In Eastern Europe, after the first wave of Western "culture"--from Coca-Cola to Playboy magazine--literature flooded in from well-meaning Western Christian publishers' remainder lists. Most titles bore no relation to the needs of the infant church. Why send diet titles to families struggling to buy bread? However, recently there have been encouraging developments, particularly in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, where Western enterprises have brought initiative and creativity into industries in general and Christian publishing in particular.
After 1989 prerevolutionary smuggling methods became legitimate distribution channels, and churches and retailers were able to obtain a limited selection of titles in their own language. Organizations such as Operation Mobilization (OM), Christian Literature Crusade (CLC), and Eurovangelism continue to function, only now with the acceptance, if not support, of the authorities. Some deliveries still never arrive and delays at border-posts are still common, but literature is getting into the country. Even where a title is translated, designed, and printed within national borders, getting the books to the retail point, be it church or store, can still be difficult. Officials need to be "appeased," roads can be washed away, delivery costs can escalate with overnight inflation, and customers that have ordered might be unable to pay.
In many East European countries, Communist rule over one or two generations resulted in complacency and an expectation that the State provides everything. Now, following the collapse of Communism, many people are lost as to where their income, job-prospects, indeed their own futures, are to come from. Enterprise and creativity are seen as "Western" traits and two prominent social streams have emerged over the last ten years. The first is the Church, realizing that there is a future and a hope in Christ and thus working and preparing for a mighty harvest before He returns. The second is the black-market Mafia, driven by the desire to line its own pockets and create wealth by any means. Pornography and drugs are rife, targeting the younger, freedom-seeking generation.
The major barrier in purchasing Christian literature is affordability. In the Czech Republic parents do not buy books for their children. When they can afford to, adults buy teaching books, read them, and try to teach their children from them. Sunday school teachers buy books and then paraphrase them for their classes.
In the West the whole ethos of support for East European literature has changed since Prague's Velvet Revolution. As the need to smuggle literature has diminished, so the romantic and exciting element has dwindled. Several mission organizations have severely reduced their East European funding in favor of more "exciting" mission projects around the world. Therefore, now is the time to partner with publishers in these countries who are struggling to serve the Church under incredible conditions of sacrifice and frugality. The economic climate in these countries, particularly in Bulgaria, cannot sustain self-sufficient Christian publishing. There must be some support from Western Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Where publishers are taking risks to publish, we can and should partner with these courageous brothers and sisters. Many personnel from emerging Christian publishing houses in Eastern Europe have benefited from the training institutes of Cook Communications Ministries International, Christian Literature Crusade, Eastern Europe Literature Advisory Committee, and Media Associates International.
Bob Clark is Europe representative for Cook Communications Ministries International, Colorado Springs, CO.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from "A Decade of Deliverance," Interlit 36 (December 1999): 11.
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© 2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report