When the Iron Curtain came down
Which regions of the world do you think of as mission fields? Africa? South-East Asia? Perhaps the ’10-40 window’? But what about the eastern half of Europe, that part of the world that used to be locked behind the Iron Curtain?
What do you know of God’s work there today? Eastern European families are now part of our diverse population in the UK, bringing with them a new culture, mindset and geographic background. And God is working among our eastern neighbours in ways that you may never have heard about.
The Iron Curtain collapsed more than 20 years ago, leaving a legacy of scepticism and insecurity. The subsequent rapid move to capitalism has left communities there struggling to become economically and socially settled; ‘Irena’s story’ (below) describes just one person’s experience.
During communist times, Christians in Eastern Europe were restricted and isolated. Some were supported by secret visits from western Christians, encouraging them in their faith and helping them to evangelise and disciple others around them.
When communism fell, local groups of believers developed small mission initiatives in their own areas. A few retained contacts with western believers, but there was virtually no support structure for wider mission activity. Despite this, God’s kingdom was to grow in amazing ways.
Recognising the value of connections and mutual support, several small mission groups, from various countries working in Eastern Europe, began to join together in a semi-formal relationship called Central Eurasian Partners (CEP).
Those friends and partners have developed and shared innovative ministry approaches, reaching people of their own culture and language in a way that would be virtually impossible for traditional western missionaries.
Today, they are seeing Eastern Europeans heading out as missionaries themselves to Central Asia (where there are some cultural and language similarities) and Africa (where there are few similarities).
CEP’s ministries range from Polish missionaries with a long-term presence in Central Asia, through innovative schools that reach out to non-believing families, to a huge arts festival that provides Christian counselling and witness to over 5000 people.
The smallest organisation, Parakletos, is a Christian husband and wife team with an influential counselling ministry in the Czech Republic (renowned as the most atheistic country in the EU). The largest partner, Integra, helps vulnerable individuals in several countries through micro-enterprise, small business and financial training courses.
Room for growth
CEP has become an effective support structure, but the missions are still mostly small ones with plenty of room to grow. God has worked wonderfully in these former communist lands and the Partner ministries are beginning to extend their partnership network into the West, into churches here in Britain.
These networks aren’t a one-way partnership, with ‘mission-sending countries’ sending to ‘the mission field’. They are partnerships between the church in countries with a long mission-sending tradition and workers in nearby countries who are developing a wide range of home-grown mission initiatives. They are partnerships with give-and-take, and mutual learning and benefit.
To formalise UK support for the existing network and enable new partnerships to be created, a British registered charity was formed in 2007, called Central Eurasian Partners UK. Churches and organisations in the UK can now easily share practical assistance and experience different ways of reaching lost people, joining in CEP’s ministry.
At a recent Partners network conference in Bratislava, workers and friends from Europe, Asia and the USA joined together. An onlooker from Britain, with experience of mission service in Africa, was intrigued to meet this group of godly men and women.
‘Entering Slovakia for the first time, I instantly appreciated and admired the leaders of these ministries, who work so passionately in the face of discouragements and financial hardships.
‘Here was a diverse group of people with one, easily identifiable, common characteristic: a readiness to sacrifice in order to play their part in the extension of God’s kingdom, despite testing and trying circumstances. It was evident that the partners were anxious to share their particular expertise with each other in practical ways as well as provide mutual support.
‘There was a gentle and gracious atmosphere throughout the weekend, despite the obvious differences in age, culture and backgrounds. I strongly commend this partnership to you for your prayers and support’.
There are many financial and practical needs, as you would expect, alongside fantastic opportunities for true partnership.
Why not take a tour to visit some of these ministries for yourself or have representatives from East Europe visit your church to inspire and challenge you?
Workers come to Britain regularly to look for partnerships with individuals, groups or churches. As a first step, visit the UK website www.cepartners.org.uk or send an email to [email protected]
Central Eurasian Partners