Response to an Article About Austria

published in The Evangelical Missions Quarterly, April 1994

Evangelical Missions Quarterly
25W560 Geneva Road, Box 794
Wheaton, IL 60189

May 12, 1994

Dear EMQ-Editors:

David Sanford's article "Graveyard of Missions" (EMQ April, 1994) ends with a challenge to respond. My wife and I have been missionaries in the "Graveyard" for three decades, so I decided to take one foot out of the grave and write this letter before it's too late. How did we last this long? Ignorance! We thought that this term assigned to Austria meant that we had to stay here until we died! Well, thanks for the enlightenment, but we're staying!

Seriously, I don't feel that the depiction of missions in Austria on the first two pages of Sanford's article is representative. I printed a listing of Christian workers in Austria for about fifteen years and have not observed a drop-out rate that is much if any higher than in other countries. I can't speak for other missions, but Gospel Missionary Union has sent twenty-one missionaries (nine couples and three single workers) to Austria during the past thirty years. Two couples left after a few years but the rest of us are still here. The single workers married Austrians and are still serving through their churches. Five couples have served twenty-five years in this "cemetery" and half of our grown MKs chose to make Europe their home.

The Term "Missionary"
While it is true that the term "missionary" is no asset in Austria, avoiding it completely is not an easy matter. In order to get a residence permit and visa, we must show our source of income and give a valid reason for being here. A "free-lance writer" or "part-time Biology teacher" whose source of income is a church or mission, will have some explaining to do!

We prefer finding secondary work to do which is closely related to our main priorities (evangelism, church planting and training nationals), yet which doesn't unnecessarily offend Austrians. We work with refugees, gather and ship truckloads of aid for impoverished and war-stricken people in neighboring countries, work with drug addicts or alcoholics, operate a youth center, print shop, Bible Book Store etc. There is always a danger that these activities can detract from priorities, but they can also be effective tools in establishing good relationships with Austrians which we might otherwise never achieve.

Let me give an example. We and churches we serve have collected and shipped 20 to 30 truckloads of relief materials for needy people in countries of eastern Europe. This activity has enhanced the image of the churches, involved Christians with non-Christians in the collecting, packing and loading process and even resulted in the conversion of resulting contacts. Christians who distribute these goods on the other end also have a great opportunity to share the gospel with recipients and even government agents. All of this activity actually only takes a few hours per month of the missionary's time, yet local citizens are positively impressed with such activities.

Schneider advises non-missionaries:
1) "Avoid other missionaries like the plague..."
Our missionaries get together for fellowship once a month and we also have frequent visitors from the local church in our home. Our Roman Catholic neighbors have gotten to know many of our friends and express amazement at the good fellowship which we enjoy and they miss in their own church.

2) "Go out of your way to meet people and befriend them. But whatever you do, don't automatically start witnessing to them. If you do, you will be one friendless missionary, guaranteed..."
Friendship evangelism works, but so do other kinds of evangelism. I know Christians who witness at every opportunity, even to perfect strangers. They have led many to Christ who themselves are that kind of Christians.

3) "Never talk about the church you attend..."
I would agree here if one has to be apologetic about his church, but not if we are enthusiastically involved with a vibrant group of Christians. Most of our converts accept Christ only after getting to meet national believers from our churches.

Most missions expect candidates to be involved in a local church, yet their missionaries often become "loners" once they arrive on their field of service. GMU's slogan in Europe is "National Identity With Missionary Mobility". Each missionary is expected to associate with a church even if he must travel quite a distance to find one (44 of 68 Austrian cities with more than 10,000 pop. have no evangelical church!).

Nearly everything we do as missionaries, from planting churches to operating camps, is in association with national churches. We founded the Austrian Bible Institute in 1984 as an Austrian institution with a Board composed mainly of Austrians. Few are aware that GMU had anything to do with this project. The Baptist Church in Passau, Bavaria, is acclaimed to be one of the fastest growing churches in Europe, yet few know that it was a GMU missionary who led the tiny nucleus of believers to autonomy.

Evangelicals account for considerably less than one percent of the population and as Schneider points out, they are often seen as a cult. In past centuries, true believers were even beheaded or burned at the stake. It is true that identification with non-Catholic churches may scare off the "fainthearted" (see title of Schneider's book), but God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness. Jesus said, "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master." A bold testimony breeds bold converts, and Austria needs such. If we view Austria as a graveyard for missionaries, we may consider leaving when the going gets rough, but where do national Christians go when ridiculed for their faith? They turn to the Lord and find refuge in His church.

I have not read Schneider's book, but from reading the EMQ article, one gets the impression that national churches and other missionaries are not seeing much fruit because they insist upon "perpetuating old ways of doing things".

