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Potential for Christian Initiatives Through European Alliance

In a turn of events, a former Communist country is funding a Christian mission in Africa. Welcome to 21st century mission!


This past month I spent a few days in Bratislava, the capital of the landlocked central European country of Slovakia. On May 1st, 2004, Slovakia became a new member of the European Union. It is in this former communist country that a new model for international mission is beginning to emerge.

They provide loans and training to help the poor climb out of poverty.

My primary time of interaction was with a Christian ministry called Integra Ventures (IV). The mission of IV is to alleviate poverty, reduce unemployment and help transform communities through the development of small businesses in depressed and developing areas.

One of the key people behind IV is Canadian missionary, Alan Bussard. Alan has lived and served in Europe for the past 27 years.

IV gives practical help to entrepreneurs who want to start and grow their own business. They provide loans and training to help the poor climb out of poverty. And they make practical marketplace ethics central to their work.

As my IV colleagues told me, "We help people build their businesses into 'Islands of Integrity'. Then they can participate in the transformation of their communities." Over the last ten years IV has developed some very solid programs in helping Christians focus on small and medium enterprise development, micro-enterprise development for women at risk and coping with corruption and corporate social responsibility.

While unapologetically Christian in orientation IV has received strong support from corporate donors (such as Shell, Servicemaster and Citigroup, government agencies (including CIDA) and private agencies and foundations.

Today IV is active in Slovakia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Russia and Romania. And as of this month Kenya.

How did this organization focused on central and eastern Europe end up on another continent?

When Slovakia became a member of the EU on May 1st along with the benefits of being a part of the union they are required to fulfill certain responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is to establish an international development program to assist poorer nations. As you might imagine, Slovakia has no infrastructure to carry out such activity.

(The Canadian government apparently is investing $15 million to help Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic to help these countries set up international development programs.)

Enter Integra Ventures. Because the work of IV is deeply respected by the Slovak government, Slovak officials approached IV and asked them to set up some projects in Africa. After conducting due diligence and receiving a warm invitation from a Christian network in Africa they made the decision to launch an 18 month test project in Africa. While the project will focus on corporate social responsibility, the beneficiaries of this endeavour will be those stricken with HIV/AIDS.

So there we have it—a former Communist country now supporting Christian mission into Africa. The very first Slovakian non-government organization serving outside of the country is a faith-based institution. Amazing!

Could the Church in these countries be on the forefront of a new way of engaging in mission?

This whole scenario led me to discuss with Alan and his colleagues the potential for other such Christian initiatives out of the new European Alliance countries (particularly Poland and Hungary). Could the Church in these countries be on the forefront of a new way of engaging in mission? After decades of dependency on the West, could the Church lead the way in demonstrating compassion and care to the needy in other parts of the world?

I personally think so. What are the next steps? The World Evangelical Alliance in partnership with our European colleagues will facilitate a working regional consultation for ministries who want to engage in Christian-based international development.

Welcome to 21st century mission!

Geoff Tunnicliffe is director of Global Initiatives for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He can be reached at tunnicliffeg@efc-canada.com.

 

 
 
 
 

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