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.