by Reinder Bruinsma | 21 September 2023 |
Adventist World announced in its July/August edition that an “unprecedented evangelistic initiative” would “run across Europe.” Duane McKey, the president of Adventist World Radio (AWR) and one of the main people behind this venture, declared that this Christ for Europe project involves dozens of countries in Europe and in the former Soviet Union. More than 150 international evangelists, he said, had signed on to cross the ocean “to preach, teach and baptize” in more than 1,500 places in May and September 2023. Christ for Europe, according to McKey, would be “the most extensive evangelistic outreach conducted in the history of the Adventist Church.”
The AWR president should have delved a little more into the history of European evangelism before he touted the new project with such bombastic words. The church in Europe has seen some very daring projects long before Christ for Europe came along. Just think of the establishment of the New Gallery evangelistic center in Central London, near Piccadilly Circus in 1953, and of the ministry of George Vandeman (1916-2000), who became a role model for a large number of European evangelists.
Or think of the campaigns of John F. Coltheart (1924-1974), who in the late 1960s and early 1970s drew thousands of people to his archeology-based lectures in prestigious halls all over Europe. Or of the NET ’98 project, in which Andrews University Church pastor Dwight Nelson addressed people by satellite in some 7,500 places worldwide. In Europe the programs were downlinked in over 2,000 sites, with translations in many languages. In an interview with Nelson, Alfred C. McClure, at the time the president of the church in North-America, called NET ’98 “the largest evangelistic event ever undertaken by a Christian church.”
Include in this list also the church planting movement that was initiated by the Australian evangelist Peter Roennfeldt in the last decade of the previous century and in the early years of this one, which until today has had a major impact on the Adventist Church in Western Europe.
No, Christ for Europe is not the first, nor the most massive, evangelistic outreach in Europe!
Adventist World Radio announces a special evangelistic initiative each year. The foundation for this year’s project was laid about four years ago during a conference of the Adventist network of Adventist businessmen and professionals (Adventist Laymen’s Services & Industries, or ASI), in a discussion with a Czech businessman. In a later stage of the planning it was decided that the activities would be concentrated in the period of May 12-27 and September 8-23 of this year.
The project would be an important and integral part of the General Conference Total Member Involvement program. AWR linked the Christ for Europe campaign also with a new evangelistic tool that it has recently developed and is being rolled out worldwide: cell phone evangelism.
Strangely enough, with all the hyperbolic language accompanying the introduction of the project, no mention was made of clear measurable goals. It also remains unclear from the communications about this initiative how an “unprecedented evangelistic initiative”—”extensive evangelistic outreach conducted in the history of the Adventist Church” can take place within the confines of just a few days or, at most, two weeks—especially with a secular European audience in mind.
Where are the 1,
Besides the Trans-European Division (TED) and the Inter-European Division (EUD), the Euro-Asia Division is also taking part in Christ for Europe. In a AWR newsletter, a total of 37 participating countries are listed, with 1,501 sites, where, we are told, activities are being planned.
It is useful to look a little closer at this figure. The number of sites for Russia, Belarus, and Moldova is 665, and the number of sites in Ukraine is 417. This comprises 44 and 27 percent, respectively, of the total, or together almost three-quarters of the total number of sites. Though we are happy to see Adventist churches grow anywhere in the world, this program was advertised as Christ for Europe, not Christ for Asia.
Seventeen countries in the Trans-European Division (TED) are participating (though that number is a bit inaccurate, since Wales and Scotland are counted as independent nations). More significant is that over half of all the TED sites are in Croatia (120 out of 226).
The Inter-European Division (EUD) will, according to the list, have campaigns at 131 sites, in six different countries, with Belgium and Spain as champions, with 25 and 59 sites, respectively.
Do these figures really point to the “great evangelistic initiative in Europe ever”?
It is impossible within the limitations of this short article to analyze the figures for each individual country. Not all countries responded to our request for further information, while some did so in very vague terms, such as: “We are grateful for everything that takes place to help in the spreading of the three angels message’ in our country.” But there is enough information to arrive at a general picture.
Let’s look first at the activities in the Inter-European Division. The division administration welcomed the evangelistic initiative and acted as a liaison between the General Conference and Adventist World Radio (AWR) and the unions. Some unions responded positively, and a number of activities are ongoing or are planned for the near future.
By far the largest entity in the EUD is the Romanian Union, which comprises one-third of the total membership of this division. Surprisingly, its participation in Christ for Europe is low. Moreover, several major countries in the EUD—Germany, Italy, Portugal, and France—are not even on the list.
