Bible Training Institutions in Austria

(Corrections and additional information welcome !)

Part I,  Until 1984
Part II,  From 1984 through 1999
Part III, Since 1999

A History of Bible Training Institutions in Austria, Part I, from 1930 until the Founding of the "Bibelschule Ampflwang" in 1984

Long before 1964, when we arrived in Austria, God was preparing us for involvement in Bible training institutions. Verna’s college degree was in the field of education but her dream was to run a restaurant. I first learned the building trade and also came to appreciate Christian education more than many, because I had to work my way through college.

1) Between the two World Wars, there was a Bible school with mainly Yugoslavian students in St. Andrea, Carinthia (southern part of Austria) but little is known of this school.

2) After World War II, the British Major, W. Ian Thomas returned to England with a burden to reach young Europeans for Christ. He and his wife Joan decided to open their hearts and home in Capernwray to youth from the European continent who desired to visit England. They provided lodging and meals, but also shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their guests, many of whom committed their lives to Christ.

German-speaking believers began calling themselves the “Fackeltraeger” (“carriers of the torch”). Major Thomas liked the idea and adopted the name “Torchbearers” for his ministry. The work of the Torchbearers spread across Europe, founding Bible Schools in England, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Today, the Torchbearers have 25 centers on five continents including a castle, ski resort and short-term Bible School in Austria.

3) A Lutheran Deaconess, Sister Lydia, operated a training school in Salzburg from the mid- or late sixties until 1979. The school's main purpose was to provide religious instruction teachers for the Lutheran Church.

4) The European Evangelistic Crusade began a Bible school in the small town of Maria Ansbach while we were in language training. Co-workers discovered that I had experience in construction work and put me to work preparing the house for the “grand opening” in October, 1965. I tiled the bathrooms, built kitchen cabinets and made a cement sidewalk. After all the preparatory work, expense and promotion, just two students registered. The school was closed after two years of operation, but the house was used several years for summer camps and retreats.

I vividly remember the opening of the Bible School in Maria Ansbach. Many believers from Vienna and other cities attended, but one neighbor was not at all happy to have a Bible School next door. He placed his radio next to the fence and turned the volume all the way up. A Methodist Pastor (later, Director of the Austrian Bible Society) led in prayer, making mention of the disturbance outside. Within seconds, the radio blew a tube and went silent! Unperturbed, the neighbor placed his power mower next to the fence and let the motor run wide open! We again prayed, and the mower apparently blew a piston; for it stopped and could not be restarted! The next time we visited the school, an ugly 10 foot cement wall separated the properties. For lack of money, teachers and students, the school in Maria Ansbach closed after only two years. I often wondered if that wall is still standing.

5) When we arrived in Ampflwang for our first ministry in 1966, our predecessors, Graham and Jayne Lange, shared their vision for a Bible School. They pointed to a complex of four buildings next to the mission church which housed a sewing factory. He said they were praying that God would provide those buildings for a Bible School. He had even worked up a provisional curriculum which I still have in my files. We too began to pray for this to materialize, but those prayers would not be answered for 17 years!

6) We moved to Linz in 1968 and worked with the Baptists until 1979. In April of 1971, the Pastor and I developed a curriculum for an Evening Bible School, which continued for several months.

7) One year later, Southern Baptist missionaries opened a Bible School in Salzburg. The school closed after two years.

8) In our search for a house where we could do rehabilitation work with converted drug addicts, I found a building near Linz that seemed ideally suited for our purposes. The owner had murdered his wife and buried her in the basement. When she was reported missing, police immediately suspected the husband. They found a freshly poured concrete floor and had it torn up. The body was found and the owner imprisoned. I heard that this house was to be sold at auction and knew that few Austrians would bid on a house with that kind of history. One night in 1972, on my way home from the youth center, I drove by the house and felt compelled to stop. There in the street, I kneeled and claimed the house for the Lord's work in prayer. Shortly afterward, the house was sold to someone who rented it to migrant laborers. We soon found ideal facilities for our rehabilitation ministry in ten rooms of the Salvation Army building. I completely forgot about that house and my prayer until God answered two years later!

9) The Linz Mennonite Brethren Church began a Bible training program in September of 1973. I was involved in youth ministry with the Linz Baptist Church and was asked to teach a couple of classes. At first, classes were held in the church, but in 1974, leaders of the school found an ideally suited house for the young school. It was the house I had prayed for two years earlier!

During the school’s five years of operation, about two dozen young people received training, but the school was closed for financial reasons in 1979. Leaders of several evangelical denominations (Mennonite Brethren, Baptists and Open Brethren) met several times to discuss the possibility of opening an interdenominational Bible school in Austria. I was on hand for most of these meetings. The idea was finally abandoned as unworkable due to the complicity of three different denominations having a say in the internal affairs of a Bible School. The Lutheran school in Salzburg also closed in 1979. This was the year we moved back to Ampflwang.

10) Between 1979 and 1984, there was no Bible training institution in Austria other than the six-month, English-language program of the "Torchbearers" organization in Klaus Castle. We prayed with new urgency, that the Lord would provide a Bible training institution for Austria.

While we were still serving in Linz, the sewing factory that was located in the buildings next door to the church in Ampflwang, grew and the company built a new factory across the street. A government agency leased the four buildings and converted them into a boarding school with three dormitories - at taxpayer expense! The objective was to train people with physical handicaps for special occupations, but we saw this as God's hand and prayed more intensively.

We moved back to Ampflwang in 1979 and I soon began to talk to our mission coworkers and Austrian friends about the possibility of beginning an Austrian Bible Institute.

