Flying through the night is not my favorite thing to do. Despite that necessity, I was excited to visit Poland this past week to spend time with my CLC European colleagues. They had asked me to come as their devotional speaker for their biennial leaders’ conference. People from seventeen nations gathered in Krakow for a week of fellowship, training and spiritual development. What a great time we had.
Being a literature ministry in post-Christian Europe is no easy task. While many barriers to accessing Christian books have been removed in former Iron Curtain countries, new challenges have arisen. The population of evangelical Christians is quite small in most of the countries where we serve and Islam is on the rise. In addition, book retailing is more and more difficult all across Europe for Christian and secular organizations.
In the face of these realities, our teams are courageously standing firm and even innovating in some cases to be able to serve more effectively in their cultural context. Many are pursuing new opportunities in internet sales and book publishing. Some are focusing on wholesale distribution and others are concentrating on events and book tables at conferences.
As I spoke with person after person, I did not get a sense of discouragement, but of bold determination in the face of huge challenges. Our team in England is in the midst of a multi-year ministry transformation that involves moving a warehouse, rethinking e-commerce by establishing a vital new partnership and refocusing the retail stores to meet the needs of large Christian communities in the cities. The team in France is embracing publishing in a much more significant way and is thinking creatively about how to make this content more affordable and available in Quebec and West Africa.
While there have been many struggles to keep bookstores open across Europe, our teams have responded to this challenge and are finding new ways to get books in the hands of readers. One of the most important developments has been the growth of e-commerce in our ministry. In several countries, this is now a significant and growing aspect of their work. CLC Italy, France, Romania and Portugal have now created websites that are the primary on-line source for Christian resources in their countries. This means that their impact extends far beyond the four walls of their stores these days and reaches all parts of their nations. In a great irony, they are now reaching far more people than they ever could in any one store.
Some of the most moving stories of the week were from the Russian speaking countries, especially two that are closed to missionaries. We have a new leader in Russia named Nikita and he is excited about the new software they have recently installed that will make their work much easier to accomplish. God is on the move in these former Soviet republics and much is being done to advance the cause of the gospel. In several countries, we are now a vital communications link point for the entire Christian community.
Gary Chamberlin reminded us all that “the cheese is still moving”. He encouraged us to see God’s sovereign hand in the midst of significant change. I had the joy of presenting messages on the subject of hope from the lives of Joseph, Esther and Nehemiah. I connected these biblical heroes to some modern day CLC heroes around the world. It was powerful to be reminded of how God has used these people to make a huge difference in their countries over the years despite massive changes in their contexts and a huge lack of resources. I love to tell stories of God’s faithfulness through the generations.
As the week came to a close, I was greatly encouraged. Each of our European leaders is facing significant challenges, but is doing so with a faith and courage that is contagious. I was asked to bring messages of hope and yet I came away with much new hope myself. It was wonderful to hear so many new stories of God’s faithfulness to His obedient servants. There are lots of choppy waters ahead for our teams in Europe and no one can accurately predict the future. Knowing this, our teams are preparing for the days ahead by changing what they are doing while remaining anchored in their faith in a God who never changes.