Europe’s lost generations
By Randy Hurst
Is it fair for young people to live and die in the shadow of
cathedrals, wearing crosses around their necks — symbols whose
significance they don’t even faintly understand? Young Europeans are surrounded
by Christian imagery, but they are far from a saving knowledge of Jesus. Some
of their ancestors several generations ago genuinely worshipped and served the
Savior, but that is not enough. Every new generation is potentially an
unreached people group.
Nowhere in the world is there more beautiful and abundant
Christian architecture and symbolism than in Europe. Majestic cathedrals and landmarks
named after saints are clear but mute testimonies to a vital Christian past.
Yet most of Europe is spiritually destitute.
The somber majesty of Prague, Czech Republic, is a vivid
representation of most of Europe. A central feature of the city is a statue of
John Hus, who was burned at the stake for his bold preaching. The statue’s face
appears to be looking over the city. Its expression is grave, even sorrowful.
The mood is appropriate. Prague is considered one of the most atheistic cities
in the world. Overall, Czech Republic is about 60 percent atheist.
Lining the Charles Bridge, which spans the Vltava River, are
beautiful statues of Christ and saints, now covered with the black soot of many
decades. Among the people strolling on the bridge, only a few smile and no one
laughs. The atmosphere is grand, but dim and joyless as inexpressive faces
convey a spiritual emptiness.
In Belgium, William Tyndale was strangled and then burned at
the stake for translating the Bible to put it 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
In Greece, marble columns on the Acropolis reflect 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. We find no epistle to the church at
Athens in the New Testament. This proud civilization, vain in their
imagination, considered the gospel foolishness. Its legacy is crumbling ruins.
Imagine the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with only
5,000 born-again Christians. That statistic describes Lyon, France’s second-largest
Think of the entire state of South Dakota with only 130
believers attending just three evangelical churches. That is equivalent to the country of Montenegro.
Europe is a tragic paradox — an empty appearance of
Christian symbolism that masks a reality of spiritual darkness.
More than 200,000 villages, towns and cities in Europe do
not have a gospel witness. In 22 of Europe’s 36 countries, less than 1 percent
are born-again Christians. In many countries, more than 98 percent of those who
walk the streets are headed for eternal damnation.
In the first century, the Church spread from Antioch to the
Gentile world. Today, ancient Antioch is Antakya, Turkey. Hardly a vestige of
Christian culture or evidence of spiritual life remains. The land of the seven
churches Jesus addressed in Revelation doesn’t exhibit church steeples.
Instead, sunlight glitters on minarets of Islam. Europe is quickly following
the same historical pattern.
Both Europe and the Middle East provoke the question: Does a
Christian past absolve the church of its responsibility to proclaim the gospel
to lost generations?
Two realities prefigure a totally changing Europe: a
drastically low birthrate among indigenous Europeans and a swelling flood of
Of the 20 nations with the lowest birthrates in the world,
18 are in Europe. In some city streets, more people can be seen walking dogs
than holding children’s hands.
About 27 million immigrants reside in the European Union.
Switzerland has the highest immigrant population in Europe, with 23 percent of
its 7.5 million residents foreign born. If Germany ceased to accept immigrants
today, by 2050 its working population would fall from 41 million to 26 million.
In Frankfurt, immigrants comprise about 30 percent of the population. The city
also has 27 mosques.
Europe now numbers some 18 million Muslims. Some 20 percent
of residents in Vienna, Austria, are Muslim. According to current estimates,
Europe will have a Muslim majority by 2100 if present trends continue.
Europe’s spiritual condition demands a fresh examination of
what we believe. What constitutes an “adequate witness” of Christ?
Missionary strategists grapple with defining when a
particular people group or nation is “reached,” “unreached” or the “least reached.”
In the past, a common way of expressing the plight of the unreached was to
state how many people in a particular part of the world had not yet heard the
name of Jesus. But hearing the name of Jesus is not an adequate witness.
Neither is mere proximity to the Christian message without a relevant
connection. A drowning man in a fog can be within a few yards of the shore and
die within its reach. Close but lost is still unreached. Europeans have been
exposed to just enough Christianity to virtually immunize them from an
effective gospel witness.
The pervasive spiritual darkness in Europe is gradually
being penetrated by increasing points of light. As candles are more visible in
a totally dark room, true believers in Europe stand out noticeably. The fact
that the gospel is proclaimed relatively sparingly in Europe makes it no less
powerful to save and transform lives.
Searching for truth
Within Europe’s spiritual darkness, God’s Spirit is moving
on hearts and using faithful believers in miraculous ways to rescue the lost.
When Veronica was a young girl, her parents occasionally
took her to a Catholic church. She believed in Jesus and even prayed to Him at
night, but eventually her parents stopped attending church. As a teenager,
Veronica had a relationship with a young man for several years. When they broke
up, a great emptiness overwhelmed her. She read books on Buddhism but found no
peace. She remembered that the only time she felt peace inside was when she
talked to Jesus as a young girl.
When she moved to Madrid, Spain, at 25, she brought her
father’s Bible with her and started reading it. After three months, she
realized that she was a sinner. On one of her worst days, she prayed and asked
God to send someone to teach her because she couldn’t find the truth. Later she
walked through Madrid’s central plaza, Puerta del Sol, which means “Sun Gate.”
