White Unto Harvest
Twenty Years in Norway
This month we highlight the work that brother Tom Bunting has been doing in Norway. As a veteran foreign worker his efforts to teach the Gospel in a foreign land are enlightening and instructive to those wanting to enter such work and to churches who might be called upon to support a man in a foreign field. (Steve)
Twenty Years in Norway
by Thomas Bunting
The first work in modern times began in Bergen in 1957. It was off to a good beginning with quite a few conversions, but the success and rapid growth was short lived. Unfaithfulness of some of the members and additional problems caused by this resulted in many falling away. The church was never able to achieve the same rate of growth. There were a few faithful members and new members were added from time to time. I worked with this congregation from 1967 through 1969. This congregation existed until 1973, at that time there was no one working with them. The church consisted of two elderly members and one young family. When the family moved to England the church no longer assembled.
There was no church meeting in Bergen from that date until June 1980 when Shirley and I returned to Bergen to establish the Lord's church again. We met in our apartment until we could find a room that we could rent for our Sunday services. The first couple of years we were alone, but we were fortunate that soon some American families moved to Bergen. They were working with different oil companies. Some of these were members of the church and some were not, but they attended with us so that we had an assembly of people quite a bit of the time. However, our goal was to establish a local congregation, so we concentrated our efforts towards the Norwegians.
The Church Today
It took four years before we had our first baptism. In the next twelve months we had baptised five people, three of these remain faithful. The church is making progress, but it is slow progress. The congregation presently consists of eleven members and five children. Others have been baptised who reside in other cities. We try, as much as possible, to keep contact with and encourage the Christians in other communities. The church in Bergen owns it's own meeting place (a store front), strategically located in downtown. To my knowledge we are the only non-institutional congregation in Scandinavia.
As I mentioned when we returned to Bergen the church was no longer in existence here, so we had to start again. All of the former teaching materials, Bibles and songbooks were gone. When we first started to write or translate tracts we used a translating services to make sure that it was written gramatically correct. For several years now we have been able to write them ourselves and have our Norwegian members make the corrections for us. It is important to be able to do your own translating for a professional translator usually has no knowledge of the idea you are trying to convey or little or no knowledge of Bible teaching. So their translation will be affected by their own understanding. I have found that they change a word because they think they know what you mean. I have had to argue with a printer to keep a certain word in a tract that he was printing for us. We now have several tracts covering many different subjects.
Making songbooks was a big project. Of course there were songbooks available, but they were small and without notes. We used these for several years but we really needed songbooks with notes. People would visit who did not know the song. They could not begin to sing with only the words. (Why do they only have song books without notes? Because the denominations have the organ or piano to carry the melody.) The absence of instrumental music in worship is very strange to the Norwegian. We had to make our own songbooks by using both English and Norwegian songs and supplying the notes. Many of the songs had already been translated, other songs we had to translate. We presently have about 190 songs in our book, but continue to work on new songs all the time. The computer has lightened this work considerably.
We presently have about seven different Bible correspondence courses. Some of them have been translated from English or German and others we have written ourselves. Why so many? Most of those who take the Bible correspondence course live a long long way from Bergen, so that it is not possible to have personal contact with them. So when they finish the first course we write and ask if they would like someone to visit them. If they do not want a visit, then we offer them another Bible course by mail. This has been a good way to keep in contact.
Getting the information to the public
We have had a stand in the downtown area of the city. This was a very effective way to get material out to the public, at least at first. The first few months it was very good; then it declined until after you had been there for two or three years the interest falls dramatically. We now use the newspaper very much for advertising, but this is limited to the finances available, for newspaper advertising is very expensive in Norway. We usually have a short teaching article and then at the end of the article advertise the tracts, correspondence course and other services that are available.
We have done some door-knocking, but this is not very successful. Generally it is very unpopular among the Norwegians. It is permitted to place any advertising that you desire in mailboxes. So this is a method that we use quite often. Using our computer and copy machine we can print all of our own tracts and other advertisments as needed. The members are good to help with the distribution of the material.
The meeting place for the church is a store front in downtown Bergen.This has been and continues to be a great asset to the work. When we were renting places for meetings no one came to visit the services, but since the time we came to have our own meeting place in the city we have had visitors nearly every month. It gives the church a permanency and a location to which you can direct people. It also makes it possible to do a lot of advertising and teaching through window displays. There are many people that stop by to read what we have in the window.
The church also has a dial-a-devotion telephone service. This has been in operation for ten years and continues to have many callers. When we started this we were the first in Scandinavia to have such a service. It made the national news (radio) and some of the local papers. The first year we had tremendous response to this, but of course with time the number of callers has declined. However, after ten years we still have usually about 20 calls a week. The church believes that this is enough to warrant continuing the work. Along with the devotion we close it with announcements about our meetings, tracts, correspondence course, etc.
Lately we have been making a greater effort to reach people through the gospel meeting. Since we have purchased our own meeting place it makes this work much more practical than before. We shall be continuing these efforts.
Which method is the best? It is hard to say. It seems that there is no one method that is particularly better than the others. Some of them are good for awhile, then the interest declines. Looking back I would say that the newspaper advertising nearly always does well. Money wise and interest shown, the dial-a-devotion has reached thousands of people and some continue to show interest. The correspondence course has had its success. I know of three that were converted directly from the correspondence course (along with responses to their questions). But that is three out of hundreds that have taken the courses. The gospel meetings have brought us several visitors. However, there is nothing better than the personal contact. Talking to friends and neighbors. This is why a church can begin to show greater and more rapid growth when it has a few members -- if those members are active. Our last two baptisms were teachers at a school where one of our members taught.
