In Austria, the challenges remain immense in a country where less than one percent of the population belongs to the evangelical church.
Although the culture retains much of its Christian heritage in art, music, architecture and affiliation, very few Austrians follow Christ with their lives. Even those that nominally attend Catholic churches are rejecting organized religion and Christian traditions. Dietrich Dörl, director of youth ministries for the Union of Baptist Churches, sees this as an opportunity. “People are not necessarily rejecting the idea of God or spiritual things," he said. They are open to relationships that are genuine and experiences that are real to them. It is a chance for evangelical churches to show the true Gospel and demonstrate the love of God to those disillusioned with empty religion.
Dietrich’s son, Gregor, agrees and says that most of his friends don’t know what evangelical churches and Christians are really like. “When I invite them to church, my friends imagine a big empty cathedral with someone speaking about things that don’t have anything to do with their lives,” he said. One of the leaders at Beheimgasse Baptist Church, Adi Weiland, explains it this way, “People here have a picture of Christians that is not reality. Christians in Vienna are full of power and have a strong heart, a heart full of the love of Jesus.” It is that type of Christian that is being drawn to the Beheimgasse Church.
TEAM missionaries Dan and Rachel Zuch helped start the church in 1992. Now a thriving church, it is the hub for many ministry projects and outreaches across the city of Vienna. Working with other evangelical churches and through their denominational partnerships, Beheimgasse is a resource for children, mercy, evangelism, youth and many other ministry areas.
One unique outreach opportunity was an outdoor concert in the city center they hosted along with other churches in Vienna. “This event would have been unthinkable before,” said Robert Zichtl, one of the event organizers. Known as Stadtfest, it is one of the largest events in Vienna sponsored by one of the two main political parties in Austria. Evangelical churches were given the stage for one Sunday and brought together an incredible lineup of singers and musicians. The day was a big success, and Stadtfest sponsors have already expressed a desire for the group to participate again next year. “We just want to sponsor an event that Jesus can use to touch people,” said Zichtl, a member of Beheimgasse Church. “I came to this church because people were living a life that shows the love of Jesus. That is what this is all about.”
Showing the love of Jesus is also on the mind of another Beheimgasse member. Daniel Domig studied art at the Vienna Academy of Arts and makes his living as a painter. “You have to show people the love of Christ before you even get the chance to share the Gospel with them,” Domig said. “People in Vienna are skeptical of religion; their history gives them reason to be. As an artist, I try to be honest in my work. Great art will always point to the Gospel in some way because it is the deepest mystery. When you make art in that way, it will impact people in a way that the artist will never even know. Even though much of the contemporary art in Europe seems dark and material, artists at their core are hopeful. Hopeless people don’t have the courage to make art. There is a great opportunity for Christians to show the reason for hope.”
-Written by Ray Scott
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, September 2010]Download This Issue of TEAMHorizons