Praying into God's promise

The OM team near Vienna, Austria, has been a powerhouse for publishing Christian literature since its early days when workers smuggled Bibles across the Iron Curtain. But it hasn’t always been well-staffed. “We often had shortages of people,” said Hanna Keller, from Switzerland, who joined the team with her husband, Edwin, in 1991. “I remember in every newsletter I had to write: ‘We are short of this; we are short of that; we need people here.’ It got so tiring just to write about it.”

In 2007, lacking several key positions, the team decided to pray and fast for one week. Amongst other impending vacancies, they needed a bookkeeper to track the money flowing through the ministry focused on producing and selling literature. “Within the week, God answered me with Scripture,” Hanna recalled. The record of the Church collecting money for Jerusalem in 2 Corinthians 8:3-4 “just sprung out to me, and I knew this is God’s answer,” she said. “He is going to bring people to our team entirely on their own. …It was like God was saying: ‘Relax, I’m going to send people to you, people who will see it as a privilege to be on the team because they have given their lives to God and then given their lives to our particular work.’”

Hanna shared her insight with the team, but it wasn’t well received. “People didn’t believe that God meant this literally … and all I could say is: ‘I just know He spoke to me,’” she said. At first, she kept bringing it up at subsequent meetings and praying into the verse “but it grieved me that it didn’t resound with the people,” she remembered. So she began a personal journey of trusting God and quietly praying for fulfilment of the promise He’d given her.

Trust to the breaking point

Eventually, the need for a new bookkeeper reached a critical point. “We knew if we didn’t have a bookkeeper, we basically had to pack up,” Hanna shared. By that time, Edwin was leading the ministry and had been challenged to trust God “to the breaking point,” Hanna described. “He said: ‘I’m not going to recruit for a bookkeeper,’ and all the people were just shaking their heads… He said: ‘I’m not going to recruit, I’m going to believe the promise God gave to my wife, He’s going to do it.’”

Encouraged by her husband’s decision, Hanna herself was standing on another verse—Jeremiah 1:12 “where the Lord says: ‘I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled’ (NIV). That gave me great confidence,” she said. “I have learnt that it’s very powerful to pray the Word of God.”

In seven years of praying for personnel, Hanna saw a few new people added to the team, but the ministry remained understaffed. Then, in 2014, a graphic artist from the US discovered the team on the internet and “just fell in love with the work,” Hanna described. That designer still works with the team today. In August that same year, a retired bookkeeper from Finland “appeared by himself and wanted to serve the team,” Hanna shared. “He’s still our bookkeeper.”

Over the next few years, additional team members began to join—people whom nobody had recruited but who had independently discovered the opportunity to serve in Austria with the skills God had given them. When Edwin reached the end of his second four-year term of leadership, he and Hanna sensed God calling them to a sabbatical year. Within eight months of launching the search committee, he handed the team over to a capable replacement: David Fry. “He comes from the media and is a very capable, intelligent and wise man who comes with a wealth of experiences. Again, he was looking for a new challenge, and it was just such a perfect, perfect fit,” Hanna shared.

On sabbatical since 1 January 2020, Hanna has continued to ask God to send more people to serve. “One day, one of the leaders wrote me and said: ‘Hanna, we see the fulfilment of what God said to you.’ …We get almost run over by people who want to work with us,” she said. Nine team members participated in the August 2020 bi-annual conference for new OM workers, the most the team had welcomed in one intake for a long time.

Recently, someone from the team apologised to Hanna for not believing what God had told her. “For me, that’s OK. I have no hard feelings toward anyone,” Hanna explained. “I had enough to do with my own heart to stay true to what God had given me and to be faithful… and God grew my faith and my trust, especially in the time I had to stand alone.”

Lives on the altar

During their sabbatical year, Hanna and Edwin are using the time to build a deeper relationship with God as they figure out the next steps He has prepared for them. “We’ve put our lives on the altar and said: ‘Here we are. We want to serve wherever You need us to be,’ and that desire has grown stronger in this year,” Hanna affirmed.

Hanna grew up on the mission field in Southeast Asia and saw her parents’ dedication to serving God, so it was easy for her to pursue missions. Though she’d been baptised as a baby and given her life to Jesus at age seven, Hanna said the biggest spiritual struggle came when she was 22. “God was really wrestling with me and asking: ‘Can I have you completely? Are you going to be Mine completely?’” she said. When she surrendered her whole life to God, she chose to get baptised again “because I felt that I came through this process of laying my life on the altar and saying: ‘I’m Yours completely.’”

Still, when Edwin, a trained mechanic, and Hanna, a trained nurse, looked for opportunities to serve in missions, they couldn’t find a good fit. “We had interviews with different missions organisations, and it was just weird; they wanted to put us through their mould. ‘You have to do this before you can serve.’ It was not us,” Hanna explained. Frustrated, they told God: “If You want us in mission, You have to bring [the organisation] to us.” That same week, a letter arrived from the OM team in Austria, saying: “We believe you’re the right people for us.”

Surprised by the location, the couple nonetheless recognised God’s clear calling. Over time, their roles with the team evolved, from mechanics to leadership and from font development to people care. “We are such a work in progress, and God always continues to show us deeper levels of things, and He wants to expand our faith and our trust,” Hanna explained.

Believers often bring their own ideas into prayer, she said: “We want things to happen the way we think they should happen.” But she has learnt that the prayer Jesus taught His disciples—‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’—”is extremely powerful … to align my view of things to the will of God.”

“We have to surrender even to His timeframe. He gave me that word [about new team members] in 2007. That’s seven years of trying to be faithful to what He has given, even though there were only dim signs of fulfilment because we still had personnel needs. Now it’s 13 years later, and God is multiplying the fulfilment. Sometimes we too easily throw the towel and say God hasn’t answered my prayers. If He gave a word, He is going to fulfil it, but I have to submit the how and when—that’s His business.”

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