The church generally does not receive direct resistance from the community or from the State church. We do encounter some resistance if something seems to threaten the established religion. For example when we began the dial-a-devotion and this made the national news, in order for the news to use the information they had to have the approval of a bishop from the State church and also carry his comments. This actually may have been to our benefit. The bishop's statement was to forbid the people to call the telephone number. The first three or four days we had hundreds to call each day. There were over four hundred the first day.
The greatest hindrances to the gospel 1) is national pride. Since there is a State religion many feel like they are betraying their country to leave the State church. 2) is contentment. The people are perfectly content with the way things are. 3) is indifference. Many are completely indifferent to religion generally. In their mind it is a complete waste of time. 4) is humanism. A very strong influence in the Norwegian society is the humanistic philosophy. It is in the media and in the schools. 5) is liberalism. Homosexual couples are,by law, a legal relationship in Norway. 6) is the absence of faith. Many do not believe the Bible, including the religious people and their religious leaders. Our "conservative ways" are extremely unpopular.
How to combat lack of interest?
Whether thinking of the public's lact of interest or the brethren's; you must counter it with your own faith. First and foremost, you must have complete faith in God and His word! Never slack from preaching the whole gospel. Secondly, you must be completely dedicated to the work you are endeavoring to do. Thirdly, you must believe in your work. You cannot meet the obstacles with any doubt or question in your own mind about what you are doing.
There is also a need for long term commitment in a country. There is a need for understanding regarding the time needed for the work. The time it takes to spread the gospel. The time it takes to build peoples' confidence. The time it takes to overcome traditions. The time it takes for people to learn the truth. While visiting in the States recently we sat in the worship service with our family, and happened to realize, here sat four generations of Christians. That took time!
You need to be honest and upfront with the brethren when planning your work and telling them what you will be doing. Brethren have been very understanding and helpful to me in the work here in Norway. Don't promise things you cannot deliver. To do so will raise a lot of questions and can cause a loss of interest in the work later on.
What can be done to help the work in Norway in the future? There is always a need for more workers. To my knowledge, Scandinavia is without faithful gospel preachers, except for the church here in Bergen. There are other cities in Norway where there are Christains who need help. It is not an easy field, but what field is easy?
The church here has two men working with them. One, myself, will be moving back to the States in Jan. 1999. So there is a need for another family to move here to work with the family remaining. It is very important to have two families working together.
It is very difficult to immigrate to Norway. But US citizens can come to Norway for a period of three months with only a US passport. It would be helpful to the church here to have workers come for even a short period of time to work. Many people can speak English so that you will have opportunities to work among the Norwegians.
I see a good opportunity for young people who are good personal workers. This is a university city. Young people generally have a special way with those of their own age group. Young people, who have a talent in talking to people on a one to one basis, could find great opportunities in Bergen, especially among the college and university students.
Life in Norway
Norway is surely the beauty spot of the world. It rivals all in its display of natural beauty. In Norway you live the good life. It is a wealthy country and you do not do without the necessities. It's standard of living is high. The school system is good, of course it has its problems, but so does most everywhere else. It is not difficult for an American to live in Norway. You must be able to adjust to their customs. You must learn to see things from their viewpoint. You must be able to accept criticism of the United States. But all those things also apply in what ever country you live in.
You need to learn the language. With diligence you can learn Norwegian in two or maybe three years. You can get by in Norway with English, but you will not be an effective worker in teaching the gospel of Christ to Norwegians until you learn their language.
Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Everything is expensive here. Prices are difficult for US citizens to adjust to because it is so much cheaper in the US.
Jesus said, "Look unto the fields..." (Jno. 4,35). He was not telling the disciples that everyone was ready to repent. Reading the history recorded in the New Testament we see they weren't all ready to obey (Only 120 gathered in Acts 1). What Jesus was saying is look and see how many are in need of salvation. It is the same today, there are hundreds of thousands, yes millions, who are in need of salvation. Don't say we have four months -- you need to start to harvest now!
Interest in foreign work seems to have its highs and lows. Right after the second world war there was great interest in foreign work. Then the interest seemed to declined for awhile. A little later interest revived again, but then another decline. In the past few years I feel that I have seen a new development. It seems to be too difficult to find men who are willing to go. There are churches in foreign lands who need workers but no one goes. No one seems willing to commit themselves. Before, you couldn't find churches to send because you were trying to start a new work where there were no Christians. Now we have places where conversions are happening, but no worker is willing to go.
There is a need for workers and for churches who will send them. Since I am writing about Norway I must mention the Northern countries; Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland. I know of no faithful gospel preacher working in any of these countries. In Norway we have two gospel preachers and they are in Bergen. Go to the atlas and see what poplulation and land area we are talking about. In the words of Jesus, don't say four months...the fields are white unto harvest. Pray for more workers! And when you find the workers, how can they go except they be sent? Brethren, don't forget the lost millions while you are enjoying the fellowship of a hundred or more Christians in your home congregation. Look unto the fields!
If in Bergen the church is listed in the Bergen Guide with location and time of services. You may call 55 93 74 01 for information.
Adolf Burgv. 52-D
5030 Landas, Norway
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For comments to the author, or to contribute news, reports, and information regarding preaching efforts in foreign lands, please contact Steve at email@example.com
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