I read it because it is often cited along with James Hunter’s To Change the World, a book on culture to which I refer often.
Where Hunter looks at how the church, in its distinctive liberal, conservative and Anabaptist expressions, tries to change society and culture, Wolfe looks at how culture has changed religion (looking primarily at Jewish, Catholic and Protestant religious communities). As a non-believer and non-theologian, Wolfe’s analysis is of one looking from the outside in.
“Sociologists a few decades ago predicted the decline of religion in modern societies, but in the most modern society of all religion has neither declined nor advanced; it has been transformed.” Hence, Wolfe is sympathetic to religions and aware of their prominent place within American society.
Yet, he affirms, “American popular culture is both amazingly indifferent to those seeking to shape its direction and astonishingly competent at absorbing and transforming anyone who tries.” From the book jacket, it states that “God has met and struggled fiercely against American culture – and the culture has won.”
Wolfe begins with worship, stating that it no longer centers on God but rather on the self: the self’s experience, relationship to the divine, development and general good feelings.
He then looks at fellowship, which he thinks has moved from being denominational to being anti-institutional. The effect is a free-agent moving from denomination to denomination and to non-denominational and para-church gatherings, looking for that which best meets the individual’s needs.
Concerning doctrine, Wolfe says that it is no longer central to faith communities. Doctrine is liberalized, making it more palatable for the surrounding society. Where commitments are made to doctrine, they are mostly superficial and adherents rarely know the rational for the doctrine or are able to engage with countering ideas. Often, there is belief without a specified content of the belief.
Tradition. Conservative religious communities may continue to commit to traditional forms, but the locus of applying tradition is not in the “handing down” but in the “picking up” of what the individual wants and how they want. Generally, traditions succumb to American innovation that seeks to be familiar and welcoming to potential converts.
In his chapter on morality, Wolfe talks about how conservative doctrine marginalizes women. Yet, the actual practice in their faith communities is less misogynistic and more empowering of women. While sexual promiscuity and divorce rates are the same if not higher in religious communities, sexual practices are shaped by the religious communities – although in ways that view sexuality positively (as opposed to Church Fathers like Augustine or Puritan beliefs). That is to say, morality is redefined. Because of its success in adhering to its moral requirements, Wolfe treats the Mormon Church in this chapter, stating that it too may be more influenced by surrounding society as it grows out of its Utah bed. While he is skeptical of calling it causal, Wolfe also mentions religious communities engaging in helping poor communities and the holistic change that occurs in these communities. Finally, Wolfe cites a study in which religious adherents were more honest than their non-religious colleagues (signs of the impact of faith on behavior) and other studies that show that they are just as likely to cheat and more hypocritical (signs of behavior irregardless of faith).
Wolfe surprisingly laments the loss of conceptualizations and vocabulary for sin because he understands the social costs of not naming and aspiring to high ideals of conduct. He sees the crux of the problem shifting from offense to God to the destruction of the human. He sees the loss of sin in its homiletic usage as preachers do not want to sound judgmental but rather positive. He sees the replacement of sin with psychological notions of dysfunction. Thus, response isn’t repentance or penance but rather therapy.
Wolfe goes on to discuss “witness,” by which he means the sharing of one’s faith with non-believers. He notes how conservative Christians have moved from fire and brimstone preaching to the sharing of faith by their lifestyle or by service to others. While there may be increased timidity in the face of society, where there is willingness to share, it is not judgmental. In this way, the evangelist, like a good salesperson, is asking less from the potential convert and offering more. Wolfe also looks at the changing demographics caused by urban sprawl, which make the public spaces, where interaction occurs with potential converts in the city less secure, and greatly reduces space for interaction outside the city. Finally, using the Christian television and music industries as examples, Wolfe describes how in employing the media of the world (i.e. radio, movies, etc.), Christians gain notoriety and finances but loose their Christian identity – what Wolfe calls a Faustian pact.
In his chapter on identity, Wolfe discusses Islam, its ability to preserve the religious identity of its adherents while also changing its religious practices in the American context. Wolfe here also describes how immigrant communities, typically from Asia or Latin America, are conservative and stable, aspects which meet deep needs of volatile migrants. Some convert to Christianity upon arrival in America, describing their new faith as enabling to their becoming good Americans. For second-generation immigrants, conservatism is not as important and many turn to charismatic and para-church expressions of Christianity. Where Islam is being preserved by its immigrant adherents and Christianity discovered, Buddhism is drawing Americans. However, Wolfe describes this as an Americanized Buddhism that is more psychological, more meditative and organized more like churches and that is not wholly condoned or accepted by Buddhist immigrants. Looking at the broad sweep of American identity, Wolfe believes that religion, in light of immigration policy, can no longer be a central and unifying feature of American identity, which raises questions about pluralism, tolerance and social cohesion. (Written in 2003, Wolfe’s optimism for increased religious tolerance, while perhaps true, did not anticipateTrumpian exclusive nationalism.)
Wolfe concludes by advocating for ongoing religious practice in society, albeit with lower expectations as it shifts in conformity to American democracy. Wolfe also chastens liberals who quickly write off religious communities as close-minded and unable to engage intellectual debate, suggesting that they make room for democratic discourse, for their voice and practices, even when they are not agreeable. Pragmatically, Wolfe advises that society give less credence to what believers say (which may be dogmatic and exclusive) and more to what they do (which is typically moderate and more shaped by the surrounding culture than not.)
Word Made Flesh presently ministers in nine countries where we live among the poor and long to communicate the Good News of King Jesus and His coming Kingdom. Typically, the term we ascribe to this activity is “evangelism.” But as we minister among the poor, we wrestle with the limitations and follies of our traditional understanding of the concept.
The word “evangelism” often conjures in the contemporary mind images of televangelists, traveling preachers or zealous proselytizers. When we define evangelism, we usually talk about “getting people saved” or “making sure you know where you are going when you die.” Although we do long for people to come to know God and to have eternal security, this view is a narrow and truncated form of biblical evangelism. Such a view creates a gospel that is mere word, void of content. It secularizes and domesticates the gospel, which constrains it to the private realm and withdraws from social and political sin. It turns the gospel into a consumer product by aiming to satisfy the individual’s needs while lacking the commitment to transform humanity. This gross individualism has mutilated our concept of evangelism and fed the atomization of humanity and society.
This faulty understanding, propagated by many American evangelicals, has been successfully exported to evangelical churches around the world. Consequently, when telling our fellow Christians that we evangelize, some think we’re only talking about biblical paper dolls moving across flannel boards or PowerPoint presentations. Worse yet are the unsatisfied frowns we often see when explaining that we do not simply evangelize through our words. Therefore, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on the meaning of biblical evangelism so that our concept and practice of mission may be radicalized.
We must ask ourselves what biblical evangelism is, and how the tradition of the church can correct our currently deviated understanding. The word “evangelism” is derived from the Greek euangelion, “good news, gospel, evangel.” Likewise, “evangelization” means “to announce the good news.” However, since the early 19th century, church and mission circles have changed and increasingly distorted the meaning of the verb “evangelize” and its derivatives (David Bosch, Transforming Mission). In this article, we will attempt to outline an understanding of evangelism as differentiated from contemporary definitions and in line with its original meaning.
Evangelism is often described as the proclamation, presence, persuasion and prevenience of the gospel. Let us outline each of these aspects of evangelism, then look at their implications.
Evangelism is Proclamation
Evangelism is proclamation, but it is not synonymous with verbiage. It is helpful to distinguish between euangelion (gospel) and kerygma, the Greek word that refers to preaching or proclaiming that which is fundamental and all-embracing in the New Testament. Kerygma was the event of being addressed by the word. Some have suggested that there was a particular kerygmatic formula about Jesus—that is, the “language of the facts,” and the facts being that God came in Jesus Christ, was crucified, resurrected and ascended. But evangelism cannot be reduced to verbalizing the Good News. Proclamation from the pulpit or mass-media tends to be a monologue, detached from relationship. Evangelism that is reduced to only proclamation is extremely individualistic. It often leads people to an interior repentance that is merely felt or pondered in thought without becoming real repentance (See Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads).
Biblical evangelism is personal. The Word was made flesh. The gospel was embodied in the person of Jesus. That is why the expression “gospel” is used in the New Testament to refer both to the apostolic proclamation of Christ and to the history of Christ. The gospel is the message; the gospel is also the life of Jesus. In Christ, the message and the messenger are indivisibly one. Jesus desires to disclose Himself; He is the Evangelist in that He continually is communicating and drawing humanity into dialogue with God. He communicates personally to persons, and He commissioned persons to continue communicating personally.
To evangelize is to communicate this joy; it is to transmit, individually and as a community, the good news of God’s love that has transformed our lives (Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation).
Therefore, the proclamation must be made in relationship and in the power of the Spirit. Paul says, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5).
Evangelism is not just proclaiming otherworldliness. Either to justify the status quo or to anaesthetize our inability to change it, we often preach about the “pie in the sky.” Of course, we do believe and proclaim the wonderful day when God will consummate His creation, when justice and righteousness reign, and when God’s people dwell forever in His presence. But God wants us to experience abundant life even now. He wants us to experience the in-breaking of His presence and to participate in the anticipatory celebration. Jesus invites us to pray: “Let Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). An overemphasis on otherworldliness causes us to detach ourselves from creation and from history. Consequently, evangelism does not speak about the promises for creation, that God will make all things new, nor does it seriously confront historical sins. That is why it is important to remember that we do not emancipate ourselves from history altogether, but we take the past promises of God up into our hopes of the future consummation as disclosed by the gospel (Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit).