In the summer of 1981, we spent a family vacation on the Adriatic Sea. I took a pile of paper and pen along, vowing to write about my burden for a Bible School for Austria. I wanted to share my concept with church and mission leaders. I wrote several hours on the first day and continued writing long after the others went to bed. The next day, Verna managed to pull me away to spend some time with the kids on the beach, but after supper, I wrote until I couldn't keep my eyes open. In the night, a violent thunderstorm came up. The next morning, beach umbrellas and folding chairs were strewn all over the beach and a few were in the water. My precious papers had been lying by an open window and they were nowhere to be found. I got the message! I enjoyed the remainder of our vacation with the family.

We had opportunities to show Gospel films and counsel with young people studying in the school next door. Every time I set foot on that property or looked at it across the garden fence, I prayed. Several times, rumors circulated that the school was closing, but each time, the news proved to be false.

In the fall, I wrote a letter to leaders of most evangelical churches and mission agencies in Austria. I shared my conviction that Austria needed a Bible training institution, but there was practically no response! Some who did respond, felt that a Bible School was unnecessary or not feasible. "Had history not proven this sufficiently?"

Then, in May, 1982, there was a knock on our door. The Director of the school came to inform us that the school was closing in two months! He thought that neighbors should know.

That knock on our door was God knocking and one might think that I would have leapt at the opportunity to realize the answer to our prayers of seventeen years. This was not the case, however. I was busy with evangelistic meetings, printing the Black Forest Academy yearbook, helping with renovations on the church and preparing to leave for furlough. I just didn't have time. I recall asking God, “Why now?”

The Lord had to teach me a painful lesson before I was ready to put feet to my prayers. On July 21, 1982, I was helping several men from the church take down scaffolding after putting new siding on the mission house. While lifting a heavy plank, I somehow lost my balance and the weight of the plank became too much for me to hold. Normally, I would have dropped it, but two men were working just below. As I attempted to balance myself while holding onto the plank, a sharp pain ripped through my body and I fell onto the next level together with the plank. Fortunately, no one else was hurt but I was in agony. With the assistance of others, I was finally able to get into the house and onto a bed. The doctor told me what I already knew: I had injured my back and would be confined to bed for a while! Hopefully, there would be healing and no permanent damage.

While lying in my bed, I argued with God that I had too much to do for this to happen. I also reminded him that we had an upcoming furlough. The Lord didn't bother to answer, but kept turning my mind to the buildings next door and reminding me of those many prayers for a Bible Institute. I argued that I was not the one to get involved in a Bible School; I was not the academic type; we had no money, no experience, and no one to help with such a gigantic project. My efforts to interest others in the establishment of a Bible Institute had fallen on deaf ears. Even our mission co-workers showed only token support for the idea "because Ralph feels so strongly about it."

Lying in bed, I read in my devotions about Moses arguing with God. His excuses were even better than mine, but God didn't let him off the hook! I came to the verse where God asked Moses, "What is that in your hand?" As I read this, I prayed in protest, "But Lord, Moses at least had a rod in his hand; I have nothing!" Suddenly, I realized that I WAS holding something in my hand - a ball point pen! I recalled hearing a sermon back in my college days about a ball point pen. The call was to give whatever we have to God, allowing him to use us and all that we possess! At one point, the guest preacher pulled a pen from his pocket and said, “Everyone has something the Lord can use, even if it is just a ball-point pen!”

Gradually, it began to filter through to me that I was probably more qualified for this task than anyone else in Austria. As Chairman of the Public Relations Committee for the Austrian Christian Workers Conference, I was personally acquainted with most missionaries and pastors. We had served longer than most missionaries, and our involvement in evangelism, church planting, publishing and youth work had made us well-known among Christians in all parts of Austria. I had been directly or indirectly involved in three Bible School projects. Above all, our fully equipped print shop put me in an ideal position to present such a project! I had been printing an annual listing of all Christian workers and ministries for years! I had much more than a ball-point pen at my disposal!

Tears of shame came to my eyes as it dawned on me that God really wanted to answer my prayers, but I was rebelling! Right then and there, I promised the Lord to check into the property next door as soon as I could get back on my feet.

Unknown to me, "Oma" (Grandma) Tipple, an elderly member of the church, began to pray for me when she learned of my injury. She asked the Lord to take away my sufferings and place them upon herself, so that I could go about the work that God had called me to do. After just four days, I was able to get up and walk, using plastic paddles from our children's inflatable boat for crutches. At the same time, "Oma" Tipple began to experience great pain; the Lord had answered her prayer! She knew nothing of my inner struggle and it was only later that she shared this experience with Verna.

With our furlough almost upon us, there was little time to lose. On the sixth of August, 1982, I called as many friends as I could think of, both in Austria and America. I told them what I planned to do and asked them to pray.

With the help of two paddles from the children's inflatable boat, I managed to get into the car and with great effort, I drove to the headquarters of the Mining Company in another town. I was too embarrassed to use the paddles, so I hobbled into the office building and knocked on the door marked, “Manager of Buildings and Grounds.”

The man who answered my knock was very friendly, asking what kind of an offer I could make. After some hesitation and a silent prayer, I said, "I think we could pay 10,000 Shillings ($465) per month."

The previous tenants had been paying 18,000 Shillings, which was a very reasonable amount for that property. I fully expected some difficult bargaining, for we were talking about a school building and three dormitories with a total of 15,000 square feet of floor space and fifty-five rooms!

Imagine my surprise when the Buildings Manager responded by saying, "The General Director likes to drive a bargain. I will tell him that you offered 8,000 Shillings." I was trembling all over as I left the office. Was I dreaming? Was I crazy? I had said "we" to him; who in the world was I referring to? There was no way I could pay even 8,000 Shillings per month!

As a teenager, a neighborhood dog often chased my noisy pink convertible. One day, I decided to stop and see how the dog would react. The dog was at first startled, but then ran away, its tail tucked between its legs!

Walking out of the mining company office, I felt like that dog! The vehicle I had been chasing had stopped and now I wanted to run away!

