As part of Bluefield College’s mission to be a “Christ centered college in covenant with the Baptist General Association of Virginia,” students from the school’s Music Department spent part of their summer overseas sharing the love of Christ through music with the people of Austria.
For 10 days in May 2010, students from BC’s select voice ensembles, Praise Singers and Variations, led by Professor Bryant Moxley, chair of the Department of Music, traveled across Austria, from Vienna, to Steyr, to Krems, for purpose of “extending a hand of partnership to Baptists in Austria.”
“Our hope was that we could be an encouragement to the Baptist churches in Austria,” said Moxley, “through both love and song.”
While the trip took place in the summer of 2010, the students began learning and rehearsing a wide variety of classical, spiritual, and hymn arrangements in the months prior to the trip, including many pieces in different languages, like German, Italian, English, and Zulu in order to minister to people of different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs.
That practice paid off early during the group’s first performance for the International Church of Vienna, where more than 30 cultures and countries were represented within the congregation.
“The place was packed,” said BC junior Austin Mathena of Princeton, West Virginia, about the crowd that greeted the BC missionaries at the International Church of Vienna, “and there was nowhere for us to sit, but nobody minded.”
Austin and the rest of the BC music team stood near the back of the church when they weren’t performing, but when Variations and Praise Singers did perform, the congregation thoroughly engaged in worship.
“The service ended with the entire church body singing an English song together,” Austin said. “There was a unity within the church. I realized in that moment, with God, the barriers of language, skin color, and culture seemed to disappear.”
The BC students enjoyed dinner with the congregation following the Vienna service, where they were able to interact with people from Africa, Northern Europe, Australia, and other parts of the world, before heading to additional sites and churches on the tour. They promoted their performances through “street corner ministry,” engaging with locals and singing about the love Christ to passersby in the local marketplaces.
Sharing God’s love in such a way, while displaying the presence and service of the small Baptist congregations within the Austrian towns, was not typical, since Evangelical Christians in Austria are an insignificant minority and often viewed, some say, in much the same way Americans view cults.
“They have a very deep abiding pursuance of Christ, even though it isn’t culturally accepted,” said Moxley about the limited number of believers. “They are continuing to share their faith in both their native and second languages.”
And, the BC music missionaries were there to help and to encourage and assist the small evangelical congregations in this mission. In fact, this summer’s trip marked the second time the college had made its way to Austria for the purpose of encouraging the Baptist faith. This time, the students saw the fruits of their earlier efforts.
“We visited a church in 2005 that was using an old apartment building for a worship center,” said Moxley. “This church is now operating out of its own beautiful sanctuary.”
The students saw progress like this throughout their entire trip, from growing ministries to stronger prayer lives. Senior Mindy Blume of Forest Hill, West Virginia, was particularly impressed with the natives’ emphasis on prayer.
“They begged us to pray for them and continuously involved us in prayers that were much longer than our average prayers,” Blume said.
No doubt, thanks to mission trips like this, the faith of Evangelical Christians in Austria is growing, according to the students, but they are as equally quick to conclude that the spiritual growth as a result of the mission work is not exclusive to those in Vienna, Steyr, or Krems.
“We all returned home with a new awe for God, a rejuvenated spirit, and an appreciation for the power of Christ’s love,” the students said. “We went seeking to change the lives of the Austrians, but came back changed ourselves.”