After 100 years, boldness for the Gospel brings results7/19/2012
By Kim P. Davis
RICHMOND, Va. (BP)—“Jesus, yes. Church, no,” is a common assertion heard in what has been termed “post-everything-Europe,” said Mark Edworthy, affinity global strategy leader for European peoples at IMB (International Mission Board).
“There is a spirituality, but the Gospel is rarely understood,” said Edworthy, who believes that the region’s history contributes to the reasons why Europeans don’t go to church. With the prevalent secular, atheistic or cultural-religious ideology, it is no wonder people are confused about the truth of Jesus Christ.
Although Western Europe has leaned toward secularism for a number of decades, it is a magnet for Muslim immigrants, whose religion quickly reduces the percentage of atheists and secularists and changes strategy for mission personnel and Great Commission partners. In post-communist Eastern Europe, secularism continues to emerge after an era when Christians had to prove their faith during severe persecution.
“The work is hard and slow among virtually every people group,” commented Edworthy, “but we’ve learned that right off the bat we must speak of our faith while also living out our faith.”
For more than 100 years, IMB personnel have been sharing Christ with European people groups. Two world wars and communism would hinder the work of God for decades, but when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, new opportunities opened to bring the Gospel to hundreds of people groups.
Today, more than 800 European people groups found all over the world are considered unreached (less than 2 percent of a people group population is evangelical Christian), and nearly 515 of these people groups are also unengaged (no church-planting methodology consistent with evangelical faith present among the people group). “Our major goal for the work with European peoples is that by God’s grace, all of the nearly 950 European people groups identified would be above 2 percent reached,” said Edworthy. “We pray continually for a new Reformation. Nothing short of a Great Awakening will stir Europeans again.”
Currently, about 600 IMB workers are directly engaging more than 60 European people groups. Edworthy continued, “It is a God-sized task for missionaries, nationals and other Great Commission partners to reach this goal of 2 percent.”
Recent progress has been made as a more intentional, even aggressive approach to evangelism is reaching Europeans. In Ufa, Russia, workers like Chris Carr are seeing that it takes more than drinking tea with people to introduce them to Christ. “There are very few Christians in Ufa,” explained Carr, “and it takes spending time with people, listening a lot, asking their opinion and being humble.”
Over the past four or five years, at least 100 people have become Jesus followers among these Russians. Carr believes that “God is raising up a new, missional passion with younger believers” to connect people to Christ. “This has not been an easy place for Western evangelicals, but since God is working here, He can work anywhere!” stated Carr.
A breakthrough for the Gospel also has come to Bulgaria among the Roma people group, where six people recently decided to follow Christ. In London, one missionary couple has seen a whole group of young people converted. In Spain, several new believers were baptized and a church has been formed.
Twenty-two years ago, Edworthy and his wife, Susie, were the first IMB missionaries appointed to Poland, where they planted the first IMB-initiated church in the former Soviet Union. His newly released book, The Wall that Remains, is a historical and riveting account of missionary work on the continent, primarily focusing on Eastern Europe.
“I want people to hear the stories of God’s faithfulness,” shared Edworthy, not only from the past 100 years, but of the present. “Ordinary folk, through simple obedience, have done (and are doing) some extraordinary things.” In his book, Edworthy writes, “We are more passionate than ever about starting churches, especially in unengaged, unreached people groups. It is a land filled with thousands of years of history where barriers to the Gospel still exist. But it is also a place where people groups are finding hope through the Gospel of Christ. It will take the power of God, desperate prayer and partnership to see God’s plan for the nations fulfilled.”
For more information about The Wall that Remains, go to imbresources.org.
Kim P. Davis is a former IMB missionary.