
    Let us give them the chance to "start afresh" with faith in God.
    Let us give them the chance to start with faith in God for the very first time.
    "Starting afresh" does not mean "catching converts". The point is for Christians to invite people for a conversation.

    Conviction 3: Letís give our church a chance to start afresh
    We ourselves will benefit greatly from getting involved in conversation with the people of our town. Christians and church workers, and the church itself, will be changed by the experience and be able to "start afresh".

    Some questions: We say, "Christians invite you for a talk"
    Is that what we want?
    Dare we get involved in a dialogue?
    Are we capable of sustaining a conversation, or will we first have to learn how?
    Are we capable of articulating our faith in conversation with others?
    Will we talk about what is in our hearts, or will we be too shy?
    Will we be ready to open ourselves and our homes for an encounter?
    Are we welcoming so that strangers are encouraged to visit us?
    Will we enter into the questions asked by others?

    Implication 1: "Starting afresh" means hard work, so many hesitations are expressed beforehand
    Are they hesitations or are they fears? Folk tend to say:
    We donít have enough people ready to take part
    We donít have the necessary funds
    We donít have the time. We can hardly cope with our regular tasks, as it is.

    Implication 2: "Starting afresh... Christians invite you for a talk" will succeed if...
    everybody is ready to get involved;
    there is the willingness for ecumenical fellowship;
    the existing activities of local congregations are integrated into the project.

    Implication 3: What is to be gained from "starting afresh"?
    Those involved gain a new experience of the faith through ecumenical cooperation.
    The encounter with strangers gives those taking part a new ability to engage in person to person discussion.
    The church gains new acceptance in the region because it is seen to be facing up to current issues.
    The taboo against talking about faith is broken.

    Communication principle 1: "Starting afresh" begins with communication within the church
    This begins with reaching agreement about the goals of the action.
    Joint planning brings together different people and a variety of talents.
    Before we attempt to make the move towards others, we engage jointly in training for the common task.

    Communication principle 2: "Starting afresh" uses a variety of media to succeed
    Press, radio and television are invited.
    An ecumenical opening service sets a sign.
    The telephone is used for contacting people in the town.
    Anyone who expresses interest receives a paperback written by Christians from the town.
    Five small group discussion sessions are offered.
    The project ends with an ecumenical closing service.
    Further possibilities are offered for those who are interested.

    Overcoming hesitation: People often ask, "What will come out of it?"
    Once the work is done we shall see the fruits of it.
    Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
    Only those who have the courage to make a start will eventually be amazed at the results.
    After the project is completed many people say:
    "If only we had known how much joy we would derive from 'starting afresh', and how much we would all gain from it, we would have started far sooner!"


    CARING FOR SPIRITUAL RENEWAL IN GREECE

    In February, I visited the Archbishopric of Athens, intent on talking with two persons who are deeply involved in ministries aimed at the renewal of faith among nominal Orthodox Christians, particularly young people. It was a privilege for me to converse about this subject with Father Antoine Kalligeris, Director of the Archdiocese Youth Office, and his Assistant, Mr Manos Koumbarelis. The article that follows is based on our discussions.
    Ana Langerak

    After being welcomed to the small, simple space that functions as the Archdiocese Youth Office, I sit at a table with Fr Antoine Kalligeris, Director, and his young Assistant, Mr Manos Koumbarelis. Father Antoine, who looks more like a basketball player than a church executive, is a married priest. He and his wife have three children. The reason why this man was selected for his post is immediately obvious; Father Antoine has a great deal of experience in working with young people, and he is deeply concerned about their needs.

    "The challenges facing us are immense," he says. "While we could say that 91% of the population considers itself Orthodox, the majority do not have a living faith in their hearts. As in other countries, our society is undergoing rapid secularization, and many 'gods' compete for attention, especially that of the young. Consumerism and economic power hold out a tremendous appeal to them."

    "In the face of this, consider the out-dated way we, as a Church, are structured," he continues. "Our parishes are too big, too impersonal. Some, in Athens, have up to 200,000 people. For spiritual renewal, we need smaller structures; weíve got to encourage the coming together of people in smaller groups."

