From Africa to Austria

OM International | Austria

For some time, Leon and Santjie Potgieter had felt God calling them to Europe. Leon is from South Africa, Santjie from Namibia. Now they are in Austria, and working as OM missionaries with a church in Linz. Their vision is to help with church planting, and right now they are busy learning German. Here they share some of their experiences.

“We met for the first time in London but got to know one another properly through a mission trip to the Ukraine. We married in South Africa. We did not really plan to go to the mission field,” begins Santjie. “Some people are called while still young to a particular country, but that wasn’t so with us. But as we lived in Europe many years ago we saw how dark it was. We simply wanted to come, as we saw that there was a need here.”

Leon picks up the story: “We have always had a heart for Europe, as I became a Christian here – in England. After my theology studies we wanted to come to Europe but nothing opened up so we went to Asia instead. We worked as missionaries in Korea for five years. Santjie taught in a school and I served in a church that ministered mainly to foreigners. As our time there came to an end, God showed me that it was now time for Europe. The more we look back at our time in Korea, the more we recognise how much our ministry there of church development and counselling was a perfect preparation for ministry in Europe.”

Why Austria?

“We sensed that the German speaking world could be where God was leading us to. German is the easiest language for us as Afrikaans speakers. Our ancestors (between 400 and 500 years ago) came from Holland and Germany, and we have many European influences in our culture,” Leon explains. “We have grown up with a Western mind-set. Last year at Easter we visited Austria, Germany and Hungary to look around and see where we might be useful. I believe God opened the door to Austria for us. We found that there was a need here for the experience that we could bring.”

Santjie continues: “We hadn’t expected that the whole process of getting here would take so long. We came here last Easter to check things out, and have waited a whole year before things finally came together.”

Things to like and things to wonder

“We like the countryside, the houses, the mountains. It is simply‚WOW. It looks like something out of a fairy tale. Every time I walk in the woods they seem greener. We love nature,” Santjie shares. “People seem so generous – we hadn’t expected that. When people in the church hear that we are missionaries they come and ask how they can help us. When we moved into our apartment we didn’t have to buy anything as people had given us so much.”

Other things are harder to understand, shares Leon: “So many people smoke. When we came here and saw so many young people smoking we asked why – don’t they know how unhealthy it is?” And Santjie adds: “It isn’t ‘cool’ to smoke in other countries where we have lived.”

The weather is very different, too. Leon comments. “I have never been in a land with so much rain. You need to take an umbrella with you everywhere. We are amazed how green everything is, especially in the forest. The weather is very changeable. Two days ago I was wearing a pullover, but today it is very hot. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?”

About church

“I was surprised that everyone seemed to know everyone else,” Santjie confesses. “Half the church is related to people from other churches. There seem to be many family links here.”

“In South Africa, young people tend to go to a modern church and older people to a more traditional one,” Leon adds. “Each one finds one for himself, and families don’t always go together to the same kind of church.”

“I think in general there are more churches in South Africa so one has a greater choice,” explains Santjie.

Future plan and vision

We are working in partnership with both OM and the Pentecostal church in Linz,” she continues. “During our visit here last year, both groups shared that church planting was very much on their hearts and that they are looking for people to support them in this ministry, both in Linz and in the surrounding area. And that is exactly our vision. In the long term we would also like to work with other churches in Upper Austria, and perhaps in all of Austria, helping them in church planting. But first of all we must learn German and get integrated into the culture.”

Challenges and Hopes

“My biggest challenge is learning German, as we need the language for everything we do,” Santjie shares. “I love to chat with people, and I miss praying and talking over deeper subjects with others. I can do that in English with some, but it is always better for the other person in German. Pray also for the development of relationships. It takes time for people to feel they can trust you before they open up for a deeper relationship.”

“You could pray for my language learning also,” Leon agrees. “My second request is that we find our exact place, and have a clear picture of our role in Austria. We need wisdom to move forwards strategically. We don’t want to simply say ‘yes’ to everyone, but rather hear from God and know exactly where He wants us.”

Published: Friday, 17 March 2017
Credit: OM International
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