In 1989 the final bricks of communism’s teetering structure came crashing down. Seventy years of inhuman, godless government collapsed, nearly overnight. The images of delirious young people dancing atop the hated Berlin Wall are etched in our minds forever.

From this dramatic beginning, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe began a journey toward increasing freedom and economic prosperity. Yet, after almost 20 years, the transition is incomplete. Vast gaps exist between those who have benefited from the change and those who have not. Many remain in the grip of poverty with little hope for a better life, each day a struggle for survival.

When the Wall fell, much of the world believed the countries of the crumbling Marxist sphere would join the Western community and rapidly enjoy economic success along with renewed political freedom.  Today only half the dream is fulfilled: A vast arc of territory stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea knows political freedom unlike any other time in history.

Economic well-being, however, has proved more elusive. The transition to market economies has not been easy. Success varies from country to country, due to a complicated mix of factors. Giaovanni Cornia of the United Nations University in Helsinki, points out, “Democracy without economic progress is insufficient.” Permanent political and cultural change requires vibrant economies.

Integra’s front line experience “on the ground” in the region shows that the people of Central and Eastern Europe are still in desperate need of our help in building their economies. This in turn provides a daily forum for sharing the love of Christ. 

Unfortunately, permanent change takes time. We Americans tend to want things done “yesterday.” No wasted time, no waiting. Consider: We have drive-through fast food, banking and pharmacy service. Even the local grocery store will shop for us and deliver the food. The convenience of all this is great on one level. But when we apply this mindset to current events, the going gets tough. Unrealistically, we think that once a society has b0een “set free” we can quickly move on to the next media-0hyped country in crisis. I personally find this tendency disturbing.

Integra is committed to Central and Eastern Europe and Russia for the long haul. Our objectives include economic revitalization and personal growth. We want to help Christian business people develop their companies so =they can provide for their families and employees. We want to see them give back to their communities and support their churches, upholding the pastors and reaching the next generation for Christ. In achieving this they become less dependent on western dollars.

The people of Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Russia, where Integra works, are trying to overcome more than 40 years of oppression. Their lack of experience in private enterprise, and inadequate cultural, political, and economic structures make progress difficult, though not impossible. Beyond this, the communist system sought to eliminate any spiritual dimension from daily life. This, too, has impacted the business climate: Financial systems require trust and basic agreement on ethical principles, ideas that flow from a common set of values.

Although the media spotlight has passed on to other hot topics, our friends in this region still need us. And more importantly they want our help. Yes, they are making great strides but it takes time. We need to be there to coach, train, mentor, and equip these men and women so future generations will have the know-how to succeed on their own. Integra’s dedication to a Christ-centered approach to business development provides the firmest possible foundation for future success. Our objective is to acquit ourselves well in this task, so that when we have passed the torch, we will hear our Lord say, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Bob Kuhlman