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Unity in Diversity

First ChristDay event in Austria

The first Austrian ChristDay event took place in Linz on Pentecost Monday (25 May 2015). Some 7,000 Christians representing all denominations, ages and ethnic groups came from across the country to recognize Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives and   their nation.  This ground-breaking event took place on the 77th anniversary of the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany during WWII and was held in the same location where that fateful announcement was made decades ago.

The event was organized by a coalition of leaders from various churches and organisations called the Path of Reconciliation and led by Catholic deacon Johannes Fichtenbauer. This group of faithful leaders has been meeting and praying together for many years, cultivating good relationships and unity across denominational boundaries for the purpose of sharing the Gospel message in their country and beyond.

 

In 2004, at a ChristDay event in Switzerland, then national director of Agape Austria, Peter Heinz, witnessed the power of a united Body of Christ in that gathering of 45,000 Christians at the St. Jakob stadium in Basel. Peter Heinz shared the ChristDay vision of national prayer coverage with a group of key leaders in Austria. That was the start of a long journey that culminated in this Austrian event.

As the vision grew, leaders realized the need for greater unity and reconciliation among the groups they represented; much forgiveness and perseverance were required to overcome personal apprehension and build trusting relationships. Today Austria is predominately Catholic with a minority of Protestants and Evangelicals, but the struggle between Protestants and Catholics goes back to the 16th century when the Reformation and Counter Reformation left deep scars on Believers in both groups.

The full support of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, leader of the Conference of Bishops in Austria, and Dr. Hinkelmann, the newly elected president of the European Evangelical Alliance, showed an understanding of the need for forgiveness and a demonstration of the unity of faith for organising the event.

As a result, this spirit of unity made a strong impression on local media, which reported favourably on the day of the event. The headline in the local newspaper read: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and featured an above the fold image of the main town square in Linz filled with Christians. Another newspaper emphasized the involvement of people of all ages and denominations, noting that the event “builds bridges, because faith unites.” The article included short statements from participants under the heading: “The Positive Influence of Jesus on my Life”.

ChristDay Crowd in Linz

Hanspeter Nüesch

ChristDay began with the March for Jesus, with around 4000 Christians marching peacefully through downtown Linz carrying colourful banners proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour. 

The programme focussed on the seven I AM statements by Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John. A combination of Bible readings, preaching, personal stories, drama and music was used to convey the message. More than one hundred people participated in the programme, including artists from Agape’s Crescendo classical music movement in Austria.

Pastor Walter Klimt, head of free churches in Austria, spoke of Jesus who did not simply show people the way, but was himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. In a video message, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn encouraged participants to share their faith and boldly proclaim the risen Jesus, the Son of God, our Messiah. Regional governor Dr. Josef Pühringer noted that ChristDay stood in stark contrast to the events during WWII, when many gathered in the same place to cheer a false messiah that led the country into ruin.

Hanspeter Nüesch, Agape staff member and former Swiss national director now serving as Global Coach and Facilitator for ChristDay International, gave the keynote address at the event, which was inspired by the Swiss ChristDay format introduced in 2004. Nüesch reiterated Jesus’ I AM statements and went on to stress the importance of reading the Bible and being involved in a faith community. He concluded with a time of prayer and personal dedication to Christ. The day culminated in a symbolic gesture of unity with participants raising up paper ribbons to form a net, which symbolized unity in Christ.

Organizers are already considering when to hold the next ChristDay event, which will focus on building up a national network of intercessors and small-groups. The goal is to preserve the unity and goodwill generated by this event and continue learning together. The event’s missions exhibition provided a good opportunity to see the diversity of organisations already working to fulfil the Great Commission. ChristDay inspired hope and cast a vision for a faith revival in Austria. We look forward to seeing how God will work in this country.

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