My gut clenches, sweat beads on my upper lip, my mind races is twelve different directions, my mouth goes dry, and my hands shake—why? Because I’m speaking at my church this evening. And it’s not because anybody has twisted my arm—I want to do this. When I’m in the US, I want to speak as often as possible to anyone who will listen about Europe as a mission field. But I’ve always had a fear of public speaking, and even though it usually goes really well, and the audience is very sympathetic and supportive, that fear is lurking just out of sight, ready to make my voice crack or make me forget what I was going to say.
Fear of speaking in public is one of the most common fears around. Most of us would rather face a roaring lion, armed with nothing but a Twinkie than speak in front of an audience. But like I said, I want to do this. Facing-down this fear is the measure of how strong my calling is for Europe. If I didn’t do this, I would feel like I had abandoned my calling.
Europe is the forgotten mission field. A professor of foreign missions at Abilene Christian University told me that he asks his students at the beginning of the semester what is the mission field with the most need. They invariably answer Africa. Then after he has demonstrated to them that Africa is far more Christian than Europe, he will ask them again, and many times the answer is still Africa. The economic need tugs at their heartstrings, even though Europe is in far worse need spiritually. Operation World calls Europe by far the “most secular, least Christian” continent on earth (pg. 79). Europe also has the most un-reached people groups of any region in the whole world—including the Middle East. Africa is now sending missionaries to Europe.
- Slavery – Human trafficking is epidemic in Europe because the relaxed borders have made it easier to transport people from Eastern Europe (primarily Ukraine, Czech Republic, Moldova, and Romania) to Western Europe (Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany).
- Poverty – People think of Europe as a rich peoples’ playground. And it’s true that rich people do vacation in Europe, but the average European makes far less money than the average American, and lives a simpler life. Furthermore, the third world exists throughout Europe at the edge of every city: in gypsy camps of staggering poverty. The gypsy children live in shockingly unsanitary conditions. Many gypsy children are denied an education due to their nomadic family life. Gypsy children are expected to bring money back to the patriarchs, the grandparents. They beg, steal, or work as prostitutes to bring money back to the family, and if they fail to bring back money or to bring back enough money, they are beaten. Sometimes their legs are broken and set in crazy ways that will turn your stomach. Sometimes their legs are cut off—giving them more sympathetic appeal. Many gypsy children are sold to sex traffickers or organ traffickers.
- Homelessness – Homelessness is a huge problem. Budapest has an estimated 30,000 homeless people. I saw lots of homeless people when I was there, and the homeless of Budapest are unlike homeless people I’ve ever seen anywhere else. There are so many of them that they have simply lost all hope. They don’t even ask for money, they just curl up in doorways and in the subway entrances. (This is all recounted in my book, Look, Listen, Love.)
- Suicide – Suicide is rampant throughout Europe, especially in the current economic climate. Fourteen of the top twenty countries with the highest suicide rates are in Europe. Switzerland legalized suicide in 1941, and under Swiss law, you do not have to have a lethal diagnosis to ask for physician-assisted suicide; you don’t even have to be Swiss! That means that if someone is depressed and wants to end their life, they can go to Switzerland, which is conveniently in the middle of the continent, and pay a doctor to help them kill themselves, and they don’t have to get any kind of counseling. In fact, the doctors would be against counseling because they make money on each suicide. Now suicide is also legal in the Netherlands. In Milan, where suicide is still illegal, and Switzerland is only an hour away, about once a month or so, somebody jumps in front of a speeding subway train. In fact, it is such a common occurrence that people have lost all sympathy for the victim and his or her family, instead they just become annoyed at the inconvenience that the suicide has caused them as they rush through their day.
