The practical arrangements were very difficult, but the team worked extremely well and the evangelism was both enjoyable and effective. A good number of people came to faith, and many more lives were touched through the dramas, music, messages and personal work. Contacts with church leaders in Vienna and Bratislava should lead to further witness and evangelism in those two cities.
On paper, the team consisted of 14 Americans (Paul and Carmina Adams, their 2 children and 10 more teenagers) plus 7 Snowball people (the 4 students plus Mark, Rob and myself), making 21 in all. However, we were often joined by Bjorn Korf and sometimes by Sarfraz Khan, and in the Open Air meetings other people always came along and sometimes took part.
After much negotiation, the Americans all stayed at the Vienna YMCA, Rob and myself stayed with Bjorn, and the remaining Snowball people shared Al's flat with the cats (Al and his family were away throughout our visit). Our excuse was that we were allergic to the cats.
Our plan had been to use the Vienna Christian School as a base and cook there for the duration of our stay. The school was expecting us to be using one of their rooms from 9 a.m. to midday on the Monday to Thursday. After talking with the Director, we extended our time to 3 p.m. each day (but still only Monday to Thursday), and obtained the use of a small kitchen.
Stefan could drive Al's Nissan van and Mark drive his van, but we had a limit of 9 people in each of these vehicles, so most of the time a few people had to travel by public transport - generally Rob, myself and an Austrian. We looked at the possibility of using public transport for everyone, but the vans were much cheaper and far more convenient for the sketchboards and other equipment. Parking was generally not as big a problem as we had feared.
Transport was a major issue, as we were staying in three different locations, meeting at the Christian school most days, and then travelling again to do the Open Airs. Another complication was that we were generally split into two groups for the Open Air work, and this complicated not only the transport but also the equipment handling.
The Americans had prepared a drama presentation, but it needed some props and a music (instrumental) background, and there were several occasions when some important part of the equipment ended up in the wrong place. This encouraged improvisation, but some people found the process quite difficult.
In the morning, most of us were taken around Vienna on the public transport and shown the sights while Mark and Stefan did some food shopping.
We took some trams and underground trains, then walked through the grounds of the Summer Palace, which had a nice slope and a good view at the top - almost as good as Greenwich Park. Bjorn did not seem impressed by the compliment, but maybe he has not been to Greenwich. Some of the Americans were impressed that they had a large American eagle on top of one of the buildings.
For lunch, we were taken to a massive open air market and fed kebabs from a friendly stall. Decided we liked Austrian food. Then into some parks where we saw statues of Goethe and Mozart (but, strangely, not Strauss) and from there we went on to see some buildings, including the Museum of Fine Art (no time to look at any, but it was comforting to know they had some) and the Parliament, which sadly was closed to visitors.
Once the cultural bit was over, we congregated in a local park, had a time of worship (collecting a bit of a crowd of bemused Viennese), prayer, and then Mark and Stefan provided some orientation, mostly for the Americans.
On Sunday morning, we all went to Al's church, where Stefan was warmly welcomed back. Judith was introduced to the congregation. It was clear that Stefan was well known, loved and respected by many people in the church, and they were delighted to meet Judith at last.
During the service, most of the team went with the older children and Rob did a short talk. After the service, there was a 'surprise' buffet meal to celebrate Stefan's return. The time between the service and the meal was somewhat surreal: Stefan got himself into a conversation with a chap who had been in the service, trying to convert him, and almost everyone else in the church was waiting for him to turn up so the surprise meal could start. Unfortunately, they seemed not to have catered for the number of people who turned up, and the portions were somewhat disappointing in size.
Eventually it was time to go down into the centre of Vienna for some real evangelism. We based ourselves in one of the main streets leading off the square outside the Cathedral. There were a number of entertainers in the square, and maybe five hundred people hanging around to see what was going on. We drew the crowd using drama presentations - one by the Americans and one by a Malaysian group from the church - and then did some sketchboard messages. The messages picked up the crowd from the dramas and mostly kept them - maybe 50 to 60 looking on at any one time. Several people responded to each message, and we had a number of good conversations with them and others.