The other side of otherworldliness is this-worldliness. But evangelism is not synonymous with the gospel of progress or any other socio-political movement. The martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero pointed out,
The danger of reductionism as far as evangelization is concerned can take two forms. Either it can stress only the transcendent elements of spirituality and human destiny, or it can go to the other extreme, selecting only those immanent elements of a kingdom of God that ought to be already beginning on this earth (Voice of the Voiceless).
Unfortunately, human projects have identified themselves as the coming Kingdom of God. Much of modern mission has piggybacked on the colonization of the world by Western powers. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ was adulterated with the promises of Western culture, which assumed itself to be better and more advanced. Often in the name of civilizing, the church transplanted a foreign god and a foreign religion that not only failed to keep its promises but also actually led to cultural regress (See Jonathan J. Bonk, Missions and Money). The gospel cannot be identified with any cultural, social or political movement. In fact, it must confront and challenge them (Mortimer Arias, Announcing the Reign of God; Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). True evangelism is Good News. It rings true in an indigenous environment because the people exist through the Word (John 1:3) and because the Spirit has already been there preparing the hearts of the people (Rom. 2:15).
Evangelism is Presence.
Evangelism is presence but needs explication. The gospel is not only declaratory; it is performatory. It can be the first because it is the second (Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). The presence of the gospel is of particular importance today as we are flooded with words, yet often experience the powerlessness of language. We know that our “actions speak louder than words,” that our lifestyles “speak for themselves,” and that a message is validated by its medium. The people of God embody, explain and are the living interpreters of the gospel. A Romanian Orthodox missiologist, Ion Bria, said, “[Evangelism] is not only oral proclamation of the gospel but also martyrdom (martyria), the following in the steps of the crucified Christ” (The Liturgy after the Liturgy). Martyria means “witness.” First we witness through our lives and deeds, then we explain what happened. For example, Jesus’ witness to the Kingdom provoked those around Him to ask questions. Who is He that even forgives sins? Who is this Jew that receives a drink from a Samaritan? Who is this Prophet that dines with sinners? The gospel, then, is an answer to the question that a person or a people is asking (Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). Jesus’ example shows that evangelism does not only mean that we “go and tell”; it also means that we witness through the work and lifestyle of the Christian community, provoking questions to which the Good News of Jesus Christ is the answer (Myers, Walking With the Poor).
In our affirmation of evangelizing through presence we must also recognize that this aspect has received current favor by many because we have lost confidence in the Truth—which if it is true, compels us to proclaim it. The Good News is entrusted to us. If we fail to proclaim it, we are unfaithful stewards. The gospel must be explicit. Though we often like to quote St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the gospel and use words when necessary,” we must also realize that he did use words and many heard the Good News and many came to the Lord. In fact, he preached to a Muslim sultan, who invited him because he had heard of St. Francis’ lifestyle. Peter exhorts us to live such a lifestyle:
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Pet. 2:12).
Evangelism is Persuasion
Evangelism is persuasion, but not peddling or proselytizing. Persuasion is convincing people of the gospel through apologetics2. Paul said, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). But evangelism is not selling or enticing people to buy a marketable product. Paul said, “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17). The Indian theologian Vinay Samuel is fond of saying that evangelism is a commitment to sharing, not an announcement of expected outcomes (Myers, Walking With the Poor).
Evangelism means persuading people, but it does not mean proselytizing them (See Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble). Evangelism does not mean making converts—though that is a desired result—or adding members to our club. Many times, we find ourselves struggling with feelings of guilt because there seems to be no tangible “fruit” from our ministry. At other times we find ourselves tempted to tell other Christians what they want to hear: “… we just saw another one come to the Lord,” “… he has been coming to church on his own accord for a few months now,” or “… she is starting to pray at mealtimes.” These remarks may bring a few pats on the back, but only serve to propagate the misconception about “successful” evangelism.
When we place exclusive emphasis on the winning of individuals to conversion, baptism and church membership, numerical growth of the church becomes the central goal of mission. Then seeking justice and peace are separated and relegated to the margins of the church’s mission. Over the last century, much of the church has defined its failures and successes by numbers. If the church was growing numerically, it was successful; if not, it was failing. Though a growing church may be a sign of God’s life and work, this predisposes us to value the size more than the persons. Just as the ideology of the Industrial Revolution turned humanity into a cog in the machinery of society or an item on the assembly line of productivity, so the ideology of modern church success has turned humanity into a donor resource and community into church membership. This is not simply evangelism misconstrued; it is anti-evangelism because at its core it dehumanizes.
If Jesus is the model Evangelist, then we must let the cross be the critique of evangelistic success. At the cross, those persuaded by Jesus’ ministry either betrayed Him or went into fearful hiding. At the cross, there were no supportive crowds, no grandiose church buildings and no tally of the day’s converts. “Successful” evangelism is faithfully testifying to the crucified God, who died to preach the Good News to a lost and confused world; the attestation of successful evangelism is the Resurrection. This understanding puts the indication of success not in the response of the evangelized but in the obedience of the evangelist.
Evangelism is not an activity for non-believers only, because Christians never cease to need evangelism. Avery Dulles reminds us that evangelism is not complete with the first proclamation of the gospel: “It is a lifelong process of letting the gospel permeate and transform all our ideas and attitudes” (Cited in Bryant Myers, Walking With the Poor). This creates space for our worship, discipleship and spirituality to be evangelistic. This also frees us from our “savior complex” and releases conversion and salvation to God. As the song joyfully affirms: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10).
Evangelism is the Prevenience of the Spirit
Evangelism is the prevenience of the Spirit, not simply the activity of the Christian missionary. It is not enough to speak of the proclamation, presence and persuasion of the gospel; we must also recognize the prevenience or the previousness of the Spirit (Lesslie Newbigin. The Open Secret). That is to say that long before the Christian arrives with the Good News, the Spirit of God has been moving, preparing and wooing humanity to Himself. Evangelism participates in and flows from God’s previous activity.
Implications for Life and Ministry
This brief analysis of evangelism as proclamation, presence, persuasion and the Spirit’s prevenience has many implications for our lives and ministries. We learn that evangelism is holistic, not fragmented. Holistic ministry is an approach to mission that considers the whole of humanity without compartmentalizing it, the whole of society without atomizing it, and the whole of the cosmos without categorizing it. Each day the WMF community welcomes hundreds of children in our lives and homes around the world. This welcoming includes shelter, advocacy, education, the sharing of meals and discipleship. We minister to the whole child—mind, soul and body. We also minister to the families of these children. We do not isolate them from their society or from their world but try to bring transformation within it.
In his book Good News and Good Works, Ron Sider attempts to work out an understanding of doing evangelism and doing social action without confusing the two tasks. Sider defines evangelism as leading a person to become a personal disciple of Christ while arguing for social action as transforming social and political structures. He tries to preserve the integrity of evangelism by not confusing it with social action and vice-versa. Although Sider does affirm that the separate activities are inseparable, Vinay Samuel criticizes him for being dualistic. Samuel argues that we cannot be “dualistic evangelicals who think it is possible to come to Christ and not be engaged in social justice” (Chris Sugden, Seeking the Asian Face of Jesus). Because the evangelism is holistic, we cannot divide its parts. When Jesus brings the child, the outcast and the weak into the center of society, justice is done and the Good News is proclaimed. When, in the name of Jesus, street children learn to read and write, eat healthy meals and are protected from police brutality, the Good News is proclaimed.
Evangelism is transformational. Christ’s announcement of the coming Kingdom of God included community building, confrontation and intentional conflict, liberation, hope, repentance and the forgiveness of sins, persecution, healing, miracles and discipleship. Biblically, we are not called merely to supply a different interpretation of the world, of history and of human nature, but to transform them in expectation of a divine transformation (Jürgan Moltmann, A Theology of Hope).
Evangelism, for Christ, was transformation. This transformation influenced the whole of society and the whole of humanity. It demanded a response, either total acceptance or total rejection.
Biblical evangelism finds its basis in a proper Kingdom-of-God understanding. This Kingdom understanding requires total submission to the all-encompassing nature of this Kingdom. Such submission touches on every aspect of living, being and doing.
Evangelism is an announcement. The New Testament theologian N.T. Wright searches biblical history to learn what evangelism meant for Jesus and the apostles. He states, “The gospel is for Paul, at its very heart, an announcement about the true God as opposed to false gods” (What Saint Paul Really Said). Whether it is to the god of money, the god of sex, or the god of power, the gospel of the Kingdom announces the end to false gods, and their reordering and consummation into a new Kingdom. Wright likens evangelism to Caesar’s herald, who proclaims the royal announcement. The herald would not say, “If you would like to try to have an experience of living under an emperor, you might care to try Nero.” Rather, the herald’s proclamation is an “authoritative summons to obedience—the obedience of faith.” The Gospel of God is not an alternative to other gods, but it is the heralding of the Kingdom by which all others will be judged. The Apostle Paul writes, “The gospel is the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). Wright comments, “The gospel is not just about God’s power saving people. It is God’s power at work to save people.” Evangelism, therefore, is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord.
This New Testament understanding of evangelism has deep implications on our practical ministry. We can no longer understand evangelism as mere words. We can no longer hold evangelism in one hand and social justice in the other while claiming that we are faithful to biblical evangelism. We can no longer democratize evangelism by submitting it to public opinion for its acceptance. Instead, we must acknowledge the totality of biblical evangelism: Jesus is Master of all, will be all in all, and is turning the kingdoms of this world on their heads.