- Drugs – The city of Amsterdam is uniquely problematic because they have de-criminalized both prostitution and marijuana. Legalizing pot use has been discussed from time to time here in the US. The arguments for legalization seem very logical and reasonable, particularly when it comes to saving taxpayer money and law enforcement manpower. But before getting onto the bandwagon, you should take a trip to Amsterdam to see what legalized pot use looks like. Marijuana is only legal in the marijuana coffeehouses, but it doesn’t stay in the coffeehouses. And because pot is legal, tourists think that other drugs are also legal—they are not. No matter how harmless you may think it is, the fact is that marijuana is a gateway drug. The dealers of illegal drugs situate themselves along the canal in the Red Light district (more about that in a moment) and peddle their drugs to passers-by. They don’t stand around looking villainous, but instead they are very friendly. The dealers speak English and often the major European languages. Amsterdam is the number one partying destination in Europe, possibly in the world. So lots of young men travel to Amsterdam for legal sex with prostitutes and legal marijuana use. Many of them are lured into trying the harder drugs as well. The result is that the streets of Amsterdam are filthy with trash and vomit and people that are either homeless or too high to remember how to get back to where they are staying. The streets are also very loud all night long, with the sounds of hell-raising. There are so many people who are addicted to heroin that the city has started giving out free needles to try and keep the risk of HIV transmission low. So the parks are full of addicts that are shooting-up. And the free needle program has done nothing to stop the spread of HIV. Prostitution – Legalized prostitution in Amsterdam was supposed to help prevent the spread of HIV by having the Dutch Minister of Health responsible for making sure that all the window girls stayed healthy and conducted business in ways that reduced the possibility of transmission (i.e. washing the customers and using condoms). However, that has turned out to be impossible to enforce. Plus, the presence of legal prostitutes has not stopped or even slowed down illegal prostitution in the Netherlands. Let’s face it, supply follows demand.
- The idea behind legalizing prostitution seemed like a good idea, but prostitution plays a part in all the above behaviors, like a European version of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but worse because of the whole drug issue discussed above. People believe that the window girls are independent businesswomen—they are not—at least not all of them. Many of the window girls come from other countries, mostly Eastern Europe and Africa. Those girls got there because they answered ads for jobs, and some even paid intermediaries who turned out to be traffickers to get them illegally into Europe. Few, if any, of them set out to work in prostitution. Like I said, the relaxation of borders within the European Union has actually worked to the traffickers’ advantage. And even if some of the women are voluntarily working in the windows of the Red Light district, they have invariably been sexually abused as children. As a woman, I can tell you that no little girl dreams of having dozens of sweaty, smelly men use and use and use her all day and all night long. Prostitutes use the same survival strategy that victims of physical abuse use: they have learned how to zone-out and not be in their bodies while it is happening. Despite the lies that the johns tell themselves, that doesn’t sound like it’s something they enjoy, does it? All of this means that Amsterdam, an otherwise lovely city, has become a haven for potheads, traffickers, drug dealers, and drug addicts.
- Cynicism – The young people of Europe are among the most hopeless and cynical in the world. They go to university only to find that they are still unemployed and unemployable. East European youth are leaving their homelands in droves, seeking employment in the west. The employers take advantage of that desperation and pay them lower wages, and giving them the jobs that West Europeans don’t want. Most of the janitors in Italy are Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, or Polish. Because they feel powerless, the youth are drawn into witchcraft and satanism. They recognize that there is genuine spiritual power therein, but don’t have the discernment to know the good from the evil. Turin, Italy is the European capital for satanism. Every so often, there is a ritually sacrificed body (either human or animal) found in the woods near Turin. It has become such a common occurrence that the news agencies have stopped reporting these findings. Many of these young people consider traditional religion a waste of time, and they don’t want to hear about anything of a religious nature. For this reason, missionaries in Europe have had to be very creative in sharing the Gospel.
I could continue, but I think this post is long enough. So, I take a deep breath, pray for at least an hour, and go pour my heart out for an hour or so about Europe. Suddenly, I understand exactly what Jeremiah meant when he said that if he tries to keep silent, God’s Word is like a fire shut up in his bones. God is good, and I want more missionaries to share His goodness with this lost and dying continent.