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 brought them also to the Bible study. It was just spontaneous.
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.
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 baptised. 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 recognised church within the Austrian Baptist Convention.
Challenges and risks
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 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 hospitalised 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,” Roger 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.”
God has continued to bless the church plant. In November 2015, 22 former Muslims – all Iranians and Afghans – were baptised. In April 2016, another 18 Iranians and Afghans were baptised, 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 baptised, and in March 2017, 11 more.
This new work started from zero and has seen 94 adult baptisms in less than two years. Nearly all of the new converts are immigrants from Iran, Afghanistan or Vietnam – places where missionaries cannot freely enter.
Source: Roger Hartsill, Nicole Leigh, Baptist Press