Correspondingly, evangelism is a denouncement. When we announce the totality of Jesus’ lordship, we simultaneously denounce any opposition to His reign. Gustavo Gutierrez says that the church must make the prophetic denunciation of every dehumanizing situation, which is contrary to fellowship, justice and liberty. The truth of the gospel, it has been said, is a truth which must be done” (A Theology of Liberation).
Walter Wink says that “evangelism is always a form of social action. It is an indispensable component of any new ‘world’” (Naming the Powers). That is to say that the Good News engages and challenges persons, societies, structures and the cosmos. We fully realize that only persons can repent and receive Christ, but persons are social beings within social structures, and the gospel announces the lordship of Christ over the whole cosmos, including its society, structures and systems. Wink goes further to affirm that “social action is always evangelism, if carried out in full awareness of Christ’s sovereignty over the Powers.” Although there needs to be more than a simple awareness of Christ’s lordship for this statement to be true, it certainly shows our need for a paradigmatic change in our understanding of evangelism. “Jesus did not just forgive sinners, He gave them a new world” (Wink). If this is true, then we rule out the idea that evangelism and social action are two separate segments or components of mission.
David Bosch explains that evangelism is mission, but mission is not merely evangelism. Thus, these terms should not be equated. Bosch, in a very detailed examination of evangelization and mission, shows that evangelism must be placed in the context of mission. Each context demands that the gospel addresses its particular predicaments: injustice, corruption, abortion, murder, greed, gluttony, drug abuse, etc.
Evangelism that separates people from their context views the world not as a challenge but as a hindrance, devalues history, and has eyes only for the “nonmaterial aspects of life” … What criterion decides that racism and structural injustice are social issues but pornography and abortion personal? Why is politics shunned and declared to fall outside of the competence of the evangelist, except when it favors the position of the privileged society? (Bosch, Transforming Mission).
Could it be that we have re-defined evangelism to suit our own lifestyles and forfeited biblical evangelism because it is too radical? Biblical evangelism is Jesus’ Good News to the poor, imprisoned, crippled, deaf and blind; biblical evangelism is Jesus’ invitation to follow Him and to become His disciples; biblical evangelism is Jesus’ call to service in the reign of God; biblical evangelism is a call to mission.
Paul exhorts us in 2 Timothy 4:5 “to do the work of the evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” From the aspects discussed in this article, it is easy to see how our ministry will reflect our understanding of the meaning of evangelism. We must unlock the shackles of our contemporary definitions and seek to know God’s intention for evangelism. He is calling us to announce the Good News through proclamation, presence, persuasion and the promised prevenience of the Spirit. This means we must denounce anything that opposes the gospel; we must be holistic and transformational in our evangelism; and we must do evangelism in the context of mission.
Our hope is that we lay our ideas and misconceptions before Jesus, where they can be transformed and radicalized. Jesus is the Gospel made flesh. He is the embodiment of the Good News. He is the point where the evangel and the evangelist are one. Our prayer is that by His Spirit, we may be Christ’s heralds, announcing the coming of the new heaven and the new earth, and that the Good News of the Father would truly be Good News to the world.
Dintr-un articol scris de mine în 2000:
„Cuvântul Întrupat” (Word Made Flesh) slujeşte în prezent în nouă ţări unde lucrătorii misiunii noastre trăiesc în mijlocul săracilor şi unde încearcă să propovăduiască Vestea Bună a Regelui Isus şi a venirii Împărăţiei Lui. Termenul pe care îl atribuim acestei activităţi este „evanghelizare”. Dar, pe măsură ce slujim în mijlocul săracilor ne lovim de limitările şi absurditatea înţelegerii noastre tradiţionale a acestui concept.
Cuvântul „evanghelizare” evocă de cele mai multe ori în minţile contemporane imagini ale tele-evangheliştilor, ale predicatorilor care călătoresc sau ale zeloşilor prozelitişti. Atunci când definim termenul „evanghelizare” vorbim de cele mai multe ori despre „a-i salva pe oameni” sau despre „a fi sigur de locul unde mergi după moarte”. Cu toate că dorim ca oamenii să ajungă să-L cunoască pe Dumnezeu şi să aibă siguranţa mântuirii, acest punct de vedere este îngust şi trunchiat faţă de forma evanghelizării biblice. Este rezultatul culturii noastre post iluministe care L-a privatizat pe Dumnezeu şi care a expediat Evanghelia bisericilor geto-uri, doar ca pe un cuvânt lipsit de conţinut. Aceasta secularizează şi îmblânzeşte Evanghelia, lucru care o constrânge doar la domeniul personal şi care se retrage de la angajarea socială şi păcatul politic. Aceasta transformă Evanghelia într-un produs de consumat care are ca scop satisfacerea nevoilor individuale fără luarea angajamentului de a transforma umanitatea. Acest individualism brut a mutilat conceptul nostru de evanghelizare şi a hrănit atomizarea umanităţii şi a societăţii. Această înţelegere greşită, propagată de mulţi evanghelişti din Vest a fost exportată cu succes bisericilor evanghelice din lume. Ca urmare, atunci când spunem prietenilor noştri creştini că evanghelizăm, mulţi cred că ne referim la personajele biblice de hârtie de pe flanelografe sau la prezentările PowerPoint. Mai expresive sunt încruntările pe care le vedem când explicăm faptul că noi nu evangelizăm numai prin cuvinte. De aceea, vrem să folosim ocazia aceasta de a reflecta la înţelesul evanghelizării biblice astfel încât conceptul şi practica misiunii să fie radicalizate.
Trebuie să ne întrebăm ce este evanghelizarea biblică şi cum tradiţia bisericii ne poate corecta înţelesul deviat. După episcopul Mortimer Arias, termenul de „evanghelizare” vine din grecescul „euangelion” care înseamnă „vestea bună”, „evanghelie”, „evangel” şi din „euangelizomai” care înseamnă „a anunţa vestea bună”. Dar aşa cum subliniază misiologistul David Bosch, de la începutul secolului al XIX-lea, verbul „a evangheliza” şi derivatele lui au fost reabilitate în biserici şi în cercurile de misiune. Lucrarea de faţă va încerca să contureze o înţelegere a termenului de evanghelizare ca diferenţiat de definiţiile contemporane şi convergent spre înţelesurile lui originare.
Evanghelizarea este proclamare
Evanghelizarea este proclamare dar nu este sinonim cu verbiaj. Este de ajutor să facem diferenţa între euangelion (evanghelie) şi kerygma, cuvântul grecesc care se referă la predicare sau proclamare a Evangheliei ceea ce este fundamental şi atotcuprinzător în Noul Testament. Kerygma era evenimentul de a fi adresat prin cuvânt. Unii spun că exista o formulă „kergymatică” despre Isus, care reprezintă „limba faptelor” şi faptele în desfăşurare, Dumnezeu venit în persoana lui Isus Christos, crucificat, înviat şi înălţat. Dar evanghelizarea nu poate fi redusă la verbalizarea Veştii Bune. Proclamarea de la amvon sau prin mass media tinde să devină un monolog detaşat de relaţia cu oamenii. Evanghelizarea care este redusă doar la proclamare are un criteriu arbitrar pentru o viaţă creştină autentică şi este foarte individualistă cu consecinţe ale unei pocăinţe interioare (metanoia) care este percepută doar la nivelul simţurilor sau al meditaţiei fără a deveni realitate. Evanghelizarea biblică este personală. Cuvântul a fost făcut trup. Evanghelia a fost întrupată în persoana lui Isus. Acesta este motivul pentru care expresia „Evanghelie” este folosită în Noul Testament pentru a face referire şi la proclamarea apostolică a lui Christos şi la istoria lui Christos.
Evanghelia este mesajul dar în acelaşi timp, Evanghelia este viaţa lui Isus. În Christos, mesajul şi mesagerul sunt în mod inseparabil una. Isus doreşte să se reveleze pe Sine, El este Evanghelistul prin faptul că El, în mod continuu, comunică şi atrage umanitatea spre un dialog cu Dumnezeu. El comunică cu persoanele în mod personal şi împuterniceşte (termen militar) persoanele să continue să comunice la modul personal.
„A evangheliza înseamnă a comunica această bucurie, înseamnă a transmite, individual şi ca o comunitate, vestea bună a iubirii lui Dumnezeu, iubire care ne-a transformat vieţile” Prin urmare, proclamarea trebuie făcută în relaţie şi în puterea Duhului Sfânt. De aceea, Pavel spune: „Evanghelia noastră v-a fost propovăduită nu numai cu vorbe, ci cu putere, cu Duhul Sfânt şi cu mare îndrăzneală” (1 Tesaloniceni 1:5) „Prin proclamarea Evangheliei, înţelegem, prin urmare, toate expresiile bisericii şi ale creştinilor, expresii făcute prin limbă care au drept conţinut istoria lui Christos şi libertatea omului pentru Împărăţia pe care o deschide acea istorie.”
