The fall and winter of 1989 was an unbelievable time for those of us who worked in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. After years of praying, the unimaginable happened: communism collapsed. That December, the bloodiest of all struggles occurred on the streets of Timisoara, Romania. For several days, Romanians protested the oppressive dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, only to be met with deadly military resistance until finally the army joined with the people. There was such excitement and enthusiasm as thousands of Romanians gathered in the Opera Square and began chanting in unison, “Exista Dumnezeu, exista Dumnezeu (God exists, God exists!).”

Back then, Romania had a population of 23 million and one of the highest percentages of evangelical Christians in Europe. It was also a country that captured the hearts of people around the world. The appalling images of orphans and the stories of persecution compelled many to get involved in missions. In the past 27 years since the revolution, Romania’s economy has become vibrant and the markets are full of goods. However, similar to many parts of the world, Romania’s evangelical population has been declining.

The global decline of Christianity should be of deep concern. In the 1990s, data indicated that more than 234 thousand people were committing their lives to Christ every day only to be outpaced by the global birthrate of 257 thousand per day.

This downward trend has continued. A new analysis by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization suggested that in 1980 only 24% of the world was out of reach of the gospel. Today, that number has increased to 29%. Christianity appears to be losing ground and there are undoubtedly many causes.

●  Increasing birthrates – one of the main concerns of Ugandan pastors is the birthrate of Muslim children because of polygamy. More wives equal more children; more children equal more Muslims.

●  Lack of evangelistic efforts – a Romanian Christian recently told me that when the Americans left, they took evangelism with them. There is a need for more training. An old friend of mine use to say that discipleship without evangelism is not discipleship.

●  Diminishing number of missionaries – only 3% of the mission force is focused on the 29% who are out of reach of the gospel.

●  Over emphasis on social justice – a Kenyan pastor working in Kibera, Kenya, one of the largest urban slums in Africa, told a group of Christian leaders, “It would be a terrible tragedy to meet the needs of people living in deplorable conditions only to see them miss the streets of gold.” Social issues can easily distract organizations from evangelism as priorities shift to meeting the physical needs of the poor and marginalized.

At the core of International Needs is the deep belief in coming alongside of nationals who have a heart to win their countries for Christ. It was especially exciting to see this in action in Romania this month. Our 15 church planters are seeing a very encouraging response to the gospel in the villages where they work. Their efforts among children and youth have led to spiritual conversations with parents. They are working in prisons, with the homeless, on school boards, and in gypsy communities. Their work is also showing results as their churches are growing and people are coming to the Lord. As they look to the future, their vision is to double the number of new church plants over the next two years.

These efforts will not dramatically change the Christian growth rates in Romania or the world, but their faithfulness to spread the gospel is a powerful example of lives committed to fulfilling the commission of Christ.

With you serving Him,

 

 

 

Michael T. Cooper, PhD
President and CEO