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Dispelling darkness in Europe

By Randy Hurst

Editor’s note: AGWM Communications Director Randy Hurst visited Continental Theological Seminary near Brussels, Belgium, after it received European registration from the Flemish government.

In Belgium, William Tyndale was strangled and then burned at the stake for translating the Bible to put God’s Word in the hands of the common people. Now Christian imagery abounds in Belgium, but only 3 people in 1,000 claim Christ as their Savior. The nation is economically wealthy but spiritually destitute.

The prevailing theme of the awe-inspiring art and architecture in Europe is religious — in fact, Christian. Majestic cathedrals and landmarks named after saints are clear but mute testimony to a vital Christian past.

The somber majesty of Prague, Czech Republic, is a vivid representation of most of Europe … a city of engaging and intricate beauty. A central feature of the city is a statue of John Hus, who was burned at the stake for his bold preaching. Czechs declared him a saint. The statue’s face appears to be looking over the city, its expression grave, even sorrowful. The mood is appropriate. Prague is estimated to be more than 90 percent atheist.

Lining Charles Bridge, which spans the Vltava River, are beautiful statues of Christ and saints, now covered with the black soot of many decades. The sights and sounds of people strolling on the bridge are affecting. Only a few smiles are seen and no laughter heard. The atmosphere is grand but dim and joyless, the faces inexpressive. Though surrounded by Christian symbols, those faces convey spiritual emptiness.

In Greece, marble columns on the Acropolis are evidence of a past civilization where a love of beauty and philosophy reigned. On Mars Hill the apostle Paul once proclaimed the gospel to people who worshipped the beauty of God’s creation but not the Creator himself. No epistle to the church at Athens is included in the New Testament. This proud civilization, vain in its imagination, considered the gospel foolishness. Its legacy is crumbling ruins. And modern Greece is in spiritual ruins.

Europe could essentially be termed post-Christian. More than 250,000 villages, towns and cities do not have a gospel witness. In 22 countries, fewer than 1 person in 100 is an evangelical Christian. In half of those countries, the ratio is less than 1 in 500.

Gregory Mundis, who gives leadership to Assemblies of God missions outreach in Europe, states, “American Christians vacation in Europe. They visit huge cathedrals and remember Reformation heroes. They enjoy the sights and sounds of the continent, but they are unaware of the silent cry of the broken, the addicted … the eternally lost.”

Thirty years ago, missionaries lamented over the continent’s growing indifference to the gospel. Revival fires kindled by Martin Luther, Charles Wesley and John Calvin had dimmed as materialism, pluralism and overall indifference seemed to continually gain ground.

In that spiritual climate, Assemblies of God missions leaders, led by Regional Director Charles Greenaway, sought to establish a school to train Christian workers. In 1969 they joined efforts with Emmanuel Bible Institute, a discipleship training school, and opened Continental Bible College in Brussels, Belgium. Soon 51 students from across Europe were enrolled in a four-year program of study.

During the next decade the school went through many changes as leaders sought suitable facilities for the growing enrollment. In 1979 the campus moved to Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, near Brussels. Course offerings expanded to include a master’s degree program. In 1991 the school was renamed Continental Theological Seminary.

Today some 120 students from more than 30 nations study at CTS. The faculty also represents a variety of nations and cultures.

“We have faculty from Belgium, Great Britain, the United States, Finland, Sweden, Canada and Ghana,” says missionary Roland Dudley, CTS president since 1995. “It’s a very diverse group, which is a tremendous benefit for students. Tongue in cheek, I often tell our students that they’re getting an education they’re not paying for because they are rubbing shoulders with the world every day.” 

Joseph Dimitrov, CTS vice president of education, says, “I have witnessed how God’s call for ministry and the exercise of faith for His sustenance and provision have been the two main factors that bring young people to CTS and a few years later lead them out to different corners of the harvest field.

“In our international setting God has demonstrated again and again His sovereignty over visa problems and financial difficulties. It is a wonderful opportunity for God to intervene and bring spiritual growth in the lives of the students.”

CTS alumni now serve in more than 70 countries. The majority of them work in missions or pastoral ministry. Several are presidents of Bible schools.

CTS offers a quality education and an enriching atmosphere, yet until last year it lacked one essential ingredient — government registration. Without it, students earned degrees that weren’t recognized by their homelands. This often hindered them in pursuing further education and various ministry opportunities since their degrees were not “official.”

For years CTS had sought a hearing with government officials, but the response was discouraging. One legal counsel replied that even other seminaries and colleges were not registered by the government. Why should CTS be any different?

Seminary leaders continued to pray and trust God for guidance. In His timing He orchestrated a series of events that can only be described as miraculous.

Key individuals of influence came alongside the seminary offering guidance and encouragement in the process.

“Official registration is not something that you can simply call an office and say, ‘Could you send me an application to fill out?’” Dudley says. “There seems to be no standardized procedure or structure to formalize the process.”

After various adaptations and revisions of their file, Dudley and Dimitrov finally were given a hearing before the Flemish minister of education. In late 2004, the proposal went before the Flemish Parliament.

But more hurdles lay ahead. During discussion, some unsettling questions were raised, and Parliament decided to table the file, citing the need for updated information.

Within three days, the requested documentation was supplied. Still, nearly a year passed before the matter appeared again on the Parliament agenda. This time, in November 2005, the matter was resolved. The Flemish government officially recognized CTS as an institute for higher education.

This recent development opens several new doors of opportunity.

“The impact of this is huge,” says Dudley. Generally speaking, European students attending recognized schools receive some type of educational assistance from their home countries. Official recognition also facilitates the issuing of visas for students living outside Belgium.

 “This is a great victory for the Pentecostal church in Europe,” says Dudley. “Students at CTS will now have an accredited education just as any other European university student.”

“CTS is a place where formal higher education meets a hunger for God’s touch upon the life of the individual,” adds Dimitrov. “A secularized continent like Europe needs spiritual leaders that complement knowledge with dependence upon the Holy Spirit.”

In the archival files on CTS, a report bears an eloquent, anonymous statement. One of the organizing missionaries said, “We must always remember that eternity is not placed into the hearts of men and women by piles of bricks and shelves of books, but by giving and sharing the life of Jesus Christ.”

The light of the gospel once beamed brightly from Europe to the world. Now Europe is shrouded in spiritual darkness. Though covered with a religious facade, the continent’s soul is spiritually decayed and offers no hope for today’s European. But the Holy Spirit is working, and the light of God’s truth is bringing life to the soul of Europe.

Before creation, God’s Spirit hovered over a dark void. Then … the Word was spoken and life began. Europe, the cradle of Western Christianity, is now spiritually dark and empty. But God’s Spirit is moving in this spiritually impoverished place. In the spiritual void of Europe, CTS is equipping students with the Word of God to dispel the darkness with the light and life of Christ’s message.

Randy Hurst is communications director for Assemblies of God World Missions.

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