Evangelizing Europe might seem like an overwhelming task.
Especially for someone like Pastor Rod Wicklund of Living Waters Christian Fellowship in Ellsworth, who readily admits his Scandinavian heritage doesn't help him be receptive to meeting new people. And there were much bigger challenges to overcome when Wicklund and his wife Linda traveled to Switzerland as part of the Vision Europe program this summer.
But overcoming all of the obstacles has paid off, the pastor said Thursday.
"I've gotten e-mails back from the people we met," he said, indicating many thanked them for coming and helping them get to know the Lord. "We've been changed forever," he said he was told.
The effort involving the Wicklunds was revived this month, as people from overseas visited this region during "Invasion America," another aspect of the program (which describes itself as "comprised of believers with 'Great Hearts' seeking out and serving together with other believers to present Christ to their world!") Though the Twin Cities area was one host for that aspect's visitors, the pastor and others got together with a group who came to Iowa.
"We did outreach work on the streets of Des Moines," he said, finding students on a college campus there particularly receptive to their message.
Wicklund said preparations for Switzerland actually started with a preliminary trip to Europe before summer. He and an American group met with 29 churches about the program and its plans.
"All of them told us to stay home," he said, blaming high anti-American sentiments overseas. The evangelists had tried to accomplish their purpose through public meetings and it wasn't working, Wicklund said. Those negative sentiments were too strong.
"We had to earn their trust," he said. "We had to do it one-on-one."
So when the pastor and his wife went to Switzerland June 21-July 1, it was arranged for them to stay with families, not in motels, he said. Living with the people (many spoke high or low German and Italian), they dealt with their issues, such as water being at a premium, creating the need to curtail showers, for example, and relying on bicycles for transportation or walking, a common practice, for instance. They joined their host families on outreaches.
The couple had accompanied a group also including members from Lake Elmo, Minn., Anoka, Minn., Minneapolis and Menomonie on the journey, he said. They went to Atlanta, meeting up with similar groups from churches in Iowa and Erie, Pa. Then, it was on to Zurich.
For Wicklund personally, the trip represented his seventh visit to Switzerland, he said. Earlier excursions were made as opportunities for prayer and establishing relationships. On one occasion, he met with pastors from Tochine, the native home to former Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi.
It was these experiences that laid the foundation for his relationship with Pastor Thomas Lohnke, a minister in Longenthal (about an hour from Zurich) who would later be the European Coordinator for Invasion America, Wicklund said. Also through them, he learned about a pastor who opened his church to gang members in that neighborhood, resulting in many of them becoming saved and many drug dealers who used them losing that outlet.
Read more in the print version of the Herald Oct. 29.