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**
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