Pastor Don's Journal Articles


These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things are in Austria this week, enjoying the mountains, edelweiss flowers, and music of this beautiful land. We have made several visits here over the years of our marriage -- blessed to be able to do it, and blessed by the experience every time. Since our last visit I have been saying that Austria, with its shimmering lakes and rolling meadows, its deep forests and flower-festooned houses, is the most beautiful place in the whole world. Nothing so far has given me reason to change my mind.

Someone has said that the success of any journey is not measured by miles, but by friends. If that is true, then this trip was a success even before we arrived here on Friday morning.

The young couple I sat beside in Dulles airport was heading to Macedonia for their wedding. Nicola is Macedonian, and Makedonka is of that same heritage but a US citizen.They currently live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and so I told them that their US congressman, Marlin Stutzman, is a good friend of mine. When I mentioned his name they both lit up with smiles.

"It is because of Marlin Stutzman that we are on this flight today," she said.

It seems that their ability to fly to Macedonia was all tied up in legal paperwork and, after spending thousands of dollars trying to get things worked out, it was by no means certain that they would make the wedding next week. Friends and family were already gathering, the church and her gown were ready -- but it was doubtful they could get there. They called Marlin’s office in desperation...and prayed. Within 24 hours his staff had cut through all the red tape and they were on their way!

"Let’s call and thank him," I said, as I reached for my iPhone.

The happy bride was able to personally express her gratitude, and I was happy to be the go-between.

On the long flight across the Atlantic I sat with Krestin and her well-mannered, bilingual young son, Simon, from Vienna. She had lived and worked in Richmond for several years and, like me, was a graduate of VCU. She was a delight to pass the hours with. When the conversation turned to matters of faith she told me that she was "spiritual, but not religious" -- something I hear all the time these days. Still, I tried to share with her the importance of a relationship with Christ apart from religious ritual.

Later, on the 35-minute flight from Vienna to Klagenfurt, I sat beside Lena, a bright and pretty bank employee from Frankfurt, who was traveling with her boyfriend for a holiday in Austria. When I asked her about her faith she told me that she did not believe in God at all. "I believe in myself," she said, but without an ounce of arrogance. "And I believe in my family."

She admitted, though, that there are times when a longing arises from deep within. "God has placed eternity in the hearts of people," I explained, quoting Ecclesiastes. And we talked about death, and the possibility of life afterwards. She remembered that her dying grandmother, who did believe in God, had spoken of it in her final moments.

I admired everything about this young woman as we shared that short hop, and I sincerely hope that one day she will come to know Christ for herself.

Christina, our dear friend for the past almost 30 years, greeted us at the Klagenfurt airport and drove us to her home in Rosseg, and it has been one great experience after another since Friday morning. Fighting "jet lag" and occasionally nodding off in the middle of conversations, we have enjoyed the Kirchtag festival in Villach as well as a dinner party with friends we met here on our last visit 4 years ago: Klaudia, Fritz, Gusti, and Rod. We will see still other friends as the week unfolds.

On Sunday morning we were summoned by clanging church bells to worship in the 800-year-old Cathedral of Gurk. It was a Catholic service, and in another language, but still meaningful for us. My old college German, and the familiar hymn tune, helped me identify at least one song that we sang: Now Thank We All Our God. Indeed.

Later that night (after watching the live stream of the service from FBCA at 5PM) we drove up a nearby mountain and enjoyed a concert of Austrian folk music in the clouds at Finkenstein Castle. We had been there before, and it was one our favorite memories. It’s impossible for an American to be in this mountain eyrie without thinking of that music festival scene near the end of The Sound of Music (where the Von Trapps win the contest but make their escape to the border) -- it was so very like it. Quintets and larger groups singing, two young men playing their accordions. The entire audience (except for us) joining in a closing song, hauntingly beautiful. And all the while, nighttime descending and the valley below us turning on its evening lamps.

We are sharing some of our meals these days with Christina’s parents, Rudy and Renate, who live close by. Her father doesn’t say much, not knowing a lot of English, but her mother speaks with such wisdom as we sit beneath the mountains at night. Mark Twain once said that real truth is recognizable as authentic the moment we take note of it. He called it "prodigious noticing" -- when we hear something that is accurate and true, we know it immediately.

Four years ago this woman touched Audrey profoundly as she comforted her over the then very recent death of Audrey’s mother. This time, she spoke of her son, Ruddy, and her young grandchildren, Matthew and Emma, living far away from her in China. As far away to her as Brazil is to us.

"It is alright," she said. "It is their life they must live... And we are still family after all."

And, once again, we heard the truth we needed to hear.