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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Europe: It’s Not What You Think

By Greg Mundis
April 3, 2011

In the past two decades, the European Union has attracted 26 million immigrants — 30 percent more than America’s 20 million over the same time span (“The Incredible Shrinking Continent” by Stefan Theil, Newsweek, Feb. 19, 2010). Europe’s Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 30 years and is estimated to double again by 2015 (“Muslim Europe: The demographic time bomb transforming our continent” by Adrian Michaels, The Telegraph, Aug. 8, 2009).

Over the last 30 years, a new phenomenon has taken place. In increasing numbers, people from around the world have immigrated to Europe in search of a better life. At an ever-accelerating rate, Europe is becoming a mixed bag of cultures and religions, and the process shows no signs of slowing.

Challenges and opportunities
My wife, Sandie, and I lived in Austria for some 18 years — five in Salzburg and 13 in Vienna. When we arrived in Vienna in 1984, it was still a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon city, but a change was already in process. Huge numbers of immigrant laborers, called “guest workers,” were coming to the city from many different places. One of the reasons Vienna Christian Center, an international church, started in 1988 was to reach out to this new community.

Europe had been attracting guest workers since the economic boom of the 1960s. The first wave came primarily from Southeastern Europe, but successive migrations drew people from Northern Africa and Asia. By the time Sandie and I left Austria in 1998, Vienna had a huge immigrant population, the largest percentage being Muslim.

On the surface, European governments proclaimed their tolerance of immigrants and their commitment to integrate and accept them. But over time that tolerance has been tested and at times reversed in the wake of political and cultural differences that have sparked religious and ethnic violence.

Immigrants now number roughly 10 percent of the population in France and about 6 percent in Germany. An estimated 4 million immigrants live in the United Kingdom, and 6 million live in Italy. In major cities like Vienna, about 20 percent of the population is non-European. And their numbers are increasing. One study reported that immigration accounted for nearly 85 percent of the population growth in countries belonging to the European Union.

Of these new residents, the majority are from non-Christian backgrounds. Since the evangelical population in Europe is less than 3 percent, believers face an ever-increasing challenge to reach people with the gospel.

About 10 years ago, God drew the attention of our Europe Region missions leadership to the continents changing demographics. Since then we have been working with our European church partners to alert and challenge believers about the opportunities before us. Many of Europe’s newest residents come from countries where the gospel is unknown. In some of these areas, possessing a Bible is discouraged and even prohibited. By working together, followers of Christ can bear fruit among populations that previously had no access to the message of salvation.

Ironically, one specific segment of the immigrant population is giving European believers the help and encouragement they need to take on the challenge at hand. Many immigrants to Europe come from Africa and Latin America — two areas of the world that are experiencing revival. As a result, Pentecostal believers from these regions are coming to Europe and establishing churches. Through the impact of their witness, the church in Europe is growing.

When I pastored Vienna Christian Center, a large segment of Africans attended. Every Friday they held an all-night prayer meeting. I regularly heard this group pleading that God would save Austrians. There I was, a white American pastor in Europe listening to African believers pray that God would bring Austrians to Christ. I am convinced that in the spiritual realm those prayers have shot holes through the grip of evil over Europe.

The German church has recognized this partnership opportunity and has reached out to the African community. Similar cooperation is evident in France, Spain and the Netherlands. With this growing recognition of partnership opportunities, church leaders have organized seminars and conferences aimed at better cooperation. In partnership with Pentecostal immigrants, the European Fellowship is stepping forward to usher in a mighty work of the Spirit across the continent.

When you meet Said and Fatima, you cannot help but be struck by their passion for the lost. Their desire is to reach out to fellow North Africans (particularly Moroccans).

“At a very young age, I was confronted with the emptiness and dryness of my religion,” Said explains.

At the ministry center Said and Fatima established in downtown Paris, they create a safe and comfortable Moroccan-style environment. This helps them connect Muslims and Christians so the gospel can be presented in a nonthreatening atmosphere.

Said has a second “bridge-building” goal: to provide every imam (Islamic leader) in France with a Bible. Fatima shares Said’s vision and is a dynamic ministry partner in every facet of their outreach. With about 2,500 mosques in France, this is no small task.

I have sat with Said and watched his face light up as he talks about his journey to Christ, his personal salvation, and how God continues to lead him and Fatima through new open doors.

“It’s not that I was a Muslim that I automatically chose to work among Muslims,” explains Said. “God gave me the burden and a love in my heart for them. In my heart I wouldn’t have minded to work among the white people or even among Eskimos, but not among Muslims. Through all of God’s work in my heart, the Lord has given me a heavy burden for Muslims.”

