Although it isn’t until tomorrow, we’re celebrating our 33rd anniversary today by going out for a nice meal together in downtown Minneapolis..
We first met back in the summer of 1982. I was working in a refugee camp in the tiny village of Bad Kreuzen, 100 miles upstream from Vienna on the Danube river.
Donna had come to Austria with the summer missions program of Slavic Gospel Association to smuggle Bibles into what was then known as the “East Bloc” – Communist countries that were under the strong influence of what was then the Soviet Union.
I drove down to Vienna to help the summer workers settle into the former Jaegerhaus in Gablitz.
I still remember when I saw her first – on the back steps of the Haus. Whether you believe in it or not, it was love at first sight.
It took a year or so before we began dating by airmail between Bad Kreuzen and Columbia, Missouri. For years, we feverishly wrote letters back and forth on the thinnest paper known to man.
I finally proposed in 1984 during a Colorado ski trip with my family (they encouraged me to invite Donna). We timed our wedding around plans for me to go to seminary in 1985. We would marry during Christmas break.
Although those seminary plans fell through, our wedding plans did not. We married in Kansas City, took our honeymoon in the Collegiate Peaks of Colorado, and then settled into our first home in the lush rolling hills of the province of Upper Austria, in early 1986.
I put this image together today in preparation for the annual IAFR missionary conference in August. I will also pull it out this Thursday evening during our Open House (you are invited!) – and again during our annual board meeting in September.
The background is taken from the Map of the Refugee Highway, that I design and produce every year. The major refugee-producing nations are shaded red while major refugee-hosting countries are shaded yellow.
This is one of the earliest photos of me from 1980. It was taken shortly after I had touched down in Europe for a 6 month short-term mission stint right after graduating from college.
I thought I was going to spend those months visiting unregistered Christian youth camps and bringing Bibles to our brothers and sisters in what was then the East Bloc of the Soviet Union. And I did.
But that isn’t what changed my life forever.
The leadership of the mission sent me to see if there was opportunity to serve people in a refugee camp 100 miles from Vienna. I actually complained and asked them to send someone else as I wanted to spend my time in Eastern Europe. But they didn’t change their minds (for which I am forever grateful). I made several visits to the camp while in Austria that year. It wasn’t until I returned to the states in December 1980 that I experienced the surprising and unmistakable call of God to return to Austria and serve refugees full-time.
This photo was taken before all of that while in Germany en route to Austria. I had no idea what was around the bend. I probably still don’t.
The cheapest way to fly to Europe back then was via Icelandic Airlines to Luxemburg. We then drove iconic VW vans to Austria with an overnight stopover in Germany. The boy’s name is Arnie.
I will never forget Mr. And Mrs. Kaltenböck. They were the first people to take me in when I was a young stranger in a remote rural area of Austria known as the Mühlviertel. I was fresh out of college and 6 months of German school (in Bavaria) and following the unmistakable call of God to serve refugees in a nearby village. There weren’t many rooms for rent in the region – and even fewer people willing to consider renting to a young foreigner. But Herr Kaltenböck and his family took me in. Frau Kaltenböck even did my laundry and invited me to join their family every Sunday for lunch.
Such hospitality is never forgotten.
It was a blessing to be able to visit Herr Kaltenböck while on vacation in Austria this past week. He’s 94 years old now. Sadly, his wife passed away a few years ago.
It did my heart good to tell him thank you – for I was a stranger and you invited me in.
I last stood here 15 years ago – when I called Austria home. It was here that God called me to serve refugees in December 1980. I remember moving to Europe in June 1981 with a big red backpack (with aluminum frame) and a duffle bag. Though not forced, it was my personal uprooting.
I returned to Minnesota 23 years later with a wife, two children and a German speaking golden retriever.
I was walking through a web of memories today. Looking forward to tomorrow.