Summary: Our largest travelling ministry by far was among the Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe from the early 1970s until they opened to the West in the late 1980s. This article explores this strategic initiative. We chose the phrase “travel-training ministry” to capture our conviction that whatever the challenge is, our ministry was not simply disciple-making. Instead, our aim was to multiply the number of those who do disciple-making, as described in the Fundamentals of the Navigator Ministr
Initiatives in the 1970s
Costs and Benefits of Travel-Training Ministry
Collaboration among Diverse Missions
Limitations and Restrictions
Initiatives in the 1970s
Although this article focuses on our work in Eastern Europe, we should first mention two other Nav travelling ministries that were active1 in the early 1970s.
- In 1969, Waldron Scott founded the China Task Force (CTF), based in Taiwan, which was explicitly assembled to prepare for the time when we would be able to travel into and, ultimately, live in mainland China.2
- A later example of a travelling ministry began in 1974 and focused on Nigeria. UK missionary Mike Treneer was our designated leader to open that country; however, despite repeated applications and much prayer, he was not granted a residential visa. So, he itinerated in Nigeria on visits from his base in southern England.3
Neither of these models was enthusiastically regarded by some influential Nav leaders, especially our US Director Jack Mayhall.4 It was assumed that a full-orbed Nav ministry required living among the target people, as indeed it usually does. The CTF was still “preparing” after five years, but the Nigerian ministry became very fruitful.
As early as July 1971, Jan Hill (Sweden) and others5 had visited Eastern Europe, giving us a preliminary report on accessibility and responsiveness.
Our first missionaries to Eastern Europe were Dick and Marj Fischer.6 They settled in Zagreb, Yugoslavia in July 1972. Though security-conscious and spiritually bleak, what later became Croatia7 was a maverick among the USSR’s satellite countries. President Tito did not always follow the Russian line. Thus, the Fischers were able to secure a residence visa and Dick began to study for a degree in Serbo-Croatian history.
Our global “Strategy for the 70s,” presented in December 1972, provided a rating of every country in the world as to their potential for becoming a sending country. Our intent was to invest primarily in those with the highest potential. However, Poland, which received the best rating of the Soviet satellites, was only rated at fifty-eighth out of 148 countries. This was not auspicious, though our director responsible for Europe, Doug Sparks, was relentless in his advocacy of opportunities in Eastern Europe.
At that time, Paul Stanley was Jack Mayhall’s assistant in the US Central Division, based in Chicago. He had been memorizing Isaiah 58:10-12, reflecting on the need to rebuild the ruins and repair the breach. His military experience and the reality of the Berlin Wall played into his thinking.
Thus, it was that Paul (and Phyllis) felt a strong leading from the Lord to volunteer for the position of leader of a future Eastern Europe and Russia (EER) team. Losing Paul would be quite a sacrifice for Jack personally and for the US Navs in general. Nevertheless, the decision was made. The Stanleys raised their very large expense budget within three months and moved as a family to Vienna in 1973.8
The expatriate travel-training team that began to gather around Paul in Vienna defined9 their work as “a systematic and coordinated training ministry to raise up indigenous laborers and leaders in a removed situation/location where the trainer is not able to reside but can visit frequently.” The travel-training ministry focused in each country except Yugoslavia on those in the evangelical church setting, seeking active and responsive laymen and pastors to teach the Nav basics.
Following this pattern, we had solid ministries by 1985 in all the countries of Eastern Europe, except Albania. The sequence in which we began, with the principal missionary responsible, was:
- Yugoslavia10 (Dick Fischer)
- Czechoslovakia (Paul Wyckoff)
- Poland (Cees de Jonge)
- East Germany (Cees de Jonge)
- Romania (Dave Grissen)
- Hungary (Paul Wyckoff)
- Bulgaria (Ed Cox)
In 1979, we made our first forays into Russia. Paul Stanley and Charlie Dokmo travelled in discreetly to meet several leaders of the underground church. They found that the demand for our help, which had been stimulated by our clandestine teachings on tapes, was very strong. So, we committed to Russia.
