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‘No shortcuts’ to European evangelism

When the Iron Curtain came down, people in the former Soviet Union waited in long lines for Bibles — and Big Macs. “They were interested in everything, including western Christianity and the Bible,” said Chris Lovingood, a missionary in Kiev, Ukraine. “But it wasn’t a particular interest in things spiritual. It was interest in things … formerly forbidden.” That interest “peaked early in the former Soviet Union,” said Eileen Emch, missionary in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. “We wish it would have remained at the peak. McDonald’s probably wishes the same.”

RobBrowne, missionary in Novosibirsk, Russia, said a minister in a small Siberian towntold him his church feels forgotten by its U.S. supporters.

“Thatwas a painful thing to hear,” Browne said. “If mission leaders in the U.S. are not working with church leaders in Russia tocreate new models of engagement and outreach, then our Russian leaders willshrivel up and die on the vine.”

Whenmembers of the Northeast church in Taylors, S.C., traveled to Lugansk, Ukraine, in1994, they found people “hungry for something that would offer hope,” saidmissions leader Bob Perkins.

Adozen years later, the people of Lugansk are more cautious about outsidersoffering the gospel. “We have heard stories of some groups coming and …promising great things but never returning,” Perkins said.

ManyU.S. churches seem hesitantto support new works in Eastern Europe, said Dwight Whitsett, a dean ofministry training for Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas.

“Thismay be a problem of churches being stung once too often,” he said. “Thathappens when we send poorly trained and immature families to difficult fieldsand then expect them to produce. When they return home, broken and bleeding …it puts us off doing more missions.”

Missionsin Eastern Europe should “not attempt to replicate models successful in Africaor South America,” Lovingood said.

SuccessfulEuropean missions require “credible, lived-out faith, demonstrated over time,”Browne said, adding that Europeans largely have rejected the “hear a lecture ofour choosing, set up a Bible study, join a church” model practiced by manychurches after the Iron Curtain fell.

“Ageneration or more of soil tilling needs to occur before the widespread resultswe saw in the early 1990s can hope to be repeated,” Browne said.

“Thereare no shortcuts to bringing Christ to an entire nation.”

April 1, 2006

Filed under: International

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