By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hundreds of evangelical leaders have agreed to improve cooperation between their organizations amid mounting concerns about the moral and economic decline of Europe, organizers said.
“Some 500 leaders returned home from the HOPE•II congress in Budapest a few days ago, buoyed with fresh perspectives” to give “hope for Europe” as the continent currently faces a “culture of death” and “deep spiritual poverty,” explained Congress Director Jeff Fountain.
Those attending the four-day gathering included politicians, artists, theologians, evangelists and pastors “against a background of crisis and scandal embroiling European institutions,” he said.
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The HOPE•II congress, organized by the ‘Hope for Europe’ movement, began May 9 as it is “Europe’s forgotten birthday,” Fountain added. “Few Europeans are aware that on 9 May 1950 the first move was made towards the creation of what is now known as the European Union.”
On that day, “French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman surprised the world…by announcing a plan for France, Germany and other European countries to pool together their coal and steel production as ‘the first concrete foundation of a European federation’,” Fountain recalled.
Fountain, who recently launched the ‘Schuman Centre for European Studies’ also expressed doubts that the late statesman would be celebrating Europe’s ‘birthday’ today.
While he would be “delighted by the unbroken six decades of peace” among EU members, Schuman “would be appalled by the false ethic of greed in the financial sector” linked to Europe’s economic troubles, and “the ‘culture of death’ expressed in youth suicides, abortions, euthanasia, low birth rates, rising murder rates [and] signs of deep spiritual poverty,” Fountain stressed.
Schuman’s personal vision, he added, was for “a community of peoples deeply rooted in Christian values.”
Keynote speaker Philip Jenkins, an internationally acclaimed religions expert, told the congress it was time evangelicals helped Europeans realize their Christian roots. “Look around you…at street names, religious holidays, flags, monuments, and you can’t avoid seeing how much Europe is rooted in a deeply Christian past.”
While Christians were often painted “as ignorant obstructionists” to progress, the rise of science was a Christian project, Jenkins said.
Additionally, he expressed doubts that Europe would be swamped by Muslim migrants. “Out-of-date figures”, he said, ignored “the rapidly” falling birth-rates of Muslims in Europe and the Arabic world. Iran, for example, had fallen from a fertility rate of 6 to 1.6 in 25 years, the steepest fall ever recorded, the expert noted.
Five European-based “ministries”, as Christian organizations are often called, received the ‘HOPE Award’ for their involvement in giving Europe hope, crafted of a silver-pewter and marble but with no money attached to it.
Among the winners was Shirinai Dossova, born into a Muslim family in Uzbekistan but now living in Moscow. A passionate evangelist, Shiriani told the congress earlier that she had been kicked out of her family home after becoming a Christian.
Yet, eight out of her nine siblings have also become believers and many are planting churches, she said.
Fountain suggested that she was also recognized for her courage during the attempted coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gobachev in Moscow in August 1991, “when she confronted the soldiers that had surrounded the Russian parliament.”
Among other East Europeans receiving the HOPE award was Sergey Grushko of the Teen Challenge group in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, for his work among drugs addicts and urban street people.
Award-receivers also included Berlin-based speaker Patricia Green, for helping victims of the wide-spread human trafficking across Europe, the Santa Clara Church in Stockholm, and Mark de Boer, director of the Agape Europe group for his role in Internet evangelism.
The HOPE•II congress was held at a time that Hungary is holding the rotating presidency of the European Union. The event was organized in a large conference center followed by several meetings in hotels across this city of some two-million people.
Yet, the gathering appeared smaller than that of nearly a decade ago when some 1,000 evangelicals attended the HOPE.21 congress in Budapest.
During that event evangelical leaders from 38 European countries asked forgiveness for their involvement in evil deeds in the name of Christianity.
In a final document titled Budapest Perspectives: ‘Towards an Agenda of Hope for Europe’, participants said at the time that they “repent of the sins” of racism, nationalism and injustice.
Evangelism is a relative new phenomena in former Communist Hungary, where more traditional churches have still much influence, although evangelical congregations are growing.