In 1988, Marcel Hoban, then 18 years old, was a member of a youth group in Timisoara, Romania, which met regularly for prayer and Bible study. One guest speaker encouraged those attending to pray for countries with very few Christians and for Christians facing persecution. He also shared that Albaniatheir recently had declared itself the first officially atheistic country in the world. Hoban, together with his group, began to pray for a Bible translation and Christian response in Albania.
Agape and Alethia Church Support
One day, while praying and studying the Bible, Hoban received a vision of mountains and darker-skinned people and heard an inner voice say, “There you will be a missionary.” In April 1994, while visiting Albania, he came to a certain mountain. As he saw the needs of the surrounding villages, it suddenly became clear to him that this was the same mountain and these were the same people that he had seen in his vision. Agape, their church in Timisoara, sent Marcel and his wife Felicia as missionaries to the village of Pinet. Six months after their church’s funding ended, they responded to a previous invitation from Cornel Marincu, pastor of Aletheia, another church in Timisoara. Despite being just one year old and with just some two dozen members, this church agreed to support the Hobans as its missionaries. In 2001, Aletheia sent another couple to serve in the village of Pinet in Albania. A church now of around 100 members, it wants to send missionaries to Serbia and also has someone preparing to go to the Muslim world.
Daniel Matei, a Pentecostal pastor, immigrated to the United States and then served as a missionary in China. Immediately after the 1989 Revolution he returned to Romania and shortly thereafter helped start a new style church. This charismatic church, Agape, unlike traditional Pentecostal churches in Romania, emphasized a more contemporary worship style, ministry training, and outreach. Matei had a heart for missions and it was part of his desire for Agape to become involved in missions. He encouraged his church to accept Hoban’s vision and to support him.
Cornel Marincu, the founding pastor of Aletheia, was one of the original members of Agape and was its director of church planting and missions, but left over differences in philosophy of ministry and practice. Influenced by the “Church Dynamics” course taught by Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), Marincu developed a growing awareness of the need for mission outreach. When Hoban visited the church, it adopted his vision. However, church members did not just accept his vision: they caught it for themselves and owned it.
Vision More Critical Than Money
In many situations in Romania since the 1989 Revolution, people with a missions vision have had to leave their church to find another congregation willing to share their desire to be sent. So often the pastor by his attitude can promote or destroy any missions vision. Those involved in supporting the Hobans in Albania believe that if the church has the vision, there will be no problem with money. One respondent, who spoke passionately about the relationship between giving and vision, said the church has to teach people that money belongs to God. “Economics is not the biggest problem. People think first you have to have money. Not true. Money is only money. Most important is vision.” Aletheia committed to providing the Hobans with $250 a month. “By the grace of God, by miracles,” respondents say they have never missed a month. In the year 2000 alone the church invested $15,500 in Albania because people sacrificed to help: some gave up their cars while others gave up their vacation money.
At times, things were very difficult for the Hobans. They lived at the same level as the villagers, they hauled water by donkey, and for three years they did not have a car. They moved to the village of Pinet simply to establish a Christian presence in the village. They went as newlyweds, and as such were adopted and protected by the village. During the violence in Albania in 1997, when foreigners had great difficulties and many were evacuated, the Hobans decided to stay. The villagers told them, “You’ll be the last to die. First, we will die; then our children will die; only then would you die.” On another occasion, Muslim missionaries from Pakistan came to the village and told the Albanians they should kill the Hobans because they were Christian missionaries. The villagers told them to go away: “They are Christians, but they are our Christians. They are one of us.”
Aletheia is a small church with a large missions vision. It was one of the first churches in Romania to send out missionaries without support from outside organizations. Although the level of help from outside sources is probably larger than implied by the main participants, the church nevertheless has devoted itself to providing for its missionaries as completely as it can. The missions pastor says that Aletheia supplied 60 to 70 percent of the Hobans’ funds. At the beginning, the church apparently had Western contacts who would have connected them to a mission board that would have taken care of the Hobans. However, the leaders decided not to take advantage of this offer. They felt God had called them to do it, so they asked God to supply the needs. Several Romanian businessmen from outside the church have become regular donors. These men, some Orthodox and some Evangelical, have responded positively to presentations of the needs in Albania and have given generously.
