Much to Thank God For
Europe, Divisions, especially the Inter-European Division (EUD)
By Daniel Heinz
Gospel proclamation anywhere on earth is always a challenge. It is certainly so in Europe. Seventh-day Adventists in Europe are a minority, with a current membership of 371,000 on a continent of about 700 million people. About one third of that population is Roman Catholic, about 12 percent is Orthodox, and no more than one tenth is Protestant. Overall, Adventists are just 0.05 percent of Europe’s population. Our numbers illustrate our missionary challenge.
A Continent of History
Western culture has its roots in the continent of Europe, a fascinating world full of light and shadow, superior civilizational achievements and the deepest human abysses. Europe—where Christianity’s cultural era looks back on a 2,000-year history. Where pilgrims and monks lived, great theologians taught, and cathedrals, monasteries, and universities were built. In the name of God, crusades and inquisition raged, the advent of Islam was halted, and Luther confronted emperor, pope, and empire. Christian missionaries were sent off around the world, the great intellectual-historical trends and revolutions of the modern era began, and two devastating world wars with millions of deaths were fought. Christians, including Adventists, bravely took a stand against Fascist and Communist dictatorships, sacrificing their lives. Yet today it is atheism, secularism, and postmodernism that triumph. This is Europe! On no other continent, perhaps, have Adventists, since the beginning of their mission 150 years ago, been faced with so many social and political changes, conflicts, and firsts.
Adventist Firsts in Europe
Europe was the first continent after North America where Adventists began missionary work (1864). The first Adventist to set foot on European soil was the unrelenting and unconventional missionary Michael B. Czechowski, historically regarded as one of the founders of Adventist world missions. A former Franciscan monk from Poland, converted to Adventism in North America, he worked among the Waldenses in northern Italy, and later in Switzerland, where in 1867 he founded the first Adventist church outside North America, in Tramelan. This old, wooden church, now unused, still stands. Ideally, it could be transformed into an Adventist museum.
In 1874 John N. Andrews, Seventh-day Adventism’s first official missionary, arrived in Switzerland to continue Czechowski’s work, making Switzerland the cradle of European Adventism. After 1886 Adventist missionary work experienced a breakthrough, when Louis R. Conradi succeeded for the first time in sinking Adventist roots in Europe by adapting missionary methods to European culture. Europe was also the first continent outside of North America thatEllen G. White visited (1885-1887). From Basel she traveled to various countries, opening the eyes of the young churches for mission, and bringing unity and spiritual guidance.
In Europe, the first division was created in 1913 as an official unit of church administration, although the Seventh-day Adventist churches in Europe in effect had this status already since 1908. The administrative headquarters of the European Division, including many mission fields in Africa and Asia, was first located in Hamburg, Germany then from 1922 to 1928 in Bern, Switzerland, and London, England.
Growth and Development
This period, 1922-1928, may be cited as a time of significant progress for God’s work: Adventist membership in Europe increased from about 53,000 to 89,000. In 1922, 30 missionaries from Europe were serving abroad. Six years later this number had grown to 134. Africa, in particular, was evangelized by many Adventist missionaries from Europe. As a result of the rapid growth of the church in Europe and Africa, the old European Division was reorganized into three new divisions. These were: a Northern European Division (now Trans-European / TED), based in London / St. Albans, and the Central and Southern European Divisions (collectively since 1972 the Euro-Africa Division, today the Inter- European Division / EUD), based in Berlin / Darmstadt and Bern. Adventist churches in the former Soviet Union, isolated from the world church in 1922, were able to form a separate division in 1990 (the Euro-Asia Division), based in Moscow. Today the Seventh-day Adventist Church is organized into three European divisions that facilitate our service to the highly varied historical, political, linguistic, and cultural circumstances of the continent. Their growth, accomplishments, and effectiveness give us much for which to thank God. Still, the best form of management for Europe in the future continues to be a subject of animated discussion among dedicated church leaders.
More on the EUD
Inter-European Division (EUD), now headquartered in Bern, includes most Western and Central European and some Eastern European countries. Amid the territory’s population of 336 million people, our 177,000 church members live in 11 unions speaking more than 30 languages. The division’s rich missionary tradition includes many decades of promoting successful mission work in much of North, West, and Central Africa (particular in French- and Portuguese-speaking areas), and in the Near and Middle East. Evangelism in the secular countries of Europe still proves difficult after the waning of missionary awakening in Eastern Europe that followed the collapse of Communism. Despite this, the Euro-Africa/Inter-European Division experiences many spiritual highlights. Romania’s more than 67,000 Adventists, the highest number among all EUD countries, now host a “Waldensian Youth Project.” University students are invited to work as literature evangelists during their summer vacations. Some even choose the option of working for one full year.
Gabriel E. Maurer, division secretary, notes, “I recently had the opportunity to meet 80 of these students and see and feel their contagious enthusiasm for sharing their faith through the printed word. It is an overwhelming experience to see how many of these students have radically changed from being entertainment-seeking young people to being committed, mission-oriented Adventist Christian youth.”
A similar missionary awakening among young people can be experienced every year in Mannheim, Germany, where the Youth in Mission Congress is held with top speakers from around the world. Thousands of young Adventists from all over Europe come together to grow spiritually and be equipped for missionary work. Many decisions are made for baptism.
Equally impressive is the social commitment of the Adventist Church in the EUD. We thank God for organizations such as ADRA and ASI. They, and many smaller mission initiatives by committed lay members make significant contributions to Adventist world missions. In many countries of the EUD new evangelistic projects are launched to reach a postmodern audience. Immigrant church membership admirably enhances this impetus to mission. Their missionary zeal continues to impact the deep secularism that pervades the EUD.
The EUD confronts its challenges with great hope. We have much for which to thank God. Because we know we are God’s church, which He has sustained and led in a wonderful way in the past, and up to the present. The great days of the Advent movement in Europe are still to come. Earth’s rulers pass on, but our Lord ever reigns. Our work is headed for a glorious climax: We work for His soon coming.
Daniel Heinz is director of the European Historical Archives of Seventh-day Adventists, located at Theologische Hochschule Friedensau, Germany.