Aceasta înseamnă că evanghelizarea nu este doar proclamarea despre o altă lume. Ori pentru a justifica „status quo”, ori pentru a anestezia inabilitatea noastră de a schimba acest „status quo”, predicăm de multe ori despre „plăcinta din ceruri”. Sigur că noi credem şi proclamăm ziua minunată când va domni dreptatea şi neprihănirea, când poporul lui Dumnezeu va locui pentru totdeauna în prezenţa Lui. Dar Dumnezeu vrea să experimentăm viaţa din abundenţă acum. Vrea să experimentăm manifestările prezenţei Lui şi să participăm la celebrarea anticipată. Isus ne invită să ne rugăm: „Vie Împărăţia Ta precum în Ceruri aşa şi pe pământ” O subliniere prea mare a „celeilalte lumi” ne face să ne detaşăm de creaţie şi de istorie. Rezultatul ar fi că evanghelizarea noastră nu ar vorbi despre promisiunile lui Dumnezeu pentru creaţia Sa, nici despre faptul că Dumnezeu va face toate lucrurile noi şi nici nu ar confrunta în mod serios păcatul istoric. De aceea, este important să ne amintim că nu ne eliberăm de istorie ci că luăm promisiunile lui Dumnezeu din trecut în speranţele noastre despre ceea ce se va întâmpla în viitor, aşa după cum o arată Biblia.
Cealaltă extremă a „celeilalte lumi” este „această lume”. Dar evanghelizarea nu este sinonimă cu Evanghelia progresului nici cu orice altă mişcare social politică. Episcopul Oscar Romero, care a fost martirizat, spunea: „pericolul reducţionismului, în ceea ce priveşte evanghelizarea, poate lua două forme: ori subliniază elementele transcedentale spiritualităţii şi destinului uman, ori poate merge la cealaltă extremă, selectând doare acele elemente imanente ale Împărăţiei lui Dumnezeu care îşi au începutul aici pe pământ.” Din păcate, proiectele umane s-au numit singure venirea lui Dumnezeu. Mult din misiunea modernă a mers pe spatele colonialismului lumii prin puterile vestice. Mesajul Evangheliei lui Isus Christos a fost pervertit cu promisiuni ale culturii vestice, care s-a presupus a fi mai bună şi mai avansată. De mult ori, în numele civilizaţiei, Biserica a transplantat un Dumnezeu străin şu o religie străină care nu numai că nu şi-au ţinut promisiunile ci au dus chiar la regres cultural. Evanghelia nu poate fi identificată cu nici o mişcare culturală, socială sau politică. De fapt, ea trebuie să le confrunte şi să le provoace pe acestea. Evanghelizarea adevărată este Vestea Bună. Şi asta sună a adevăr într-un mediu primitiv pentru că oamenii există prin Cuvânt (Ioan 1:3) şi pentru că Duhul a început deja să pregătească inimile oamenilor (Romani 2:15)
Evanghelizarea este prezenţă
Evanghelizarea este prezenţă dar nevoie de explicaţii. Evanghelia nu are doar caracter declarator ci este şi dusă la îndeplinire. Poate acoperi prima trăsătură pentru că o are pe cea de-a doua. Prezenţa Evangheliei este de o importanţă particulară astăzi, când suntem invadaţi de cuvinte şi când experimentăm sărăcia limbajului. Ştim că faptele noastre vorbesc mai tare decât cuvintele, că felul cum trăim vorbeşte de la sine şi că mesajul este validat de mediul lui. De aceea, Leslie Newbigin, misionar în India a spus: „Biserica este hermeneutica Evangheliei” Oamenii lui Dumnezeu întrupează, explică şi sunt interpretarea vie a Evangheliei. Ion Bria (misiologist român ortodox) spune că e vorba nu numai de „proclamarea orală ci şi de martyria” Termenul martyria înseamnă martor. Bryant Meyers spune: „pentru creştini, a fi martor este integral pentru ceea ce suntem şi pentru ceea ce credem.” Evanghelizarea ca spunere a Evangheliei este de obicei actul al doilea. În primul rând, mărturisim prin viaţa şi faptele noastre, apoi explicăm ce se întâmplă. De exemplu, mărturisirea lui Isus despre Împărăţia lui Dumnezeu i-a provocat pe cei din jurul lui să pună întrebări. Cine este acesta care poate să ierte şi păcatele? Cine este acest evreu care bea apă de la o femeie, care mai este şi samariteancă? Cine este acest profet care mănâncă cu păcătoşii? Evanghelia este răspunsul la întrebările unui om sau ale unei naţiuni. Aceasta înseamnă că evanghelizarea nu înseamnă numai „du-te şi spune!”, înseamnă a mărturisi prin lucrul şi stilul de viaţă al unei comunităţi creştine, comunitate care să provoace întrebări la care răspunsul să fie vestea bună a lui Isus Cristos.
În afirmaţia noastră de evanghelizare prin prezenţă, trebuie, de asemenea, să recunoaştem că acest aspect a primit o oarecare favoare din vreme ce am pierdut încrederea în Adevăr – lucru care, dacă e adevărat, ne convinge să proclamăm. Vestea bună ne este încredinţată. Dacă nu o proclamăm, suntem administratori necredincioşi. Evanghelia trebuie să fie explicită. Chiar dacă ne place să-l cităm pe Sf. Francisc de Assisi, care a spus: „predicaţi Evanghelia, dar folosiţi cuvintele doar atunci când trebuie”, este important să realizăm că el a folosit cuvintele şi mulţi au auzit Vestea Bună venind la Dumnezeu. De fapt. El a predicat unui sultan musulman care l-a invitat să-i vorbească pentru că auzise de stilul de viaţă al Sf. Francisc. Petru ne îndeamnă să trăim astfel de vieţi: „să aveţi o purtare bună în mijlocul Neamurilor, pentru ca în ceea ce vă vorbesc de rău ca pe nişte făcători de rele, prin faptele voastre bune pe care le văd să slăvească pe Dumnezeu în ziua cercetării.” (1 Petru 2:12)
Evanghelizarea este persuasiune
Evanghelizarea înseamnă persuasiune (convingere) dar nu prozelitism şi nu este vânzare prin amăgire. Persuasiunea înseamnă convingerea oamenilor de adevărurile Evangheliei prin apologetică. Pavel spune: „ca unii care cunoaştem frica de Domnul, pe oameni căutăm să-i încredinţăm” (2 Corinteni 5:11). Evanghelizarea este o invitaţie care ţinteşte spre un răspuns. Scopul este de a face ucenici şi de a forma comunitatea creştină. Evanghelizarea este o petiţie: „Vă rugăm fierbinte, în Numele lui Hristos: Împăcaţi-vă cu Dumnezeu!” (2 Corinteni 5:20). Ambasadorii lui Hristos nu au nici o autoritate decât autoritatea de petiţie; noi suntem cerşetori pentru Hristos. De aceea, evanghelizarea nu înseamnă a vinde sau a amăgi oamenii să cumpere un produs de piaţă. „Căci noi nu stricăm Cuvântul lui Dumnezeu, cum fac cei mai mulţi; ci vorbim cu inimă curată, din partea lui Dumnezeu, înaintea lui Dumnezeu, în Christos” (2 Corinteni 2:17). Noi suntem cerşetori care spun altora unde pot găsi pâine. Teologul indian, Vinay Samuel, spune că evanghelizarea este angajamentul de a împărtăşi, nu un anunţ al rezultatelor aşteptate.
Evanghelizarea înseamnă convingerea oamenilor dar nu înseamnă prozelitism. Evanghelizarea nu înseamnă a obţine convertiţi, deşi acesta este un rezultat dorit, nu înseamnă adăugarea la numărul membrilor în clubul nostru. De multe ori ne găsim luptând cu sentimente de vinovăţie pentru că nu par a fi rezultate tangibile în misiunea noastră. Alte ori, suntem tentaţi să spunem altor creştini ceea ce vor să audă…”tocmai am văzut un altul întorcându-se la Dumnezeu…vine la biserică din proprie iniţiativă de câteva luni…a început să se roage la masă”… Astfel de remarci ar putea aduce câteva bătăi de încurajare pe umăr dar servesc numai la propagarea concepţiei greşite despre evanghelizarea de succes.
Atunci când punem un accent exclusiv pe câştigarea oamenilor spre convertire, botez şi membralitate, scopul central al misiunii devine creşterea numerică a bisericii. Astfel, căutarea dreptăţii şi a păcii sunt separate şi demise spre marginile misiunii bisericii. În secolul trecut, multe biserici şi-au definit eşecurile sau succesele pe baza numerelor. Exista succes dacă biserica creştea numeric şi eşua dacă nu se întâmpla asta. Deşi o biserică în creştere poate fi un semn al lucrării lui Dumnezeu, aceste lucruri ne fac să dăm mai multă valoare mărimii decât persoanelor.
Aşa cum ideologia Revoluţiei Industriale a transformat umanitatea într-o rotiţă din maşina societăţii sau într-un produs fabricat în serie, şi ideologia succesului bisericii moderne a transformat umanitatea într-o resursă de donat şi comunitatea în membralitate în biserică. Iar aceasta nu înseamnă doar evanghelizare greşită ci anti-evanghelizare pentru că în adâncul ei dezumanizează.
Dacă Isus este modelul Evanghelistului, atunci trebuie să lăsăm crucea să fie criticul succesului evanghelizării. La cruce nu sunt mulţimi care aclamă, nici biserici somptuoase, şi nici înregistrările cu convertiţii zilei. Evanghelizarea de „succes” este mărturisirea cu credinţă a lui Dumnezeu crucificat, care a murit ca să predice Vestea Bună unei lumi pierdute şi confuze. Atestarea unei evanghelizări de succes stă în Înviere. Această înţelegere pune indicatorul succesului nu pe cei evanghelizaţi ci pe felul cum răspunde evanghelistul la chemare.
