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Assignment Europe: Why National Partners?

By John Lundy
CE Europe, Europe, Global, Norway, Sweden
Branko Bjelajac, TWR's vice president for Africa, CAMENA (Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa) and Europe, sits down with John Lundy, writer and communications specialist for TWR in the Americas, at the 2022 TWR National Partner Conference for Europe and CAMENA.

Branko Bjelajac, TWR's vice president for Africa, CAMENA (Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa) and Europe, sits down with John Lundy, writer and communications specialist for TWR in the Americas, at the 2022 TWR National Partner Conference for Europe and CAMENA. [Image by Anna Laura Visser of TWR Europe]




IN CENTRAL EUROPE – In 2014, Norea Media Mission of Norway was nearly bankrupt. Income had dipped to a low level, said Per Birkeli, the mission’s director for the past 10 years.

Did Norea retrench, focusing its spending at home?

Yes, it retrenched – but in the opposite direction.

Norea decided to reduce spending in Norway but increase its spending on international mission, a substantial portion of which goes to TWR.

The agency now is financially stable, its spending on international mission up more than 200%, and giving from its supporters has “increased drastically,” Birkeli said.

When he talks to major donors, Birkeli said, he asks them why they give so much to Norea. “‘Well,’ they say, ‘you are reaching people that few other organizations can reach.’”

Birkeli is among 90-plus people representing 32 organizations at TWR’s National Partner Conference for Europe and CAMENA. The acronym stands for Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

Because of the pandemic, this is the first time the conference has taken place in three years.

As I’ve been spending much of today near the table where attendees register, I’ve been witness to numerous joyful greetings and hugs. Europeans are reconnecting with each other (as well as a contingent from America) but also with brothers and sisters who live in areas where serving Christ ranges from difficult to dangerous.

It makes for fellowship that cuts through cultural barriers.

“We are so happy to see each other, pray together, sing together … to worship,” said Mariette Oosterhoff, partnership director for TWR Europe. “It’s so great that the worship team is a mix from different countries.”

Said Branko Bjelajac, vice president for Africa, CAMENA and Europe, “We not only share our news, but we encourage each other. We commiserate. … My heart will grow a little bit bigger.”

The concept of national partners goes back to the early days of Trans World Radio in the 1950s, Bjelajac explained. Starting with Germany, Italy and Norway, TWR developed partnerships with established mission agencies that knew the indigenous languages and cultures.

TWR provided its already growing expertise and infrastructure.

That’s even more true today, Oosterhoff said. “We can extend expertise, we can extend content and we can help them especially in countries where there are not so many Christians.”

TWR has partners in almost every country in Europe, Bjelajac said. There are also national partners in many countries across Africa and Asia, he said, but other countries still are designated as “ministry fields” without a potential indigenous partner at this time.

TWR also connects partners with partners, Oosterhoff said. Our partner in Sweden, for example, has a special relationship with our partner in Eritrea. Norway is interested in being involved anywhere there are unreached people groups.

“I have said so many times to audiences in Norway that if they would like to do something to reach people in North Korea, what would they do?” Birkeli explained. “And of course, they realize there’s nothing they can do. Of course, it is not possible to go there as a missionary. And I say, OK, well we have a partner, they have a huge radio station on an island in the Pacific (that reaches North Korea). … And by your help, we can make sure that they are on the air, broadcasting in the future.”

Until the pandemic delay, Birkeli had attended the conference every year since joining TWR 10 years ago. It’s valuable for the relationships that blossom, he said.

“When I joined Norea 10 years ago, the countries of Central Asia were just names on the map,” he said. “Now I have personal friends there. I can way more easily explain to an audience in Norway … ‘Hey, listen, they need us over there. We have heard devotions since we were born, but over there, it is forbidden to share with their neighbors. But we can do it by radio.’”


Images: (body, right) John Lundy interviews Per Birkeli of Norea Media Mission of Norway at the 2022 TWR National Partner Conference for Europe and CAMENA, (bottom, left) Mariette Oosterhoff attends the conference. [Images by Anna Laura Visser of TWR Europe]

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