Monday, April 25, 2022

WorldVenture Team Retreat

Every year the week before Easter, our WorldVenture Austria team escapes the city and spends 5 days together in the mountains. After 2 years of cancelled retreats due to Covid and after several new team members arriving or joining us, this year's retreat was especially important and blessed. We've known for a long time that one factor in helping missionaries stay and thrive on the field is a supportive team, and our goal is to foster that amongst our missionaries. Our time together really helped us all to grow closer, and we were blessed by times of teaching, prayer, games, outings and meals together. Our speakers for the week were Dougg and LeAnn Custer, former long term missionaries to Austria who were able to encourage and challenge us, as well as share meaningful stories from their time serving here.

My (Bethany) parents came for a visit and were able to attend the retreat and do the childcare for the 4 youngest kids. They had a blast and so did the kids! Many special memories were made, and we were so thankful for the rest and meaning time we had together.

Here are a few photo highlights:

Meals together - so many great conversations!

Praying over each missionary unit together

The kids enjoying time by the lake with their special friend "Cookie", the swan

Playground fun

Riding the funicular up to the salt mines in Hallstatt

Enjoying the Hallstatt view

Ready in our jumpsuits to go into the salt mine!

Posing with the mountains

The kids performing their bible verse and song from the week

E-bike excursion

Our crazy crew!

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Hosting Refugees

 Life has felt very busy since the beginning of the year...hence the lack of blog posts. Ever since we launched the church plant in the fall and moved into our home, it has felt like we jumped from one busy task to the next! On Christmas day, I (Bethany) broke my wrist and that really slowed me down for a few weeks. Shortly after, we had family visits. In March, we hosted a vision trip for a potential new missionary. Then, the war broke out in Ukraine and refugees started coming to Austria. We put ourselves on a list to host a family and a family of 3 moved in with us in the middle of March. 

It has been a blessing to host them and get to know their story a bit. In order to respect their privacy, we won't share too much. They come from a suburb of Kyiv and decided to flee very quickly after hearing that a friend was organizing a bus to transport people to the border. The 26 year old daughter was accepted to the University of Vienna last year to study music, but hadn't been able to get a visa yet to enter the country, so they agreed that they would all travel to Vienna so she could begin her studies and they could resettle here together. The mom of both girls (the sisters are 19 years apart - ages 26 and 7) doesn't speak English or German, but we can get by with a few English words and google translate and the 26 year old translates between English and Ukrainian or Russian very well.

Starting over in a new place where you don't know the language and don't have any community, let alone no resources, is very difficult. Add a traumatizing experience and coming from a country that is currently in a war and being bombed by a neighboring country, where you still have loved ones, makes it even harder. We have seen the family experience a lot of ups and downs since arriving. But we are also thankful that we've been able to offer them a safe and comfortable place to stay (albeit a bit cramped for 3 people) and the 7 year old has begun school and is enjoying making new friends with her limited language skills. They are eager to get their own place and are just waiting every day for an important document to arrive so they can begin working. 

Thanks to many generous donations, we've been able to take them on a few fun outings (the zoo and the circus) and provide them with necessary essentials, including groceries, clothing, sim cards/phone credit, etc. We have received so many donations that we should be able to assist them significantly with a security deposit and furnishing for an apartment. 

Please pray for them and for us as we continue on this journey together. We are learning new things every day and taking things one step at a time. Navigating bureaucracy in Austria is never easy and this is a whole new process for us to learn. Pray for provision for them and that their important documents would arrive soon. Pray for jobs and the right place to live with a kind landlord who is willing to negotiate. 

Thank you!

The 26 year old with her cat, Toska...who has had to be kept separate from our dog. The two are not interested in being friends with each other!

Playing "Just Dance" on the Nintendo Switch

Visit to the Zoo

Zoo visit

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Christmas Meditation

I was in a meeting recently where someone shared the shepherds' account from Luke chapter 2. We got to the final portion of the passage where Luke comments to his readers in verse 19 that "Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." I had always loved that idea of Mary contemplatively pondering what had just happened and her experiences, but I hadn't thought much about the contents of what she was actually pondering. The word "these things" in the text felt really general.

One of the key concepts we try to communicate when we are teaching bible study methods is to read multiple translations. What's interesting is that looking at Luke 2 in a few English translations, this observation didn't jump out at me. My meeting was in German, and so I had a chance to look at the text with new eyes. As I read the text, I noticed that the German text said that Mary "kept these words." Just that transition from "things" to "words" got me thinking, what is it that Mary is thinking about? What is she pondering? What "words" is Luke talking about?

As I asked this question, I looked back through the passage and realized that verse 17 gives us exactly the answer to this question. The shepherds "made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child." This is to say, they made known the "words" that had been told to them about the child.

As someone who has spent a lot of time with the Christmas story, this was really powerful. I always thought the shepherds' primary role was worship, which is still really important. It is an expression of God choosing the lowly and the outsider to celebrate and worship him at his birth. But looking more closely at this text in Luke, I realized that the shepherds had a role of proclamation, as well, and not just to the surrounding villages and people to whome they were connected. The shepherds told Mary and Joseph (though Mary is highlighted in the story) a confirmation of what they both had personally experienced in dreams and angelic visits beforehand. This message from verses 10-12, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of David, the promised Messiah, that will be for all people. This is what the shepherds said. This is what Mary held onto. Even the prediction of where he would be and how they would find him. All of it was a confirmation for her, for them. God was at work; this was his doing, and he sent them unexpected messengers to complete the task. These are the words that she pondered and treasured. This thing proclaimed by angels and shepherds.