The first Tuesday of the first week that we were in Austria, Christian and I decided to take the day to go into the city of Vienna and explore a little bit. Once we stepped off of the train, we began our gawking as we spun around with our eyes plastered upwards toward the beautiful buildings, the sculptures, the movement.
Vienna is breathtaking. Everywhere you turn there are beautiful streets, incredible architecture, statues, fountains, parks and cafes.
Rewind to about three years ago. A friend of ours from our ship days, who is from Germany, was studying medicine in Vienna. In one conversation, he told us about this beautiful cathedral called Stephansdom. He said that it is so beautiful that we might very well cry if ever we saw it.
Naturally, we knew this was something we needed to find.
It wasn’t hard. The steeples are raised so high that they are visible from most places in the city. We arrived at the building and sure enough, we could hardly believe its grandeur. The intricacy of the carved stone steeples, the patterns created with the colorful shingles which adorn the roof, the gargoyles, and the great wooden doors…. All of it was absolutely breathtaking.
I have always wondered what it is about these buildings that, although I am not Catholic, demand so much reverence? Why is it that when people walk in to these places, they suddenly whisper or lower their voices? Why do strangers leave bills of 5, 10, 20 euros in the donation box when regular, evangelical church attenders are generally stingy?
As we walked around, not just Stephansdom, but as we have walked around other churches as well, we haven’t been able to help but notice that Jesus, the point of it all, is given the portrait, not of the mighty Son of God, but rather of a malnourished, weak, and powerless “second.” (By “second” I mean second to the divine, maternal, and chosen Madonna.)
The Jesus that Christian and I know—the One that walks with us, teaches us, holds us and heals us—that’s not Him.
Last Thursday I went back to Stephansdom with a new friend that I’ve made. We met up in Vienna for coffee to get to know each other, and what started out as a moderately rough morning due to directions, holiday closings, and my running late, became a completely redeemed time of learning, listening, vulnerability and worship.
After coffee, we found ourselves back at this grand cathedral talking about spiritual warfare… both of us agreeing that there is such a thick cloud of spiritual oppression in this country. It’s not the same one that I have noticed in the US—this spirit of consumerism, material and distraction with access to a real (at least, a closer version to the real) understanding of Jesus on every other corner—but rather just ignorance; a complete misunderstanding of who Jesus, God, actually is.
It’s like this barrier, a “dome,” has been put here. This is Satan’s domain. And the interesting thing is, I grew up misinterpreting grandeur for spiritual health, much like some of those who might live in or visit this continent, this country.
It wasn’t until this conversation with this friend that I saw a parallel, here.
We look at these churches and marvel, much like we marvel at the landscapes, the architectures, the food, the people, the cultures. Much like the steeples of these intricate structures, all of these things were created to direct our gaze upward. Heavenward.
But instead, we settle for the mere admiration of the subject itself and stop there. Worship is lost. And this is just the outside.
What about the inside? What about the heart? Much like these magnificent cathedrals, we enter in to the minds and hearts of the people that fill this place and find a misled reverence, if reverence is even what it is. We find that Jesus is a second. Powerless. One who suffered on a cross and never left it. One who you should feel sorry for, if you feel anything at all.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
If you want an intense and beautiful follow up to that, do yourself a huge favor and read John chapter 17.
The Jesus I know… He is full of life. In fact, He is Life. Abundant Life. Joy. Powerfull. Eternal. The greatest warrior and defender of man.
This is the Jesus we want them to know. This is the Jesus in whom the Church needs to believe. This is the Jesus that I want to be like.
And may our eyes and hearts never be distracted by the external beauty of the lateral.
I'm thankful that we didn't have many expectations for Austria before we came. We honestly didn't know much about this country other than what a few other people told us and what we had researched, so landing here was when we were actually able to begin putting paint on the canvas.
We were picked up at the airport and driven to the place that would be our home for the next three months. I truly had no idea just how little German I knew until arriving here. That has thus far been the harshest reality check. I have little patience with myself in the first place, so language learning is an area where my stamina is being thrown into the fire a bit. But it's so good.
People here are so gracious with me. They are so glad that I want to learn, that even the decent English speakers will only speak German with me and correct me when I make a mistake. Immersion is a beautiful gift, folks. I have also been told by some of these patient Austrians that my German will be quite good by the end of these three months, so I have high hopes.
This first week has largely just been adjustments: adjustments to walking everywhere (he walking here makes walking in Chicago look like a joke), adjustments to dialect differences, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, and diet. And although we have both become relatively good at adapting, we keep finding more things that demand some degree of alteration.
