The Bible Study: a safe haven for women in Vienna
Barbara Wiedner, Mary Ellen Pollack and Lizzie Haszczyn
Editor’s note. Entrust was born in Vienna. Entrust women have been instrumental in guiding an international women’s Bible study in that city since the 1980s. The study continues strong today with Entrust’s Sandy Shaffer as one of its leaders.
It’s called exactly what it is. The Bible Study. It’s an interdenominational, international and inclusive group of ladies who live in or near Vienna, Austria, and who have some connection with the American Women’s Association, although we are definitely not all Americans. We are women of all ages and in different seasons of our lives. We thrive on our diversity and our group’s informal friendly style. We enjoy welcoming newcomers who are always a precious addition to our group. They help us grow, as we learn from their insights and experiences. Each member enriches the group.
We have a core group of ladies who have made Vienna their home. Our membership fluctuates due to people frequently moving in and out of Vienna for various reasons.
The Bible Study is a safe haven and provides an anchor, especially for those who are from other cultures or those who have lived overseas and wish to remain involved with an international community. Some of our ladies are quiet and reflective, others are purposeful, energetic, questioning, curious.
As a group we celebrate and share in the joys of other members. We support each other during periods of grief and sadness, challenges and hard times. We celebrate birthdays and holidays. We pray for each other.
Different leaders employ different styles of teaching, but all are based on the Bible and biblical teachings relevant for us as women living in the 21st century. For instance, Sandy Shaffer took us through a reflective study called Craving Grace by Ruth Delk, which helped us deal with pandemic-related challenges. After that, we did a study of Philippians, which was just perfect in terms of helping us cope with COVID.
We have a Japanese lady who composes music and sets the Psalms to music, along with women from Greece, Nigeria, Italy, Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines, several Brits and Americans and a Belgian woman who joins us via Zoom from The Netherlands.
We saw the importance of this group during the pandemic as we continued to meet via Zoom with very consistent attendance and support for all members. In fact, two new members joined our Zoom meetings and we look forward to the time when we can meet again in person and enjoy the study, fellowship, cakes and snacks together.
Women join the group for many reasons: fellowship, the desire for community, to learn more, to encourage others, out of curiosity, searching for meaning/to make sense of life, to combat feelings of loneliness, devoting time to develop a relationship with God.
An important factor contributing to the long-term success of the Bible Study has been the deeply committed, experienced, knowledgeable and effective leaders. When Sandy Shaffer took on the leadership role, she knew she was walking in the footsteps of wonderful godly women.
We would like to tell you how this group has impacted each of us.
What I like about this group is that you are free to come, and they always take you in. They let me participate for the past 27 years on and off. Its leaders have provided a rich table of food for thought. When I first joined, I was desperately craving emotional support in a non-judgmental setting. Moving back home to my native Austria after living in different cultures abroad had proved traumatic for me in many ways. At my previous home in England, I had been invited to a Bible study group consisting of women from different countries in South America. I missed the warmth and companionship of these beautiful, compassionate ladies more than I could say. AWA was a true godsend when I was graciously invited to the regular Bible Study in Vienna. This gave me a foothold to continue on my spiritual journey.
Shortly after moving to Vienna with my Austrian husband in 2000, I was invited to join the Bible Study. This was the connection to the international community and a purposeful study that I needed. From that time until today I have developed deep long-lasting friendships, a more meaningful understanding of the Bible and of how to apply the teachings to my life.
I would probably be classed as one of the newbies of this wonderful group. I was introduced to Sandy soon after my arrival in Vienna in 2017. Having experienced women's Bible study groups in Hungary and Slovakia, I knew how valuable they were during my time living overseas. My first recollection of joining this Bible Study is how warm, friendly and welcoming everyone was. I immediately felt at home and although joining a new group can be daunting, that was not my experience at all. Sandy has continued to encourage and expand my knowledge of the Bible using different texts and guides. The women are all loving and thoughtful and really want to learn from each other. The diversity and love in our group is apparent and the fun and laughter makes this group quite unique. I think being part of this group has highlighted to me the reason why the Bible Study is one of the longest running groups for women in the history of AWA.