Belgium is represented with 25 sites. But when I contacted the conference office in Brussels, no one knew anything of activities that had already either taken place or were being planned, except for a series of eight lectures in the Brussels International Church about key Adventist topics during the week of 16-23 September by Pastor Paul Douglas, the treasurer of the General Conference. It was advertised on the Facebook page of that church, but I could not find any other signs of promotion.
According to the AWR list, the Spanish Union was committed to the Christ for Europe project with 59 sites. An AWR newsletter reported that “Forty pastors from America held meetings throughout Spain with amazing results.” According to the Spanish church journal Revista Adventista, 43 churches requested the services of a foreign speaker. One of the speakers was Pastor Erton Köhler, the executive secretary of the world church. Most of the speakers came from the Southern Union in the USA, with a few from the Pacific Union.
The meetings took place under the motto “CONNECTION.” They were in fact a special week of prayer, which developed into a string of revival meetings. As a result, 112 baptisms took place. One leader commented: “It has been a long time since we have seen such a harvest of baptisms.” We can be glad that these meetings stirred the hearts of so many people, but it was not the kind of evangelism that would bring secular people from the outside into the Adventist fold.
In the Trans-European Division, the most promising news source is the division’s website. My regular visits to that website led to less than a handful of news stories connected with the implementation of Christ for Europe in the TED territory. These news stories, though reporting interesting activities, did not refer to the kind of evangelistic activities—targeting secular people—that the promotion by AWR and Adventist World led us to expect.
During the week from April 28 to May 3, Pastor Glenn Aquirre, the senior pastor of the Calhoun Seventh-day Adventist Church (Georgia-Cumberland Conference) gave a series of talks on the topic “The Holy Spirit comes again to Athens.” Some 60 church members and a few visitors attended these meetings in the Greek capital. The local pastor praised the event as “both a revival and indirect evangelism.”
Karen Porter, an associate secretary of the General Conference, together with her husband, joined a group of some sixty participants on a 180-kilometer long, ten-day walk across the island of Cyprus, retracing the movements of Paul and Barnabas. The evening lectures by Dr. Kim Paipaioannou were no doubt of high quality, but did this event really qualify as an example of what the Christ for Europe project was meant to be?
Dr. Jeffery Brown, an editor of Ministry magazine, joined a team from California and the TED departmental leader Karen Holford in a series of meetings in Ireland, which were mainly focused on family matters, health, and well-being. Further meetings are planned in Ireland for the autumn, with Shawn Boonstra, the director of the Voice of Prophecy ministry, as the guest speaker.
The British Union has apparently understood that effective evangelism, which targets the various publics in the UK, requires a more solid approach. It has decided to develop its own response and adaptation, which will carry the name “Reflecting Hope.” The goal has been defined as “connecting the contemporary European mindset with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” 2023 will be a year of learning and evaluation, during which pilots will be held across the country. In 2024 the British pastors will be equipped and the churches prepared, while in 2025 the members will be guided in becoming “champions of reflecting hope.” It still sounds rather vague to me, but at least this approach treats evangelism as a process with many components rather than a short in-and-out event.
A spokesperson for the TED assured me that the Christ for Europe project is not yet over.
I was particularly interested in the involvement of the church in Croatia, with its 120 sites that are mentioned on the AWR list. Sources in Croatia informed me that, so far, a few campaigns of short duration have been held or are in the planning stage, but the overall reception by the leadership and the ministers has been lukewarm. A similar picture emerges from the Baltic region. A few campaigns, with foreign speakers, are postponed until next year, to allow for better preparation.
It seems clear that more is to come, but already there are several questions that beg for answers.
How much does all of this cost and how cost-effective is it? The problem with many Adventist activities is that the expenses are often spread over different organizational entities and are usually not added up. The travel and other expenses of the church employees who made the trip to Europe in the context of Christ for Europe must be considerable: if 100 people bought a ticket to fly across the Atlantic, rented a car, and stayed an average of ten nights in a hotel, this might easily cost a quarter of a million dollars. Is that money well spent?
But there is a much more fundamental consideration: is Christ for Europe an effective evangelistic model for secular Europe in 2023? A goal of this initiative seems to be to show leaders in Europe that traditional forms of public evangelism still work. In fact, the leaders in Europe (who know their field better than visitors from across the ocean) long ago discovered that these methods don’t work any longer. Why not trust local experience and expertise, and offer resources to develop and experiment with new strategies that will introduce today’s secular Europeans to the Adventist-Christian faith?
Another big question is communication—a topic I will explore in part 2 when I report on the campaign by Elder Ted Wilson in Prague.
Reinder Bruinsma lives in the Netherlands with his wife, Aafje. He has served the Adventist Church in various assignments in publishing, education, and church administration on three continents. He still maintains a busy schedule of preaching, teaching, and writing. His latest book is I Have a Future: Christ’s Resurrection and Mine.