“As a missionary organisation we want to reach those outside the churches.”
Belgium has changed. In consequence, the BEM, a year before its centenary, is looking again at its mission statement. “Our society has changed,” explains Kurt Maeyens. “We need to recognise that we live in a post-Christian culture. People no longer have natural links to the Christian world.” The process of reflexion and research that BEM began nearly two years ago is leading them to explore new paths. For example, all BEM ministries will from now on be centred on four core values. Why this change? Because it’s no longer enough just to invite people to church. We have to go out to find them where they are. Let’s listen to Kurt Maeyens and Luc Salsac.
Our new vision goes like this: – “We see a thriving movement of integrated communities of disciples of Jesus throughout Belgium.” Enthusiastically Kurt and Luc explain how the BEM wants to go out in order to meet people where they are. The BEM will in fact be returning to its original vision, choosing to become once again a missionary organisation one hundred per cent.
“A few years ago, when I became BEM director for Flanders,” recalls Kurt, “we didn’t really know how to reach Belgium with the Gospel any more. We were trying to carry on with what we already had.” Over the years BEM has seen many periods of growth, but also of stagnation. In the 80s and 90s churches were growing, but methods that seemed effective then no longer appear to work. For Kurt it’s quite wrong to say that, by definition, Belgians can’t be reached with the Gospel any more. “In the past, we were always trying to find a link with the Christian world” he explains. “But now because many people have no Catholic roots at all and therefore no Christian background, we’ve tended to say they’re no longer open to the Gospel. However, if you start by building a relationship with them, it can even turn out to be the exact opposite.”
“In the development of this new vision, I’ve really become convinced that God has a new plan for Belgium,” Kurt goes on enthusiastically. “The whole process was amazing and we’ve really seen the Holy Spirit at work.” “I didn’t really know what to expect when we started” adds Luc.”It seemed important to me that we invite a number of people from outside BEM to join us. There was a crucial meeting when Filip De Cavel, Nat Winston and Eric Zander each gave a presentation. This was really an eye-opener. Filip explained why the old, tried and tested approach doesn’t work in Flanders anymore, and he pointed us to new initiatives that are proving relevant today. Nat shared his experience as a pioneer in Brussels and Eric talked about ‘L’Autre Rive’ where he’s been working. And then he pointed out the general principles common to all three experiences. This made a great impression on all of us.”
“The values that we finally chose for the Mission come straight out of each of these stories,” continues Luc. “One of them is integration. It’s about the way we deal with people, not just by inviting them, but by living among them.” The DNA of the Mission has been finally formulated as follows: – The BEM commits itself to incarnating the Good News of Jesus in society, to making disciples of Jesus, and to developing integrated and relevant communities in every socio-cultural context and for every people group in Belgium and beyond.”
Kurt explains, “Above all we want to focus on the ways of making an impact on society and the means of bringing Christ to people today.” The new approach of BEM rests on four strategic values: all taken from pioneer ministries or pioneer communities.The four values are:- integration, community, journeying, and participation.
Luc’s already been working in Hannut for some years using these same four values. He says, “When considering the church and the world, it’s not a question of us and them. We deliberately choose to be out there amongst other people. We realise that Jesus left heaven to come down to earth to live amongst men. If we don’t do the same, the gap between us and them will only grow wider.” For Luc, in practice this means being committed to a local organisation ‘La Maison du Coeur’ (The House of the Heart) which helps destitute people. “Every Thursday morning, I go out and about in a furniture van with two other people. I find myself among people I would never have met under other circumstances. Some have drugs or drink problems, some have been in prison, others have family difficulties. I’ve learned a lot from them. I can’t preach openly but I can serve them. When the opportunity arises, I talk about God. They respect me and sometimes ask me questions. One Thursday, I couldn’t be there because I had to go to hospital; and my wife and children were out of the country. These friends offered to help by doing the shopping for me. Sometimes I even find this sort of work showing me what church should be like.”
This next value means a lot to Kurt personally. It’s a reflection of the fact that in Belgium we sometimes have to spend years with people in order to see them change. “My daughter, Liesbeth, got married recently. When she was five she became friends with Evelien, a classmate. They became best friends and Liesbeth invited her to a Christian camp. One day, Evelien’s parents came to visit, and we became friends with them. They were grateful for the special friendship between our two daughters. She even came on holiday with us. Evelien was one of the witnesses at Liesbeth’s marriage. Her parents helped with all the preparations and really enjoyed the service. For me this was all about the principle of journeying together, being open to others in our daily lives. Evelien did become a Christian, but it took ten years.”
Participation is a central feature of the services in Luc’s fellowship in Hannut. “We choose to put this value into practice because the Holy Spirit speaks to all of us. Naturally there is always someone leading the service, but everyone has the chance to share something themselves, to speak of what they have or haven’t understood. We never put a lid on people’s questions.” “One day I invited the team from ‘La Maison du Coeur’ to the service, giving them the opportunity to tell us about their work. Our fellowship has a strap line: ‘A dynamic faith, a radical love, a certain hope’. I asked people to make a drawing showing what that might mean to them. My colleagues from ‘La Maison du Coeur’ put a question mark next to faith, but they had a lot to say about love because they’re living it out on a daily basis. They felt free to talk about this and it captured their interest.”
The fourth value is community. “Community is wider than church.” remarks Luc. “It’s any group of people. There are all sorts of communities in the world; it could be a football club, or a rugby club or a club of cycle enthusiasts. As Christians we should be taking part in this sort of thing, or starting something up ourselves in order to be involved with others. Community is not only about planting churches but about building bridges with others based on shared interests. For example, the café Expressé in Charleroi will be a place where people can come to experience community. It will be run by Christians and so people will be able to ‘get a taste of’ Christ. This aspect brings new meaning to our traditional idea of what church means.”
We end this conversation with Luc and Kurt by looking to the future. How do they see BEM developing in the years to come? “I hope BEM will be a platform where people can try out new ideas,” says Luc. “That we won’t end up saying: “But we never tried that idea!” I hope that young people will want to join us and that we will be able to reach a new public.” And Kurt continues, “We don’t want to be content to be an organisation, we want to be a movement directed by God. If we remain faithful to Christ we will have an impact. God has called us to live amongst the lost and to bring Christ to them. I hope that this will inspire the younger generation, that they’ll become part of the movement to reach Belgium with the Gospel at the heart of their communities, whether it be a community of refugees, bikers or footballers… We’re praying for a movement which is led by the Holy Spirit.”
Text and interview: Jan Willem Vink
At the time of our interview Kurt Maeyens was Director for the Dutch and German speaking ministries and Luc Salsac, Director for the French-speaking ministries. During our last AGM, all the members of the BEM leadership team stood down to make way for a new structure. After six years as French director, Luc will be concentrating on his local ministry in Hannut from now on. During the coming year Kurt will chair the new Transitional Council which will deal with the process of change on a daily basis.