Driving home again, I came upon a car which was traveling very slowly. The road was clear and everything seemed normal, so I decided to pass. As I pulled out, the car ahead swerved to the left. I had no choice but to veer off the road in order to avoid a collision. My car plunged down a steep embankment and during those anguishing moments, a host of terrifying thoughts shot through my head. We had already sold our car and the new owner had paid us that very day – this was not our car! I thought of my back injury -- every bump sent pain ripping through my body and I could picture myself in a hospital bed while the rest of the family flew to America. Perhaps I would be a cripple for life! I wondered what the police would say when they discovered that I had been driving with an injured back! All the time I was crying out to the Lord for help. Many others were praying as well, and unknown to them, the Lord was answering their prayers!

When the car came to a halt, it was leaning precariously and I was lying on the seat. Dripping with perspiration, I attempted to sit up, but the pain was unbearable. I tried again, but as I came to an upright position, the car began to tilt! Just shifting my body weight threatened to tip the vehicle over onto its side! I laid back down and waited for help to arrive. Several coal miners in a Volkswagen van came to my rescue. They literally held the car on its wheels while rolling it to a level spot. I was able to get out and shuffle around the car to inspect the damage. My helpers thought that I had been injured and wanted to call an ambulance, but I insisted that I was okay. The elderly driver of the other car was very apologetic and worried about getting a fine. He was turning right into a narrow farm lane, but never looked back, used no signals and swerved to the left before turning right. I was more concerned about our car! A fog light was broken and grass was jammed between the tires and rims on one side of the car but otherwise nothing was damaged! How thankful I was that I had asked people to pray! There was no doubt in my mind that many were!

A few days afterward, I received a phone call saying that the owners of the Mining Company were prepared to rent us the facilities for 10,000 Austrian Shillings per month; exactly what I had offered! I was invited to come and discuss terms of the contract at my convenience.

Again, fear began to take control. Even with a strong exchange rate for the dollar, this was more than we could ever afford! Repairs, alterations, upkeep and utilities would cost even more! How would we ever be able to raise that much money? Other questions began to plague me. How does one go about starting a Bible School? I was already responsible for a church and a printing operation. I was Field Director for our mission and served on the Board of Black Forest Academy. I was involved in numerous national committees, projects and ministries. I prayed, "Lord, how can I possibly add a Bible Institute to all that?"

As I prayed, it occurred to me how alone I felt, like everything depended on me. It seemed no one shared my vision and many pastors and missionaries I talked to thought that a Bible training institution was unneeded or not viable.

After retrospectively considering all that had transpired to get me to where I was, it occurred to me that this was not my doing at all! God wanted to give Austria a Bible Institute and I just happened to be available. I confessed my lack of faith and promised the Lord that I would follow his leading. I only needed his direction and provision. A great peace overcame me, and from that moment on, I began to look forward with anticipation to the next chapter in this exciting adventure.

In that light, I began to wonder who should sign the lease contract. The coal mining company had promised to send me the lease for signing, but I didn't feel like I should sign the papers, because people would consider it my project. If anything happened to me, it would create problems. If a church, or union of churches signed the lease, other groups would be hesitant to commit themselves to the school or even send their youth as students. Ideally, the Bible Institute itself should sign the contract, but this existed only in my mind and heart! A Board of Directors still needed to be selected, a constitution formulated, and a legal incorporation established before it could sign official documents.

I was a member of the Board of Directors of the Black Forest Academy in Germany, a boarding school for missionary children. The school was a cooperative effort of the Janz Team Evangelistic Association and our mission. The Janz Team had Bible Institutes in Germany and South America, and was well known and respected in Austria for its evangelistic meetings. I shared my vision with the Director of Janz Team at a Board meeting and asked if the Janz Team might be interested in the project. On August 13, four members of the Janz Team came to Ampflwang to look at the buildings. Their response was encouraging and a few days later, we were informed by phone that the Board of Directors was interested. I should request the owners to send a lease contract to the Janz Team for signing. I really hadn't expected this, but gave a sigh of relief. We would soon be attending our mission's All-Europe Conference in Germany, after which we would be flying to America for a year's furlough. I passed this request on to the coal mining company and they agreed to send the documents as soon as the lawyer had completed them.

Just prior to our departure for Germany, two men knocked on our door. They were from the government-run occupational training school that had leased the property. They heard that we were going to lease the property and wondered if we would be interested in purchasing any of the contents of the four buildings. It would save them a lot of work moving things and finding storage if they could just leave stuff in the buildings.

I took a quick inventory with the men. There were several completely furnished classrooms with desks, chairs and chalk boards. There were a dozen long sturdy tables and chairs to seat 100 in the dining hall and furnishings for twenty-four dorm rooms including 70 beds complete with mattresses and bedding. The kitchen equipment, table service and cookware was well used, but it would be good enough for a start. There were also other items too numerous to mention.

I asked what they would want if we took everything, adding that I might need a few weeks to get the money together. After some back and forth bargaining, they settled for $3000 and said that I had three months to pay for it. I quickly signed a bill of sale.

Things were moving too fast for comfort and I was getting nervous. We didn't even have a contract, yet I had agreed to purchase the contents of the buildings. But there was little time to contemplate all that. We had to pack our belongings for a one-year furlough in America. And before that could happen, I was responsible for the All-Europe Conference of our mission in Germany. And I was still an invalid! The doctor allowed me to fly with the family to America on August 21, but I was not to carry anything at all, not even a briefcase!

At our mission conference, fellow missionaries and leaders of the mission peppered me with all kinds of questions about the Bible Institute project. The answer to most questions was, "I don't know." It was good preparation for what I would experience on furlough. Over and over, I could only explain to God's people that our Heavenly Father had been clearly leading in all these things. I could only share what the Lord had done, and that convinced them to get behind us in prayer and giving.

