Looking back at the calendar, it is astounding to look at the timeline of it all. The team of seven women from First Baptist Alexandria flew out of Salzburg, Austria three days before President Trump instituted the ban of all travel from the European Union. Yet, eight days prior the team of ladies landed in Linz, Austria when the threat of COVID-19 seemed far, far away. It was a mission trip that happened just in the nick of time.
“My spirit is invigorated.” These were the words of Suzi Blake describing her experience after a few days in Austria. Suzi along with her six companions journeyed from Northern Virginia for eight days of serving women across Austria the first week of March. The team spent time with the Baptist churches in Linz and in Salzburg, supporting the work of local ministry leaders and learning about how Baptists are serving refugees in Austria.
The team dived right in on day one with home visits to women involved in the Baptist church in Linz who come from a refugee or migrant background. The team broke up into pairs and visited women from Mongolia, Afghanistan, Ghana, Iran, Armenia, and Romania. Despite many of the women being of little means, the flow of cakes, cookies, tea, and cultural treats seemed endless. Their hospitality was abundant. Through translation, the women shared stories of celebration, of heartbreak, and the realities of being a woman in a refugee or migrant context. The FBCA team prayed with each woman and left with full stomachs.
The pinnacle of the team’s time was two back-to-back days of hosting special events– first a women’s tea in Linz. The main sanctuary of the church was decked out in spring colors as nearly 50 women gathered to enjoy homemade cakes, coffee, and time with each other.
The afternoon was made particularly special by the presence of a group of Muslim women that the team had met in the streets the day before. These Muslim women were recording a dance video and members of the FBCA team joined in. After exchanging contact information, the Muslim women were invited to the tea the next day. To everyone’s surprise, they actually showed up! As a FBCA team member came to the microphone to share a Bible story with her head covered, one of the Muslim women, herself wearing a hijab, popped up and helped her properly arrange the shawl. She sat down and the American and the Jordanian woman gave each other a thumbs up before the story was shared. It was one of many holy moments throughout the day where women from different worlds encouraged and loved each other.
After a night of s’mores around a fire with the ministry leaders in Linz, the team headed west on the train towards Salzburg the next day. They started off International Women’s day with a worship service in Farsi before quickly preparing for a women’s dinner in Salzburg. Men of the church cooked a veritable feast as women from around the world filed in the sanctuary for dinner. The FBCA team shared more songs, Bible stories, and personal testimonies before the real celebration began. Soon the sanctuary was filled with the driving beats of Persian dance music and the Virginians quickly learned that there is no party quite like a Persian dance party. A fitting and special way to celebrate International Women’s day.
The team continued with a few days of ministry in the Salzburg region, including a visit to a family who lived quite far from the church. Because of their distance and their small son, they were quite isolated and unable to connect frequently with their church community. The ladies of the team sat on the floor of the small apartment, enjoying Afghan food as the family shared their journey from Afghanistan to Austria. They all prayed together before departing. More holy moments.
The team packed their things and prepared to leave, but not without first enjoying the sights of Salzburg and singing about the famous hills that are indeed alive with the sound of music. They arrived safely back in Washington inspired, invigorated, and just in time.
By all normal measures, their trip was a huge success, equally blessing the team members, those they served, and the local Austrian ministry leaders. Yet, now, in light of how the world is living through COVID-19, their trip was nothing short of miraculous. Not only because the team’s time and travel was unaffected by COVID-19, but more so because all of the women and families they ministered to are now in isolation. Many of the women were living through loneliness and isolation before COVID-19, but with churches shut down are now even more isolated. The FBCA team’s prayers, fun events, stories, and laughter were some of the last interactions many of these women had before going into lock-down. Holy moments of blessing that came just in time.
Written by Will Cumbia.