Austrian evangelicals claim connection to Anabaptist past

A 15-metre galley ship tucked into the ruins of a castle vault restores to public memory a dramatic episode in Anabaptist history. It tells the story of 90 Hutterite men condemned to galley service – rowing the narrow warships – for refusing to recant their faith. A Taeufermuseum (Anabaptist museum) in Austria’s Falkenstein castle displays the historical context and faith emphases of the country’s Anabaptist movement.

“Many Austrians think that the ‘free churches’ – the evangelicals – are American sects,” says Reinhold Eichinger, museum committee head. “They have no idea that these are ‘spiritual fruit’ of the Reformation period in this land.”

Historian Josef (Sepp) Enzenberger and others behind the museum projects are themselves first-heneration re-baptized Austrian believers. The history work they do connects deeply to their faith, and provides frequent opportunities to speak of it.

“The world [of this old story] exists today,” Enzenberger declared in his sermon at the June 19 museum opening, “because Jesus is still alive!”

Such witness is only one part of a diverse evangelical outreach in Austria, however.

The roots of that story go back to MB mission work in Austria in the 1950s, and to missionaries Abe and Irene Neufeld of Manitoba. After planting a church in Linz, the Neufelds, though remaining Mennonite Brethren, began an independent work in Vienna in the late 1960s.

Tulpengasse, the church formed out of those efforts in 1972, has been called “a miracle of modern missions.” Scores of Austrians came to Christ and were re-baptized. Growth was explosive and daughter churches formed.

“What’s exciting to me is that Reinhold and Sepp came into Tulpen-gasse as students and now they’re leading all this,” Abe says. “It’s a testimony of what God is still doing in Austria.”

—Dora Dueck

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