During our furlough, we began immediately to share our burden for a Bible Institute both verbally and in printed form. When churches and believers heard of the miraculous events that led us in that direction, they caught some of the enthusiasm and wanted to be part of it. I kept careful records of financial transactions, knowing that this is a danger area in Christian ministry.

The first gift was twenty-five cents from an eleven-year-old girl named Raechelle. After our first deputation meeting in the Baptist Church of Northville, New York, Raechelle said that she had been saving tithes from her allowance and wanted to give it for the Austrian Bible Institute.

Ten years earlier, the same church had given us the first gift for purchasing printing equipment! My brother-in-law was pastor. There is much more to the story, however. When Raechelle was only 14, she came to Austria to help us with our summer camp ministry. She was able to see first hand what had grown out of her investment. She came to help us again in 1993, and after completing Bible college, she joined our mission and began missionary service in Prague, Czech Republic!

Our home church spontaneously raised $3000 to purchase the school inventory. Supporters in Fresno, California gave $1000 for new table service and cookware. Many others gave generously for the project. I was nervous because we had not received news of the lease being signed, but I had full assurance that this would soon transpire after all the Lord's leadings and provisions. But September passed with no news. I began making phone calls and asking questions, but no one seemed to know anything. October passed and every time people asked, doubts and worry increased. My faith seemed stretched to the breaking point, and pressures of responsibility for the project were beginning to take their toll in my enthusiasm. But we were in too deep to back out. I kept telling myself, that God had forced me into this situation against my objections. He would see us through!

On November 10, 1982, I received a thick orange envelope in the mail from the Janz Team Evangelistic Association! Excitedly, I showed it to Verna and we opened it with great anticipation. But our joy suddenly vanished when we examined the contents. There was the unsigned lease contract and a letter explaining that after careful consideration, the Janz Team did not feel that they could handle a project of this magnitude.

We were devastated! I didn't know whether to be angry with the Janz Team or with God. We couldn't even pray, but just sat there and wept. In that moment of deep despair, the telephone rang. It was one of our most faithful supporters. The Lehotskys migrated from Austria to America after World War II and were very concerned for the spiritual situation in Austria. I shared our sudden predicament with them and they spontaneously got in their car and drove about 200 miles to our house to pray with us.

After a time of prayer, Oskar and Elsa told us that they had felt from the beginning that our mission should be signing the lease and not the Janz Team.

I had shared our vision with mission leaders, but they had only displayed doubts. GMU was reluctant to get involved in something that could turn around and bite them. At one point I asked if the mission could include an article about our project in the magazine, but the Director felt it was too soon. Too many aspects were indefinite and unresolved. It was probably the same reasoning that caused the Janz Team to back out. No mission wants to be part of a failure. And I might add, "Neither do missionaries!"

The Lehotskys urged us to make another attempt to convince the mission. They would be praying for us. Time was precious and the mining company was waiting for the signed contract to be returned. It had already spent two weeks in the mail and another two weeks at the Janz Team. Because we had several meetings booked, we couldn't fly to Kansas City until November 28th.

I had to translate many pages of legal jargon into English for mission management and answer a barrage of appropriate questions. Fortunately, I had a good reputation with the mission. After 18 years of fruitful ministry and serving as Field Director for much of that time, they were confident that I had done my homework. After much deliberation and hesitation, they agreed to sign the contract - with one condition: we would have to assume total responsibility for raising the needed funds and getting the school started. I looked at Verna and started to say something, but she knew what I was thinking and spoke first.

Verna never has much to say, but what she says in a few words is often more valuable than entire books that others might write. She knew that the Lord himself had placed this burden upon our shoulders. She had joined with me in prayer for this need, knew of the burden I had been carrying and how important I believed a Bible training institution to be for Austria. This burden had become hers and she now let it be known to me and all who would hear, "With the Lord's help, we can do it!" I turned to the GMU Management and agreed with fear and trembling.

I was beginning to wonder if we would even get the facilities. Three months had passed since the verbal agreement with the mining company and it had been six weeks since they sent the contract to Janz Team. Nothing had been signed and they could easily have sold or rented the buildings for much more money by putting it on the market.

An Austrian whom we had never met and who had just graduated from a seminary in Switzerland, shared a plan to found an Austrian Theological Seminary with several church leaders in Austria. He even had a booklet printed, describing his concept in detail. After learning of our interest in starting a Bible Institute and leasing property, he called me in America, hoping to gain my support for his project. Because he was an Austrian, I might normally have seen this as a leading of the Lord and shown more interest in a cooperative effort, but two red flags were waving violently and I opted for caution. The first red flag was the fact that I personally knew almost every Christian in Austria, yet had never heard of this man. The second red flag was his eagerness to move ahead on such a sophisticated plan without any ministry experience whatsoever! I had felt unqualified to start a Bible Institute with 17 years of ministry experience and the backing of the Janz Team.

I said that I looked forward to meeting him when we returned to Austria, but that this was too big a matter to discuss and decide over the telephone or through letters.

Most evangelical churches in Austria cooperated in the Association of Evangelical Churches. There were annual conferences and cooperative efforts to operate camps and youth rallies, start new churches, support missionaries and hold regional Bible Conferences. I was involved in this organization from its conception, serving in various committees and work groups. I printed all of its literature and for nearly all member churches of the association.

The leaders of the Association of Evangelical Churches were beginning to realize that some form of Bible training would be forthcoming and was even necessary. While we were in America, they decided to meet in Linz to discuss various models of Bible training in Austria. We were informed and prayed much about this special meeting, which took place in early December, 1982.

One of our GMU co-workers attended the meeting and read a letter which I had formulated for the gathering. I shared pretty much what I have described here, particularly emphasizing the Austrian character of the school and the goal of becoming fully autonomous as soon as possible.

