Trusting God for the Future
Jean Ellis looks back on the way the Lord led her to serve in Austria. GBM’s support for Jean ceased as she reached 70, though she continues to serve the Lord in Austria as a ‘pensioner’!
Can the death of a baby really be part of God’s plan? Whether we answer yes or no, it was certainly the way the Lord led my parents to have a fourth baby, which was me!
The most important thing during my teenage years was neither being bridesmaid nor commencing work at an international bank in London at the age of sixteen, but the Lord entering my life in a very special way, just one month before my eighteenth birthday. I had been with my friend to a church service, which I had not enjoyed at all! However, I went back when she was baptised and realised that baptism was right, but that I could not be baptised. Realising that Christ died for me, because I was sinful, led me to read my Gideon’s New Testament more regularly and come to Psalm 143:8:
Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust:
cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.
Eighteen months later I was baptised at that same church and became a member there.
My first attempt to teach children in the church’s Friday Club was how the Lord began to speak to me about serving him. The talk was based on Isaiah 6:8:
‘”Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
“Here am I. Send me!”’
During the two holidays I had with my friend in the Tyrol, Austria, the Lord spoke to me again. At one time I said to Linda, ‘If I had to leave England for any reason, I wouldn’t mind living in Austria.’ At another time we saw two children in Austrian costume carrying a tin bath between them and I thought, ‘Who tells the children in Austria about the Lord?’
Since school I had been collecting pen friends throughout the world, but none of them were believers so I began to feel guilty about not being able to communicate the gospel to them in their own languages. The Lord challenged me about this and I began to consider learning a language more fully. I had learnt some French and Spanish at school, and had German evening classes between two holidays, so I took a book out of the library and studied on my own. After several months and actually making progress, I prayed specifically for the Lord’s guidance – was it just to write to a pen friend, or should I go?
One way in which the Lord answered was through reading the Herald magazine. I often open magazines at the back and on this occasion I was surprised to read the heading ‘7 million in Austria.’ The Lord led me through many steps to guide me to Austria, plus all the preparation needed: three years at the Irish Baptist College, learning more German, helping in the local church and visiting other churches to encourage their support.
It took ten years from the point when I knew the Lord wanted me in Austria to when I finally arrived in Klagenfurt. That was 1982, and my first responsibility was the children’s work there. I have always enjoyed working with children, but my aim was to get Austrians to take over the various meetings I started. When this began to happen I started asking the Lord what he wanted me to do next. He once again indicated learning a language, which frightened me until I met a profoundly Deaf person for the first time. Watching a conversation in Austrian sign language, although unable to understand it, was quite fascinating. Once again the question came: ‘Who tells the Deaf in Austria about the Lord Jesus?’
When the Lord wants us to do something he also makes it possible, so I was soon learning Austrian sign language, getting to know local Deaf people and even beginning to interpret for them. It was while interpreting for a wedding that the Lord directed me to consider offering the Deaf monthly services in sign language. It came about as I asked one of the guests about her own wedding day and was shocked to find she had not had an interpreter and therefore had not really known what had been said!
In October 1995 Ernst Prugger, the then pastor of the church in Klagenfurt, agreed to work with me in presenting a service for the Deaf. Only a handful came, but the news spread that there was something being offered in Austrian sign language and gradually more Deaf people came along. Over almost twenty-
The first conversions in 2003 were a particular joy. Then as Gerhard was beginning to feel very much on his own, Mirko came to know the Lord and his wife took the plunge soon afterwards. Those were exciting years with conversions and baptisms taking place almost every year, but things have slowed down. 2015 was the last conversion, and we are still waiting for the baptism of Monica, Mirko and Manuela’s daughter (perhaps this year?).
As with the work among the children, my aim has always been to help the Deaf to take on the work themselves. The difficulty they have with understanding written German is a problem, but progress was being made with them organising the whole of the monthly services and even taking the lead in the weekly Bible studies. However, as I write this there have been drawbacks, with the most able men taking on work which prevents them attending Thursday Bible studies. This means they no longer preach at the services. Although that has helped others to take part, there is still a long way to go for any of the others to become preachers.
I am now in the process of moving to a peaceful village in the country and will no longer be living next to the church, so we need to consider how the meetings for the Deaf can be continued and developed, especially as some of the most active members of the group are going through difficult times. The Lord has not yet told me to discontinue working with the Deaf, so although the future may be uncertain in many respects, as I look back over the seventy years the Lord has held me in his hand, I am sure that he has plans for the future – not just for me, but also for this small group of Deaf believers. Please join in praying for them to experience his leading in each of their lives and as a group.