7.15 Debate on the mission to Europe
(From "Dagen", March 10,
"Evangelistic activity gets a new chance through EU"
Samuel S. Svensson
- The Asian missionary, Lars-Erik Wallhagen, brought up the question in Nya Dagen (Jan. 18) on EU's role with respect to missions, and invited responses from missionaries active in Europe. Without having been permanently stationed in a European country outside of Sweden's borders, I will draw upon my 25-year experience as a seminary leader for pastors and campaigns, and as a conference speaker in ten or more countries, and relate some of my experiences.
In an open and integrated Europe, I do not any longer need to worry about passports, visas, and previously time-consuming currency exchanges. The only time I need to even show a passport is upon my return into Sweden.
- During the last ten years, I have regularly visited a group of believers in the Slovak university town of Zilina, and have watched it grow from a house church to the country's now seventh largest pentecostal congregation. We have had campaigns in theaters, community buildings, movies theaters, and school buildings, and have seen people come to faith, become filled with the Spirit, and be healed. My suggestion that it is now time to build a church building has, however, fallen on deaf ears. "The authorities, who are dominated by the Catholic Church, would not allow such a thing," has been the reply. Five days before Wallhagen's article on the 18th of January, a letter came from Zilina. My good friend and pastor, whom I just wished a "Happy New Year", with new opportunities, told of how he had come directly from a conference in the country's capitol city, Bratislava, where he, together with other church leaders, met the country's president. The president declared a new era, an era of reconciliation, when all churches would enjoy the same rights.
The reason for this was their preparations for entrance into the EU, where any segregations were no longer possible. This, in its turn, gave rise to Pastor Stanislaw Gawel approaching new contacts among the authorities in Zilina in order to begin concrete preparations for church building.
- I have also experienced similar transformations in Spain, which I have occasionally visited ever since Franco's days. At that time, the number of evangelical Christians stood at around 25,000. Since Franco's death, and after their entrance into a free, democratic Europe, (EU), possibilities for outreaches have been created. Free Christian congregations and movements have been able to now build and occupy churches, and preach Christ out on the streets and squares. As a result, the number of evangelical Christians has increased to over 125,000.
- Greece joined the EU over 10 years ago. Before that time, evangelical congregations had difficulty building and occupying their own churches. Going out into streets and squares to evangelize was nearly impossible. Since that time, about 10 years ago, when I first got to visit that country to preach and lead Bible studies in the annual national pastor's conference in Thessalonica, I have seen remarkable changes. Former drug addicts, now delivered through salvation in Jesus Christ, can now travel around in teams and organize outdoor services in the major cities of Greece. In response, drug pushers come right out in the open and discard their white stuff, and request prayer for deliverance.
- Perhaps the EU has never been able to so concretely contribute to holding a country open as when the Orthodox Church pushed through an agreement with the Greek government several years ago. The agreement stated that every citizen who belonged to the Orthodox Church would have this indicated within their personal identification documents.
The intention was apparently to hinder non-orthodox citizens from entering universities, and from holding government offices. The Jewish espionage organization, Moussad, found out about the agreement, and leaked it to the American media. An EU-commissioner read about it, and thereafter issued an ultimatum to the Greek government: Either the agreement with the Orthodox Church be withdrawn, and the religious freedom of the EU be instituted, or Greece could leave the EU. As a result, the agreement was abolished, and religious freedom was insured.
It was wonderful to sit last September in the newly renovated pentecostal church in Thessalonica, and see young Greeks rejoice over the power of salvation, and a few days later to participate in the same thing in the new pentecostal church in Corinth. In Athens, the Pentecostal pastor and lawyer, George Patsaouras, could show one of the country's largest evangelical meeting halls, built as a culture house, with seating for 800 people. Altogether, it is as if the expression is fulfilled, "No limits can be placed on the people who fear God."
Now, Turkey desires entrance into the EU. For this to happen, however, they must acknowledge human rights, including religious freedom. This is in spite of how the former Turkish prime minister, Tansu Ciller, accused EU of being a "Christian club" (Svenska Dagbladet, Jan. 28, 2000). When arrested missions workers appeal to the EU, they are according to sources, as good as freed.
- In today's Europe, the borders have been opened for the Gospel to bring freedom to millions of people. In this freedom, which also includes liberty to take the Gospel across borders, to evangelize on streets and in the open squares, to form congregations, and to build churches, the EU has played a positive role, as far as I can see.