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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

25 Years and 65 Nations

Celebrating Vienna Christian Center

By Kristel Ortiz
Jan. 5, 2014

The energy inside Vienna Christian Center on Sunday mornings can be felt before one enters the building. Even from the streets outside, the sounds of worship and hundreds of enthusiastic voices stir anticipation.

Inside, a bustling café nestled under a spiral staircase serves breakfast to early arrivers or lunch to those waiting for the next service to begin. A quiet table in the corner provides a view of an international fashion parade on the staircase as churchgoers in traditional dress come and go from various services.

In the spacious sanctuary upstairs, the services are underway. Before the day is done, congregations will have worshipped in German (Austrian fellowship), English (African and international fellowships), and Tagalog (Filipino fellowship).

At VCC’s smaller campus several blocks away, worshippers gather for services in Spanish, Mandarin (Chinese fellowship), French, Farsi (Iranian fellowship), and Amharic (Ethiopian fellowship).

Altogether, 65 nations are represented in nine services conducted in eight languages. And though each of the nine fellowships has its own core pastor, they clearly are not nine churches sharing facilities. They are a family.

“The greatest thing about VCC is our diversity,” says senior pastor Larry Henderson. “This year marks VCC’s 25th anniversary. As we go forward into the next 25 years, we are focusing on surrendering that diversity to God. Diversity surrendered becomes supernatural.”

Collaborative Efforts

In many ways, VCC is a microcosm of ministry in Europe. As massive immigration and a low birthrate among indigenous Europeans continue to drastically change the face of the continent, a plethora of people groups and nationalities blends together to create unique societies that face unique challenges.

“Even though we sometimes have differences, we will not allow them to divide us,” states Gerhard Kisslinger, pastor of the German-speaking fellowship.

Gerhard knows a good deal about differences. When he came to Christ out of the hippie culture and a life of drugs, his grandmother said she would rather he died a drug addict.

Gerhard, Peter Omwunaruwa (assistant pastor of the African fellowship) and others like them who have been brought from all nations and walks of life to serve at VCC help make the church unique.

AGWM Communications Director Randy Hurst, who attended the 25th anniversary, says, “VCC exemplifies God’s convergence of people to accomplish His purposes.”

A Quarter Century of Integrity

In its 25 years of existence, VCC has had five senior pastors. The initial vision for the church was in the heart of missionary Bonnie Mackish. VCC first met in the home of AGWM Executive Director Greg Mundis and his wife, Sandie, in Vienna, and Greg served as its first pastor. Wayde and Rosalyn Goodall came in 1988 and gave it the name Vienna Christian Center. The Mundises pastored VCC again for 4 years. Omar Beiler, AGWM regional director for Eurasia, and his wife, Pat, followed them in 1993. Tom and Candace Manning, who previously served as missionaries to Hungary, began pastoring the church in 2000, and Larry and Melinda Henderson, current pastors and former missionaries to the Canary Islands, succeeded them in 2011.

Each pastor has helped define the church and its mission. Greg Mundis is remembered for his emphasis on the supernatural, leading the congregation in seeking the Lord, and having a vision for people.

Larry Manuel, pastor of the Filipino fellowship, the largest of VCC’s nine congregations, says, “Greg Mundis saw the potential in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”

The Filipino group of 650 has planted Filipino churches in Salzburg, Linz, Klagenfurt and Neukirchen, Austria, as well as Geneva and Olten, Switzerland, and 16 churches in the Philippines. Once shy and hesitant, Larry Manuel now leads with confidence and purpose.

Omar Beiler had a vision for cell ministry, relationships, and pastoral mentoring. He emphasized innovation and felt strongly about unifying the church in a way that allowed cultural expressions within each group but also created one collective body. During his time as pastor, the congregation secured and converted a broom factory, called Rennweg, into a VCC campus.

Tom Manning focused largely on expanding many of the ministries Omar established. He guided VCC through a time of challenging growth and also led a building project that resulted in a second campus at Baumgasse (a converted scales factory).

Larry Henderson is known for empowering, investing in, and giving confidence to others. Following the intense focus on expansion during Tom’s leadership, he is helping the ever-growing congregation remain strong, unified and passionate in evangelism and outreach.

Each pastor poured himself into VCC, and all are remembered for leaving legacies of integrity and helping to shape others.

Silver Anniversary

“At the 25th anniversary celebration, the diversity of VCC was on full display in the worship led by several different nationalities and prayers in eight languages,” Randy Hurst says. “The exuberant, joyful praise and worship in the packed auditorium fueled anticipation for messages by Greg Mundis, Omar Beiler and Tom Manning, the former pastors who spoke at the event. Each one recounted inspiring accounts of VCC’s journey together in diversity and how cultures came to understand one another and blend into a unique body of believers that represents the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit. All three pastors also told humorous stories of the cultural adjustments the various groups made over the years, especially for special events, such as weddings.

“VCC has a focused vision for the city of Vienna. It also clearly serves as a telling example for effectively reaching an increasingly diverse multicultural Europe. By modeling how the power of the Spirit brings harmony to a diverse body of believers, it exemplifies the love of Christ and His message to a lost world.

“In his sermon, Greg Mundis spoke from the Book of Haggai. He challenged the congregation to set their eyes and hearts increasingly on the future. He declared, ‘If the past and its memories are more important than the future and its possibilities, then realignment with God’s purpose and mission is desperately needed.’”

Larry Henderson says Greg’s message confirmed the church’s vision.

“We planned the anniversary celebration as a way to connect VCC’s past to its future,” he says. “Our focus for the future has to be evangelism. We can’t just celebrate the success of the church and allow it to become something that makes us lose focus of what God is still calling us to do. Instead, we want to look ahead with expectancy to see how God will use us in the future.”

Paul Trementozzi, AGWM regional director for Europe, says, “The international community in Europe is an opportunity for the authentic gospel to shine in a continent that desperately needs to see Christianity at its very best. VCC understands this mandate from the Lord and celebrates its diversity as a body. Its members model Leviticus 19:34: ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself’ (NASB).”

KRISTEL ORTIZ is a staff writer for Assemblies of God World Missions.

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