Hostile Take-Over! My old FB account is now in enemy hands …

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This past Saturday I was contacted on FB Messenger by a friend in England who said she had locked herself out of her Facebook account and needed help recovering it. Could I receive an authorization code for her and forward it? Trying to be helpful I said, Sure, but tell me how we met so I know this is really you and not some hacker. Her answer was correct, so I received and forwarded the code.

HOWEVER, this wasn’t really my friend but the hacker who had hijacked her account and who had obviously done his homework so he could answer my question, and the authorization code was not for my friend’s account but for mine. The hacker immediately changed the password and removed my e-mail and phone number from the account, so I had no quick way to regain control — Facebook’s recovery tools all presuppose that you still have a way to receive a one-time code by e-mail or SMS or WhatsApp to an address or phone number linked to your account, and that was unfortunately all gone.

Now, I will admit that in a way, this was my own fault. I am supposed to be sufficiently computer and internet savvy to not all for such scams. All I can claim as extenuating circumstances is the fact that I am getting older and probably more senile, that it was late at night, and that my “friend” correctly answered my question about how we became acquainted. But other than the hacker I can only blame myself.

But I DO blame Facebook for their abysmally inadequate and ineffective support. Not only is it impossible to actually talk to a support person; when one reports such an incident nothing at all seems to happen. I reported this through their help center as well as per e-mail to security@facebookmail.com, and several of my friends also reported the account as compromised. Four days later the account is still active and being used by the hacker to try and scam my friends in the same way I was scammed, and Facebook has done absolutely nothing.

I set up a new account and created a post explaining what had happened and immediately began to receive recommendations for people and services who could recover my account. I picked one whose online presence seemed pretty professional and paid a moderate amount to have my account recovered. Well, next he needed a special piece of software costing twice what I had already paid, and then, when he claimed he had gained control of the account, he demanded a further, even higher payment before he would provide me with the necessary information to access and secure the account. This not only exceeded my budget, I also suspected that he would string me along with one payment demand after the other. So I pulled the plug, decided to write off the money I had paid  and abandon the account. As far as I am concerned the ball is now in Facebook’s court to protect their users from a scammer they have been told about.

Nevertheless I asked a friend who can still see the old account to make screen dumps of the list of “friends” and I will see how I can warn as many as possible that my old account “Wolf N. Paul” is compromised.

My new Facebook-Account is “Wolf Paul” (without the “N.”), and I am slowly rebuilding my friends list. I thought about abandoning FB altogether, but it has been so helpful in reconnecting with people I had lost touch with and I don’t want to miss that.

What did I learn from this?

  • To be extremely wary of requests to help people with authentication problems; if an authentication code is sent to you, chances are very good that it is for your account rather than for someone else’s.
  • To expect no support from Meta or it’s subsidiaries; while they are obviously making money from us in the form of an ever increasing flood of advertising, they are not charging us directly for the service and thus have no obligation toward us.
  • To never agree to designate a payment with PayPal “for Family and Friends” rather than “for Goods or Services” — for the latter one can open a dispute and get the money back if the promised service is not delivered, but the former is irretrievably lost.
  • To never store material important to you (photos, videos, texts, chats) in an online service like Facebook, WhatsApp, or any of Google’s or Microsoft’s services without having one or more backups offline or in another service.

And now we get on with life — on and offline.

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Remembering a Great Servant of God

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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.

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Many Openings And Many Hollow Spaces

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  • Trigger-Warning: This blog post mentions body functions which some readers might find distasteful.

Many years ago, posted in the bathroom of a church preoccupied with Israel and their role in God’s plans for this world, I found a text which at first I found amusing; however, on second thought it seemed very appropriate to this place.

It was the prayer known as Asher Yatzar, a blessing (bracha or beracha, pl. brachot – Hebr.: ברכה, Yiddish: broche) which observant Jews recite after every visit to the toilet and which also forms part of the morning prayers (Shacharit) in the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book:

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe,
who formed man with wisdom
and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces.
It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor
that if even one of them would be opened,
or if even one of them would be sealed,
it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.

For most of the past year I have been bedridden, at first after surgery on my thigh and since then because of muscle atrophy, and because of this I have a urinary catheter. Most of tge time it works pretty well; it has to be changed every two months and sometimes it gets blocked and has to be changed as well. Up until three weeks ago this happened four times, in approx. nine months. The most recent scheduled change was February 21, and in the three weeks since I have been to the hospital six times with a blocked catheter, most recently twice within a twelve hour period. That last one was particularly unpleasant:

During the wait for the ambulance and the ride to the hospital around 5:45 a.m. my bladder kept filling up; once there I had to wait in the accident outpatient department for the duty urologist to come and take care of me. Of course all this time my bladder kept filling up, moving from uncomfortable to increasingly painful.