Security was always an issue, especially as regards protecting our national contacts in the east from any visible connection with those travelling in to disciple them. Nevertheless, God gave us great opportunities. We were able to meet with and systematically disciple faithful and capable believers, many of whom became laborers.
Because our ministry engaged those who had to live every day under Communist domination, we took many security precautions. Before entering a country, our missionaries would either memorize or code the names and addresses of our contacts. Border guards were usually very thorough in their search of vehicles, with hours of waiting, inspection, interrogation. Usually, two of our missionaries travelled together, which prompted the guards to separate them in order to look for inconsistencies during interviews.
We soon learned that God had not called us to a ministry of distributing literature; other agencies were adept at this and we collaborated with them. However, we worked at developing our own materials that were contextualized to the several cultures and the specific issues confronting our contacts.
To be effective, this travel-training ministry required that our trainers be able to visit our contacts at frequent intervals—at least eight times a year or, better yet, once a month11 —so that their training progressed. Several factors influenced the frequency of these visits:
- Sufficient resources (trainers and finances) to keep up the travel pace
- The contact’s commitment to the ministry
- The contact’s maturity
The younger a contact was in Christ, the more often we sought to meet with him, visits being conducted by a mix of our missionaries lest we be recognized at border crossings as frequent visitors and thus be especially suspect.12
Our objective was to establish at least one disciple-making base in each country, growing through the four stages of probe, initiate, develop, multiply. We expected that a disciple-making base would exhibit the three Es of our FOM,13 plus enabling.
Costs and Benefits of Travel-Training Ministry
As mentioned, the novelty of the travel-training ministry, coupled with the expense of the resources needed, did raise questions among our Navigator leaders. What was the cost-result ratio? Would disciple-makers be raised up? Would some of them in turn disciple their own people?
Thus, Lorne Sanny visited Vienna in 1974 and Paul Stanley took him to Bratislava where he was able to meet Milan C., whom Sanny described as “our first Navigator” in EER. When he returned to the US, Jack Mayhall told him that the US Navs could not provide the eight Reps that Paul was requesting.14 At that time, we only had Paul Stanley and Dave Grissen in Vienna, and Fischer.15 Therefore, because Reps were not available, Paul was forced to request more and more international trainees who were not subject to our allocations system. They travelled lightly and were foundational in demonstrating to believers in the East how to live for the Lord. At the peak, there were as many as thirty-five international trainees on the EER team!
An advantage of the travel-training approach was that our travelers had to minister very intensely during their visits. This, as Paul points out, put the ministry responsibilities in the hands of nationals very early. He comments:
At six months we had growth groups. Then, we would start letting the nationals lead and teach them to lead through questions. . . . We had to help them to think because they had not been allowed to disagree with their teachers. . . . We used thirteen lessons taken from the studies on the six assurances plus learning how to have a quiet time and prayer. . . . We found, all across Eastern Europe, an amazing response when our contacts were freed up to think and interact freely with the material.
The basic pattern was that the assigned missionary would travel in from Vienna to his target country for two or three days of intense work with a local group and then move on to the next city. Normally, the missionary would stay in the East for up to three weeks after which there would be a gap of three or four weeks before the next missionary would come. Thus, between trips, we spent a lot of time in Vienna briefing the next team going in.
As our experience increased, we saw that certain Reps were especially fitted to lead in certain countries. Paul recounts some details:
Paul Wyckoff invested in Czechoslovakia, being an excellent linguist. In Romania (Dave Grissen and Steve Ramey), the Spirit was active and nationals received our ministry with greater enthusiasm: There was much fruit. In East Germany, we engaged with young pastors or youth leaders in their large Lutheran churches but had to fit into their programs. In Poland, believers had been allowed to open a Bible school in Warsaw, so we fitted in by working with their students.