Evanghelizarea nu este doar o activitate pentru necredincioşi pentru că şi creştinii sunt într-o permanentă nevoie de evanghelizare. Avery Dulles ne reaminteşte că evanghelizarea nu este completă cu numai prima proclamare: „este un proces de o viaţă în care lăsăm Evanghelia să intre şi să ne transforme toate ideile şi atitudinile” Aceasta creează spaţiu pentru închinare, ucenicizare şi spiritualitate pentru a fi evanghelişti şi de asemenea ne eliberează de „complexul de salvatori” lăsând convertirea şi salvarea în mâinile lui Dumnezeu. Aşa cum afirmă cu bucurie cântecul: „mântuirea este a Dumnezeului nostru care şade pe tronul de domnie şi a şi Mielului:” (Apocalipsa 7:10).
Evanghelizarea este prevenienta Duhului
Evanghelizarea este preveniența Duhului şi nu doar simpla activitate a misionarului creştin. Nu este suficient doar să vorbeşti despre proclamare, prezenţă şi persuasiune, trebuie şi să recunoaştem preveniența sau precedenţa Duhului. Aceasta înseamnă Duhul lui Dumnezeu lucrează, pregăteşte şi caută să câştige umanitatea pentru Sine cu mult mai înainte de a ajunge misionarul cu Vestea Bună. Aceasta înseamnă că evanghelizarea participă la şi curge prin activităţile anterioare ale lui Dumnezeu.
Implicaţii asupra vieţii şi misiunii
Analiza aceasta sumară a evanghelizării ca proclamare, prezenţă, persuasiune şi anticipare a Duhului are multe implicaţii asupra vieţii şi misiunii noastre. Învăţăm că evanghelizarea este holistică(totală) şi nu fragmentată. Misiunea holistică este aceea care ia în considerare umanitatea în întregime fără a o compartimenta, societatea în întregime fără a o atomiza, universul în întregime fără a-l categoriza. În fiecare zi, în comunitatea Cuvântul Întrupat (Word Made Flesh) primim sute de copii în vieţile şi în casele noastre în toată lumea. Această primire implică un adăpost, consiliere, educaţie, părtăşie la masă şi ucenicizare. Misiunea noastră se adresează copilului în întregime – minte, suflet şi trup. Ne adresăm, de asemenea şi familiilor copiilor. Nu încercăm să-i izolăm de societatea sau de lumea lor ci să aducem transformare în interiorul acestora.
În cartea sa, Good News and Good Works ( Vestea Bună şi faptele bune), Ron Sider încearcă să formuleze o înţelegere a ceea ce înseamnă evanghelizare şi acţiune socială fără a le confunda pe acestea. Sider defineşte evanghelizarea ca fiind conducerea unei persoane spre a deveni ucenic personal al lui Isus Christos iar acţiunea socială ca fiind transformarea structurilor sociale şi politice. El încearcă să păstreze integritatea evanghelizării neconfundând conceptul cu cel de acţiune socială şi nici invers. Sider afirmă deci că cele două aspecte separate sunt inseparabile dar Vinay Samuel îl critică considerându-l dualist. Samuel spune că nu putem fi „evanghelici dualişti care să credem că este posibil să venim la Christos fără a ne angaja în dreptatea socială.” Pentru că evanghelizarea este holistică nu îi putem divide părţile. „Expresii de tipul Cuvântul lui Dumnezeu, predicare, proclamare, prezentare sau tradiţie doar reproduc aspecte parţiale. Ele nu cuprind tot conţinutul sau toată aura Evangheliei sau practicile acesteia, cum ar fi evanghelizarea – ceea ce înseamnă eliberarea lumii în viitorul lui Dumnezeu.”
Atunci când Isus aduce în centrul societăţii pe copil, pe lepros şi pe cel slab se face dreptate şi este proclamată Vestea Bună. Atunci când copiii străzii învaţă să citească, atunci când mănâncă sănătos şi când sunt protejaţi de abuzurile poliţiei, este proclamată Vestea Bună.
Evanghelizarea este transformaţională. Vestirea Împărăţiei lui Dumnezeu pe care o face Christos include construirea comunităţii, confruntare şi conflict intenţional, eliberare, speranţă, căinţă şi iertarea păcatelor, persecuţie, vindecare, miracole şi ucenicizare. Din punct de vedere biblic, noi „nu suntem chemaţi doar să furnizăm o interpretare diferită asupra lumii, istoriei şi naturii umane ci să le transformăm pe acestea în aşteptarea unei transformări divine.”3 Evanghelizarea a însemnat transformare pentru Christos. Transformarea a avut impact asupra întregii societăţi şi asupra întregii umanităţi. A impus un răspuns: ori acceptare totală ori respingere totală.
Evanghelizarea înseamnă vestire. Teologul N.T.Wright specializat pe Noul Testament a căutat ce a însemnat evanghelizarea pentru Isus şi pentru ucenici. El spune: „Evanghelia este pentru Pavel o vestire a Dumnezeului adevărat faţă de dumnezeii falşi.” Fie că e vorba de dumnezeul banilor, al sexului sau al puterii, Evanghelia Împărăţiei anunţă sfârşitul lor şi re-orânduirea acestora în Noua Împărăţie. Autorul aseamănă evanghelizarea cu solul lui Cezar care proclamă un anunţ împărătesc. Solul nu spune: „dacă aţi vrea să încercaţi experienţa de a trăi sub un împărat, aţi putea să încercaţi cu Nero” Dimpotrivă, proclamarea solului este „o chemare autoritară la ascultare – ascultarea credinţei” Evanghelia lui Dumnezeu nu este o alternativă la alţi dumnezei ci o solie a Împărăţiei de care vor fi judecate toate celelalte. Pavel spune: „Evanghelia este puterea lui Dumnezeu pentru mântuirea fiecăruia care crede.” (Romani 1: 16). Wright comentează: „Evanghelia nu este doar despre puterea lui Dumnezeu care salvează oameni, ci puterea lui Dumnezeu la lucru salvând oamenii”. Evanghelizarea este, prin urmare, vestirea că Isus cel crucificat şi înviat este Domnul.
El continuă: „imediat ce înţelegem aceste lucruri distrugem dintr-o suflare dihotomia dezastruoasă între ‚predicarea Evangheliei’ şi ceea ce a fost numit cu prea mare uşurinţă ‚acţiune socială’ sau ‚dreptate socială’. Această înţelegere nou-testamentală a evanghelizării are implicaţii adânci asupra misiunii noastre practice. Nu mai putem înţelege evanghelizarea ca fiind doar cuvinte şi doar atât. Nu mai putem ţine evanghelizarea într-o mână şi dreptatea socială în cealaltă şi să susţinem că suntem credincioşi evanghelizării biblice. Nu mai putem democratiza evanghelizarea supunând-o opiniei publice pentru acceptare. Dimpotrivă, trebuie să acceptăm totalitatea evanghelizării biblice: Isus este Stăpânul a toate, va fi totul în toate şi acum răstoarnă împărăţiile acestei lumi cu sus-ul în jos.
Evanghelizarea este denunţare. Atunci când anunţăm totalitatea domniei lui Isus, denunţăm în mod simultan orice opoziţie a lui. Gustavo Gutierrez spune că biserica trebuie să: „facă denunţarea profetică a oricărei situaţii care dezumanizează, care este contrară părtăşiei, dreptăţii şi libertăţii. Adevărul Evangheliei, s-a spus, este un adevăr care trebuie făcut. Autorul clarifică mai departe: „denunţarea se obţine prin confruntarea unei situaţii date cu realitatea care este anunţată: dragostea Tatălui care cheamă pe toţi la Christos şi prin acţiunea Duhului pentru a uni cu El pe toţi în comuniune.”3
Walter Wink contribuie la acest punct de vedere spunând: „evanghelizarea este întotdeauna o formă de acţiune socială. Este o componentă indispensabilă a oricărei lumi noi.”3 Aceasta înseamnă că Vestea Bună angajează şi provoacă toate persoanele, societăţile, structurile şi cosmosul. „Oricând se produce evanghelizarea în deplină cunoştinţă a Puterilor, fie în confruntarea celor aflaţi în poziţia de putere sau eliberând pe cei zdrobiţi de putere, proclamarea suveranităţii lui Christos este prin sine o critică la nedreptate, idolatrie…rezultă deci că schimbarea structurală nu este de ajuns; inima şi sufletul trebuie de asemenea eliberate, iertate, energizate şi reunite cu Sursa lor.” Înţelegem deplin că numai persoanele se pot căi şi Îl pot primi pe Christos dar persoanele sunt fiinţe sociale iar Evanghelia anunţă domnia lui Christos peste întregul cosmos incluzând aici societăţile lui, structurile şi sistemele. Wink continuă: „ acţiunea socială este întotdeauna evanghelizare dacă se produce în deplină cunoştinţă de suveranitatea lui Cristos asupra Puterilor.” E adevărat că pentru a fi adevărată această afirmaţie, este nevoie de mai mult decât de o simplă conştienţă a domniei lui Christos, arată totuşi nevoia de o schimbare paradigmatică în înţelegerea evanghelizării. „Isus nu a iertat doar pe păcătoşi ci le-a dat o lume nouă”, dacă această afirmaţie este adevărată, atunci putem elimina ideea că evanghelizarea şi acţiunea socială sunt două segmente sau componente ale misiunii.