Around 6:45 I was told that the urologist wasn’t coming but that I would be moved to the urology outpatient department. So, more waiting, with an increasingly painfull (sic.) bladder, for the official opening hour of the urology outpatient dept. at 7:00 a.m., and then for their staff to show up after their shift change conference. By that time it was 7:15 and the pain almost unbearable. Then: blessed relief!

The catheter change didn’t take very long, and then I had to wait another 30 minutes for an ambulance to take me home, but by that time I was as comfortable as one can be, lying on a narrow gurney in a hospital corridor.

Now I have to irrigate my catheter at least twice daily with saline or citric acid solutions, and while my body protests that the bladder isn’t meant to be filled from that direction it beats not being able to pass water!

Now, I don’t normally waste much time thinking or talking about such body functions, but in my current situation I am reminded of Psalm 139:14:

I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made. Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well.

That is exactly what Asher Yatzar expresses in a few more words, and one may smile at the notion of reciting this after every visit to the loo, but onlty as long as one’s own many openings and many hollow spaces are doing their job.

As evangelical Christians from non-liturgical traditions we aren’t really into prescribed, set prayers or rituals, for good theological reasons; however, as a suggestion rather than a requirement the Jewish practice of reciting these blessings in almost all circumstances of life can be very valuable because it constantly reminds us that we live all of life, including the “less honorable[1] aspects, in the presence of God–not just the one hour on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening, or the daily quiet time.

And that reminds me of my closing questions: Why didn’t the church I mentioned above apso post the Blessing for the Washing of Hands ((Netilat Yadayim,  Hebrew יָדַיִם נְטִילַת) above their sink:

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe,
who commanded us concerning the washing of hands.

But of course this was a long time before Covid-19.

__________
  1. 2 Tim. 2:20[]
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Sounds of my Childhood

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Somebody asked this question on Facebook: Well, for me one of these would be the sounds of Formula Vee car races on the former airport in Vienna-Aspern (now an Opel plant and the Seestadt housing estate). We lived about two miles away as the crow flies, and on the Sundays when they were racing we could hear them all day long.

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To the Making of Many Books there is No End

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Recently I came across this conversation on Facebook (I blanked out names and pictures):

This led me to ponder my own attitude towards and relationship with books. 

My father had a huge private library of more than 2500 books on all sorts of subjects: non-fiction from politics (such as Mein Kampf and Das Kapital) to philosophy, history, medicine, etc., as well as fiction (i.e. the German classics like GoetheSchiller, etc., as well as German novelists of the interwar period and immediately after WW2 like Kraus, Kästner, Tucholsky, Grass, etc.). As I grew up I followed in his footsteps and began to assemble my own collection of books.

After my father died and we his children had to sell the house we had grown up in to a contractor, none of us was either interested in or had enough space to take over this massive library. So with a few exceptions the books stayed in the house which within a few days was demolished to make way for terraced houses. The books became part of the demolition rubble.

As a bibliophile and avid reader I was saddened by this. In the course of my own life I relocated several times, both within Austria and to the US and back, and for reasons of logistics I had to get rid of many of my books. Then I discovered eBooks and for the most part stopped buying printed books. With very few exceptions I now buy only eBooks, in KindleePub, and PDF formats. I have even purchased eBook versions of some of the books I used to own in paper.

Now my entire library fits on a USB stick, and when my time comes to depart this life my kids won’t have to worry about where to find room for hundreds of yellowed books; and if they are not interested in my library they can just reformat the stick.

As much as I love books (and particularly also fine examples of the arts of typography, printing, and bookbinding, which I mostly cannot afford anyway) I realize that just like money, my computers, etc., ultimately I cannot take my books with me, and that they can all to easily become a burden, if not for me then for those who come after me.

By the way, the title for this post is taken from Ecclesiastes 14:12:

To the making of many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

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Two Vienna Churches: Stadtlicht and New City Wien

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Having grown up in a fairly traditional Roman Catholic family, by the time I reached my mid-teens I was no longer really interested in God and church. Then I met a group of young people to whom God seemed to be a living reality, and after spending some time with them I decided to follow Jesus myself.

After a few very formative months in England I came back to Vienna during the summer of 1972 and found my way to an evangelical church in the process of formation. This church later became known as the Tulpengasse or TUGA church, and was the subject of a book by Canadian Mennonite author Margaret Epp. Some of the people I got to know there are still more or less close friends today, such as Johannes Fichtenbauer, who today is a Roman Catholic deacon; others have already passed away, such as the church’s founding pastor and his wife, Canadian Mennonite Brethren missionaries Abe and Irene Neufeld; many others I have lost touch with after moving on, for a variety of reasons, to other churches both in Austria and abroad.

Today, the TUGA church is part of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Austria, and thus also part of the state-recognized Free Churches in Austria.

A few weeks ago the TUGA church moved from their longtime facilty in Tulpengasse in Vienna’s 8th district, to the novum venue in Wiedner Hauptstrasse 146, in Vienna’s 5th district, known as Margareten. Consequently they changed their name to Stadtlicht – Freikirche Margareten, i.e. Light For The City – Free Church Margareten.