He reported afterwards that the general tone of the meeting did not sound very supportive for establishing a Bible Institute. One person nearly monopolized the meeting with his lengthy proposal for an in-church Bible training program, arguing that this would be considerably cheaper, better and less work than establishing a Bible Institute. Finally, he said that "in-church Bible training was the only scriptural method."

Lastly, the young seminary graduate that I mentioned above, shared his vision for a Theological Seminary. Unfortunately, he gave others in attendance the impression that he would be working with me! He received no support whatsoever and some who favored founding a Bible Institute began to have second thoughts.

The attendees of the Linz gathering decided to send a questionnaire to all member churches, seeking their opinions on the different options of Bible training.

The results of the questionnaire became known in February, 1983. Our GMU co-workers sent me a copy, and it was not at all encouraging. Only forty of the sixty churches bothered to return the questionnaire, and less than half of those that did, saw any need for a Bible Institute.

I was in a near state of shock. We had returned the signed contract to the mining company, but the final legal papers which would make it binding had not yet arrived. I recall wondering if it might be possible to back out at that stage. It was clear that we could never open a Bible Institute without the prayers and support of Austrian churches.

I became depressed and was strongly tempted to just give up on the idea of a Bible Institute. Our GMU coworkers in Austria had agreed to make this a field project only "because the Harveys were strongly in favor of it." GMU had signed the lease under the condition that we assume the entire responsibility. The mission had even declined to make mention of the project in the magazine.

I considered the possibility of using the buildings just for camps, conferences and retreats, but it was clear that Austria desperately needed a Bible Institute. What sense did it make to send missionaries to Austria if their converts were not being trained to serve. Switzerland was smaller than Austria, yet had a dozen Bible training institutions! We knew of at least twenty Austrian youth who had left their homeland to receive Bible training in Germany, never to return. Even at this time, a score of young Austrians were studying in foreign schools. Only four or five Austrian churches had national pastors; that fact alone screamed for a Christian training center in Austria!

On December 23, 1982, the GMU Prayer and Praise leaflet contained a prayer request for the founding of an Austrian Bible Institute. That same day, we received a phone call from the Mining Company saying that they had agreed to the terms of the contract and were mailing the contract. They sent it by slow mail and it didn't arrive until my birthday, March 8, 1983. It was almost seven months to the day since I had made the verbal agreement with the owners. I didn't know whether to rejoice or cry at this birthday present!

I should make a few comments here about the terms of the lease contract. We rented many houses in Austria and I had become quite knowledgeable in legal agreements of this kind. Since the lease had to be rewritten in GMU's name anyway (the first contract had the Janz Team's name on it), I decided to include a couple of additional paragraphs. At worst, the owners could reject them, but I felt they were needed. First, I included a paragraph requiring that the contract be subjected to a government seal which prevents either side from trying to get out of any part of the agreement. Secondly, cancellation of the lease would require twelve-month notification by both parties. Thirdly, in event of a sale of the property, the renter would have the first option to buy. This is fairly common and meant that we could match a potential buyer's bid in order to keep the property.

Several years later, in November, 1988, the Mining Company needed space and informed the Director of the Bible Institute, Jakob Baumgartner, that we would have to vacate the property. He was very upset and shared the news in our weekly staff meeting. The following morning, I read I Chronicles 17 in my daily devotions. God told David that he was not to build the temple, but that his son would build it at a future date. As I read, my eyes filled with tears. I prayed, "Oh Lord, you led us into this work and we have invested so much of your time and money in this property. You have been blessing abundantly; certainly, this cannot be true!" I wiped the tears from my eyes and continued to read. The last verse leaped right out of the page! "Now therefore let it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may be before thee forever; for thou blessest o Lord, and it shall be blessed forever." My German Bible reads, "What you bless, is blessed forever!"

After Verna and I prayed, I remembered the 12-month clause in our lease contract. I called the Mining Company Director and reminded him of that clause and we were able to keep the property.

Not long after this, the mining company was offered a good price for our property and decided to sell. I pointed out the clause in our contract which gave us the first option to buy. The Director said that he couldn't understand how that clause got into our contract! The company had a policy of NEVER, EVER including such a clause in their rental and lease contracts! The company decided not to sell.

We were half way through our one year furlough before we had a contract. Although gifts were coming in, much money would be needed. Monthly lease payments were the least of the expenses we would have. We needed to make repairs, install kitchen equipment and then there would be utilities. Some felt that there was little chance of opening the school in the Fall of 1984, which was our personal target date. We not only needed a Board and a Director, but we would need a curriculum, teachers and staff. I began immediately to recruit summer workers for 1983 to help get the buildings in shape.

It hardly seemed possible to raise the large sums of money that this project would require among current supporters. We used every imaginable ploy to get into new churches (a frustration most missionaries face on deputation); we traveled thousands of miles, from Florida to New York and into the midwestern States. We shared our burden with ten new churches, but not one pledge resulted from those meetings. We were interviewed on television and shared details of the project on "Prime Time," a broadcast heard over 80 Christian radio stations of the Moody Network. Since the mission's mailing address was also given, we had high hopes that people would respond with gifts. There were only two responses. A supporter of many years wrote that she was happy and surprised to hear our voices on her radio. The second response came from a young man who was about to get married. He asked if he and his bride could stay with us while on their European honeymoon. We replied, but the letter was returned with the remark, "Moved, left no forwarding address.“

We returned to Austria on July 12, 1983 with mixed feelings. Our own supporters had rallied to the cause and given generously, but funds fell far short of what we had hoped for. We had great anticipation for whatever lay ahead of us, yet knew that we would be facing challenges. And as usual, some of those challenges came from people close to us!

Four summer workers were to arrive on July 16th. We had hoped for more, but determined to do the best we could with those who had volunteered.

