This is the question we get asked every time we meet someone new. Mostly I reply that we’re making a new life for ourselves, that we had holidayed here and both felt it was so much better than the UK! What I don’t usually say is that following a near marriage failure, where we’d both needed counselling before we got back together, someone in our Church had given us a gift of money specifically for a holiday and Austria was where we’d felt we’d like to go. We had been to Switzerland a year earlier to visit the farm where I’d worked in the 1970s. This had lead to Dave beginning to learn German and he wanted somewhere to practise a bit!
We visited Westerndorf in Tyrol and enjoyed a lovely time, walking, exploring. The first time alone together, no kids, no financial worries and a lot of wounds healed, God’s perfect peace. People were friendly, and the scenery so stunning that it uplifted the spirit and soul. During this time, we had separate ideas. Dave could see a ministry in giving the word to holidaymakers as they thronged the streets. I passed a remote mountain hut and had a picture of a place where I could write, reflect, but also have others there to share the peace and healing – hey, it’s just struck me, maybe I’m halfway there now! We took these ideas with us, talking a little at the time, but it wasn’t till several months later we told each other how these dreams persisted and nagged at the back of our minds. A calling?
Back to the question. If I was to say straight away to people that we also felt led by God, we’d be straight away in the nutter basket! Let them come to that conclusion once they really know us! I’ve found that a gentle way to hint to people is to say that at first we were all set to come as Missionaries, but for various reasons, it didn’t work.
We felt that if this was a God’s calling, Missionary work was the normal, Christian route to follow. However, when you say missionary work in Europe, people just don’t connect, they only see hungry African babies and not the spiritual desert of the West. We made contact with one European group and visited them during our second trip to Austria, this time in Zell am See. We came back, not really having an idea of what we’d do. It just didn’t feel right. Firstly they wanted us to go to Bible college – not a problem for me, but Dave said he couldn’t cope with that. Then the huge amount of money they expected us to rise to support ourselves from friends, family and churches felt like having to beg. It was nearly the amount we earned in England, both working full-time. Then they would also take bits off for themselves, training, pensions etc. We were also told we’d get a whole month off in three years, unbelievable. To us, this seemed a completely archaic way of going about things. We both felt strongly, and as is borne out by our lives in the UK, to witness to people you have to live and work in a community, not set yourself at a distance. After all, Paul worked as a tent maker to support himself.
The Society would also determine where we lived and maybe we were just not cut out for such obedience, we wanted to decide this! We returned from this visit not any wiser or sure of God’s plan. Then the Estate agent rang and said there was a market for our sort of house – we’d had the details taken but had delayed actually putting it on the market until we were sure we wanted to sell. It did seem we needed to move.
There were other factors too besides the marriage problems and you may wish to label them as a mid-life crisis, but we didn’t need to move to Austria to deal with these things. Our daughter left for University, my mother died of cancer, and a year later the dog. Our son was at home but really we were just a hostel. Id moved into a more office based job where I worked, away from the students and the horses, mainly because the long working hours had to some extent burnt me out. What had seemed a good idea proved to be an exercise in banging my head against the wall with an archaic management system based on promotion by the length of time served not skills, an ‘old girls’ network and a director who could at times be more of a dictator! I was kept sane by my great office colleague – who was also excluded for the club! Dave also had enough of his job too, he enjoyed it but was going nowhere.
Then we were given a magazine by a church friend about a couple who had moved to Austria and were running a ski chalet, so I contacted them and thanks guys, you gave us so much help, mates rates and just generally were so loving and generous that we are indebted! They could have been anywhere in Austria but actually were in Zell am See. Everything seemed to be pointing us in that direction. I’ll do a blog one day of all the places we viewed – Austrians load the places they don’t want on foreigners, very often when a relative has died and all the belongings are still intact – we saw a lot of dead people’s places!
After unsuccessful viewings, we found a new estate agency, arranged to meet and took off into the snow to meet Gunther. This was in January 2007 as we felt we needed to try a bit of snow to see if we liked it!!!!! I must admit, I wasn’t impressed by Gunther, scruffy, unshaven, and a load of cancelled visits, it didn’t auger well. We spent the day knocking around Zell until we could meet for the one viewing, and when we met t his time his car was parked the other way around. On the back was the most enormous Fish symbol – he said later it was the biggest he could find. God result! Only he could direct us straight to a Christian estate agent! The resulting conversation needs no explanation except that the next day we came to the Lungau, and the first flat we saw was it (well for me). More of our flat later!
We knew this was the right place for us. The flat had a garden, and so was a compromise between the bungalow I’d wanted and flat Dave wanted! Lebeshilfe, the only charity to reply to my email and CV had a work station in the town. We were on a bus and train route and had a local shop, tick, tick, tick tick in the boxes! On return to England, we now had a budget and lowered the sale price on the house a little bit, added another agent and within two weeks it sold. God had a laugh on me here too. A couple had put in an offer before Christmas and it fell through. So I grumpily spent the entire Christmas holidays magnolia-ing the house and dressing it like ‘wot’ they said on all these TV programmes. It was only after we’d accepted the offer, that we found it was the same couple whose deal had fallen through and the new agent didn’t know or wasn’t letting on about the previous offer. All that flipping Magnolia, there ain’t none in my flat now!
So we came to Austria, all fired up to fulfil God’s will in our lives to all these Austrians who were going to be our new friends and somehow need us, but it didn’t work out quite how we expected……….