    Manos expands on the subject. This personable young man, who acts as Assistant to the Director, plays an important role in organizing the work of the Youth Office. "In Greece weíre at a point where the societies of Western Europe were 30-40 years ago. While most of our people are content to regard the Church as 'being there', theyíre actually in transit to becoming indifferent. Television is now the number one teacher. It has replaced the schools, and formal learning -especially about religion and faith- is less important than ever. Maybe theological ignorance is our biggest challenge."

    Telephones ring and computers and printers click and drone while visitors pop in and out of the busy office. My hosts tell me about a national survey that was done among young people. The survey had asked youth to rate such things as peace, human rights, safeguarding of the environment, etc. on a scale of value. Surprisingly, 5% chose "Orthodoxy" as a first value. "This means," explains Father Antoine, "that 5% of the youth are satisfied with what we have to offer as a Church but, while we should serve this sector, we really need to be ministering to the broader group."

    "What about the Internet Cafť that has been set up through the encouragement of Archbishop Christodoulos, and what about the Archbishopís suggestion that the liturgy might be shortened, so that the young may feel more at ease?" I ask, adding, "Are these part of a plan or strategy?" (I recognize the "western tone" of this question). Manos smiles. As President of Syndesmos, the world fellowship of Orthodox youth, he is familiar with this kind of thinking. "No, we donít have a strategy. In fact weíre not at all systematic. Weíre in the midst of a changing context here, and weíre trying to respond as best as we can."

    For all their downplaying of a systematic approach, the deliberate efforts towards spiritual renewal by the Greek Archdiocese are quite evident. Take the work of the Youth Office alone. With the Archbishopís blessing, it has set for itself an ambitious programme of faith revitalization in the Greek Archdiocese, that includes seeking the designation of one priest per parish for youth work, the holding of regular up-dating meetings with these "youth priests", the organization of twice yearly gatherings of university students, and intensive training of chatecists (some 600 persons, mostly below 35 years of age). In a related project, the Office worked on a revision of teachersí editions of religious education books, because it was found that more basic religious knowledge needed to be given.

    Manos and Father Antoine read off statistics from last yearís report of the Youth Office, while they explain the importance of the Churchís initiative to open youth centers in as many places as possible. As the name suggests, these centers are spaces, created in church buildings or elsewhere in the neighborhood, where youth can meet to join in meaningful activities with others, and find practical responses to a range of social, educational, esthetic, and spiritual concerns. I saw one such center later, on my exposure visit. Volunteer lay people staff it almost entirely, and it seems to run exceedingly well. With the positive response by youth to options like choir singing, crafts, sports, traditional dance, iconography, and to support in subjects like science, mathematics, and languages, itís easy to see why the creation of youth centers is one of the main focal points of youth ministry.

    Coming back from a "time-out" to chat with a visiting priest, Manos describes how the Archdiocese tries to convey the message that God and faith actually relate to all of life. For this, it uses traditional Orthodox practices as well as new approaches. Bridging the gap between faith as celebrated in the Church and secular school life, the Archbishop blesses the school year, visits individual schools, addresses teachers on special occasions, and donates books. In addition, the Youth Office actively encourages parish priests to build good relations with schoolteachers, and to act as teachers of subjects they master. "It is important to show young people that we care," Manos tells me.

    The subject now turns to the wider society. Fr Antoine and Manos indicate that the Internet Cafť and the creation of a Church web page are ways of going public. The Church also tries to sustain good relations with the professional, academic and scientific communities. Itís also involved in the formation of theatre groups, and it even promotes athletic competitions and championships, with the hope of conveying Gospel values in these areas as well. "One thing we need to be careful of, is not to replace normal social structures," they point out. Take sports. "Whatís specific about our involvement in sports, if not to teach, for example, that Ďfair playí is a necessary outcome of our conviction that Godís image is to be seen in each of our opponents and team mates?"

    My impression that one of the principal ways in which the Church tries to bring Gospel perspectives to bear on contemporary Greek society is through the role of Archbishop Christodoulos himself, is borne out by the Youth Office staff. "Heís a highly visible person," they say, "extremely popular with the people, and unafraid to give his opinion on issues that concern the country." Manos goes on to tell me that the Archbishop spoke out about NATOís involvement in the former Yugoslavia, and gave his opinion on Greeceís entry to the European Union. "Unlike politicians, he can risk to speak out. Heís criticized by the intellectuals, but ordinary people feel he speaks for them."