David Bosch explică faptul că evanghelizarea este misiune dar că misiunea nu este doar evanghelizarea. De aceea, aceşti termeni nu trebuie egalaţi. Bosch arată că evanghelizarea trebuie plasată în contextul misiunii. Fiecare context cere ca Evanghelia să-i adreseze situaţiile specifice, cum ar fi: injustiţie, corupţie, avort, crimă, lăcomie, îmbuibare, droguri etc. „Evanghelizarea care separă oamenii de contextul lor vede lumea nu ca pe o provocare ci ca pe o piedică, nu dă valoare istoriei şi are ochi numai pentru aspectele non materiale ale vieţii.”
Bosch întreabă: „Care criteriu decide că rasismul şi injustiţia structurală sunt aspecte sociale dar pornografia şi avortul ar fi personale? De ce este evitată politica şi împinsă în afara competenţei evanghelistului cu excepţia momentelor când favorizează poziţia în societatea privilegiată? Se poate să ne fi re-definit noi evanghelizarea astfel încât să se potrivească stilului nostru de viaţă, se poate să fi pierdut noi evanghelizarea biblică pentru că este prea radicală? Evanghelizarea biblică este vestea bună a lui Isus pentru săraci, pentru cei închişi, şchiopi, surzi şi muţi; evanghelizarea biblică este invitaţia lui Isus de a-L urma şi de a deveni ucenici ai Lui; evanghelizarea biblică este chemarea lui Isus de a sluji în Împărăţia lui Dumnezeu; evanghelizarea biblică este chemarea la misiune.
Pavel ne îndeamnă în 2 Timotei 4:5 „fă lucrul unui evanghelist şi împlineşte-ţi bine slujba”. Din aspectele discutate în acest articol, este uşor de văzut cum misiunea noastră reflectă înţelegerea noastră asupra evanghelizării. Trebuie să descuiem cătuşele definiţiilor contemporane şi să căutăm să cunoaştem intenţia lui Dumnezeu pentru evanghelizare. El ne cheamă să anunţăm Vestea Bună prin proclamare, prezenţă, persuasiune şi anticiparea promisă a Duhului. Aceasta înseamnă că trebuie să denunţăm orice se opune Evangheliei; trebuie să fim holistici şi transformaţionali în evanghelizarea noastră; trebuie să facem evanghelizare în contextul misiunii.
Speranţa noastră stă în faptul că ne aşezăm ideile şi concepţiile greşite în faţa lui Isus pentru a fi transformate şi radicalizate. Isus este Evanghelia întrupată. El este întruparea Veştii Bune. El este punctul unde evanghelistul şi „evangel” sunt una. Rugăciunea noastră este ca prin Duhul Lui, să fim solii lui Christos anunţând venirea unui cer şi unui pământ nou, şi că Vestea Bună a Tatălui să fie într-adevăr Vestea Bună pentru lume.
By definition, atheism is the denial of God, a belief in the inexistence of God or the inability to believe in God. There are private atheists and militant atheists. (Personally, I have the same lack of patience for militant atheism as I do for militant fideism.) Yet, atheism doesn’t seem to be an option or a desire for most of the world’s population. Having traveled and lived in places where there is no hope except in a primordial cry for help – even in the face of that cry not being answered. This cry is an act of faith, of hope and of belief. So, while I do sympathize with protest atheism that protests the existence of God in an evil world and especially evil that is done in the name of God, I view atheism as a luxury made possible by individualistic cultures that see faith as a choice among other options and that desacralize and disenchant the world.
But it is relatively easy for people of faith to bash atheists, when we should recognize our own wrongheaded atheism. Let’s look at this oxymoron: believer’s atheism. The creation narrative found at the beginning of the Jewish Scriptures tells us that human beings are created in the image of God. Human beings – all of them – bear God’s image and likeness. The implication is that when we do not acknowledge the image of God in others, then we are practicing a different kind of atheism. Paradoxically, some atheists confer dignity to others – even to their enemies, while many so-called believers refuse. The believers’ atheism is most visible in their isolation from the poor, in their rejection of the stranger and immigrant, and in their inability to create space to relate to their enemies.
Being created in the image of God signifies a solidarity with all humanity. Through this basic dignity and vocation, God has offered us space to relate to one another – especially when we have fundamental disagreements with one another and are tempted to reject, hate and abuse.
So, we are called to a new kind of faith. We are called to denounce atheism that doesn’t believe in God’s image. And we are invited to believe in and to honor God by helping the poor, receiving the stranger and loving our enemy.
I realize that social media is an inept form of communication. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for vitriol, divisiveness or exclusion.
A recent posting of one of my “friends” in which they promoted the Christian faith of “one of [their] favorite presidents.” After which they say, “Haters, please don’t comment.”
The posting and use of words, of course, is completely non-shocking. We see this type of comment on social media all the time. (We see it on Obama and on Bush and on everything across the polemical gammut.) It is common, and that is why it should be all the more disturbing.
We could critique the actual statement that affirms the president’s Christianity on the basis of his stated belief in Jesus or his attendance of church or the prayer he has prayed – a statement that may implicitly give the president blanket approval, without evaluating how the particular president’s actions cohere with Christian faith. We could critique that.
We could also critique this form of communication that claims the soapbox or the pulpit for one’s self and for one’s self alone. The exclusive right to speak assures a monolog. Or it assures a dialog only with those who think like you. And that limits any liklihood of learning or change. It says I want to talk but I don’t care about lisenting. It says my voice is important and yours is not. In larger society, this is counter the value of “free speech,” which their favorite president presupposably supports. In the church, this is the equivalent of silencing the prophet, whose contemporaries would have called “hater.”
And that leads to the real problem with this statement. It is easy to throw around words like “hater.” It’s not just that this is simple “name-calling.” It demonizes the other. It’s not that you have a different opinion than I; it’s that because you have an opposing opinion, you are bad. And because you are bad, no one needs listen to you. Worse, your being a “hater” justifies my violence against you, whether that be denying you the right to be heard or by inflcting other harms on you.
So, let’s take a line from The Interview, a film which has become a metonymic image of threatened free speech and violence to another’s point of view. Actually, we’ll take just the second half of James Franco’s character’s line, “Haters gonna hate an ain’ters gonna ain’t.” Let’s be ain’ters, refusing to demonize the other as hater and refusing to shut down those with views contrary to our own.
Every few years I try and compile some general statistics that give you an idea of the situation in Romania. I have compiled the following from various news reports, surveys, studies and government reports. I hope this provides you with a window through which you can understand a little bit of the context in which we serve, the challenges we face, and the reasons for doing what we do.
While there may be progress, development or improvement in some areas, I present here a perspective from the lower class and the most vulnerable. Our hope and prayer is that their situation will change than they will experience a better future.
Our vulnerable friends’ experience with the government is listening to the campaign promises and then waiting another four years to see them again.
Street protests against economic hardship, corruption and government authoritarianism in 2012 led to the collapse of the governing coalition. In addition, the government has gone through the turbulence of repeated attempts to impeach the president Traian Basescu. We will have a new president this year. Elections will be held in November. Only recently has the investment grade risen after years of political turbulence. Hopefully, a semblance of stability will continue even in the face of regional conflicts and the harsh rhetoric that has ensued.
Romania placed 69 out of 177 countries on the corruption index. The Romanian parliament voted to exempt themselves and several other government officials from anti-corruption laws, which refer to actions such as abuse of office, bribery, and conflicts of interest by public officials, the law would no longer apply to them. According to the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office (DNA), 28 members of Parliament have been convicted or are on trial for various corruption charges. In addition, 100 mayors and vice-mayors are being investigated for such crimes as awarding contracts to family and friends. In our daily experience, there are still frequent implicit requests for bribes by medical practitioners, government officials, police officers and teachers.
Romania is a strategic partner in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and it has provided significant contributions of troops, equipment, and other assistance in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Romania has agreed to host elements of the U.S. Phased Adaptive Approach to European missile defense in the 2015 timeframe. The two countries signed a ballistic missile defense agreement in 2011 allowing the deployment of U.S. personnel, equipment, and anti-missile interceptors to Romania over the next five years. The United States and Romania also have adopted the bilateral Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century. The strength of NATO is now being tested in Romania and other countries on the alliance’s eastern border, as it faces the crisis in Ukraine.
Romania’s original target date for adopting the Euro was 2015, but the president stated that it was unfeasible. Romania’s GDP is between 50% and 55% lower than the Eurozone’s average. For the past few years, the government has continually overestimated economic outputs, resulting in budget deficits. But in the first quarter of 2013, Romania’s economy began to expand, although less than the government forecast. It grew by 3.5% in 2013 – due to a bumper harvest – with a predicted 4.2% growth in 2014.The country’s inflation rate in 2013 was 4.4%, Europe’s fastest, but is forecast to fall to 3.5% on average in 2014 as gradual government deregulation boosts energy prices. Currently, the country is authorizing and protesting policies concerning gold mining and land and water fracking. S&P recently upgraded Romania to investment grade after the economic crisis of 2008.
The average individual income is less than 350 Euros a month. In 2014, the minimum wage is being increased in two stages to RON 900, from the current RON 800 (USD$245). After several years of strong growth in the 2000s, Romania has been hit hard by the 2009 global recession and the Eurozone crisis, which have revealed systemic weaknesses in its economy.