Paul adds the reflection that, the tougher the political oppression, the more fruitful the ministry was. For example, Romania was very tough. And yet, God blessed. Whereas Yugoslavia was relatively open yet God did not bless for several years. The more persecution that we saw, the more was the intensity of the believers. Russia was the most difficult. There were spies in many congregations.
This travel-training strategy involved very heavy staff travel in and through five countries in Eastern Europe. This meant that the gifted team that Paul had assembled never functioned as a true team, each leader having a very different target. Fifteen years of heavy travelling was very wearying and costly, especially on families. This may explain to some extent why the Vienna team began to disperse a couple of years before the revolutions in Eastern Europe; equipping was culturally much more challenging than establishing. This in turn sheds some light on why many of the nationals in whom we had invested moved on to other ministries, often investing in local churches.16
Again, Yugoslavia had been the exception in having a residential ministry. However, in September 1977, the police in Zagreb informed the Fischers that the coming academic year would be Dick’s last as a student. Therefore, they left Zagreb and moved to Vienna to join the main team in September 1978.
New believers began to emerge in Yugoslavia in 1976, when seven trusted Christ. Then, seventeen in 1977; nineteen in 1978; twenty in 1979; twenty-one in 1980, which was our peak year.
Ed Cox was responsible for our ministry in Bulgaria. As early as 1982, we find him analyzing how best to gain residential access for other than our international trainees.17
Travel-Training Strategy Manual
By 1979, our ministries had advanced to the point where a strategy manual18 was produced. It shows that we were already active in fifteen cities. Thus:
- Romania (seven cities, resident IT
- East Germany (six cities)
- Yugoslavia (one city, resident IT)
- Poland (one city, resident IT)
- Czechoslovakia (one city)
By then, the Stanleys had moved to Bonn in West Germany and Dave Grissen shepherded our Vienna base as deputy director.
This manual contained for each country a history of our ministry, current ministry personnel and structures, and the strategy to be pursued. Overall, it asserted that, “We will consider our major team contribution made in Eastern Europe when we see in each country four or five called and gifted leaders given to us by the Lord, who have been trained and developed by the team, so that they are leading and training others in an indigenous disciple-making base.”
A disciple-making base was described as an ongoing Navigator ministry that has four levels of ministry actively functioning simultaneously:
- Many lost are being evangelized and are saved
- The saved are being established and are disciples
- Some disciples are being equipped and are laboring
- Some laborers are being enabled and are leading
This manual, replete with the promises that we were claiming and the additional resources that we sought, is a good example of Dave Grissen’s meticulous style. It provides a detailed snapshot of the progress of the ministry at the end of the 1970s.
Collaboration among Diverse Missions
The peculiar challenges of travelling into Eastern Europe or Russia (EER) led to solid cooperation among many missions. Two such in initiatives:
- Brother Andrew already held regular consultations among most of the missions when Paul Stanley arrived in Vienna in 1973. We participated in such meetings, which lasted for several years, networking and sharing information.
- Peter Dynecka Jr. and Dave Grissen initiated a consultation in the fall of 1982, which morphed into the ongoing and very successful multi-agency program called “Biblical Education by Extension.” Jody Dillow and Al Bridges were called to launch BEE, with Dave composing the evangelism and discipleship course19 for BEE, into which he integrated our 2:7 Series. In Dave’s words, “Thousands of EER believers went through that program, which was translated into many languages and helped many believers who are probably leading the church in EER today.”20
In 1983, we also found time to organize what we called “Project Pentecost,” which was an intensive summer program in support of our regular travelers into the satellite countries.