    Father Antoineís young niece comes to join us for lunch, and I steer the conversation to the personal dimension of faith. In a context where modernity and tradition intersect as dynamically as in Greece, it is not uncommon for people, as individuals, to discover or rediscover the faith as something "new", like coming upon a beautiful mosaic in an old house. "This happens when they encounter authenticity," remarks the Priest. Manos says that people like the (Orthodox) Tradition when itís authentic, adding facetiously that some things that pass for "Tradition" are just habits that need to be critiqued.

    The language used in the liturgy is an issue. It dates from the Fourth Century, and is no longer understood. On the other hand, the whole tradition of "spiritual fathers", monks who give guidance and provide for confession, is regaining popularity. This seems to respond to the modern psyche, but Father Antoine and Manos wonder what this rekindled interest in "spiritual fathers" means in the long run. "What about developing a sense of personal Christian responsibility towards others? If instead what we have is an individual spirituality and a new dependence, then itís not so good."

    As evening falls, I make a round of visits: to an Orthodox symposium at the University, a parish youth center, and a Church-owned radio station. The dust and noise of Athens begin to subside when I return to my hotel, my head full of impressions from this "immersion". What I had seen and heard about the deepening of faith was a fascinating juxtaposition of elements ancient and modern, traditional and innovative, enthusiastic and subdued. Caring for spiritual renewal in modern day Greece, as the Archdiocese Youth Office tries to do, is neither a sensational nor insignificant matter. It involves vision, hard work, and a sense of faithfulness to Godís mission. Hadnít Manos said, "Weíre not saving the world here, all weíre doing is to respond with faithfulness to what's happening?"


    From the Mailbox
    Mabuhay from the Philippines! Iím with the Committee on Iglesia Filipina Independiente Schools and a missionary priest for Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte. The Ecumenical Letter surely helps us in discerning and witnessing to the Gospel.More power for this shared mission with God!

    Rev. Perla Cajote
    Siayan, The Philippines


    I have been greatly touched by the story, "Proclaiming Christ is not Easy", by Noel Villalba. The story reminded me of a similar situation I witnessed as I traveled from Serenje to Kabwe, both Zambian towns. Even though many passengers were interested in the preacher at the beginning, nobody paid any attention to him later because of the bad language he started to use against unbelievers.

    Mr Clen Penjani Ngandu
    Serenje, Zambia


    I was deeply moved by the report on Cuba, by Ms Suecia Mťndez. As someone who lived through the entire span of life of the German Democratic Republic, I could really identify with the experience of Christians in Cuba. I can hardly imagine, however, that Erich Honecker would have come to a Kirchentag! In the re-united Germany we have to admit sadly, that what restricts people is capitalism. People are fascinated by money in such a way that they loose sight of God and the church, even though there is absolutely no "danger" in expressing faith publicly. Would you be interested in our mission project, "Starting Afresh-Christians Invite you for a Talk"?

    Rev. Hans Zinnow
    Berlin, Germany


    I was thrilled to read the September 1999 issue with its report on Cuba. Since 1985 Iíve been to Cuba four times to work in various capacities with the Christian Reformed Churches, and Iíve also contributed articles about Cuba to our own church press. I was pleased with the honesty of the report - or at least I can say that I share the authorís assessment.

    Rev. Jim Dekker
    Thunder Bay, Canada


    I just read your dream about evangelism in the new millennium and I was impressed with how it was fanciful and real at the same time. It makes you want to ask, "why not?", and work and pray for all the possibilities.

    Ms Birgitta Amweg
    Stockholm, Sweden


    I wanted to say how enormously grateful I was for your January 2000 Letter on Evangelism. Quite the most inspiring vision on this subject that Iíve seen for some time. A real gift. Iíd very much like to reproduce excerpts (with full credits) in a future issue of Connections, and to circulate the full text to our regional Forums.

    Mr Simon Barrow
    London, UK

    Editorís note: Mr Simon Barrow is the new Secretary of the Churchesí Commission on Mission, of the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.



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