Church expands despite oppression

By June 1, 2009

Eastern Europe (MNN) — The church in Eastern
Europe is going strong despite oppression, say missionaries with
Greater Europe Mission

"Although they are going through different types of
oppression, they've become stronger. And
we've seen that in past history, and in China and other countries where,
when the church is oppressed, the people rise up. Actually, the government doesn't realize that when
they put the church under pressure, people shine." 

The pressure arises from the government's desire to have
control over its people, the missionary explained.
When a church gains too much influence or evangelizes too vigorously,
the government makes life difficult for the leadership and sometimes the
congregation. 

"I think they really do understand that if the people's
hearts change, that's going to change the country, and change the government,
and they don't want to lose their position and hold on their people," said the missionary.

Barred from public evangelism and holding Christian meetings
in their homes, Christians in Eastern Europe have to get creative to reach
their fellow countrymen with the Gospel. The missionary we spoke with works with popular musicians in Belarus, which is still a
Communist country. The musicians find
ways to share their faith despite the limitations. 

"Their music generally doesn't mention anything about Jesus
Christ, because that would be illegal to say from the platform," the missionary
explained. "But…they can talk about God and talk about prayer, because you do have the Orthodox church that's so
strong there."

The musicians even find ways to share their testimony
partially on stage, getting their audience's attention so they can discuss the
Gospel more when the show is over. "They
basically leave people on a cliffhanger, kind of like, 'You said one thing in
your song, but I hear there's another side of your song,'"  said the missionary. 

He also brings these musicians to North America to share
about their homeland and the need for the Gospel. 

The people of Eastern Europe are a bit more receptive to the
Gospel than the people of Western Europe, explained the missionary. Although their countries seem more prosperous
than they were prior to the fall of communism, many people still don't have very
much, and they know they're missing something. 

"They have been oppressed, they have been persecuted under
Communist government. And they've seen
that the government cannot meet their needs; no government can meet people's
needs. They have to have a relationship
with Jesus Christ," said the missionary. 

The youth of Western Europe are beginning to realize that
they also need something more in life than freedom and material prosperity. But
generally speaking, most of the people still feel like they don't need
God. 

"They're satisfied with things, and they don't need a god," said the missionary. "They either believe there
is no god, or they make up their own god." 

The missionary's wife oversees the Bible Study Fellowship (BSF)
ministry in Europe and the Middle East. BSF
is an interdenominational, English-language Bible study that works in about 37
countries around the world. 

Currently, six BSF classes operate in three European
countries, and a group of people is praying in the Middle East for the
formation of a BSF class. 

"I visit those classes and work directly with the teaching
leaders of those classes, in a ministry of support and encouragement, problem-solving,
and helping those classes to be the best place in the world for people to study
the Bible," the wife explained. 

BSF classes provide an opportunity for evangelism, because people
who would not feel comfortable attending a church service may come to BSF on
the invitation of a friend. BSF classes
also build up the leadership of European churches, which often are very
small. 

One church in Switzerland decided to run a family camp. The camp, similar to a vacation Bible school,
ran for years and drew nearly all of its staff from the ranks of current and
former BSF leaders.

"The leaders of the classes as well as the class members are
being trained and equipped to serve in their local churches," the wife said.

Now is a crucial time to provide training and support for
the European church, the missionary said. Religious oppression in Eastern Europe appears to be worsening. 

"Russia
is closing down," he said. "People think
it's still wide open, but it's closing down. It's going to up to the national church to continue the work there. Missionaries are getting pulled out quite a bit nowadays."

Christians in other countries can support ministry in Europe
financially, or by going over to help.   

"The church in Eurasia is saying, 'We want you to come and
assist us. We want you to
come and train us in different things: how
to work with youth, how to work with children, women, leadership
ministries.' And they want us to come and
train them, so they can do the work."

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