Multiplying Disciples in Austria: How One Invitation Transformed Lives
As a 21-year-old in the 1980s, Lisa Meyers couldn’t have imagined the far-reaching impact of knocking on Irmgard’s door. She’d signed up for a summer in Austria with Greater Europe Mission’s Eurocorps program, through which young people serve by helping local missionaries. One of her tasks was to go door to door and invite people to church.
“Sure, I’d like to come,” replied Irmgard, a petite, slender young woman with dark hair. True to her word, she began to show up at church outreach events. Two years later, she trusted Christ as her saviour and began attending church regularly.
Years later, Irmgard’s daughter attended kindergarten with the daughter of a woman named Helga. As Irmgard and Helga got to know each other, Irmgard sensed that Helga was searching for something. The blonde woman with the contagious laugh had a family and a good job with the government finance department but seemed to long for something deeper.
“Come to a Bible study with me,” said Irmgard, knowing an invitation to church might be too much for her friend. “We meet in a woman’s home.” When Helga protested that she didn’t own a Bible, Irmgard said, “Don’t worry; you can use my husband’s Bible.”
Helga trusted Irmgard. She accepted the invitation and soon found herself immersed in new friendships and the study of God’s Word. When Irmgard and the other women in the study encouraged her to participate in an overnight women’s retreat, Helga—still an unbeliever—didn’t need to think twice. She said she would go.
By this time, Lisa Meyer had returned to Austria as a full-time GEM worker. She’d learned to speak German, and although she had never spoken before a large group in that language before, she believed God had directed her to organize this retreat and bring a message to the women who attended.
Helga felt embarrassed when her car broke down one kilometre from the retreat centre, and Lisa had to come and pick her up. But she soon got over that. As Lisa spoke to the group about worshipping God in day-to-day life, Helga decided to give her life to Jesus.
Knowing she needed to be with Christians to grow, Helga announced to her husband that she would now be attending church on Sunday mornings.
“We’ll miss having breakfast together,” he said, “but if you really want to go, I can make lunch for you, and we’ll eat together when you get home.”
So, with her husband’s support, Helga began attending church regularly. Two years later, she signed up for a Christian program that Lisa helped lead called Hope for the Wounded. This program, for people who had suffered harm in childhood, was precisely what Helga had been longing for. Lisa soon learned that Helga battled brokenness from both physical and emotional abuse suffered in her youth. She had always craved healing but didn’t know where to find it. Now, in her new-found faith and through the program, Helga found peace and a way forward.
“Would you consider becoming a leader in Hope for the Wounded?” Lisa asked Helga after some time had passed. Although the Austrian woman was still a young Christian, she had been growing steadily in her faith, and Lisa felt confident she would have much to contribute.
Helga agreed and began to quietly and humbly lead. She poured her heart and soul into helping others find healing and practice forgiveness.
As she taught others using Hope for the Wounded materials that included biblical stories, Helga helped countless people who had suffered in childhood. She encouraged them to look to Jesus for ultimate healing. With her gentle tone of voice and warm brown eyes, the motherly woman had much comfort and wisdom to share with those who struggled with painful memories.
For over two decades, Helga has been serving with Hope for the Wounded, all while still working her full-time government job. She’s now on the country-wide leadership team, helping with finances and training the program’s leaders. She plans to retire soon and devote herself even more to ministry.
Acts 1:8 says: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.
“Sometimes we don’t feel very powerful as Christians,” says Lisa. “We don’t feel like we’re really reaching people. But if you see the power of a seed, it’s amazing! When I look back and see what God has done in and through Helga, an Austrian woman ministering to Austrians, I am amazed.”
That seed, planted so long ago, has had a generational impact. Helga’s daughter decided to follow Jesus as a teen, was baptized, married a Christian man, and is moving on with the Lord.
Lisa has been in Austria for 31 years, and it hasn’t always been easy. “Some seasons have been tough, but I never sensed the Lord releasing me from my ministry here. That’s why it is so encouraging to see Helga passing her faith on to so many others, including her own child.”
Irmgard, Helga, and Lisa are close friends to this day, and Lisa is the godmother to Helga’s grandchild.
“It is sometimes impossible to know just how our small acts of faithfulness impact others for Christ,” says Lisa. “We may not learn that someone has come to faith until many years later. All we are required to do is show up and plant seeds. I left Austria after that summer in Eurocorps not knowing that Irmgard had become a believer. Now, three decades on, I see abundant fruit from one small seed planted through a knock on a stranger’s door.”
If you would like to know more about GEM ministries in Austria, contact [email protected].
About the author:
Jenny Garrity is a storyteller with Greater Europe Mission. Jenny and her husband Kim joined GEM in 1984. They have served in Germany, Belgium, and most recently, Greece in response to the refugee crisis.