Ethnic Mission in Austria
Ethnic Mission in Austria
New Perspectives for Baptists in Austria
The Baptists in Austria have recently developed new ways of mission work. One of them is a project to reach out to numerous in their country refugees.
The Austrian Baptists organize regular visits to the refugee center called “Oasis” which is located in the outskirts of Vienna. Julie, an American missionary runs a Christian coffee shop for the refugees. They can come and spend a few hours of free time playing table games, chatting and watching Christian video films. Christian volunteers from different churches help out. There are usually about 30-40 refugees in the coffee shop each time and 5-10 volunteers.
Until recently there had been no ethnic outreach in spite the fact that there are crowds of refugees residing in temporary camps all over the country. A lot of encouragement and excellent practical example came from the German Baptists. The vision to work among refugees is now fostered by Walter Klimt, the general secretary of Baptist Union in Austria and Andrea Klimt, the pastor of Vienna Krummgasse Baptist Church. Anita Ivanovits, the union’s president also supports this new missionary endeavor.
However the key role plays Cesar, a Mexican who is married to a German lady Simone and they both are missionaries to the Farsi speaking refugees in Vienna. They have worked among the refugees for 10 years and believe that now is the time of opportunity.
Meet Cesar and Simone
The vision that Cesar and Simone have developed may be summarized in 3 words: “Rescue – Restoration – Reintegration”. Rescue is to find the refugees where they are, usually in camps and streets of Vienna. There are Farsi, Dari and Pashtoo speakers on Cesar’s team who are able to communicate with refugees. The mission team offers social help and makes friendly contacts. Restoration is for those who are open to the message of the Gospel, and they are invited to Bible study groups, offered counsel and prayer. Reintegration is about learning the German language and accurate integration with Austrian people.
Very important task is mobilizing Austrians in order to practice hospitality to refugees.
An ultimate goal is to revive an Afghan congregation in Austria since an increased number of refugees attend Christian meetings organized by Baptists. The Farsi name of this project is “Anjoman” (Fellowship).
Interview with Cesar
Can you introduce the mission work you are doing?
We do a regular weekly outreach among the refugees in Vienna. There is a Christian coffee shop called “Oasis” that offers friendly atmosphere, free drinks and Christian movies. This coffee house provides a safe space to meet, have fellowship and share the Gospel with refugees, the majority of them being from Afghanistan and Iran. We also offer courses of German language for beginners. We can see great difference in ‘our refugees’ who develop confidence and self-assurance, even to an extent of helping one another. It is especially thrilling when compared with prevailing fear and anxiety that these people had previously displayed.
What is the goal of this ministry?
To help refugees feel welcome and safe in a strange for them world, to show them that they are not alone in a totally foreign land, and simply to live together in the love of God. We have the joy of seeing Afghans and Iranians come to Christ and follow Him.
What kind of follow up you provide?
After having established contacts we follow up by individual visitations, provide pickups to church on Sundays or tickets for public transportation, and give other material support we can. Furthermore, we offer Bible studies, cell group meetings and personal counsel. For those who don’t read we provide audio and DVD Bible studies. The most important is readiness of Austrian Baptists who invite the refugees to their homes, share meals, spend time and simply demonstrate love. We also attend conferences, visit other churches and Farsi speaking fellowships.
How can you imagine a start of an Afghan congregation?
It is not easy because the idea of leadership is totally different in their culture and potential leaders need to learn the attitude of service. The vision is to start new ethnic congregations in connection with the existing Austrian churches. We encourage Afghan or Iranian potential leaders to model after the example of the existing leaders in Austrian churches. It is very good that some ethnic leaders are being trained.
Who are the leaders of Bible study groups?
We concentrate our work on leaders who can do a Bible study among Afghan and Iranian people on their own. The rule is though that some leaders from Austrian local churches should be involved too. It is crucial that the Austrian Baptists would accept the immigrants in their homes. Often the latter expect that some Christians would replace their natural families because of rejection and even threats by their Taliban relatives. Unfortunately most of them will never return to their home countries.
How the leaders are developed?
Some of the refugees are illiterate and they need others to help them read. They are attempting to start own groups but for the time being it is rather slow process. For these people it is important to cultivate the Father heart of God, who treasures the fellowship with his children.
What would be stages of an emerging ethnic church?
The Afghan mentality is much different to the European and the concept of church is diverse too. The Afghans cherish community life and they prefer house churches with only handful of people rather than large crowds. They practice daily fellowship and an extended family is of high value for them.
What are most bothering problems and how you deal with them?
There is a whole range of psychological problems like: fear, depression, anger or spiritual oppression, but also financial obstacles, culture shocks, deportations, transfers, and this list may be much longer... Very important issue for the immigrants is money as they send about a half of their income home. On occasions these problems cause tension among the leadership too. For me, prayer is always the first response. Besides that practical help is vital although much time consuming... This often means finding some legal help, counseling and mediating between different cultural parties or simply private conversations. Another challenge is that those who accept the Gospel get transferred to other parts of Austria and we try to connect them with local Christian fellowships where they can continue growing in faith.
What is your vision for future?
I have a vision of integrated groups that create a network of house congregations. They also need to be integrated with the existing local Austrian churches. This ministry builds bridges with those who have to move over to other locations in Austria, or even other nations, and new perspectives of mission open up. Very promising work besides Vienna is now developing in Graz and Salzburg. My dream is to see each Baptist Church start a ministry with refugees in Austria and even in all of Europe. The Austrian Baptists have strong desire to experience a spiritual awakening in Austria. I believe that ethnic groups have an important role to play in that as well...
What are your prayer requests?
1. For a spiritual REVIVAL in Austria
2. For a full time worker at “oasis” - ministry among the refugees.
3. For our new refugee ministry among Spanish speakers “Iglesia”.
4. For me, Simone and our two children: Haylie and Elias.
Thank you for the interview and I trust that many of our supporters will pray for you, your family, the work you are doing among the refugees and the much desired revival in your country.
EBF Mission Coordinator
To help planting reproducing churches!
To help growing healthy churches!
For the glory of God!