God used the lockdown to confirm to Rachel the value of music and the arts in ministry.
The first weeks of the coronavirus lockdown in Austria left Rachel Olney feeling drained of life after she filled her days with online Bible studies, online German teaching and recording music for church services.
Before the coronavirus, Rachel had planned an Easter outreach event featuring performances of the Easter story involving musicians, dancers and actors coming from various countries. “Alongside this, we hoped to train the partnering churches on how to read Mark’s Gospel one-on-one with their friends. We also had a church event called ‘Home’ planned for June, which would have included visual arts, dancing and music, all exploring where our true home is,” she described. When the country went into lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus, all her plans fell through. Despite technology allowing her to continue ministry, Rachel began to struggle.
“God has given me three main passions of evangelism, languages and music,” Rachel explained. “I love it when I have the opportunity to combine these three things.” After attending Bible college in London, she joined OM in August 2012 to do arts ministry in Austria.
“My role focuses on two main areas of ministry,” Rachel explained. “The first is evangelism and discipleship with musicians, artists and arts students. I do regular Bible studies for those involved in the arts, both in small groups and one-on-one. The second area is evangelism through the arts, including many one-off events.” She has also been involved in organizing many outreach concerts and events, including in elderly care homes, shelters for homeless people and other places. “We did one concert in a fitness studio,” shares Rachel. “Afterwards, the manager, who is a lady from our church with a passion for evangelism, had 22 people to follow up with!”
Currently, two trainees are working with Rachel, fulfilling one of her other passions. “I enjoy investing in them with Bible studies, and reading books about arts, faith and mission, as well as doing outreaches together,” she says.
Before the lockdown, Rachel had been asking God many questions about what the focus of her future ministry should be. She had been questioning the value of music and her spending energy on it and on musicians. When lockdown came, she found herself not playing any music, apart from recordings for church services. However, feeling inspired by the uplifting music available in various online services led her to begin playing the piano more for herself. “This made me feel more human, and I realized afresh that music is a gift from God. I have also noticed anew how God touches other people through music,” she says. For Rachel, lockdown confirmed the value of music.
When the lockdown restrictions in Austria were partly eased, with people allowed to meet, provided they abide by the social distancing rules and wear masks in enclosed spaces. Following this loosening of restrictions, Rachel and her two trainees visited a local park to perform music and dance. “We had really positive feedback, including one lady commenting, ‘These are moments when you think life is worth living,’ and I was able to get into deeper conversation with her,” Rachel remembers.
When lockdown restrictions are lifted further, Rachel hopes to get back to doing other outreaches and ongoing ministry. “It will be great to begin doing Bible studies in person again,” says Rachel. “I’m hoping that we can reschedule the ‘Home’ event, and I have more people interested in joining me as trainees!”
Rachel’s vision is to use music and dance as a catalyst for evangelism and to support church planting initiatives. “One dream is to go to the surrounding villages of a particular church plant in northern Austria to play music, speak about Jesus and invite people to events at the church,” she shares. “I have a heart for the arts, and I believe music is a non-threatening way to give people glimpses of God’s beauty and love!”