Said and Fatima’s passion for France and its people is an encouragement to the established church. Their influence has challenged congregations to develop their own vision to reach the immigrant community.

Spain has a long history with North Africa. The tip of the African continent is only about nine miles from mainland Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar. Because of such close proximity, Spain serves as a gateway for African immigrants seeking a better life in Europe.

Mark and Ellen Cannon have teamed up with many churches in Spain to reach the nation’s immigrant population. Their current focus of ministry is a section of downtown Madrid where people from North and West Africa and as far away as Bangladesh have settled. In Lavapies, the Cannons opened a ministry center and are reaching out with compassion and education opportunities. They are building bridges not only to the immigrant community, but also to fellow Pentecostal believers.

The Cannons’ ministry is serving as an example to churches that have struggled with a mission plan for immigrants. Through their manner and their message, Mark and Ellen are breaking the barriers of fear and stereotypes. They get to know their neighbors and engage them in conversations. They show people that they care about their needs. As a result, they are making an impact that is challenging the church in Spain and inspiring believers to get involved.

Binoy is a passionate young man committed to reaching Indians with the gospel. Since he migrated from India to the United Kingdom, he is especially equipped to reach out to the Indian community there. He can bridge cultural divides and present the gospel in ways that others from Southern Asia can understand.

In his friendly, compassionate manner, Binoy goes into Indian shops and visits homes, looking for any opportunity to be with people. When he leaves, he asks, “Is there anything I can pray with you about?” Few people refuse his invitation.

The equal importance and participation of women in Binoy’s ministry is greatly encouraged. “In Indian culture, women are usually housewives. But here in the U.K., we have integrated men and women equally to share the gospel and use them for the ministry.”

Over the past four years, Binoy has established 14 congregations in the U.K. Each congregation is expected to create cell groups and reproduce. To promote continued growth, these congregations join together in conferences for fellowship and discipleship. Bringing everyone together helps them understand that there are hundreds of believers just like them.

Binoy’s passion to disciple Indian believers has resulted in a cooperative effort with Assemblies of God personnel in a leadership training program called Victory Mission Academy.

Servant leaders
Jim and Eloise Neely direct the AG Europe Region’s outreach to culturally diverse communities. Their ministry background has uniquely prepared them for this task.

The Neelys worked in Iran in the 1970s during a time of government revolution. They moved to Lebanon in 1980 and again experienced war and upheaval. Much of their ministry has been spent reaching out to those in need. Their experience and understanding of other cultures has uniquely gifted them to minister to those whose lives are in turmoil.

As our AGWM Europe leadership grappled with the growth of immigration across Europe, a strategy began to take shape. We recognized that God had uniquely qualified Jim and Eloise for this new challenge. They understand Islamic culture and can relate to the struggles immigrants face. It is a joy to see how God has raised them up in this new enterprise of the Assemblies of God in Europe.

Jim and Eloise are held in high regard by both indigenous and immigrant communities in Europe. With servant hearts they equip, help and stand alongside national ministries so spiritual battles can be won.

A new day
I’m glad God gives us revelation that surpasses our feeble attempts to fix problems on our own. Government responses to immigration, such as economic and social planning, will always fall short of the Holy Spirit’s divine guidance of the Church.

God sets people and events in order. As He draws together events and trends, He brings us to a point where we can see what He is doing through eyes of faith.

When Europe was made a distinct region of AGWM in 1998, I believe God was setting a greater plan into motion. The Berlin Wall had fallen, and religious freedom was expanding in Eastern Europe. In His foreknowledge, God knew that people from around the world were about to swell this region, and we needed to be ready.

Even today God is positioning us to meet the ongoing challenge. He is calling us to share the gospel with people from every conceivable background. The core of the Great Commission is that every ethnic group must hear the gospel. This includes both Europeans and immigrants.

Europe has a history of Christendom, but not Christianity. Europeans are longing for a clear presentation of the gospel of Christ. They are not interested in hearing the message of a church or institution or liturgy. They want to hear that Christ can forgive them of their sins, save them, fill them and give their lives meaning. They want to connect with the God who can restore their marriages, heal their bodies and give them purpose. Europe needs more than a reformation. It needs a spiritual revolution.

Likewise, Europe’s immigrants long for hope and purpose in their lives. They come from gospel-resistant countries and cultures, and their spiritual needs are the same as all people. They need salvation through Christ and the hope of eternal life. We have a golden opportunity to share this message with them openly. As we partner with the evangelical church in Europe, we believe God will produce a harvest that is beyond anything we have envisioned.

GREG MUNDIS serves as regional director for Europe for AG World Missions.

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