Our introduction to the Vienna Christian School. Rob and Mark were quite impressed: it was an American High School transplanted into Austria. After the initial surprise, the strangest thing was the realisation we did not have to show our passports when we entered the door.
In the morning, we started off with devotions, then broke up into groups to practice drama and messages. The afternoon was free, and most of the team went to the local swimming pool.
Later in the afternoon, Mark, Rob, Stefan, Judith and I went to meet a couple of the Elders from his (now their) church, where we were quizzed about the training course, what Stefan and Judith had learned, how they had worked, and what they needed to continue working on. The questions ranged through areas such as finances to evangelistic techniques and personal devotions. I was very impressed: the church leaders had the practical and spiritual aspects of ministry well integrated, and clearly cared deeply for Stefan and Judith.
Back to the Vienna Christian School. Firstly devotions, then Warren D Carter, one of the local church leaders, spoke on "Faithful Interpretation of the Bible". In summary: you need to study it carefully to understand it accurately, but also allow your heart to be gripped and moved by the truth.
For part of the time while Warren was speaking, Mark, Rob and I met and prayed with Vanessa Cook. She currently works for the Christian School and is considering doing some Christian training before coming back to Vienna longer term. The main drawback of Snowball, it seems, is that we are based in Bristol, which is a long way from Newcastle. We promised to continue to pray that the Lord guide her clearly.
Lunch was to be provided by one of the church members, but half an hour before we were due to eat, there was a message to say it would have to be provided tomorrow instead. We began to get the idea that these practical arrangements were going haywire a bit more than usual. Mark put together a very acceptable meal in the time available, and we started praying a bit harder.
After clearing up we split into two parties. Mark went with one group back into the city centre, and I went with the other to Baden. We met up with a key church leader from the town, then went with him and a clown to a couple of the local parks.
We found very few children, but managed some conversations with parents. Tried another park and found slightly more people. After that, we went into Baden Town Centre for an Open Air meeting. This was much better. Not many people came close, but there were seats all round the edges of the space, and we had around 40 people watching.
The numbers were not as good as Vienna - as you would expect - but we had a couple of people respond to the message and four or five good conversations. Afterwards, we were fed (probably more authentic Austrian food than anything else so far!), and found out more about church life in the area.
Wednesday followed the same pattern as Tuesday, except that the food was prepared, and we had to go and collect it. In Baden town centre, I started talking to a man at the end of the first message, and we kept talking through the rest of the programme until everyone else had packed up. He was a Moslem (everywhere I go, I seem to find a Moslem to talk with!), but not a very good one: his basic position was that Christians are wrong, rather than Islam being right. He didn't like the way we have turned Jesus into a white man, the way the church has modified the New Testament (not that he could refer to any evidence to back up this belief) or the way we have "turned a good man into a god." But he did agree it would not be right to reject Jesus because you don't like what some of the people do who claim to follow Him, and he knew that what he had did not satisfy him spiritually. He wouldn't give me his name, but I promised to pray for him anyway. He needs a lot of prayer.
Apart from Rob, Carmina and the toddler, we all set off for Slovakia at 8 a.m. After a slight detour, we go through Bratislava and reach Modra about 10. I go off with Mark, Elena and (for some reason) Paul to deliver Elena's luggage to her flat and meet her mother and sister. Inevitable tea, cakes and photographs while Katka and the other Americans have an ice cream. Then we look at the local ceramics while Katka's luggage is deposited, and eat our sandwiches in a shaded courtyard that looks remarkably like it belongs in the South of France.
We head off, slightly late, to Bratislava for some Open Air children's meetings, but a warning light in Al's van shows something is wrong. We pull into a garage and establish that one of the two fan belts is missing. It's the one that keeps the oil flowing round the engine, and the engine may seize up and explode at any time. However, the petrol pump attendant is an old friend of Elena's, and he knows a garage that can help us. The Americans get ferried to the local museum, where they are subjected to a programme of Slovakian culture, music and folk dance.
