Wow! I really had my handful this month! Europe is a large region, and while they aren't abundant missionaries I was able to locate a couple in most places and interview some of those. I was able to talk to people in Spain, France, Romania, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Italy & Croatia. While we have all heard these country names before, the truth is most people know very little about them and most definitely understand ministering there.
They all have their own unique differences but I have definitely found many common threads that run throughout Europe. Economies vary, some places will be extremely modern and educated while others are only attempting to catch up to the Europe First World norm. Croatia endured a brutal war with Yugoslavia in the 90s that they are still desperately trying to recover. Many are jobless and have left the country for work. And those that remain many times work and are never paid. In Bulgaria, there is a large gypsy population that the missionary works with there. Bulgaria is a poor country but the people work hard to appear that they have more. In Spain they love to party. In France they are very family oriented. Spending as much time with family, enjoying life and food.
None of the countries, save maybe Romania, are full of dedicated believers in any religious sector but all are deeply affected by their Historcial form of religion that weaves its threads of doubt, fear and feelings of spirituality throughout their hearts and minds. Most have claimed either Catholicism or Orthodox as the counties religion on paper, while most say Atheism is the religion of the day. In the Netherlands only 17% even claimed believing in God at all!
Another heart breaking statistic that they all have in common is that only 1% or less of all the countries follow Bible believing Christianity. What a great mission field! Every country is dealing with people that take years of sowing the gospel seed before they even consider taking a step of belief. In Spain, Mrs. Kaiser mentioned that Catholics in their area need to here the gospel 50 times to understand the gospel. Did you notice she said, understand the gospel not choose to believe the gospel. It can be so difficult for people from Biblical Christian backgrounds to even grasp this thought but it is definitely true. Those that have been inundated with false doctrine for years can be at a loss to understand the simplicity and the new truths that the gospel presents. They are truly perplexed by these new things that are so drastically different than everything they have heard from a child.
Try to think of a truth that you have believed since a child. Something that is commonly accepted by most everyone around you. Something that in your mind has been proven and is completely believable. Let's say the earth is round. Can you imagine a foreigner coming to your town and trying to convince you that it wasn't. It would take a lot of evidence and discussion for you to even consider such a thought and you would be highly skeptical. I recall years of witnessing in Asia, when you would share anything from the Bible people would just stare at you in perplexity; not indignant, not indifferent, not argumentative, just simply perplexed by these new words and thoughts. Now people in Europe may get a different attitude of response when they share the truth but the lack of understanding is the same.
What a great challenge to us Christians, worldwide, to be consistent faithful wittness' to those who need us to go the extra mile.
Isn't that the essence of Christianity. Someone who would care enough to consistently share the Love of Christ no matter whether it was accepted, understood or appreciated. Sometimes we are so quick to clear our conscience that we have tried once or twice to share the gospel with someone. However we are also so quick to forget how much was invested in our own salvation. Most accepted Christ after hearing the gospel many many times. Even if you were saved as a child, how many Bible stories did you hear from parents, how many Sunday schools did you attend and sermons did you listen to before accepting Christ!
I discussed with the ladies how long they generally had to witness to someone to see them come to salvation. The average numbers between all the countries was 5-10 years. You can see how the fight against discouragement would be strong. The fight for each soul is a mighty battle. It was mentioned multiple times to me that Europe is known as the "graveyard of missionaries" Many missionaries have lost the battle with discouragement. This a great reminder for us to faithfully lift up our missionaries in our prayers and allow the Lord to lead us in how we can encourage those who are seeking out the one lamb.
The Netherlands, Italy and Croatia rated in with the least amount of missionaries. The ladies said there would be between 11-20. While France, Spain and Romania claim to have between 20-50. Keep in mine there is at least 20-25 other countries in Europe that I wasn't even able to get in contact with. Most have very few missionaries serving there.
I asked the ladies what was one of their greatest struggles ministering where they are. The biggest response was dealing with the Catholic Church, Orthodox or Charismatics. Some of those situations are just getting the people to overcome the teachings of these religions but in Romania it is even a step beyond. The Romanian Orthodox clergy actively tells lies about the Baptist Churches. Trying to scare their people with crazy and immoral stories they have fabricated about the Baptist Church and telling them that the biggest sin is leaving the church. This is obviously an obstacle to overcome. Thankfully we know that we fight not against flesh and blood. The devil is the one that connives the plans to attack the church and hinder the spreading of the gospel. Thankfully we serve a God who is Omnipotent and can give victory over all.
The second most used answer about their biggest struggle was dealing with the apathy of the regligious and the atheistic. So many have become harden and calloused to anything religious and show no feeling towards things of Christ. It can be a definite battle witnessing consistently and getting very little response. If you see some spark of interest, it spurs you on to faithfully share the truth but when you are dismissed regularly it can cause all kinds of doubts and discouragement. I remember our first few years on the mission field, this was a perplexing topic in our hearts. Serving in heathen countries and countries over-run with false religion tests all you believe and your faith in the Bible.
Thankfully if you allow it, God will use this to further confirm and convince you of the truth of the Bible no matter where you find yourself in this world!
And the truth that the Lord concreted in my heart was the fact that,
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Heb. 4:12
When you doubt everything you see and everything you know, you can have faith in Gods Word. And when those around react to Gods word like they don't care, don't believe and wish you would just go away, you can count on this promise!
God IS working in their hearts!
Many times this may be the only thing that keeps missionaries going. Because faith in others, conversions nor joys of success will give you the same endurance as believing in Gods constant Omniscient working in EVERY SINGLE person's heart, including our own.
Also Mrs. Susan Abbot mentioned one struggle being the time it takes to make the relationships needed to witness to people in France. It takes a lot of time and patience to forge friendships with the French people. Which is one of the reasons people use so many different forms of outreach. Many of the ladies mentioned doing VBS, English classes, bible studies, tract distribution and camps as outreach in their areas. In Italy, Mrs. Rice, said they have a weekly booth in their market where they pass out tracts. In the Netherlands, street preaching is often done. Mrs. Susan Abbet in France said she has joined a craft club to meet some ladies and her children are involved in some sports teams, where they are able to meet and witness to other young people.
All of the missionaries I spoke to have either started a church where they are and seen some people saved or are working in a local church where they are. What a blessing to see that amidst all the difficulties these faithful servants and their families have seen victory in Christ in these challenging areas. Please continue to uplift them in prayer as they serve with their families in Europe. Pray for patience. Pray for wisdom. And also pray for national leadership. I was told by at least one lady that all the churches in the country were missionary led because of lack of male national leadership. It is a big need and a big prayer request.
Kessler children- Bulgaria