(MNN) — Only 25,000-30,000 of Austrian's 8 million people, or .003 percent,
are evangelical Christians. However, the
Austrian people are becoming more open to hearing the Gospel, said missionaries
Joe and Brenda Ziska of Greater Europe Mission.
"It's become more responsive, because we've seen people going
from being totally apathetic or against spiritual questions to being more open–especially some of the younger people," Joe said. "It's not a revival climate, but certainly
we're seeing a lot more response to the Gospel."
Hundreds of years ago, Hapsburg Austria was the center of the
counter-Reformation. For about two
hundred years, Christians who did not follow the Roman Catholic church were
forcibly reconverted or exiled from the Austrian empire. On top of that, evangelical Christianity is
still perceived as a cult.
"Our practice is not to ask people to come to church, because
we're actually considered a cult in most people's minds," Brenda explained. "Although we are an accepted religion, we
aren't one of the approved religions, and so most people are very suspicious of
our religious activities."
Sometimes this attitude causes opposition to the work of the
evangelical church. One member of GEM's
church in Vienna
held a prominent position in a preschool network and was very highly
respected. When her picture appeared on
the church's website, Gabriella was fired from her job.
"It was demanded that she remove her picture and start
taking a lower profile as a believer. Now
she wasn't misusing her position, witnessing on the job, or something of that
nature; she was just in her private time being a faithful and dedicated
Christian. And that was enough for her
to lose her job," Joe said.
Gabriella now plans to open a Christian kindergarten in Vienna. Nevertheless, misunderstandings about
evangelical Christianity, along with an Austrian tendency to be shy and
reserved, means that evangelism in the country requires a lot of time and
"The Austrian is a very private person, and so it takes a long
time to get to know them. For people to
accept Christ, you need to be talking to them personally about the personal
things going on in their lives," Brenda explained. "The way to reach Austrians is that [to] build a bridge to the person's heart, and then Jesus walks over it."
When the Ziskas began building a relationship with a
prominent Austrian and his wife, they thought they would never get close enough
to the man's heart.
"The issues were mostly politics, history, current events,
but everything was kind of away from him personally," Brenda said. That is, until Joe's prostate cancer sparked
a conversation about death and eternity.
"He spent 45 minutes talking to Joe about dying and eternal
life. And by the end of the time, he had
tears in his eyes, and he said to Joe, ‘I don't think I've ever heard anybody
talk about death and dying and eternal life like you have.'"
"Although he hasn't committed himself to Christ, I am
absolutely sure that bridge is real, real close to his life."
When Austrians become believers in Jesus Christ, they are
characteristically zealous for the spread of the Gospel, Joe explained. However, it is difficult for them to
overcome their shyness.
"It's a very young movement, and we need to see them developing
in a lot of different ways — maturity in understanding the Word, but also in learning
how to be effective in reaching their own people," said Joe. "Austrians themselves are very shy. So we can be praying for them as people to learn how to be open enough
to make new friends, to be able to share the Gospel with their friends."