Opera singer plants church in Vienna

Austria: Opera singer from Brazil plants church in Vienna with former Muslims, Buddhists and atheists

‘We’re now no longer enemies, but brothers in Christ’

When Maria began to feel God nudging her to share Christ with Persians, she didn’t know what a Persian was. But within a week she met a girl from Iran. 

When Maria asked what language she spoke, the girl said “Persian,” so Maria knew God had prepared her and invited the young lady to study the Bible.

Maria didn’t set out to start a new Persian church. She was just obeying God. But that Bible study has now grown to over 100 people – a mixture of former Muslims from Iran and Afghanistan, former Buddhists from Vietnam and former atheists from Austria. The Iranian girl got saved, started sharing her faith with others, and brough them also to the Bible study. It was just spontaneous.

“Maria’s always had the desire to serve the Lord,” said Roger Hartsill, an IMB worker who is helping Maria. “She decided to do something in her home… and we’ve pitched in to help her.”

Maria came to Vienna from Brazil more than a decade ago. She had completed a seminary degree as well as a music degree and was offered a scholarship to study opera in Vienna. After finishing her studies, she settled in Vienna, married an Austrian and embarked on a career, but her lifelong call to missions never dissipated.

‘This home-based Bible study has grown to over 100 people’

The Bible study with the Persian girl from Iran started in her home in 2014. By the end of that year, two Iranians, two Vietnamese and one Austrian had become Christians and had been baptized. Twelve new converts, most of whom were Iranian immigrants, were added to their number by the Spring of 2015.

Maria has now quit her job to be a full-time missionary. Her husband works to support the family. As the work began to reach mostly Muslim men, Maria wisely sought out male pastors, as the body has been in transition from an outreach group in her home, to a house church, and then to a recognized church within the Austrian Baptist Convention.

Hartsill, who is mentoring Maria from his home in Germany, is in a unique position to help. He and his wife Diana began their ministry with IMB in South America, then moved to Europe for the express purpose of mobilizing South American believers who have emigrated to Europe. The Hartsills want to help Latinos in Europe spread the Gospel wherever they go, but specifically to other immigrants and refugees. “We have discovered that oftentimes a believing immigrant from elsewhere can more easily connect with the refugees and immigrants in Europe than the nationals can,” Hartsill said.

‘A believing immigrant can more easily connect with other immigrants.’

Among the challenges facing the church is that teaching and discipleship must be done through translators or in a second language. New believers coming from strong Islamic, Buddhist and atheistic backgrounds have a relatively long discipleship road and their backgrounds also put many at risk. Often the new Christians can never return to their families or home countries because of their conversions.

There is always the risk of an attack on Christians or on the church, even in Europe. Recently the church in Vienna was infiltrated by an enemy of the Gospel who poisoned Maria’s food during a fellowship meal. She was hospitalized but has since recovered. The persecution hasn’t stopped Maria from forging ahead, convinced that it’s worth the risk to watch God bring former enemies of Christ together.

“Recently I was in the Vienna church for baptism, and afterwards everybody was just hanging out,” Hartsill recounted. “This guy came up and said he was from Iran. He said: ’You know Iranians and Americans have not always gotten along, but I want to get a picture with you because you’re my brother in Christ now.’ An Afghan guy heard this and said: ‘Well, Afghans don’t always get along with either of you. In fact, if you, me and this guy were in our home countries, we’d probably be looking at each other down a gun barrel. He’s Sunni and I’m Shi’ite, but we’re brothers in Christ.’ A Vietnamese guy was playing the violin for worship but stopped to join us. He said: ’Well, Vietnam has had problems with the U.S. too…’ So we got this picture – we’re all brothers in Christ. These men who were once angry don’t have to fight anymore because they’ve found peace in Jesus.”

‘We’re now no longer enemies, but brothers in Christ’

God has continued to bless the church plant. In November 2015, 22 former Muslims – all Iranians and Afghans – were baptized. In April 2016, another 18 Iranians and Afghans were baptized as well as a local Austrian doctor who has become a strong supporter of the new church. Nineteen more baptisms were celebrated on May 28, 2016, including Vietnamese, Afghans and Iranians. In August 2016, 18 former Muslims followed Christ in believer’s baptism. In December 2016, 16 were baptized, and in March 2017, 11 more.

“This new work started from zero and has seen 94 adult baptisms in less than two years,” Hartsill said. “Nearly all of the new converts are immigrants from Iran, Afghanistan or Vietnam – places where missionaries cannot freely enter. The growth is the result of these new believers sharing their newfound faith with others from their people groups.”

Hartsill visits several times a year to help with baptisms, discuss logistical problems, and wrestle through issues that come from having Muslim-, Buddhist- and Catholic-background believers in a burgeoning church family. “My role is primarily to coach,” Hartsill said. “We have identified an Iranian man who feels called to ministry and whom we hope will assume the role of pastor for this church in the near future. His immigrant status is still pending, but he is already teaching new converts in the church’s discipleship training.”

The growing church is looking for space to expand, and the Hartsills ask for prayer for the work God is doing in Vienna.

Source: Roger Hartsill, Nicole Leigh, Baptist Press
Joel News International – # 1084 | June 5, 2018












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