What kind of deal will Britain get from the EU negotiating table?
At this stage, who can really know? Despite recent optimism that talks are making progress, the media has dished up plenty of doom and gloom, especially concerning the UK ‘divorce bill’, trade and immigration.
The stakes are high for British gospel workers living in continental Europe. The results of the Brexit negotiations will have a huge impact on whether they can stay or not. Crosslinks currently has 25 mission partners serving in EU countries and more lined up to head out next year. What travel restrictions might be imposed? What will become of European health insurance? Will the exchange rate recover? Responding to these questions is part and parcel of our ongoing mission personnel support effort.
One thing is certain, no one is asking what a good deal for Europe might look like. But you would be hard-pressed to find many UK mission organisations with even just half an eye on Europe, who wouldn’t seek to re-claim this as a vision for the next two years of Brexit talks. Amid talk of the best ‘deal’, it is all too easy to neglect the spiritual state of the continent.
Consider for a moment that Europe is the continent with the lowest percentage of evangelical Christians in the world. In Sweden, where Crosslinks has two mission partner couples, the evangelical population is declining faster than in any other country worldwide. Ireland is the most un-evangelised English speaking country in the world. According to UNHCR estimates, around one million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe in 2015, almost four times more than in 2014.
But still the British mind-set errs towards ‘how will Brexit impact me.’
There is a danger that Brexit could blunt missionary zeal for a continent that 500 years ago gave us back the gospel in our own language. At a conference of ministers a few weeks ago I heard someone suggest that perhaps missionary mobilisation for the rest of Europe and the world would only come after the re-evangelisation of Britain. It would be easy to allow passion for our nation to check our willingness to engage in mission across the channel or even leave home shores for the sake of the gospel.
It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.
The book of Jonah tells of Jonah’s resistance to leave his own shores and head to a neighbouring superpower. When his faithfulness in ministry at home was tested, he passed with flying colours1. Yet when asked to share God’s compassion and mercy with Nineveh, he refused. Jonah had ring-fenced God’s grace and compassion. Prejudice tempered any shred of concern for the tens of thousands in the city of Nineveh who ‘couldn’t tell their right hand from their left’. Bearing in mind the spiritually dark state of our superpower neighbours, this is a timely lesson for today.
The Reformers ensured that they could not be tarnished with the same brush as Jonah. Even a cursory glance at church history 500 years ago bears this out, as Ken Stewart observes:
‘The fact is that Reformation cities such as Geneva, Lausanne, Emden, Zurich and Basel were like hubs. From them streamed out many hundreds of persons who – often after finding a safe haven from persecution in a particular city of the Reformation – returned to their home regions with the theological and pastoral training required to fit them for work as pastors and evangelists.’ 2
By 1555, Calvin and his supporters in Geneva had planted five churches. By 1562, with the help of some of their sister cities, more than 2,000 churches had been planted in France alone.
The Reformers saw Europe’s widespread spiritual needs and opportunities and did all they could to take the gospel as far as possible.
As it has been said many times, we might be leaving the EU, but we can never leave Europe. Despite Brexit we must surely pray and long for the door to remain open for gospel work the other side of the channel. That means pursuing a good deal for Europe.
12 Kings 14:25
2Stewart, Kenneth J., Calvinism and Missions: The Contested Relationship Revisited, Themelios 34:1 (2009), p. 68.
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