Limitations and Restrictions
Later, Dick Fischer wrote a perceptive paper21 entitled “Residence Access: Facing the Realities of Restriction.” His observation:
To date, we have taken two approaches where our traditional ministry model didn’t fit: either regular, repeated travel to serve key contacts and groups, or gaining resident access through some kind of covert means. . . . By now, we have had a chance to demonstrate over a full decade that God will use travelers to disciple others and equip laborers and leaders. The great advantage of travelling is that we actually can initiate and lead an EEE ministry even where we cannot reside. . . . But there are some very significant limitations that a travel-training ministry needs to face squarely.
His paper goes on to list such limitations:
- Not suitable for all levels of ministry. In evangelism, for example, long-term relationships are usually essential.
- Separating personal life and family from the ministry has proven to be very costly for the traveler and his family.
- No one can do in ten or fifteen days what he would otherwise do in thirty.
This paper then probes the conditions for residential access. Hitherto, “we have generally considered people with genuine employment not as foundational but as supplemental in our strategy, as in the missionary associates program . . . disciple-makers who would move alongside and help in the task.” However, in exploring how our missionary leaders should be those with residential access, Fischer identifies the importance of “a viable role” in society because “not having a credibly consistent cover story makes the person very vulnerable. Rather than being liberated by the extra time at this disposal, he finds his job to be an embarrassment.” As regards our structure, a difference emerges between the view of our Task Force Access22 that the business or service should be responsible to professionals and the view of the author that the missionary should be one who is responsible to his Navigator leaders and other stakeholders for the success of his access vehicle.
For more on how this worked out among us, see the article on “Navigator Enterprises.”
Dick Fischer served on Dave Grissen’s country leaders team from 1978 to 1988, transitioning to Al Bussard’s Russia leadership team.
The Fischers moved back in to what was now an independent Croatia in 1993. Marj had qualified as a therapeutic horse riding instructor during their time in the US from 1988 to 1992. That enabled them to launch the Krila Riding School in Zagreb which is still active.
A briefer but incisive paper, simply titled “Access,” was written by Al Bussard in September 1987. He takes stock of aspects of the history of missions in restricted countries, commenting that, “It is difficult to combine considerations of corporate strategy with spontaneous access opportunities about which our staff tend to get excited. The manner in which we should plan to enter a new frontier when the access barriers are high is not at all straightforward.”23
Al notes the emerging Task Force Access (TFA)24 model that a business facilitator and a missionary would link up to provide the missionary with legitimate and suitable access. The initiatives, investment, and business expertise would come from the facilitator, enabling the missionary to keep focusing on the ministry.” He comments that, “It is too early to tell whether this TFA approach will succeed. It looks promising . . .”
He also recognizes that in EER, “We are currently involved with seven staff/equippers who are developing access to EER on the basic of Ph.D. or post-doctoral study, research, or teaching. In a couple of cases, the expertise brought by these people is greatly sought after by the host country.” The need to serve in concentrated blocks of time separated by long periods of no contact indicates that certain gifts are essential, and some ministry styles are preferable to others.
Our travel-training ministries in Eastern Europe had closed by 1988, before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. National staff or equivalent were in place in several countries. However, we were unprepared for the rapidity of change. Although Al Bussard (based in England) tried to energize an adequate response from our international leaders, we failed to provide support (especially financial) for our national laborers in EER who suddenly found themselves unemployed by governmental structures that had typically supported them. Our policy25 at that time was not to offer financial support to nationals. By adhering strictly to this, it seems that we missed an opportunity to keep in step with the Spirit. Meanwhile, Al moved to back Bratislava in 1991.
Out of this maelstrom, quite a few of our laborers therefore affiliated with other NGOs that were eager to recruit them. Sadly, we lost traction, although this was beneficial for the wider work of the kingdom.
Paul Stanley reckons that we had raised up twenty-two young eastern Europeans who were trained to the point that they could have become full-time Nav staff: they were qualified and wanted to join us. Though we tried to “hold onto” them, they had no way to create income. Their communist governments had paid them for doing nothing and, suddenly there was no government and no remunerative work.26
Out of this unexpected transition, two Nav-related organizations emerged, both centered in Bratislava:
- D3, launched in October 1990 in what was still Czechoslovakia. The three dimensions were physical, mental, spiritual. Led initially by Milan C., Raus, Ciesar.