Aletheia has not been able to fund its missions program totally from its own resources. This has required establishing relationships with partners outside the country. Exodus Fellowship in Maryland is listed on the church letterhead as a U.S. contact. A church in North Carolina also has been a partner. Donors come from Northern Ireland and Germany as well. And World Relief helped build the new community center in the village.
Open to New Vision
Aletheia had a multi-cultural character from the very beginning. Among the church’s initial ten members was an American missionary who provided access to multiple perspectives in its founding stages. Aletheia has planted three churches in the Timisoara area and others farther away, it is starting a church among Gypsies, and is helping churches in Oltenia, primarily with training. The important point is that Aletheia was open to new ways of doing ministry, and therefore the church was able to respond to a need and a vision and adopt it as its own. No inherent resistance to doing something new and challenging existed. Marincu, as a visionary and initiator, certainly made this easier as well.
Through the six years that the Hobans served in Albania, people from the church visited regularly. (Marcel Hoban is now the missions pastor of Aletheia.) About twice a year, a church group traveled to Albania to visit and encourage the Hobans and to help with practical issues, money, and supplies. Ten to 15 members have made these trips, quite a large percentage for such a small church. Leaders sent both mature and not-so-mature people because, in addition to practical help, the purpose of the trips was to challenge people. The missions pastor says of those who participated, “They have now lived there for a week and they understand better. The impact was significant. They now have a heart for missions.”
Aletheia has relationships with the Pentecostal churches in Timisoara, which typically look at it with distrust because it is charismatic and has not joined the Pentecostal Union. However, Cornel Marincu has developed a reputation and trust that has overcome many barriers. At the same time, Aletheia recently joined a new denomination that has ties to the Pentecostal Missionary Society (PMS), one of the earliest mission agencies founded after the 1989 Revolution. So far, PMS supports two women from Oradea serving in India and a man from Satu Mare serving in Afghanistan.
The Hobans’ initial Western contacts were through the Albanian Encouragement Project (AEP), a consortium of all mission groups working in Albania. They later switched their affiliation from AEP to the Albanian Evangelical Alliance. The current missions pastor has become involved in foreign ministry, traveling to Vietnam with BEE to teach courses to others who now experience under Communism what Romanians have lived through. The church has a written manual that includes a section on multiplication and mission. All church members have to read and understand the vision. In addition, Aletheia has developed a mission constitution outlining policies, finances, communication, and partnership.
A Lot to Learn As Well As Give
Although Romanians feel they have something important to bring to Albanians, they see that they have a lot to learn from them as well, for example in the area of hospitality. Romania has a strong reputation in this area, but “We don’t know anything compared to them [Albanians]. They give you everything.” They recognize the possibility and the danger of an attitude of superiority and pride, of being full of themselves. They know they need to be humble, to see others as “like us.” Marincu talks of BEE as being a role model for them in this, in that BEE staff came in and recognized they had things to learn from Romanians, and not just to teach. Finding the balance between having something to offer and something to learn is important. BEE training helped Marincu develop his own ministry skills and philosophy of ministry. Western missionaries modeled missions for Romanians, helped them to see missions first hand, and encouraged them to think about missions for themselves. Others came regularly and encouraged them in their vision. An American missionary family with BEE was in the church from the beginning, encouraging the church’s vision and personally supporting the Hobans.
On the negative side, some missionaries were not good models because they were not willing to learn Romanian culture and language and they created problems with their condescending attitudes. Nevertheless, it was still seen positively. Romanians looked at Western missionaries with whom they were not impressed and thought: “If this is what a missionary is, we can do a better job than they do. We have people who are more mature, better prepared, more experienced, and able to teach.” In conclusion, vision did not change the economic system. Instead, it changed the way people understood their capabilities and made them willing to use their financial resources to further a specific cause.
Scott Klingsmith is a missionary with CBI International and lives in Vienna, Austria.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Scott Klingsmith, “Factors in the Rise of Missionary Sending Movements in East-Central Europe,” Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity International University, 2002.
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© 2004 East-West Church and Ministry Report