A young woman named Maritza was standing on a box, playing a guitar and
singing. Veronica stayed and listened to the message preached by missionary
Jacob Bock. When he talked about judgment, Veronica was fearful.
After the message, a girl named Julia approached Veronica
and gave her a Gospel of Luke. Julia told her that God loved her and had
prepared her heart for Him. Veronica received Christ that day.
Veronica had such a hunger for the Word that within two
months she enrolled in a Bible school. Today, while attending Bible school, she
preaches with Jacob Bock and others at Puerta del Sol. God is using her to lead
people to Christ at the same place where she found Him more than a year ago.
Jovica (pronounced “Yoveetsa”) grew up in Serbia in a small
house with only one room and a kitchen. He and his parents and sister slept in
one bed, and his grandmother lived in the kitchen. Children made fun of him at
school because he was so poor. At 13, he started drinking, listening to
American heavy metal music, sniffing glue and using drugs. When desperate for
alcohol, he would physically beat his parents for money.
After 10 years, he left home and moved in with a friend. His
new roommate shared his interest in American heavy metal music and was also
dabbling in satanism. Oddly enough, his roommate had a Bible — something
Jovica had never seen.
One day, while lying in bed reading a comic book, Jovica
felt impressed to read the Bible he had seen in the closet. He remembers Jesus “coming
alive in front of his eyes.” He felt so sinful and hopeless. But when he came
to Mark 2:17, he read, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (NIV).
Through contact with an old friend, Jovica found a
Pentecostal church and soon received Christ as his Savior. God called him to
the ministry, and he attended the Bible school in Osijek, Croatia. After
graduation, he began helping a fellow graduate who was starting a work in
Montenegro. Jovica and his wife have been serving as missionaries to Montenegro
for nine years. The work is hard, but the joy of serving Christ is evident in
Jovica’s expression when he speaks of all that God is doing. He has great hopes
and vision for reaching multitudes in Montenegro.
I sat with Greg Mundis in a Teen Challenge women’s center in
Novi Sad, Serbia, as we talked with 10 young women who have been rescued from
heroin addiction. To hear their joyful testimonies of new life in Jesus —
after no less than three and as many as 10 years of bondage to drugs —
was moving. Each woman told how many years she was addicted to heroin, her
happiness and peace of now being free from drugs, and the love and acceptance
she has experienced from her new spiritual family.
Sasha, a former drug addict who founded the center, asked
Greg to share a few words. Greg told the girls how proud we are of what God has
helped them accomplish. Then he exhorted them, “When you’re finished with the
program and go back home, you will have some friends and family members who
will tell you that you’re the same person who left. Don’t believe them. You are
a new person in Christ. You have a totally new life ahead of you, and God has a
wonderful plan for you.”
As Greg spoke, I watched several of the girls wiping tears
from their cheeks. I contemplated what a great joy it always is to see a life
that, as the apostle Paul told the Colossians, has been rescued from the domain
of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).
As the women worshipped in the church service that evening,
their faces reflected their joy and fervent love for God. No one could imagine
the depth of pain and sadness from which they had been delivered.
Light is especially bright when shining after darkness, and
joy is nowhere as evident as where sorrow once overwhelmed the soul.
Darkness to light
In contrast to joyful youth in vibrant churches, the streets
and plazas of Europe’s cities teem with the desperately lost, ranging in
appearance from stylish to grungy. Each is searching — in a futile
attempt to find intellectual satisfaction, physical sensation, spiritual
enlightenment and ever-elusive personal peace.
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, its inner soul is decayed and offers no hope. But the Holy
Spirit is working, and God’s truth is bringing light to Europe’s dark soul.
In the context of eternity, Europe’s statistics, demographics
and trends are not the most critical issues. What really matters to God —
and should to us — is the eternal destiny of individual people.
Statistics represent real people — individual personalities — each
with hopes and dreams, pains and fears, belonging or loneliness. Each person
matters to God and is someone Jesus gave His life to redeem.
Since the Europe region was formed 10 years ago, many new
missionaries have answered the Spirit’s call to establish lights in the
darkness. The U.S. AG missionary force has grown from 283 to 478, and those
attending churches in our fraternal fellowships have grown from 1.1 million to
nearly 2.6 million. But the growing light in Europe is still shadowed by the
multiplied millions who remain lost and perishing — waiting for the only
true message of peace, hope and life everlasting.
Effectively communicating the gospel in Europe’s
post-Christian society requires a sovereign work of the Spirit, for which the
church must passionately and persistently pray. Only the all-wise Spirit of God
who sovereignly calls laborers into the harvest knows who is needed to reach a
In the history of Christian missions, God has always called
exceptional people to hard fields of labor — people who allowed the Spirit
to light a fire of passion within them for the lost. With determined
commitment, they were willing to pay the necessary price to see the lost
comprehend both the heavy cost of sin and the love and forgiveness of Christ.
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 largely spiritually dark and empty. But God’s Spirit is
moving, and His Word is being spoken. In the spiritual void of Europe, God is
bringing life again.
RANDY HURST is communications director for AG World
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