- In September 1995, two Navigators formed an organization that promoted economic development and whole-life discipleship throughout what was now Central Europe.
Both of these initiatives flourished and spread. Nevertheless, these were confusing days. What, for example, was a Navigator ministry and what was a fraternal agency? A useful summary prepared by Milan C. on behalf of D3 was his “Central and Eastern Europe Ministry Report” of December 2003 in which he explores how best “to bring the Navigator presence back into these countries.” It was written after the birth of The Core and after Milan had been formally functioning for some eighteen months as our Representative in Central Europe. Milan’s report27 has a focus on Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia. Our work in Hungary and Slovenia was separately connected to what was called the Inner Frontiers.
See also articles on:
Fundamentals of the Navigator Ministry
Western Europe: 1950s to 1980s
Allocation of Cross-cultural Missionaries
By Donald McGilchrist
Travel-Training Ministries EER Timeline
7/72 Dick and Marj Fischer arrive in Zagreb
1973 Paul and Phyllis Stanley arrive in Vienna
1974 Dave and Sheri Grissen arrive in Vienna
1974 Lorne Sanny visits Bratislava and Zagreb
1976 Operation Joshua, out first summer program for recruiting missionaries was held
6/77 Stanley assumes leadership of West Germany as well as EER
4/78 Jim Downing appointed EMA director
6/79 Stanley and Dokmo meet key leaders in USSR
8/79 Decision to begin travel-training ministry into USSR
5/80 Death of President Tito of Yugoslavia
6/81 Downing ceases to be EMA director; end of the divisions
6/81 Stanley becomes regional director for France and Spain
5/82 European workgroup on evangelizing the secularized
1/83 Stanley appointed director for Continental Europe
1/83 Grissen appointed leader for EER
1983 Project Pentecost
6/83 Guenzel appointed leader for West Germany
8/83 2:7 Series begins in Romania
10/83 Travelling ministry into Bulgaria
6/84 Doornenbal appointed regional director for Europe
2/85 Grissen changes from EER director to coordinator
5/85 Bussard replaces Grissen as EER coordinator
12/85 Bussard appointed bloc leader for EER
12/85 Bonham appointed country leader for Hungary
12/85 Clegg appointed country leader for Poland
3/86 Negotiations to launch Wings of Access in Poland
4/86 Task Force Access formed, led by Cassidy
6/86 Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania confirmed as established countries
8/87 Decision to pull out of Wings of Access
4/88 Decision to commit resources to Austria; Wyckoff enters September 1988
6/89 Entry into Lithuania
8/89 Conference for national staff in EER: East Germany
9/89 Overthrow of Communism in Poland
11/89 Fall of the Berlin Wall; start of revolution in Czechoslovakia
12/89 End of the Ceausescus in Romania
3/90 Lithuania declares independence
4/90 First open meeting of Eastern Europe leaders: Hungary
5/90 Adam appointed country leader for Poland
5/90 Ministry to Baptist churches in Siberia; Eims
8/90 Survey: Albania
10/90 First conference of East and West German Navigators
10/90 Launch of D3 in Czechoslovakia
10/90 Union of East and West Germany
6/91 Croatia declares independence
- At some point, it may be fruitful to gather comparative lessons from the three approaches even though they were pursued in radically different contexts.
- The CTF was inaugurated in February 1969 and dissolved in December 1976. It is memorialized in a beautiful book of photographs of those participating in the task force that was prepared by Mirian Lee.
- Treneer’s first visit was in February 1974. Bernie Dodd was appointed to the faculty of the University of Zaria from February 1976.
