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Together in Vienna, Austria

The BGAV currently has five mission volunteers serving in Vienna, Austria– extended volunteers Emily Niehoff, Patrick Clark, and Will Cumbia and BGAV Venturers Olivia Haynes and Judson Park. Read on to hear their reflections on life and ministry in quarantine in Vienna. 

“Hello from Vienna! It’s a strange time here, as it is in the rest of the world. As someone whose particular job usually focuses on events and gatherings, it can be hard to know what to do with no more in-person Sunday services, no open mics, and no worship nights. Still, some positive things have been growing in this barren time.

Most significantly, I’ve been performing window concerts every night for my neighbors who face the same courtyard as mine. I typically try to play some popular songs that people will know, maybe an original song, and always at least one faith-based song. My favorite part of the experience so far is seeing my neighbors poke their heads out of their windows – many of whom I hadn’t met in person before this – and wave at each other while I’m playing. When I started this, my main hope was to bring something fun and encouraging into my neighbors’ lives; I’m even happier with the community it seems to be fostering. 

For me, this is a big part of what ministry looks like now. I pray that these window concerts will do something positive for our community in both the short and long term. I also hope that this will allow my neighbors who don’t know Jesus to have a positive experience with a person of faith. Please pray that God would continue giving me wisdom about which songs to play/how many songs to play, that I won’t burn out, and for more inspiration about how I can help bring people together in this time.”

                     ~ Olivia Haynes

“Quarantine! What an interesting time.  Spending my days mostly holed up inside of my apartment has allowed my mind to wander back to better times when I wasn’t legally obligated to keep one meter between me and another human being. I write back to my family about missing springtime in the Northern Neck often. I find that nostalgia can easily overtake me. I miss the summer nights when my brother, sister, and I ran half a mile through a torrential downpour after being caught in a thunderstorm on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach. I miss the smell of the evening humidity settling over the fields surrounding my house.

These are memories that bring immediate overwhelming sadness, especially in times like these. Thankfully I’ve begun to teach my mind to think back on these memories and realize that yes, it’s sad that they’re over, but what they’ve left me with is arguably more precious than the moment itself. They give me something to look back and smile on in scary times. They are a constant reminder that this too shall pass, and I will soon be able to (legally) get together with friends and make more of those precious memories that will give me something to look back on when things get rough.”

                       ~ Judson Park

“Doing ministry in quarantine is not easy, especially if the ministry is based on community and frequent interaction. Though, within these challenges are many things that we can learn and maintain after the quarantine has been lifted. One thing that has occurred more frequently since the start of the quarantine is people checking in on one another. It’s so easy for us to get into a rhythm of seeing people and thinking, “Oh, I’ll talk to that person tomorrow” or “I always catch up with this person on Wednesday evenings.” But with all of those rhythms disrupted, people are no longer waiting until their usual time to talk, but checking in when they feel like it. 

The most telling change has been on our schedules and how we use time as a whole. While there are still many things we can do from home, a good majority of plans have been put on hold. We are forced to stop work and rest. In an age and culture that values productivity over personal wellbeing, finding time to rest is not always easy or encouraged. But during the quarantine, we are given ample time to do just that. It can be challenging at first, but learning to rest properly now will help lead to maintaining that once the quarantine is lifted. Our lives have been temporarily shifted by COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine, but they will return to normal in time. We would be missing out if we did not take what we have learned during this time and apply it to our lives after this has passed.”

                   ~ Patrick Clark

“Thank you everyone for your prayers over the past few weeks. We have had to make a lot of adjustments and life looks a lot different than it did just a month ago. I still look back and think that I was booking tickets to travel, making plans for the future that seemed so certain and now everything has been put on hold. And yet, each day I am reminded that we have a God that works through trials and adversity. What I have lost in physical contact, games, meetings, classes, worship, and in person community, has been replaced by more time talking to friends and family, reading books that used to sit collecting dust, painting and drawing and coming up with creative solutions to engage our community. It is a challenge to be sure, but a challenge that our church, Projekt:Gemeinde and many of those in our community have taken up. Our days look different, but there is also a beautiful fragility, I now realize, to everything we have. It forces us to reevaluate our lives without normal distractions, to be fueled from Zoom calls, Netflix, baking and learning to love, and embrace silence and solitude. 

While this time has been hard, I have tried to find moments to be grateful. Grateful for my church community who continues to reach out, to family members who have been so supportive, to the Project:Vienna gap year students I manage and their resilience. I am grateful to wake up to birds chirping and warm sunny days where I can open my window. I am grateful that our efforts have slowly started steering Austria towards flattening the curve. I am grateful for the prayers and support outpouring from home. So now we stand alongside those around the world: families, students, government officials, grandparents and refugees as we continue to fight this fight. We are with you.”

Grace and blessings,

                     ~ Emily Niehoff