Posted 1/24/2018 at 8:00am.
For many years, Virginia Baptists have had a mutually beneficial relationship with Austrian Baptists. One of the most important keys to the success of that relationship has been, and continues to be, Dr. Andrea Klimt.
Klimt and her husband, Walter, moved to Vienna, Austria in 1992 and started the Free Church Project, a Baptist dormitory and collegiate ministry that focused on life together and on being authentically connected to the surrounding community. That project gave birth to a church plant called project:gemeinde (Project:Church). During a partnership between the BGAV and Austria Baptists in the early 2000s, many volunteers helped renovate the dormitory, which houses the collegiate ministry and church as well as the Austria Baptist Union’s office. Walter Klimt is now the general secretary of the Austria Baptist Union.
“I remember especially the dedication and hard work of the teams that laid the wooden floor in the Mollardgasse Church and landscaped the courtyard in Krummgasse,” recalled Klimt. “Virginia Baptists have also explored the value of mutuality by receiving volunteer teams from Austria,” she explained. Two Strudelteams engaged in outreach ministry in many churches and on college campuses. Several youth teams have participated in Impact Mission Camps (formerly Impact! Virginia) and other local ministries. Austrians and Virginians worked together in a disaster relief team that responded to Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua. “I still have friends from that experience,” Klimt recalled.
For many years, Klimt has been involved in the European Baptist Mission (EBM) in several ministries, designing and implementing a reciprocal partnership in which South African pastors worked in Austria and Germany, and designing and implementing the program for the EBM that trains and debriefs long-term volunteers. She has ministered as a board member of a social initiative that ministers to and among prostitutes in Vienna, and she has published a developmentally appropriate Bible for children. Throughout her various ministries, Klimt has had an open door at her home and imprinted radical hospitality on the church that she started and co-pastored with her husband. That church has embodied such hospitality as they have reached out to refugees, ministering to individuals and families by aiding them in integration and resettlement. Many long-term volunteers have had their lives transformed by working with this church in Vienna, and several have settled in Vienna to continue their ministry there.
One such young minister is Cesar Sotomayor, a church planter whom Virginia Baptists have sponsored through the Mission Partnership program of the European Baptist Federation. Sotomayor was an intern there and now ministers to Farsi-speaking Afghans as well as Iranians in Vienna, and he also started a Hispanic church.
“The project:gemeinde church has always appreciated the contributions of our interns from Virginia. They have been of great help in developing our church. Currently we have seven interns, four of whom are from Virginia,” explained Klimt. The church has demonstrated how a church can be part of a wider community, embracing people from all backgrounds and participating in public life.
“Our interns are involved in refugee integration and accumulate valuable experience in sharing life with persons from other cultures. This is very helpful when they go back to leadership roles in Virginia,” she added. “Intercultural exchange helps open your perspectives, and the BGAV has benefited from its relationship with Baptists in Austria by experiencing how Christians in another culture live out their faith.”
Since earning her doctorate from the University of Vienna, Klimt has been the Professor of Practical Theology at the German Baptist Seminary in Elstal, just outside Berlin. She commutes weekly between Berlin and Vienna. Every few years, professors at the seminary have a research semester during which they do not have to teach classes; instead, they use the time to read, write, and do things that will enhance their ability to be a professor, serve the seminary, and be a resource for the churches of their union.
During her most recent research semester in late 2017, Klimt traveled to Virginia, where she stayed and worked for seven weeks among many Virginia Baptists in order to pursue two main goals: expanding on her dissertation by doing more research on Baptist adults’ concepts of God and also improving her academic English, as she is frequently called upon to participate around the world in dialogues and work groups in English.
During her time in Virginia, she attended the Baptist Collegiate Ministries fall gathering at Eagle Eyrie, the BGAV annual meeting in Hampton, and an Uptick meeting. Klimt commented, “It is quite impressive how Uptick prepares and supports young ministers so that they can become more effective and balanced leaders.” At the BGAV annual meeting, she led a breakout session called “Refugees, Immigrants, Brothers, and Sisters: An International Perspective.”
Some of her most memorable experiences during her visit were seeing firsthand all the flood buckets, the shower unit, and other supplies related to BGAV’s Disaster Relief efforts, and also her time at Mount Tabor Baptist Church, an African American congregation where they directly addressed issues of social justice and reconciliation. Klimt and her husband visited Manassas Baptist Church, where they thanked them for their special support of Sotomayor and the churches he is planting in Vienna. She visited and spoke at other churches as well, including Deep Run Baptist Church and Richmond’s First Baptist Church, where she dialogued with leaders and laypeople about ministries to immigrants and refugees.
Klimt is particularly grateful for the interaction she had with the students and faculty at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR). She attended some lectures at BTSR and also at Union Presbyterian Seminary, gaining some didactical inspiration for her own lectures related to supervised ministry, pastoral care, Christianity and culture, and urban ministry and social justice. “I met some of the professors who also teach practical theology and had conversations about their subjects, their research, and about what is relevant to teach to students in preparation for pastoral ministry.”
“BTSR has been delighted to welcome Andrea to campus this past fall,” commented Tracy Hartman, acting vice president of academic affairs and dean. “Our students and faculty have been enriched learning about her work in practical theology and theodicy. We will now be working with Andrea to develop a student Mission Immersion Experience to Austria and Germany. We are confident that this is just the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership.”
A personal note from Andrea to Virginia Baptists:
Project: Vienna is our internship program for young people that includes church ministry, community work, and theological reflection. We would like to have more participants from Virginia. If you are interested, please contact Glenn Maddox, BGAV missions mobilizer, at 800.255.2428, ext. 7269, or firstname.lastname@example.org.