Geography and History
Slovenia is a beautiful country that few Americans have even heard of. It is situated between Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Italy, and the Adriatic Sea. The Slovenian countryside has many of the features of Central Europe compressed into a pint-sized portion—the Alps, plains, hill country, and Mediterranean coastline. All of this is within a country a little smaller than New Jersey.
Slovenia is celebrating its 20th year of independence in 2011. It was formerly part of the wartorn Yugoslav Republic. Prior to that, Slovenia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Slovene language, people, and culture go back many centuries. Despite only recently becoming a nation, Slovenians are fiercely and rightfully proud of this rich and deep heritage.
Two million people live in Slovenia. Over 10% of these live in the centrally located capital of Ljubljana. The j’s are pronounced as y’s, by the way. Ljubljana leads the way culturally, politically, and educationally. As a result, this will be our focus. Slovenians are well-educated and well-spoken. On my trip there five years ago, it was rare to find someone middle aged or younger who did not speak at least passable English.
Despite the modernity and beauty of the country, other aspects are noticeably grim. Slovenia has the sixth highest suicide rate in the world, and one-third of those are connected to alcoholism. The majority of Slovenians are Catholic (58%), but a significant portion of the people are agnostic or atheist. Secularization has been increasing along with the rest of Central and Western Europe.
Available sources indicate around 2000 evangelical believers. That works out to only 1 believer for every 1000 Slovenians. As best as we understand, this is one of the lowest rates of believers in the world. As of August 2011, there is only Independent Baptist missionary in the country–the Barlow family. There a few other evangelical missionaries of various stripes and a meager number of indigenous reformed and pentecostal denominations.
The need is great.
In our distinctives, we have outlined our general philosophies. Here we would like to make note of some specifics for our initiative in Slovenia. First, we affirm that the Bible (Heb. 4:12), prayer (Acts 4:31), and preaching (1 Cor. 1) still work. That does not eliminate the significant difficulties that arise from cross-cultural evangelism, but it does short-circuit any attempts to replace those keystones to find something that will “work better in a European context.” Because of the propositional and supernatural nature of the Gospel and Bible Christianity, it has successfully made inroads in every culture that it has come in contact with. If we believe the Bible and the God of the Bible, then the secular culture of Slovenia should be no different.
Second, we understand that the process to reach Slovenia will be a long one fraught with prayer and hard work. Most of the reports that we have read from both Independent Baptists and other evangelicals note the difficulty and discouragement of working in Slovenia. For this reason, we are seeking the Lord to provide another couple who would surrender to this field. The Book of Acts clearly indicates a team philosophy, and we would like to continue that.
Third, the Slovene language is said to be particularly difficult (I don’t know if that’s true, but I have seen that written numerous times), and English is commonly spoken. The problem this presents is that it would be easy for a missionary to coast on his language studies and rely on English. Much of the early first term will be focused on fulltime language study and cultural immersion. If it’s not a priority, it won’t get done.
Finally, the only way to reach the country and the countryside is to win men to the Lord, start a church, train them, and send them out to do the same. (Matt. 28:19-20) Slovenia is still particularly rural. According to the CIA World Factbook, the urbanization rate is 50% with only a 0.2% rate of change. Compare this to the US with a 82% rate and 1.2% annual growth. What does this mean for the missionary? Even in a small country, there are too many towns, villages, and cities for one missionary or one church to have much effect. We can’t be satisfied until we have trained men who can both plant New Testament churches and train other men who can plant churches.
This is only a brief synopsis of our strategy, but it should give you an idea of where we are headed and how we approach the Bible in the beautiful but blind land of Slovenia.