The Stadtlicht church shares its space with the bi-lingual reformed New City Wien church, which also recently moved to the novum location from their old premises on the other side of Wiedner Hauptstraße, a few hundred meters towards the city center. My connection to New City Wien is the fact that my son Stephen and his wife are pretty intensively involved in this church, and that for this reason I have frequently attended their Sunday morning service in the past.

novum Wiedner Hauptstraße is a part of novum locations, a company started and owned by Christians which owns and operates multiple dual-use facilities across Austria: these are typically used by evangelical churches on the weekend, and rented out as conference and seminar facilities during the week. This business model is not without problems, and the co-existence of the two types of users  is not always friction-free, but it has made available affordable meeting spaces to evangelical churches who would otherwise have a hard time affording their own space.

Stadtlicht have their Sunday service in the morning, and New City Wien have theirs in the afternoon. Because of the restrictions imposed due to the Covid pandemic both churches are live streaming their services on YouTube, permitting me to follow both services despite my health-induced mobility challenges.

Here are the links to their respective YouTube channels, where the livestreams can be found each Sunday, as well with videos of past sermons:

My prayer and wish for these two churches is that together they can be an even brighter light and can even more effectively seek the welfare of the city whom their names reference (Jeremiah 29:7).

There are two things in this story which are not without pain to me:

On the one hand the fact that some of those I got to know and respect in the TUGA church (and of course also in various other churches since then) have somehow and for a variety of reasons drifted  away from biblical Christianity, towards some other ideology or philosophy. While I do not feel called or qualified to speculate on the eternal fate of other people (I am much to busy to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling — Philippians 2:12),  when I hear about someone’s passing, and the report is cloaked in the unbiblical language of New Age or other eastern esoteric religion, then, while I commit this person to the boundless love, mercy and grace of God, I cannot help but have some slight doubt as to their fate.

And on the other hand there is the sad fact that it was apparently not possible to preserve the Tulpengasse venue as a space for Christian ministry, and so an important piece of Vienna’s evangelical history is lost forever.

 

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Alyssa and her family need our help

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Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)

Don & Nancy Prokop came to Austria as Vineyard missionaries, and together with Dave & Lisa Boyd the planted and nurtured the Vienna Vinyard. Their children Amy, Alyssa, and Matthew grew up near Vienna and attended Vienna Christian School (now International Christian School of Vienna). In recent years Don Prokop is part of the Mercy House of Prayer in Vienna, as well as part of the intercession team for the Austrian Roundtable, a grassroots Christian reconciliation initiative.

Their three children are married, Amy in California, Alyssa in Germany, and Matthew here in Austria.

In April of 2020 Alyssa’s husband David Kogler found her unresponsive in her bed. She was rushed to the hospital, and the initial diagnosis was an unspecified infection which had gone septic and caused swelling on the brain (cerebral edema). Alyssa almost died, and a short time later doctors diagnosed a rare condition: Addison’s Disease or hypocortisolism.

All of this has left Alyssa in a minimally conscious state, unable to walk, talk, care for herself or feed herself. At 46, the once vibrant caring wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend to many, a talented singer, has been silenced.

Because of Covid restrictions, initially visits were severely restricted; in fact, Alyssa’s children saw their mother for the first time in a full year in April 2021.

Since last summer Alyssa has been in a nursing home; she needs round the clock care and intensive therapies to hopefully regain some of her abilities. All this is expensive; in God’s providence much of it is covered by insurance and government aid. Nevertheless, Alyssa’s husband David faces a monthly shortfall of $1800 (€1500).

This is why Alyssa’s sister Amy has started a GoFundMe campaign to financially support Alyssa and her family.

In the spirit of “bearing one another’s burdens” I ask all my readers to consider participating, according to their means and abilities.

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A Christmas Childhood Memory

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(Hier gibt es eine deutsche Version dieses Beitrags)

Growing up we had a large print of a Madonna with Child hanging in our living room which has left a lasting impression.

The picture on our wall looked like the left half of the picture at the top of this page, “Four Shepherds”, and I think what impressed me was its simplicity when compared to the usual statues and pictures of the  mother of Christ in Roman Catholic Austria. Neither mother nor Child have a halo, for example.1 To me, the color scheme communicates serenity, calm, and security.

I chose to post the picture “Four Shepherds” here, instead of just the Madonna with Child, because it fits very well with the Christmas season.

The artist, Albin Egger-Lienz, was born in 1868 and died in 1926, and worked mostly in Munich, Vienna, and the Tyrol. His reputation and reception post-World War II suffered from the fact that several high-ranking Nazis had praised his work — but so had Leo Trotsky.

  1. The artist painted several versions of this Madonna and Child motif, some in different colors, and some with halos.
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My Views on the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper

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As an Evangelical Christian, currently attending a Baptist church in Vienna, Austria, I have for quite a while been bothered by the prevailing view of the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, in our circles. Continue reading My Views on the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper

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