- Thus, when additional missionaries were requested for Nigeria from the US, Jack wrote to the ILT executive, “It makes no sense at all to me as the US director for American missionaries to live in London and minister in Nigeria. It would make a lot more sense for Americans to live in the US and minister on a commuting basis to Nigeria, so that they can continue to be a positive resource to the US. . . . [Furthermore] I feel that it is a tactical mistake for the country leader of Nigeria to live in London when he could live in Africa. While I realize he cannot get into Nigeria, he could at least live in the same continent.” Mayhall letter of March 6, 1979 to Sanny, Eims, McGilchrist, Sparks.
- James Broad led a survey from the UK into Zagreb and Ljubljana in 1971.
- Roger Newberry, an international trainee, joined them in Zagreb.
- We saw Croatia as a launch pad for future ministries in Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, especially Belgrade and Ljubljana.
- Much of what follows comes from interviews with Paul Stanley on September 5 and 13, 2012.
- Source: Disciplemaker Viewpoint, March 1982.
- The Yugoslav work was focused on reaching and discipling the lost, learning how to present Christ to a very secularized mainstream. This contrasts with the “pure” travel-training countries, as above. Source for Yugoslavia: Fischer to McGilchrist, September 22, 2016.
- In addition, our teams often spent entire summers inside their target countries participating with our contacts in such activities as camping. The Fischers continued to be resident in Yugoslavia (Croatia).
- Source: Paragraph in Disciplemaker Viewpoint.
- Fundamentals of the Navigator Ministry, November 1978 and April 1982. The three Es were evangelizing, establishing, equipping.
- Walt Henrichsen also spent some time in Vienna with Paul Stanley. Walt was very cautious, concerned as to how one might provide life-on-life transmission. Walt visited in 1973 and 1976 and was able to see progress.
- Sanny was thinking about alternatives to our traditional sending of missionaries. In his March 8, 1976, “Dear Staff” letter, he referenced a comment that “it would be cheaper to commute!” He went on to say: “That struck me as having real possibilities. One of the more successful missionaries in East Africa was a man with a seasonal business in the States. He spent six months each year at his business, and six months each year in Africa, without his family. He didn’t have the expense of moving a household, maintaining a family on the field and getting them back. He probably accomplished more than he would have had he been in Africa permanently with his family.” He goes on to speak of ways in which all of us can be more productive.
- This perspective comes from Dick Fischer whose residential experience in Yugoslavia during the 1970s suggested a different angle of assessment. Interviewed in September 2011. For his account of six periods in our Croatian ministry see “A Very Brief history of Croatia,” August 2017.
- See Ed Cox’s paper on “Living in the East” which places a focus on educational and teaching opportunities: “The LITE Project,” August 1982.
- Produced by Dave Grissen and our team leaders in June 1979. McGilchrist archive, box 15, green notebook.
- BEE recruited seminary faculty and pastors for extensive programs, and is still flourishing today. Jodi came from Campus Crusade for Christ and Al from the Easter Europe Bible Mission.
- Source: Grissen to McGilchrist of November 19, 2017. His course was by no means the only BEE program.
- This extensive paper is undated but contains a careful analysis of our experience. On March 23, 1987, Dick separately summarized his “Perspective on Residence Access in EER” in five simple points. These papers were not merely theoretical, because we also find the agenda for a meeting during May 28-31, 1986 in Dubrovnik on how to secure long-range access for Don N. and the Rolleys.
- Formed in April 1986 and led by John Cassidy, with their final report appearing in August 1988. Their successor was our access coordinating team (McGilchrist).
- This comment would later have some traction when the US Navs invested in The CoMission.
- Task Force Access (TFA) formed in April 1986, led by John Cassidy. First session in June 1986. For TFA principles, see article on “Navigator Enterprises.”
- To be fair, we had seen that reducing subsidy rarely worked, when used by other evangelical agencies.
- Interview of September 5, 2012.
- Twenty-one pages, filed in agenda papers for 1992 International Team