Shortly after my conversion, in 1972 I spent six months working in a Christian book warehouse in the U.K, with Christians from many different nations and church backgrounds, and I was introduced to books like Run, Nicky, Run and The Cross and the Switchblade.
When I came back to Austria, I began to attend a conservative Evangelical church planted and pastored by a saintly Mennonite Brethren missionary from Canada. However, I also regularly visited a coffee bar at a local Pentecostal church, patterned and named Teen Challenge after the ministry from The Cross and the Switchblade. This was a time when Evangelicals in the German-speaking countries were very suspicious of Pentecostals and Charismatics, and very shortly after my pastor went on furlough to Canada the Austrian leaders he had left in charge of the church remonstrated with me for my involvement with the Pentecostals and basically told me stop going there. Having come to appreciate cross-denominational fellowship during my time in the UK I refused to do as I was told and instead looked for a different church home.
I found it in another Evangelical church planted by an equally saintly American missionary who, after I had explained my situation, welcomed me—without trying to curtail my contacts with the Pentecostals. However, as was common practice, after a couple of years he too went on furlough, leaving others in charge of the church. And to my dismay the situation repeated itself and these leaders basically told me to break off my contacts with the Pentecostals. Dismayed, I took my leave from that church also.
Now, while I appreciated the brothers and sisters at the Pentecostal coffee bar, I was not a Pentecostal myself, so I needed to find another Evangelical church. I had heard of an American opera singer who had what was probably Vienna’s first charismatic prayer meeting in his home, and who attended an English-speaking Baptist church in Vienna. Figuring that a church which tolerated a Charismatic as a member would hardly have a problem with my Pentecostal contacts I went and sought out the pastor of that church. I explained my predicament and was welcomed.
I spent the next ten years at that church, with the exception of two years of Bible School in France. I began to work full-time for a literature ministry in Eastern Europe and got married. Throughout this time I benefitted greatly from the pastor’s preaching and from a multi-year, very detailed study of the Gospel of John led by his wife.
In 1984 the ministry I was working with moved my wife and me to Texas, thus ending my very profitable time in that church and under this pastor.
The pastor, Randy Mathews, and his wife Alice eventually moved back to the US and for a long time I was out of touch with them; then Facebook came along and allowed me to reconnect with a lot of old friends, including Randy and Alice.
I don’t know where I would be today if, after my disappointing experiences with two churches, Randy had not welcomed me to his church.
Today found out that a few days aho Randy went home to his Lord and mine, at the ripe old age of 97. Unlike his wife and daughters I cannot really say that I will miss him—too sporadic has been our contact in recent years—but I will remember him with gratitude, gratitude both to him and to God for him.