Once back in Austria, I quickly set about making lists of repairs, needed materials and jobs to get the buildings into usable condition. If we could make them available for camps and retreats, this would serve two purposes. People would get to know our facilities and we could realize a bit of income to help defray costs. When I looked at the lists, my heart sank. There were many broken windows to repair. All the radiators needed paint which entailed removal, sanding, applying two coats and reinstalling them. In one of the dormitories, the radiators had frozen in winter and burst. Some floors were ruined and the entire hot-water heating system would need to be replaced! That house would obviously not be ready for a while, so I placed it on a back burner.

Four days after we arrived, we picked up the four summer workers, Cindy, Mindy, Patty and Dave. Ralph Jr. stayed in America for school, but Richard was with us and, at 16, he was a good worker. The girls slept in one dorm and Rick had his own room in our apartment, so Dave had a dorm all to himself. After a good meal and a time of prayer, the workers were dismissed to their rooms to get settled in. I warned them to get a good night's sleep because they had a long, hard day of work ahead of them.

Verna was preparing breakfast the next morning when a lady from the church who lived across the street burst into the kitchen all excited. She had been running and was out of breath, but stammered, "One of the dormitories is on fire!" I rushed out and saw smoke billowing from an open window of the dorm where Dave was staying. Fearing the worst, I rushed inside. The open window was in the shower room and Dave was taking the longest, hottest shower of his life -- or perhaps as usual? The room was filled with steam and it was pouring out the window! I asked him politely to go easy on the hot water, because electricity was expensive and we had a tight budget. The dorm hot water heaters were gigantic, and he might have used all the water if I hadn't interrupted. He said something under his breath and I could tell that he was not happy about my reaction.

The following day, was a repeat performance, so I pulled the fuses to the hot water heater. The next day, his shower was normal and on the fourth day, he complained that the water was not very hot. After that, I only turned the heater fuses in about an hour each day.

The buildings were desperately in need of cleaning and paint, and many of the windows were cracked or broken. Local teenagers had broken into the empty buildings and smeared human excrement on the walls of several rooms and shredded pillows, scattering feathers everywhere.

Dave was an academic type who held a Masters degree in theology, but as the Austrians say, "he had two left hands" when it came to practical work. Although we had described the kind of work they would be doing on the request forms, none of them seemed to have read the job description. I asked Dave to remove broken glass and putty from window frames, but he said that he didn't know how. Rick was ten years younger but he at least knew how, so I had him work with Dave while I gave jobs to the girls. Dave later said that he didn't appreciate having a kid showing him how to do everything.

I gave the girls the job of sanding and painting radiators, but Patty and Cindy claimed to be allergic to both dust and paint. Patty was transferred to washing windows while Cindy was sent to pull weeds out of the crevices of the flagstone terrace. Rick came and said that Dave was no help, so I went and asked Dave to help Mindy sand radiators. Within minutes, Cindy came to report that she was also allergic to the sun. Dave complained that Mindy was not doing a good job because she finished a radiator in half the time. I checked her work and said that it was okay. After that, Mindy needled Dave for being slow! That sort of thing went on for the entire stay!

After a week, Dave asked when he could preach. He stated on his resume' that he spoke German and French fluently, but I soon discovered that no one could understand his poor German including me. A friend who grew up in France said that his French was no better. I offered to let him preach the following Sunday but said that I would translate. In his own words, that was the highlight of his summer missions experience.

Mindy was an attractive blonde and liked to flirt with Austrian guys. Before long, there was a constant flow of hopeful males who wanted to practice their English. There was an evangelistic open air concert in a nearby town one evening, so we took the summer workers. The singers gave personal testimonies between musical numbers, but since Mindy didn't understand German, she talked loudly with the young men who seemed magnetically attracted to her. I had to warn her twice to be quiet.

Cindy was the exact opposite of Mindy in many ways. She had serious psychological problems. She was unhappy with herself, everyone around her, and with the world in general. She seemed convinced that no one loved her. One day, she approached me and said that she had come to Austria hoping that we would encourage her through personal counseling. I apologized, but reminded her that we had recruited helpers, not people who needed help. I added that the physical exercise would be good for her. She burst into tears and declared that I was just like all the others! She was considerably overweight and this definitely contributed to her problems.

I think what she really wanted, was to be attractive to men. That actually happened during her stay, but it didn't make her happy!

Ampflwang set up its traditional carnival attractions, amusement rides and a large beer tent for the annual "Kirtag" celebration. The Catholic Church in town is dedicated to Mary, so the town celebrates the church's dedication on "Mary's Ascension Day" (Assumption" in America) each year. Cindy learned that an Austrian musical group was performing in the beer tent. There was to be lots of good old Austrian um-pah folk music, yodeling, and traditional dances with "Dirndl" dresses and "Lederhosen." She decided to take her little camera and get pictures of the event.

Dressed in a tightly fitting, broad striped cotton "T" shirt and equally tight jeans, she walked past a thousand partially drunk Austrians (the night had just begun) to the front stage, in order to get a close-up photo of the musicians. When she returned, she was filled with rage at "those horribly vulgar and impolite Austrians." Since she didn't know German, I asked what they had said to her. She didn't really know, but there was no doubt in her (or my) mind that they were not saying anything nice!

Although the amount of work was great and finances were meager, neither of these was my greatest concern. What troubled me most was the lack of interest for a Bible Institute on the part of Austrian churches. I thought I was familiar with the spiritual climate in the country. I had studied both secular and church history, read books on the "Austrian Mentality" and learned the language well. The believers I knew personally were very warm and generous. They loved the Lord and were supportive. My nagging question was, "Why hadn't national Christians whole-heartedly embraced the idea of a Bible Institute?"