For example, do not pet other people's dogs. Dogs are generally excellently trained here. They mostly walk around without leashes and stick close to their owners. They don't bark at each other or go over to other people. They could even care less if they walked by a strange cat on the sidewalk. If you want to pet someone's dog, you should ask them to make sure it's okay. This is a 180* change from Chicago where everyone has a dog, and where most people are almost offended if you don't stop to give their canine at least a pat on the head. This is just one example, and there are many more.
This last week we spent a few evenings with new acquaintances out at heurigens (hoy-ree-gens) which are local wine gardens that only serve wine from their small vineyard, oftentimes across the street or just a few blocks away. You go and sit down, order wine, and then visit for maybe 3 or 4 hours during which time you might decide to order some food... maybe not. The point is that it's an amazing opportunity to build relationships and get to know people because of the time you spend there.The pace here is so much slower. Austrians are punctual, but not rushed. It's remarkable.
Before we left Chicago, people would find out that we were headed to Austria and say things like, "Oh, wow! It's so beautiful! You will love it there!"
To those of you who said that, you're correct, although I will be honest with you: Initially my mind reverted to "Maybe, but it's not just a beautiful place. We're not going so that we can just be somewhere beautiful. We're going for people." I now understand that as cynicism on my part. I think that cynicism stems from this idea that I had, as well as many other American (perhaps "Western") minded thinkers for quite some time; an idea that is less about Europe's need for Jesus and its post-Christian atmosphere, and more about its beautiful mountains, culture, food, etc.
This first week in Austria has been a lot to take in. We have already had the privilege of sitting down for lengthy conversations with missionaries here, hearing about why they are burdened for Europe, Austria specifically. We have learned that up until recently, the evangelical church in Austria was considered a cult rather than a church, and is still viewed that way although technically it has been officially recognized now as a church by the state. (Thank you, Jesus!) However, Austria is also infamous as the "deathplace of missions."
We have learned that one of the difficulties that missionaries here seem to face is exactly the reason why so many people choose Europe as a vacation spot: it's beautiful. And when poverty is not necessarily external, it's easy to forget the severe poverty of soul. It's easy to forget the loneliness. The unspoken pains of unknown identity. The illusions in people's minds and hearts that they are "good" and have "no need" for God. In general, it would seem that the hardest people to convince are people who don't realize they are desperate.
I have found myself on several occasions this week feeling strange-- as though we ought to be far more productive than we've been thus far. Christian and I are so used to having people in and out of our home all the time, running from thing to thing and serving here and there, that now that we are adjusting to Austria-- the most beautiful place I have ever seen-- and slowly getting to know people and just being, well, slow, has made me feel guilty.
Aren't missionaries supposed to be ultra productive? Aren't they supposed to hit the ground running and have hardly any time to rest or make memories or be with their family because of "ministry" obligations? Despite our extensive experiences with missions and travel, this is a first for me. I always had this idea in my head-- this idea that doing ministry in another country meant a certain standard of expectations, namely, the ones listed as questions above.
But the truth is, I have been realizing that these expectations that I've inflicted on myself and perhaps have been nurtured by other well-meaning Americans, are that these are not at all accurate. It all takes time. It is slow. It demands patience and commitment.
Christian and I have been able to go out and explore the area a bit this week, too! It's been such a privilege to go into the city center of Baden, see Beethoven's home (where he wrote his 9th symphony), and also go into Vienna to explore for the first time. We were able to see the Nationalbibliothek (National Library) and Stephansdom ((St. Stephans Cathedral) more to come on our thoughts on that experience later.) It's true that Vienna is a big melting pot of cultures, religions, architecture and food. It is lovely, and being able to go in and get our first impressions was wonderful.
I took some photos of Vienna that are posted below. Enjoy!
** Please bear in mind that I am a photographer. It's something that I believe the Lord has gifted me with, and it's something in which I find great joy. We want to share these beautiful places with you all so that you might see the amazing things the Lord has made. Like I said, I fully acknowledge that these places are unbelievably lovely, but please remember that this is just the cover, not the real life, and that they are not a reflection of the ins and outs of our ministry**
If you would like to know more specifically about what we're doing in Austria and more about the specifics of our weeks here, please subscribe to our newsletter here.
It's summer! This means that so many of us are, or soon will be, traveling via airplane to one of this planet's diverse destinations. Flying is exciting, right? There is just something about that airport smell and energy that get's your adrenaline going just a little bit.
One of our favorite things to do at airports is people watch, especially in international terminals. No matter where you are or what kind of travel you're doing, people never fail to disappoint in the area of travel entertainment.