Romania relied on a 20 billion-euro loan from the IMF between 2009 and 2011 to help it emerge from a two-year recession and withstand external shocks from the global financial crisis. As part of the loan agreement, the government cu public sector wages by 25% and raised the value-added tax from 19% to 24%.
The official unemployment rate is 7.2%. The lack of jobs is one of the primary drivers of people migrating out of the country. Still, there is an estimated 2.3 million Romanians working on the black market, more then a third of those legally employed.
In Galati, ArcelorMittal Sidex, the steel factory and largest employer, has not registered a profit since 2008 and has laid-off 19,000 workers in the past 11 years. So, the economic outlook for Galati is not great.
25 years have passed since the fall of communism and the restoration of property confiscated by the communist regime to their owners is still in process. Approximately 3 million hectares of arid land out of the 12 million has not been restituted, and almost 5 million of the hectares are split up in sections smaller than 1 hectare. This shows a lack of a united vision and efficient planning of agricultural land. So, although Romania has the capacity to feed 80 million people, it continues to import most of its food. The question remains: if the land was managed efficiently, who would cultivate it? The average yields are less than half of that of the EU. For its agricultural development, 300 million Euros are being loaned to Romania.
Absolute poverty declined from 35.9 percent in 2000 to 5.7 percent in 2008. Still, Romania is the European Union’s second-poorest state. Some 9.5 million people, or roughly half of the population, are receiving welfare, unemployment, housing and central heating aid, or other supplemental benefits on a monthly basis. That equates to a national expense of $3.2 billion a year.
One-fourth of young adults (ages 18 to 24 years old) live in relative poverty, the highest rate in the EU. 40% of this age group are at risk of social exclusion.(DPC report).Because of their lack of buying-power, youth are forced to live with their parents into adulthood, thus increasing the family size. About 45% of those with full-time jobs still live with their parents, compared with 38% in the EU.
Emigration and Migrant Orphans
Shortly after the 1989 so-called “revolution,” Ryszard Kapuściński said that the people abolished the dictator, not so that they could turn to the building of democracy, but so that they could open up the borders and leave. According to the latest census that was taken in 2011, Romania lost 2.68 million inhabitants in the last 10 years. The greatest loss of population in all of Romania was in Galati, which dropped 22.56% – from 298,589 in 2002 to 231,204 in 2011. It is now the 5th largest city in the country.
Romanians abroad are expected to send about USD 3.6 billion to their home country in 2013, making it the third largest volume of remittances to a developing country in the region (behind Poland and Russia), according to a recent World Bank report. The amount sent to Romania in 2013 is expected to be almost flat on 2012, and smaller than in 2011, when it reached USD 4.5 billion, as well as from 2010, when it stood at USD 4.9 billion.
Over the past year, there was much negative press in the UK as they removed travel restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians. Although they expected to be overwhelmed by the flood of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants, the total of 140,000 citizens from Romania and Bulgaria employed in Britain between January and March represented a decline of 4,000 when compared with the 144,000 in work in the last three months of 2013. Still, the stigma on Romania immigrants remains in many circles.
According to the Soros Foundation, Romania has about 350,000 children who are left without parents. The Romania Authority for Child Protection’s figure is much lower, stating that at least 82,000 children have at least one parent that has gone to work abroad. There have been reports of children as young as 12 killing themselves after their parents left. Some of these children also suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and often have trouble in school. Many drop out of school. Additionally, some may turn to crime and drugs to cope with their issues. Recently, new laws have been passed in Romania which will place fines up to 2,500 Euros for parents who do not leave children with appropriate guardians.
Children in Poverty
In the 1990s, Romania had over 6.6 million children. Today, due to a lower birth rate, there are 3.7 million children. As the birth rate falls, the life expectancy has increased, resulting in there being 1 child to every 2 adults in the 1990s to 1 child for every 4 adults today.
Over half of Romanian children are at risk of poverty and/or social exclusion, and one third lives in persistent poverty. The rate is highest in families with many children or with a single parent. About one in 10 children live in homes with no working adult. The rate of material deprivation is 3 times higher than the EU.
Poverty exists even where parents are working. One in three children live in poverty even where parents are working. One in every five families that have working adults still lives in poverty, and this rate is rising.
About 12% of rural households have no income other than the state subsidy for children.  10% of these children go to bed hungry and 12% are missing school so that they can work.
Sex Workers/ Child Trafficking
Girls and boys left without their parents are extremely vulnerable to being trafficked. Romania is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Romania has become a major transit for the sale of people into the European Union. Victims as young as 12 years old are trafficked into Romania from destinations as far-reaching as Honduras, Afghanistan, the Congo, and China. Once they reach Romania, many of these victims are assigned for passage beyond into Western Europe. While Romanian law officially prohibits all forms of human trafficking, the country’s strategic geographic location — a crossroads between East and West — makes it a source, transit and destination country for the people trade. The country’s 2007 admission into the European Union brought more relaxed border regulations and enhanced its attraction for international human traffickers.
According to the US State Department, Romanians represent a significant source of trafficking victims in Europe. Romanian men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, hotels, and manufacturing, as well as forced begging and theft in European countries. Children likely represent at least one-third of Romanian trafficking victims. Traffickers recruiting and exploiting Romanian citizens were overwhelmingly Romanian themselves. Frequently, traffickers first exploited victims within Romania before transporting them abroad for forced prostitution or labor. The Romanian government reported increasing sophistication amongst Romanian criminal groups, including the transportation of victims to different countries in Europe in order to test law enforcement weaknesses in each. The Government of Romania does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government reported the identification of 1,043 victims in 2011. The government made strong prosecution efforts during the reporting period: the number of anti-trafficking prosecutions pursued was amongst the highest in Europe (480 prosecutions with 276 convicted in 2011), and built on partnerships with governments in destination countries to increase accountability for trafficking offenders. The government also conducted creative anti-trafficking prevention efforts to sensitize the population to trafficking in persons. Nevertheless, services available to protect and assist trafficking victims were very weak. For a third consecutive year, the government provided no funding to anti-trafficking NGOs, imperiling civil society’s victim protection.
There are high numbers of Romanians caught in the commercial sex. Although the government proposed legislation to legalize prostitution, it was not passed. Still, sex is sold on street corners, truck stops and the many erotic message parlors throughout the country.
Orphans and Child Abandonment:
In 2001, Romania placed a moratorium on international adoptions, and officially banned the practice four years later, citing widespread corruption in adoption practices across borders. Romania has no formal national assistance program for orphans after they leave state institutions. Most must leave at age 18, when they become legal adults. Few of the country’s 75,000 orphans know how to managemoney, find an apartment, prepare food or search for a job. Many end up homeless and turn to crime, like prostitution, when they age out.
The number of children abandoned in maternity wards dropped from 5130 in 2003 to 1315 in 2010.28% of children abandoned are Roma. NGOs claimed that the official statistics underestimated the problem, and that many children living in state institutions were never officially recognized as abandoned. Poverty, child marriage and mobility are the primary causes of child abandonment. But most potential adoptive parents refuse to adopt Roma children.
According to the Ministry of Labor, Family, and Social Protection, there were 63,847 children in state care. Of them 39,212 were in professional foster care, 1,878 in alternative care (with guardian), and 22,757 in public or private residential care.
Although contraception is accessible and inexpensive, the abortion rate remains high, with 52.7 reported abortions for every 100 live births. Still, this rate is 7 times lower than the past two decades.
Children on the Streets
According to the Directorate for the Protection of Children, at the end of September there were 1400 homeless children nationwide. NGOs working with homeless children believed there were actually two or three times that number. Some estimate that as many as 2,000 children live in tunnels that run under the city. The collapse of communism, which negatively impacted the economy has forced children into poverty. As a result, these children resort to begging and stealing to survive. Romania is aiming to end its reputation for neglect of children and is hoping to close large orphanages. As a result, children are returning to violent homes or ending up on the streets.
Children living on the streets suffer from social exclusion, and life on the streets usually results in serious health problems, chronic undernutrition, lack of schooling, illiteracy (around 50%), sexual and physical abuse, drug abuse, discrimination, and a diminished access to social services.
Education and School Drop-out Rates
Child Protective Services states that 56,000 children are not enrolled in the school system. Others, however, estimate the number at 100,000 children between 6 and 16 years of age that have dropped out of school.
Children living in rural communities are at greater risk of abandoning school. Also, with the state raising the mandatory grade that all children need to complete to 10, the drop-out rate has risen.
Child Abuse and Child Labor
Child abuse and neglect continued to be serious problems, and public awareness remained poor. The media reported several severe cases of abuse or neglect in family homes, foster care, and child welfare institutions. For example, within a period of six months, child welfare services identified 5,665 cases of child abuse, of which 570 involved physical abuse; 716 emotional abuse; 292 sexual abuse; 63 work exploitation; 24 sexual exploitation; 40 exploitation to commit criminal offenses; and 3,960 neglect. Of the reported cases, 2,732 were boys and 2,933 were girls. Most cases of abuse occurred in the family.
The government has not established a mechanism to identify and treat abused and neglected children and their families.
Romania law criminalizes adults who force children to work. Still, there is a high incidence of child begging, and the government is struggling to find and prosecute companies or individuals that illegally employ minors for work. The punishment is 7 years in prison. In 2008, 1072 cases of child labor had been reported, from which only 125 had been confirmed. In 2010, the Authority for Child Protection stated that there were only 412 children exploited by work. Although this number, as with the others the I present here, is hard to nail down, Save the Children Centers received 2,405 children who were exploited by labor. An older report states that 70,000 children needed to work instead of going to school, of which only a third who work on the streets are literate.