I prayed much about this situation. Austrians are well-educated, industrious and very capable. They have national pride and sometimes resent Germans who treat them like a "little sister." Much of what was being accomplished for the Lord in Austria was to the credit of foreign missionaries. Austrians sometimes felt confined to the outer fringes of the Lord's work. I could not fathom this being the reason why they were not interested in an Austrian Bible Institute, however. I thought of those Austrian believers I knew well. Some had inferiority complexes, but when it came to the Lord's work, they gave and served generously and sacrificially. They were bold witnesses, loved the Word and cherished the fellowship of believers. As I pondered the spiritual heartbeat of Austrian Christians, their rejection or at least disinterest in a Bible training center became even more puzzling. As I prayed about this, however, the pieces of the puzzle gradually came together.

Most churches were very small and could not afford to pay a pastor's salary, so they had missionary pastors from Germany, America, England or Switzerland. I gradually came to realize that the tepid responses or lack of responses to my letters and the above mentioned questionnaire were not of Austrian origin! Letters to small churches are always received by the pastors. Some are very busy and could have set the papers aside for later. Or they sat down and replied without sharing the information with their church. Many of these missionaries would not have sensed the urgent need for a Bible training institution as Austrians might have. It would be more difficult for a foreign missionary or pastor to identify with my emphasis on having a majority of Austrians on the Executive Committee.

I began to suspicion that many church members had not seen my letters or the questionnaire at all. It was the same problem that we were first confronted with in the church of Ampflwang. The British mission leaders had no interest in giving up THEIR mission station. We had observed a tendency towards "ownership" or "proprietorship" in several other church situations. In fact, it was often these foreign pastors and missionaries who attended conferences and held positions of leadership in inter-church or para-church organizations.

With this in mind, I went back to the drawing board. I needed to get the message to Austrian believers. I took another hard look at the objections I had been hearing and formulated my responses especially for Austrians.

One of the most common objections was, "There are not enough prospective students in Austria to warrant a Bible School. The few Austrian students interested could attend one of several Bible Schools in Germany."

I argued that some of these schools had weak doctrinal positions and at least one permitted students to smoke and use alcoholic beverages. I further explained that there are vast differences between Austria and Germany. In much of Germany, a majority of the population is protestant. Cultural differences are as pronounced as between USA and England. I reminded Austrians that young people who studied in Germany seldom returned to their homeland. Some married German partners, while others accepted German pastorates. Austrians had proved themselves to be very capable pastors and Christian workers, but we were losing them.

I further argued that an Austrian Bible School would draw students from Germany, especially Lower Bavaria, which, like Austria, was strongly Roman Catholic. Students from the German-speaking parts of Italy and Switzerland would also be attracted to an Austrian school.

To the argument that few Austrians were interested. I showed that I was well qualified to respond. I had spent 18 years working with Austrian youth. Annual youth retreats were attended by hundreds of young people from all parts of the country. About 2000 youth attended CREDO '81, a special training seminar conducted in Austria. Many participants displayed an interest in formal Bible training. Although there were no exact figures, it was quite possible that there were enough Austrians presently studying in foreign schools to fill an Austrian institution.

A second argument that I often heard was: "Missions involves evangelism and building the Lord's church, not establishing schools. Teaching and training disciples can be accomplished in the church; we don't need more real estate!"

I said that even though Jesus came to seek and to save that which is lost, the first commandment of missions is to disciple believers. Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom, but spent most of his time instructing disciples (Romans 10,13-15). During our first 20 years in Austria, we gave ourselves to evangelism and church planting, but it had become increasingly clear, that we must be training disciples. We were here temporarily, but the work needed to go on after we left.

I showed that there were schools of the prophets in the Old Testament and they had buildings (II Kings 6:1-2). In Matthew 13, the Lord preached to the multitudes outside, but went into a building to teach his disciples. I pointed out that Israel has a warm, dry climate, but preaching a "sermon on the mount" in Austria would hardly draw a crowd in winter, and it would be difficult to concentrate in the frequent summer rains!

I also showed that students have historically left their home environments to study. Our children normally attend schools from the lower grades through college level. The same is true of trade schools.

Another common objection was, "It has already been tried but never worked."

In response, I showed that previous schools were mostly operated by foreign missions and designed to train lay workers. Austrians who enter a secular occupation, demand and receive the best possible training. Should we settle for anything less for young Christians, who desire to serve the Lord? I appealed for a Bible Institute that would have an Austrian Board, mostly Austrian teachers and which would provide quality Bible training specifically designed for Austria.

I referred people to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. I asked, "Supposing the farmer had given up after the first disappointing attempts? He would not have found the good soil that produced 30, 60 and 100 fold." Failing to learn is the greatest failure of all!

Many missionaries to Austria return to their homelands discouraged due to the stony ground, the thorns, thistles and scorching sun. Austrians can not afford that luxury! This IS their homeland! The wise sower keeps on sowing until he finds the good soil. I reminded them that the next generation of Austrian youth might be marching under the banner of the antichrist if we don't train this generation to march under the banner of the cross!

Why should other nations send missionaries to Austria, if their converts are not going to be trained according to II Timothy 2:2? Austrians could be sending out missionaries rather than receiving their services.

I explained that the curriculum would include a one-year course for lay workers, and three- to four-year programs for full-time workers. We would also offer short courses, seminars and perhaps evening classes for local people. In addition to Bible, we would offer music, church history, cultural studies and practical courses such as youth ministries and personal counseling.

I declared our willingness to serve as a catalyst to get the school started, but made it clear that this was to be an Austrian Bible Institute. I went even further and declared that the goal was for the school to become both financially and organizationally autonomous within three years. I was confident that Austrians could do it!

I used these arguments when presenting the Bible Institute project at conferences, in evangelistic meetings, and most importantly, in churches. I could sense people warming up to the idea of a Bible Institute and some were even excited about making it a reality.

