Twenty years ago today, I was driving through Germany one November evening when, on the car radio, I picked up some news which was to shake the continent: East Germans were pouring through a breach in the Berlin Wall. I had been visiting Christians in Poland and Hungary and knew that they would find this almost unbelievable. According to Vaclav Havel, "The fall of the Communist Empire is an event on the same scale of historical importance as the fall of the Roman Empire." Oxford scholar Timothy Garton Ash has suggested that there is not a corner of the world that has not in some sense been touched by the consequences of 1989.
There is no doubt that it had a profound effect on the cause of European mission. Many churches and mission agencies responded to the open door, along with thousands of cults and millions of tourists. One year after the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic alone received some 53 million visitors. Looking back, there are some significant lessons which represent ongoing missiological tensions.
First, there is the tension between partnership and indigeneity. One of the great dangers in Eastern Europe was of Christian agencies parachuting in with little reference to local believers. Mostly well intentioned, such an insensitive response understandably resulted in the State churches reacting against what they perceived to be unwarranted intrusion and evangelical churches embarrassed and overwhelmed by Christians who had little grasp of the real situation. There was no question that partnership between European churches was urgently needed, but such partnership needed to respect the priority of local Christian witness that was rooted in the culture and that had national leadership and indigenous ministry. To ...1