According to Save the Children, 86% of children are scolded by their teachers when they make mistakes 33% are ridiculed and 7% are beaten by their teachers. 57% of children suffer from anxiety, withdrawal, insecurity and stress at school.
38% of parents admit to physically abusing their children and 63% of children confess being beaten by their parents, while most parents think that smacking and yanking their ears is appropriate.
According to the Authority for Child Protection, the rate of child abuse has increase by 7% from 11,232 in 2010 to 12,074 in 2012. This includes emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation through labor or crime.
Violence against women, including spousal abuse, continues to be a serious problem, according to NGOs and other sources. The government did not effectively address it. The law prohibits domestic violence and allows police intervention in such cases. Amendments to the domestic violence law adopted in March 2012 provide for the issuance of restraining orders upon the victim’s request and for the payment by the abuser of some expenses, such as medical and trial expenses, or the cost of the victim’s accommodation in a shelter. While the criminal code imposes stronger sanctions for violent offenses committed against family members than for similar offenses committed against others, the courts prosecuted very few cases of domestic abuse. Many cases were resolved before or during trial when alleged victims dropped their charges or reconciled with the alleged abusers. In cases with strong evidence of physical abuse, the court can prohibit the abusive spouse from returning home. The law also permits police to penalize spouses with fines of 100 lei to 3,000 lei ($26.70 to $893) for various abusive acts. During 2012, 1,857 persons reported being victims of domestic violence, and 440 persons were sent to trial for domestic violence.
Compared to other EU countries, Romania has a low rate of drug use. Still, the use of psychoactive substances by youth under 16 years of age doubled in just four years. Heroine is the most commonly used drug, followed by marijuana.
42% of the elderly are at risk of poverty, which means having an income 60% below the country’s national average.
670,000 elder people and children with healthcare problems receiving government assistance. This is a rise from 80,000 Romanians receiving social benefits in 1992. The increase is due to citizens’ heightened awareness of government benefits.
5.2 children per 1,000 are affected by the divorce of their parents. Where the divorce rate is declining in other European countries, it is rising in Romania. This is partially because marriage is still commonly practiced.
Those with Disabilities and Mental Illnesses
EU funding of at least 24 million euros is propping up 50 residential institutions in Romania. Thousands of people with disabilities were being ‘warehoused’ in such institutions, segregated from society and subjected to inhumane conditions.
Today, the majority of children with disabilities (over 95%) do not live in state institutions. Still, the lack of school participation for children with disabilities is seven times higher than other children.
There have also been reports that some personnel in state institutions mistreated abandoned children with physical disabilities and subjected children in state orphanages to lengthy incarceration as punishment for misbehavior.
HIV/AIDS wrought devastation in Romania in the 1980s and 1990s. The victims were mostly small children infected in hospitals. Poor sterilization facilities and dubious medical practices, such as infected blood transfusions, were largely to blame. Those that did not die were often ostracized, and many were abandoned. Antiretroviral treatment is free and available to those who need it. Death rates have plummeted. In fact, Romania is now often cited as an example to other poor countries with major HIV/AIDS problems.
Yet a substantial number of Romanians with HIV still don’t know it. The generation infected in the 1980s and 1990s is now at reproductive age, and new cases are still appearing across the country, often years after infection. Health workers say sexual transmission is now the most common method.
According to official statistics, 11, 581 patients diagnosed with HIV and AIDS were registered as of December, with 741 new cases reported between January and December. Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS occurred, and many persons with the disease dropped out of school due to stigmatization, discrimination, or disease. In December, on International HIV Day, the National Union of Organizations of Persons with HIV/AIDS launched a campaign to increase awareness of HIV infection.
Romania spends just 5 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, about half the percentage of GDP Western European countries spend. 30% of medical professionals, about 10,000 people, have migrated out of Romania in order to work for better pay in western countries.
Only those with employment or who pay for health insurance have access to doctors. Medical care is supposed to be free for children. However, the children are often sent to the pharmacies to buy the necessary medication. Bribes across Romania accounted for $1 million a day in 2005, according to a World Bank report; more recent estimates are not available.
Although the infant mortality rate decreased from 26.9 in 2990 to 9 deaths per 1000 in 2012, it is still high – the highest in the EU and twice as high as the EU average. Romania also continues to suffer from transmittable diseases that can be prevented by vaccines. Tuberculosis is six times higher than the EU average, with Romania representing 25% of all TB cases in Europe – 15% of which are children.
Eight percent of Romanian children live in absolute poverty, compared to 35 percent among Roma children. 40% of Romani children are undernourished. 75 percent of Roma children do not complete the 8th grade. Roma children are significantly behind in education compared to non-Roma. Romani children were effectively segregated from non-Romani students and subject to discriminatory treatment.
Discrimination against Roma continued to be a major problem. Romani groups complained that police brutality, including beatings, and harassment were routine. Both domestic and international media and observers widely reported societal discrimination against Roma. Major human rights problems included police and gendarme mistreatment and harassment of detainees and Roma, including the death of three Roma at the hands of police and gendarmes.
Observers estimated that there were between 1.8 and 2.5 million Roma in the country, constituting approximately 10 percent of the total population. However, the preliminary results of the most recent official census, taken in fall 2011, counted 619,000 Roma, or 3.2 percent of the population.
Stereotypes and discriminatory language regarding Roma were widespread. Journalists and several senior government officials made statements that were viewed as discriminatory by members of the Romani community; the CNCD fined some individuals as a result. Anti-Roma banners, chants, and songs, particularly at large televised sporting events, were prevalent and widespread.
Romani communities were largely excluded from administrative and legal systems. According to surveys in 2007 and 2008, the latest data available on this matter, between 1.9 and 6 percent of Roma lacked identity cards, compared to 1.5 percent of non-Roma. The lack of identity documents excluded Roma from participating in elections, receiving social benefits, accessing health insurance, securing property documents, and participating in the labor market. Roma were disproportionately unemployed or underemployed.
The legal age of marriage is 18, although girls as young as 15 may legally marry in certain circumstances. Illegal child marriage was reportedly common within certain social groups, particularly the Roma. There were no public policies to prevent child marriages or government institutions that dealt with the problem.
 Some of the statistics are up to two years old as not all statistics are measured annually.
The Adevarul newspaper
 Eurostat 28
 Behr, Kiss the Hand that You Cannot Bite, xiii.
 Stracansky, Pavol, “Bringing Up a ‘Lost Generation'”.
 Eurostat 7
 xviii UE27
 Eurostat footnote 11
 Meghan Collins Sullivan, ‘Painful Lessons from Romania’s Decade-Old Adoption Ban’, Time, March 15, 2013.
RVE Cluj raportează despre „Iisus în oraș” – o consultatie despre misiunea urbană în Cluj în care am participat:
One of the organizers, Robert Calvert, is a minister in the Church of Scotland in Rotterdam. I met him at a similar consultation in Iasi, Romania and at the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town. Another one of the organizers, David Clark, is a minister at the Steeple Church in Dundee, Scotland – a friend and supporter, who has visited us a couple of times in Galati.
On the first day of the consultation, we did a walking tour of the major churches in Cluj. Because I there were many places on the tour in which I could not see a communist block building, I felt like I was in western Europe, not Romania. I also was surprised by the ecclesial diversity. There is a long history of the Roman Catholic Church going back to the Hapsburg Empire. Through this tradition, the Franciscans and the Jesuits built churches and schools. Cluj was also affected by the Reformation. Lutherans and later Reformed (Calvinists) turned the Roman churches into Protestant ones. Cluj was also one of the places in which the Unitarian church began. It seemed that every decade another one of these groups came to power and changed the churches’ names and evicted everyone else. Of course, the Orthodox Church was also present through the Romanian citizens, though a minority. In order to form a political constituency, Orthodox leaders recognized the authority of the Roman Pope, while keeping their Byzantine liturgy. This church was called Greek Catholic – although it is neither Greek, nor Catholic. In Cluj, the Germans, Hungarians, Romanians and their respective church traditions intersect.
For the rest of the consultation, we sat in a circle and discussed. Sometimes we ate, and then we discussed some more. There were representatives from the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholic Church, the Brethren church, the Pentecostal church, the Baptist church, as well as other independent churches. Most of the participants did not know each other previously. Many of them had not been inside churches other than their own particular tradition. I was delighted to see that there was cordiality and more understanding in the room than disagreements.
The conversations revolved around the place of the church in the city and the way the church interacts with the city. This exercise forced everyone to think beyond the walls of their own churches and their own programs. Each was able to see their particular congregation in light of the city – its dynamism, its problems, and its needs.
We all left knowing that we need to invest in relationships beyond those of our particular tradition and with eyes to envision interaction with and for the urban situation in which we are all ministering.
On the last afternoon of the consultation, we visited a garbage dump where thousands of Roma have made their homes. Many of them pick through the dump to find recyclables that they can sell. A Christian NGO has helped them build simple, but sturdy homes as well as communal toilets, showers and a kindergarten. We met Salome, a young Swiss girl, who felt God’s call to live among the Roma. So, she got on a train and went. She lives in a simple shelter on the garbage dump and teaches the children in the kindergarten. This was not only inspiring and faith-building, but it was also a great example of the church responding to the city.