I spent a lot more time in prayer for the Austrian believers and churches, asking the Lord to impress HIS will on their hearts. I looked for every opportunity to share how the Lord had led us and of the many miracles which he had performed. Only what God wanted was important, and it was obvious that God wanted a Bible Institute in Austria!

I began to welcome challenges and to see them as opportunities to share what God was doing. Very little faith is necessary when everything is going right. Faith thrives upon opposition and under adverse circumstances. That is when God receives the glory.

I was careful to present my arguments in a manner that Austrians could wholeheartedly embrace and which would be difficult to oppose without admitting to inferiority or helplessness. This time, I wanted to be certain that the information got into the hands of Austrians and not just foreign missionaries. Whenever possible, I attempted to present my case personally.

We had expected to receive opposition from secular sources and especially from the Roman Catholic Church, in which 90% of all Austrians were baptized. To our surprise, local and provincial authorities were very cooperative and we experienced no opposition whatsoever from the Catholic Church. Opposition came from more unlikely sources.

The annual Christian Workers Conference was to be held in Mittersill Castle in October. I printed a brochure describing our recently leased facilities to share with participants. It said nothing about a Bible Institute, but just described the facilities and possibilities for hiking, horseback riding and swimming close by. Many missions, churches and Christian organizations set up literature tables and I requested permission to do the same. I was surprised when the conference leader turned down my request. He explained that there was an effort to start an in-church Bible training Program and my proposal of a Bible Institute would constitute direct competition. I argued that there was no mention of a school in the brochure, and that I only wanted to offer the buildings for camps and retreats. He replied that a number of persons knew of our desire to start a Bible School and remained astute at his refusal.

The main speaker was Doyle Classen, Director of Brake Bible Institute in Germany. He had heard from someone (not me!), that there was interest in starting a Bible Institute in Austria. In the middle of one of his messages, he mentioned this and gave open encouragement to the project. The messages were taped and many participants purchased copies to share with others. I was elated at this unexpected endorsement, but discovered that the leaders of the conference had ordered that statement to be deleted from the tapes before duplicating them!

In spite of these developments, many participants approached us asking about progress and pledging their support.

When I arrived home again, I addressed envelopes to all evangelical Churches and missionaries in Austria and mailed the printed brochures along with an invitation to come and inspect the facilities at an Open House on November 19th. I included multiple copies of the invitation and asked that they be made available to church members. About fifty persons showed up and were very impressed with the facilities.

Although I had said nothing about a school, many knew of my desire and expressed interest in a Bible Institute. We had a meal for visitors and while seated at the tables, someone stood and spoke to the gathering. He asked if anyone else felt like he did about founding a Bible Institute. Nearly all hands went up and several were quite vocal about their support. They insisted that I call another meeting to explore this possibility. We agreed to a meeting on December 3rd.

I wrote the same people and churches a second letter stating that I and others had recognized the need for a Bible Institute in Austria and wanted to discuss this possibility with anyone interested. I had collected the addresses of those who came to the Open House, encouraging them to invite others. I was overwhelmed at the turnout on December 3 and pleased that all were eager to move ahead. Some of the key movers were obviously missing, but many churches sent representatives and a good number of recognized and dedicated men of God attended.

After an open discussion about needs and possibilities, it was decided to form a steering committee, whose job it would be, to prayerfully seek out competent men who would be willing to serve on a charter committee. The steering committee (called "Proponentenkomitee") would not make decisions or appointments regarding a school. This would be the task of the Charter Committee.

I explained that any school which would use our facilities must agree with our mission's doctrinal position. I further stated that the school must have a majority of Austrians serving on the Board and that the objective would be complete autonomy. Fifteen men were chosen to form the steering committee, and on January 13, 1984, five Austrians and two missionaries (I was one of these) were selected to form the Charter Committee.

A provisional school curriculum was worked out and in March, Jakob ("Jack") Baumgartner was chosen to serve as Director. Because our mission held the lease and was paying most bills, I was named Business Manager. There was still much to do, but we set the date for the school's opening for October 10, 1984.

Our first full summer camp season went very well. Because one of the dorms was not usable, we could only offer beds for 50 persons, but one camp pitched tents to accommodate 20 additional campers. A total of about 600 campers and many staff got a taste of Ampflwang and what was about to happen. They took their impressions back to their churches. Excitement was beginning to run high in anticipation of the school opening.

A few weeks before the grand opening, our mission printed a brief article about the project in its magazine.

From the Summer 1984 GOSPEL MESSAGE

On January 13 a committee of five Austrians and two missionaries met to make initial plans for a Bible Institute in Austria (Ampflwang). A fully-equipped school complex in Upper Austria has already been leased. The facilities include eight classrooms, an office, dining hall and kitchen. There are also three furnished dormitories for students and staff.

GMU missionaries expect the proposed Bible school to open its doors to a small student body in the fall of 1984. Right now, Austria has no Bible lnstitute. GMU missionaries and Austrian church leaders believe that the time is ripe for such a school. The country is said to be 88 % Roman Catholic, 6 % Lutheran, with the remainder made up of a variety of sects, evangelicals and unchurched. One of the motivating factors for establishing a Bible school at this time is the growing number of Austrian young people who are eager to serve the Lord. It is believed that the Bible school will help the struggling evangelical churches prepare Christian workers.

A number of Austrians have already shown their enthusiasm for the project by donating labor and money. The GMU missionary team in Austria is encouraging Christians in Europe and North America to become involved in readying the school for camps which are scheduled in the facilities during July and August.

Ralph & Verna Harvey

At least three hundred persons shared that special day with us. Putting it into perspective, 10% of all 3,000 evangelical Christians in Austria were present, and many of them drove hundreds of miles to get there! I have often been accused of being an incurable optimist, but even I was astounded.

Part II,  From 1984 through 1999
Part III, Since 1999