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The View from Vienna: Learning about others by breaking bread together

A global education means a new perspective of all regions of the earth.

Cate Zenzen  | 

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Students in Vienna recently prepared a meal to share with Iranian guests to learn more about their culture and stories.

This semester Cate Zenzen, a sophomore corporate marketing major at Lipscomb University, is participating in the global learning program in Vienna, Austria. The Vienna group is comprised of students from Lipscomb University, Oklahoma Christian University and Rochester College. This is Part 3 of Zenzen’s blog series to share the group’s experiences this semester. These blog posts are reflections on various events and travel experiences the Vienna students have had over the last few weeks. 

This semester we have been blessed to learn about and explore many European countries. But we have also been confined to Europe, happy with our travels but aware of the many places that seem so far removed from our western experience. 

On the evening of April 9, our entire group prepared a meal to share with Iranian guests who were introduced to us by Will and Holly Kooi, alumni of Oklahoma Christian University and missionaries in Vienna. Their ministry has attracted many Iranians to become members of their Viennese house church. 

These Iranians have gained or are still waiting for asylum in Vienna after leaving the restrictions and corruption of an Islamic government. It was a convergence of culture as our guests bravely shared their escape stories and the horrors they experienced along the way. 

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Students in the Vienna global learning program invited special guests to join them for a meal.

Yet despite the awful things they lived through, both in Iran and Europe, most of our new friends were Christians. In Iran it is incredibly dangerous to practice a religion other than Islam and Christians are forced to meet in private for fear of being killed. Most of us grew up in public churches that spoke openly about faith, so this secrecy was a difficult thing to imagine. Their love for Jesus despite the risk was incredibly inspiring, and a clear demonstration of the power of the Gospel. 

The differences between our parties were obvious — translation was required and our prepared meal — baked potato bar — was certainly an unconventional dinner for them. But it was wonderful to be united in our love for God and to learn more about Him through the experiences of our guests. 

The timing of this event was perfect. That morning the topic in our cross cultural class was migration in Austria. A Kurdish woman who had escaped from Syria spoke to our class about her experience. Her journey involved a smuggling boat to Greece, an inhumane European refugee camp, and a heavily overpriced but long-awaited plane ticket to Vienna — an eight-month-long process. This starkly contrasts with the international travel we have done as students. 

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Students in Vienna practiced hospitality by preparing a meal for those in the community.

Many of us had very limited knowledge of the conflicts and intense danger in Iran and Syria. To hear the stories of these brave people and see the pain in their eyes was such a humbling experience. We have seen some incredible things this semester, but this world is not entirely about the beautiful architecture or the food we have tasted. It is not about the breathtaking landscapes and artful masterpieces displayed in museums. It is about people, their emotions, hopes, dreams, fears, and love that shine through their testimonies and shape reality. 

God has blessed us all by guiding these peace-seekers to safety and to a place where they can openly share their faith and hope in the love of Jesus Christ. 

Learn more about Lipscomb University's Global Learning Program