Many churches in Austria are experiencing fruit and growth. Evangelical churches in Tyrol just wound up several weeks of evangelistic meetings which were conducted in a number of cities in Tyrol and South Tyrol (German speaking part of Italy). In some cities there were as many new converts as church members; 60 conversions were counted in Innsbruck alone! The methods were perhaps old-fashioned, but effective. A German evangelist, Wilhelm Pahls brought the message while local Christians were responsible for publicity, testimonies, music and follow-up.

On the other hand, churches and missionaries show a readiness to try new methods. Our own church in Ampflwang sponsored a bridal show in April, in commemoration of the "Year of the Family". Ten local businesses cooperated and the church set up a book booth with Bibles and Christian books about marriage and the family. A marriage counselor spoke in the evenings on the biblical perspective of these subjects. God uses both new and old wineskins.

There were Christians in Austria centuries before we modern missionaries (or "non-missionaries") arrived, Many of them were persecuted by those who also claimed to be Christian, but who had other ideas about evangelism and worship. Some fled to America where they found freedom to worship according to their own convictions. Today, centuries later, they argue with each other (in German) about things like the color of their horse drawn buggies or the use of electricity.

Floyd Schneider, Scott Walt and Fred Colvin (not mentioned in the article, but his ministry is also quite effective) and others have good reason to be excited about how God is using them. I am also excited and pray that their disciples will become even more effective in reaching Austrians for Christ. But God is also using other missionaries and national churches to accomplish his purposes. I am convinced that my wife is the greatest woman in the world, but it would be wrong for me to conclude that everyone else's wife is second class! There are Christians who charge admission and get ovations of applause at evangelistic concerts; others befriend people and show them that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, and a few come right out and preach hellfire and damnation. Which method is right? Or is there a middle-of-the-road-right-of-way? Or should we use a mixture of all methods? Is what works for me the way everyone else should do things?

In Mark 9:38-40, we hear John proudly boasting that the disciples had forbidden someone from casting out devils in Christ's name because he was not one of the elect twelve. I doubt if Jesus would have anything different to tell his disciples today than what he told them back then. Paul described our situation aptly in I Cor.13:12, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. We shall someday see things as God sees them, see each other as He sees us and best of all, we shall see HIM whom they - and we - crucified.

Sincerely in Christ,

Ralph Harvey
Frankenmarkt, Austria


Separate letter included:

Evangelical Missions Quarterly
25W560 Geneva Road, Box 794
Wheaton, IL 60189
May 13, 1994

Dear Editors of EMQ,

Enclosed is a first response to the article in the April EMQ by David Sanford, and this is an after-thought. I would like to learn more about the financial matters referred to. Schneider claims that his co-worker, Scott Walt can live on less than half of what other missionaries need. Is this because he works part time? In the city where he lives, an average apartment costs $1000 as compared to $500/month in our area. Gasoline is about $3.50 per gallon and other living expenses are also considerably higher in Austria. Does the missionary accept Austrian family aid (for 4 children, this amounts to over $400 per month)? Does he spend a lot of precious time working in a garden to save on grocery bills? If he is comparing the amount Walt receives on the field to what others need to raise, this is not a fair comparison. We also live on half of what we have to raise. Does Walt have a medical plan or retirement fund? Does he pay his own expenses for ministry or have an expense account? There are too many questions unanswered for making such a bold statement. I am not familiar with what other missions require of their workers, but GMU's support rate for a family the size of Walt's would be under $4,000, far below the $5,500 figure given and this includes some work funds, Social Security, medical coverage etc. etc.

Is there someone out there who could and would do a fair survey and report on this subject? Although one could not name missions, it would be helpful for missions and missionaries to have an overview. What kind of financing models are there? How do missions handle inequalities in financial needs on the same field? Living in a small town incurs far less rent than in a large city, for example. There are missionaries who pastor small churches and receive free housing or have ministry expenses paid. How do the different missions handle this kind of thing? Are missionaries allowed to purchase housing and if so, are changes made in support rates?

We read and hear a lot about traditional missionaries and "tentmakers", but very little about church supported missionaries, independent missionaries or other models of missionary support. Do many missions permit their workers to earn money on the side, or allow one spouse to work at a secular occupation while the other does missionary work? Our son is marrying a fine Austrian girl, who has a fantastic job/ministry as a speech therapist in the public school system. They do not see why she should give this up and for them to go back to America to raise additional support. Yet for this reason, our son must leave the mission and also take up secular employment. I am not critical of our mission policy, for I am well aware of the problems that can arise out of such situations. But it seems that there should be ways to deal with them, that would not require the termination of an effective ministry.

Another area that involves financing is that of mission projects. How do missions handle these?

I look forward to each issue of EMQ and have recommended that each of our missionaries subscribe to this magazine.

Sincerely in Christ,

Ralph V Harvey