Incredibly, we find the garage and it has the correct manual and part for the van. They fix it while we wait, and we collect the Americans before they are subjected to a fatal dose of culture. We are too late for the children's Open Air, and the local ceramics exhibition is now open, so it is arranged (in Slovakian, of course) that we get a tour. It is an amazing experience. All the work of one man, whose work in ceramics is 'known nationally.' Every piece has a name, but there is not a single notice (in Slovakian or anything else) to explain why any of the pieces were significant, when they were made, why they were made, or anything. The idea, apparently, is that the exhibition will develop into an international cultural centre.
On to Bratislava. We get dropped off by the castle, and walk through the old city to the site of the Open Air meeting by a nice modern Tesco. Tracy Leason, one of the local missionaries and a Korky contact, joins us, so Mark and I drag him off for a quiet coffee and chat while the Open Air meeting gets going. We establish what Tracy is willing to do to help Elena and Katka, and establish a good rapport in the time available. Then back the the Open Air: large crowds, who stay through some long messages, many people respond to the invitations and we run out of literature to give the interested people. We also make contact with some Christians who are interested in taking part in Open Air meetings in future. Getting there may have been difficult, but it was certainly worthwhile in the end.
We eventually pack up and move on to a restaurant for the evening meal - only half an hour late. However, when we sit down, we realise that Elena is missing. She is seen walking past the window, but does not hear her name being called. Mark and I rush out and quarter the area, but no success. In fact, four people are missing, including Paul Adam's teenage son. We eat a little while two others go searching. No success. I go out again, heading towards the vans and Open Air site, praying again for guidance, and 'by chance' meet Stefan who directs me to the others.
The rest of the day is fairly uneventful, apart from taking the wrong route back, driving by accident through the Slovakian customs post, unpacking the boxes in the back of the van, and explaining to the border guards why we are taking puppets and props out of the country without the correct documentation.
The Danube Island Festival has started. Masses of people. We have a pitch in the children's entertainment area, just off one of the two main paths. We do a programme of music, drama and sketchboard messages, and give out lots of leaflets. Annoyingly, Mark picks up 'my' Moslem this time. In the evening, one lady rings the telephone number given on the main tract we are using, and gives her life to Jesus there and then.
Another day at the festival. Lots more conversations, presentations and tracts, and another lady gives her life to Jesus during the day. Maybe five or six other people are deeply touched and the Austrians arrange to go to church with them the next day. The local Christians are thrilled to see how God has used the outreach.
In the evening, the Snowball team are invited for a meal by Sarfraz, a Pakistani who would like to do the Snowball training next year. He cooks us some superb Pakistani food, and we sing John Denver songs.
We get up at 5:30 to be at a church service in Bratislava starting at 9. The church meets in a cinema near the town centre. We only just make it, after several delays. It is the 'handing them back' service for Elena and Katka, and we have been given 20 minutes. We build the puppet stage off to one side during the initial worship, and walk it across the stage in one piece when it is time for E&K to demonstrate their new puppetry skills. The church is highly impressed. The Youth Pastor then translates for us: Rob introduces Open Air Campaigners, I do the handing back bit, get some of the church to pray for E&K, and finish with a quick exhortation - and it is all done in 19½ minutes. I think it is okay to feel a certain glow of satisfaction from a good job which glorifies God, done in a professional manner.
Back to Vienna and the Danube Island, final evangelistic programme there, then a whole series of tearful farewells. Mark, Rob and I drive out of Vienna an hour and a half later than planned. We reach the motorway services at 11, just as the doors close. We bed down in the van overnight.
Another 5:30 start. The night wasn't as bad as we had anticipated, and the services are open for breakfast.
The Americans are due to fly from Vienna to Paris on Monday afternoon. Driving along the motorway, we get a phone call to tell us that French Air Traffic Control are on strike today. Oh, the wonders of mobile phones. The Americans' flight to Paris is off, they have nowhere to stay tonight, and we spend most of the day on the telephone as we drive to Milan, trying to find transport and beds for them. It is, somehow, a fitting end to the Vienna campaign.