We, the Neufelds, have certainly experienced our share of international travel. Since we have been married we have spent fairly extensive time traveling to eight countries (not including the ones that we've visited/worked in prior to "I do") on five different trips.
We've learned quite a bit and thought that perhaps we might share some of our thoughts with you all as you might be finding yourselves on the cusp of your own adventure.
1.) Purchase your flights directly through the airline.
This might be up for debate, but in our opinion, what you might save by booking your flights through a third party is not at all worth it if anything (and we mean anything) goes wrong. By third party, we mean sites like Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire, Tavelocity and the like.
In 2014, we spent a month in Greece and were wrapping up our time in the east with a visit to Israel via Istanbul. We checked into the Istanbul international terminal and slept on the floor (because it's free and then we didn't have to figure out how to get around Turkey knowing zero Turkish). Anyway, long story short, they cancelled our flight to Tel Aviv due to Gaza troubles so instead of ending up in Israel for one week, we found ourselves in Germany. Geographically we had no complaints because, well, Germany is incredible. However, we had to try to get on our connect flight in Frankfurt instead of Athens as planned which, it turned out, was impossible. So we had all of this crazy stuff to deal with and NO airline could help us because why? We had booked our flights through a third party.
We did make it back to the US, but with an added fee of $800 due to third party "complications."
Yes, booking directly through airlines can be a bit more costly at the moment, but trust us: you will save yourself a whole ton of trouble, time and money in the event of any unexpected hiccup.
2.) Get the travel insurance for the long flights.
And make sure it covers delayed baggage. Typically, we travel light. Christian and I are not the "we have to bring everything in case of anything" kind of people, but for stints longer than one month we opt for the one checked bag for free offer. This is important because, in the event that your airline loses your luggage, you could be out for several days before it shows up again (if it shows up at all). The thing is, airlines deal with this all the time, and unless you have platinum level status and a million frequent flier miles with that airline, you and your luggage are just another number to them.
What's handy is this travel insurance thing. If the plan includes insurance on delayed luggage, they will reimburse you for whatever expenses you had on essentials caused by that suitcase not showing up. All you have to do is notify the airline and file a lost luggage form. This is easily done because as soon as the belt on that baggage claim unit stops and you are wondering where in the world your suitcase is, you simply walk over to the "lost luggage" desk right there in the area, give them your luggage claim number and fill out a quick one page document. They will give you a reference number to "track your luggage" which may or may not work, but this reference number sheet they give you is just about all you need. Call your insurance provider if your luggage has not come within 24 hours. They will give you an amount per diem that you can spend on essentials (up to a certain amount, like $1000 USD), then once your luggage shows up, just photo-copy the reference sheet the airline gave you, put your expense receipts together and send it to your insurance company. They should have you reimbursed within about 10 business days.
As we said, we only do this for the long flights (6+ hours), especially if we connect more than once or switch airlines part way through.
3.) Pack light.
We mentioned this before, but folks, none of us actually needs even half of what we think we need. Traveling internationally as a visitor/tourist and being that person with the humongous trolley full of bags is just such a pain, and also you automatically become one of those people who offers travel entertainment to everyone around you. Or you just become a huge annoyance to yourself and everyone else when it comes to things like customs, luggage check, lifts, escalators and general maneuvering around anywhere.
Maybe you're completely content and happy to do all of this, in which case, this section no longer applies to you and we can just agree to disagree on this. We applaud you for your efforts.
But seriously, bring things (like outfits) that are multi-purpose and have lots of dexterity. Simple clothing basics = many different outfits. If you have a fancy camera, bring one all-purpose camera lens instead of two. Bring one or two paperbacks instead of seven (assuming you will be somewhere for only a week or two, and unless you are actually planning to do nothing but read... which you aren't, so....) Anyway, you get it.
4.) Expensive things go in the carry-on.
Remember that bit about lost luggage? Keep your costly items close, people.
5.) Don't be that person that takes twenty minutes going through security.
Christian and I have a system. Most people that travel much usually do, and we think it's a great system that ought to be shared with the whole world. Please consider this if you haven't already.
We all know that airports have pretty strict rules about things like liquids, electronics, metal, etc. They give us step-by-step guidelines on their websites so we know exactly what to expect, right? Okay, so ways that you can expedite your process through security is by doing some of the following:
This concludes some of our thoughts on international travel! We hope that this can be helpful for you and are excited with you for whatever upcoming memories you have in the making. Please don't hesitate to ask questions. We will do our best!