Serving with Swiss precision
ZURICH — Felix Manz died here in a watery grave. He…
VADUZ, Liechtenstein — “Does anyone want their passport stamped?”
I quickly raised my hand. How cool! Passport stamps are hard to come by these days in the mostly borderless European Union — especially in the 26 countries called the Schengen Area.
So I and a handful of fellow tourists hopped off the bus and followed our guide — past city hall and into a gift shop. Three Swiss francs later, I had a stamp bearing the words “Tourist Office, Fürstentum (Principality) Liechtenstein.”
In 21 years with The Christian Chronicle, I’ve been blessed to visit more than 80 countries. This was the first time I’d ever stood in an “immigration” line behind people buying T-shirts.
Admittedly, my little jaunt to this tiny principality was an indulgence. I had a spare day between preaching for a Church of Christ in Zurich and catching a flight to my next destination, Tanzania. It was hard to resist the chance to cross an international border and visit Liechtenstein — 15 miles tall and five miles wide, landlocked between equally landlocked Switzerland and Austria, and home to fewer than 39,000 people.
It has more corporations than citizens due to its status as a tax haven. Switzerland has accidentally invaded it multiple times — mostly as a result of Swiss soldiers taking a wrong turn in the Alps.
It’s probably the last vestige of the Holy Roman Empire (which wasn’t really holy, Roman nor an empire) and was named after Anton Florian of Liechtenstein — whose family evidently didn’t even set foot in the principality for more than 100 years after they were given control of it.
I’m glad I set foot in it. Vaduz, the capital, is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains. The prince’s majestic castle overlooks a pedestrian street where shops sell gelato, cappuccino and lots of stuff with “Liechtenstein” on it. Plus, they stamp passports.
As beautiful as Liechtenstein is, I found greater beauty on the lower level of a nondescript office building in Zurich — the meeting place of the Gemeinde Christi (Church of Christ).
One of the members, Anina Good, called Switzerland “the nicest country in the world — and probably the most expensive!” But what I loved about the place was the simple, family things. I went hiking with Anina and her husband, Daniel. One of the elders, Chris Simeon, and his wife, Marianne, fed me a wonderful pasta dinner. Evangelist Olivier Cuendet hosted me for three nights and, a week later, let me rest at his apartment during a long layover as I headed home from Tanzania.
Related: Serving with Swiss precision
During my sermon I shared pictures and stories of the Ukrainian Christians I’ve encountered, many of them now scattered across Europe. Two ladies in the back started pointing and taking pictures of my PowerPoint slides. They were Ukrainians, Lena and Tamara. I learned about how the Zurich church had helped them.
I asked them about their feelings toward Russian Christians — a subject I wrote about last month. Tamara, who has gotten used to speaking German in recent months, suddenly had to switch to English to answer.
They want justice, she said, but they understand that, ultimately, what’s happening in their country is the work of the devil — not Russians, not Vladimir Putin. With Ukraine so prominent in the news these days, “we are very aware that others see what we do,” Tamara said. “The Bible says this world is not our house. In this situation, we tell about God.”
Related: ‘Does God love Russians?’
That’s what the Zurich church is doing — through its Bible studies and its kindness, its hospitality. I saw the DNA of my friends Clyde and Gwen Antwine, who worked as missionaries in Zurich more than 60 years ago. On Sunday afternoon I excitedly called my wife. “It’s like a whole church of Clydes and Gwens!” I told her.
Stamping passports for eternity — that’s the business I should be about, like Clyde, Gwen and my Swiss brothers and sisters.
And I shouldn’t put it off.
How many members of the Liechtenstein family missed their chance to see the land they’d been given, their beautiful inheritance?
ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.
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