I’ve taken over fifty mission trips, mostly to Western Europe. The first was in 1973–to Berlin. The hosting church stood within sight of The Wall. Viet Nam was a disaster at that point, and my military husband was continually called upon to answer questions about faith, love and war. This was our first clue that evangelizing Europe would be different from what we had expected. In the years since, I’ve discovered that evangelizing Western Europe is, in fact, a lot like evangelizing in the United States.
Fortunately for us, the Berlin Airlift was within memory of most Germans at that time, and Air Force pilots were given a break. I was pregnant, and that helped endear the mothers to us. To a naïve twenty-something from Texas, the European culture shock was as life-changing as my later adventures in Kenya and Indonesia.
The relationships we began during the week we served in Templehof Baptist Church have been the touchstone of our ministry, as we have continued to go to, and receive church teams from, various European countries. Of course, the cultures of Northern Ireland, France, Hungary, and all the other countries in Europe are not the same, and their faith communities are vastly different, even within the Baptist fellowships that I’m most familiar with. None of them much resemble the American manifestation of a Baptist church.
In many ways, Western Europeans are to Americans what the Samaritans were to the Israelites of Jesus’ day. We share the same spiritual heritage, deal with the same unintended consequences of modernization and technology, and on the surface, we look alike. Presently, Western Europe is the most under-evangelized continent on earth. We say, “They have just enough religion to inoculate themselves against a real, life-giving faith”—just like many nominal Christians in America.
Those pesky Postmoderns prevalent in much of the world today, especially in the West, aren’t impressed by propositional, American, ‘50s-style evangelism. They may not believe in God, but they believe they’re going to heaven, wherever that is. The only sin they recognize are the corporate sins of society. They’re willing to talk about God, the universe, and morality, but they’re not willing to commit to anyone or anything until they have a personal experience with it. They are not going to profess Christ after hearing the facts about Jesus, many for the first time. And that’s why I took chocolate chips to Austria.
Beheimgasse Baptist Church in Vienna invited a team from my church in McKinney, Texas to come for a week of evangelism—Austrian style. Months in advance they had planned what they would do with the eight of us–all ages and skills, experienced and first-timers. We were told that we would be cooking American/Texas food and entertaining guests at outreach events almost every day. As we began collecting recipes, we realized that many of the standard ingredients for American pies, chili, and cornbread were not readily or economically available in Austria.
Some of the greatest chocolate in the world is found in Vienna (like Sachertorte), but chocolate chips are unique to the United States. Chopping up chunks of chocolate won’t do. The chunks melt into the cookies. Who knew that such staples as peppermint, ground ginger, cinnamon, and chili powder were rare in Europe, and dearer still? So we loaded our luggage with measuring cups, aluminum pie tins, pastry blenders, spices, Christmas candy, and more than forty pounds of chocolate chips. The Austrians translated our recipes, converted the measurements to metrics, and published a little book with all of our American dishes.
We baked cookies with the youth who sold dozens and dozens to raise money for their own mission trip. We taught a pie making class to the women and served the pumpkin and pecan pastries at a Christian concert one evening during the week. For “Texas Night” we made chili and cornbread. Our salad bar was quite the novelty, as well, especially the Ranch dressing. We even taught the Viennese how to two-step at our line dancing class. I was hoping someone would volunteer to teach me the Viennese waltz, but that didn’t happen.
The Viennese and American women prepared a pancake breakfast (from scratch, no mixes available) for the men’s meeting on Saturday. Conversations full of questions and lively discussions took place in every venue. Opportunities to share our faith came in one-on-one encounters, in groups of friends, and with those in crisis. A church member died (the first in their fifteen-year history) while we were there. Later in the week we learned it was a suicide. By that time we had built a bond of friendship and trust and were able to speak into the situation, as well as to the dozens of ordinary life experiences that routinely happen to all of us everywhere.
Several times the church members asked us out for lunch with their friends and employees. Virtually everyone speaks English in Vienna now, and it was another opportunity for us to invite people to Beheimgasse Church and to tell them directly why we were in Vienna. We realized that the church members were “outing” themselves as believers through us. Invariably the friends would turn to their boss (host) and ask questions about the church and his personal faith. That’s how friendship evangelism works.
It’s hard for any of us to speak about our personal faith to those who know us well and have seen us at our worst, but in another environment where people have never seen us lose our temper or say an unkind word, it’s easier to give our witness. Then too, when guests speak the same language, the nationals can speak freely about their personal problems and situations even within the church–something they could not do with a Christian friend whom they saw regularly. We would be going home in a week and taking their secrets with us.
The context of a local church is the ideal environment to share the Gospel in Europe. Certainly in Vienna, the cooking project was their own invention. They planned the events, invited their friends and, of necessity, did the follow-up. We were there to encourage and empower their ministry as they saw the need. They provided the established friendships. We gave them the excuse and impetus to reach out in a particular way at that specific time. Unlike the folly of taking “ice to the Eskimos,” taking chocolate to Vienna proved to be a very effective method of evangelism.