Commercial and bureaucratic hindrances collided with an uncontrollable reality: the faith of many players.
A recent EBF Mission Partnership conference in Georgia sought to ‘encourage, and inspire in ministry’ a group of indigenous church planters from Eastern Europe.
The purpose of the European Baptist Federation (EBF) “is to strengthen and draw together Baptists in Europe and the Middle East on the basis of their Christian witness and distinctive convictions, to encourage and inspire them in faith and fellowship and shared responsibility, and to seek in all its endeavours to fulfil the will of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour.”
It stretches from Portugal to Eastern Russia, and includes Baptists in Eurasia and the Middle and Near East.
Fulfilling its purpose, a recent EBF Mission Partnership conference in Georgia sought to ‘encourage, and inspire in ministry’ a group of indigenous church planters from Eastern Europe.
The following are highlights of some of their work around the region.
Kaspars Sterns, the mission director in the Baptist Union of Latvia talked about the new vision being implemented in this union which aims at the planting of gospel centred, multipliable and missional churches.
While discipleship should result in church planting and everyone can be involved in this work, not everyone can be a church planter. They have therefore developed an assessment tool to help identify the right person to church plant.
The tool covers several areas: the character and calling from God that is confirmed by other people (in case of a marriage both spouses must agree), knowledge and competence in church planting, vision casting (good vision attracts people) and team building (equipping leaders), emotional intelligence (how to deal with a crisis) and overcoming obstacles.
The training for church planting in Latvia is provided through M4 Learning Communities, which are already running in several countries of Europe: Norway, Latvia, Estonia, Czech Rep and Romania and is currently being introduced to Poland and Russia.
Oskars works in Oleine, a dormitory town for Riga. Oskars concentrates on building relationships with people and leads seminars for married couples as well as children’s summer camps.
The group organizes a service once a month in a culture house and a Bible study twice a month in private homes. They also do regular evenings for men and occasionally the family weekends.
Nauris works in Roja on the Latvian coast. There are 6 members of the mission team and the vision is to establish a Baptist congregation by 2020. The first steps in church planting work have been: research, building relationships and influencing locals.
The research has shown that a new church is needed and the team started to build relationships with local people through running a meat shop and participating in the town festivals.
They influence others mainly by Christian values: family, mission, service etc. The Latvian church planters reach out mainly to the secularized people.
Hagop is an Armenian Kurd from Aleppo, Syria, who has fled from the war and now lives in Yerevan. In Aleppo he led a Christian ministry and many people became Christians.
But the war badly affected this work and people began emigrating to Armenia, Lebanon or Western Europe. Now the borders are closed and he is leading a similar ministry among Syrian migrants in Yerevan.
Tengiz is a Yezidi that works with 13 Yezidi families in his home but the needs are much greater as there are at least 60 thousand Yezidi people living in Armenia.
Vasily has been leading a church plant for the past 2 years. The vision to start a new congregation has been born in the traditional Baptist Church “Hope” which understands the need to multiply congregations as the Baptists in Western Belarus are scarce.
There are at least 50 people involved in this work, most of them young and full of positive spiritual energy.
Giorgi was appointed 2 years ago to lead a church plant with 5 people. They have met regularly in a private house and the group has grown to 25 people. Now they pray for even bigger revival.
Eduard is an Ossetian refugee who leads inductive Bible studies among local people – he reports that the group has been significantly increasing.
Genadie from Moldova, after completing his theological education in Chisinau, was sent to a small town of Bardar and began inviting people to get involved in the inductive Bible studies.
Every summer he also organizes sport camps with youth and children. Thanks to this ministry during the last 4 years the local people have started to respect the Baptists.
At least 100 people are involved in sport activities and weekly Bible studies and 3 new groups have been started in neighbouring villages.
Pavlo works in a district of Kiev. There are great social needs and the mission team developed a vision to reach out to youth. Many local schools are open for Christian activities among the young people.
The newest initiative is a youth club with some sport activities that draw over 50 teenagers every Friday. This new planted congregation has 34 members.
Sasha is planting a new fellowship in Ternopil, western Ukraine. The vision is to make disciples of Christ among students. Three families comprise the team and are accountable to each other as they meet weekly.
The team can see that God is opening new doors, especially to work with youth and children.
They organised a Bible day in a local school and a team member who is a soccer trainer organised floorball games for teenagers. They also do some social ministry.
It is clear that the initial openness of people for the gospel has been decreasing in the respective countries during the last decade. The church planters may be still prosperous in their work but need to be more creative and apply different methods of outreach than they used in the past.
Daniel Trusiewicz, Mission Coordinator of European Baptist Federation.
This article first appeared in the October 2017 edition of Vista magazine.