It was Saturday afternoon, so there was nobody else around the small, square, gray Baptist church – so incongruous from the soaring double-spired cathedral down the street – in Vysoke Myto, Czech Republic. Its pastor, my friend Zdenek, and I had just finished loading our team’s luggage into the church (a relief after three days of travel). It was 2013; we were preparing for an English camp the upcoming week.
In the quiet afternoon heat, Zdenek locked up the church, then paused and reached out with his foot to brush away cobwebs from the corners of the front steps.
It was all too symbolic.
The Czech Republic is what the United States could become in a few decades on its present course – spiritually dead. Don’t let the cathedrals fool you; despite a spiritual heritage arguably stronger than America’s, the Czechs now trust mostly to atheism. Less than 1% of its population profess Jesus Christ. Unlike impoverished, spiritually attuned nations in Asia or Africa, the Czech Republic is amongst the toughest spiritual soil on earth – rational, material, and self-determined.
If you knew what decades of Soviet occupation can do to a country, you know the stories are heartrending. Pastors hired by the state to spy on their congregations. Believers placed in jail. One story my friend Zdenek often tells involves Soviet thugs rigging a pulley to a cross in a church’s sanctuary, making it appear to float miraculously during a service, and then “discovering” the pulley and accusing the pastor of rigging the miracle to draw people to his church. Needless to say, the church did not prosper.
Prior to that, there were centuries’ worth of mis-administration by the Roman Catholic church that still sour people’s view of religion across Europe. With all of this comes the questions of “why” – why would a loving God allow such suffering, or even such total control of one group of men over another. We can all relate.
And so the Czechs reject him. As is the case in some “progressive” American cities and university campuses, faith in Christ is regarded with a raised eyebrow in that nation, akin to putting one’s faith in Santa Claus. Ostracism can result. It’s a sign of huge progress that our Czech friends even stay in the room when spiritual matters come up. Capitalism, ironically, has bolstered their sense that they’re doing fine on their own. The country is part of the free world, democratically ruled, and fairly comfortable, if requiring of a bit of frugality.
With so many rulership changes in the last century – Nazis, Communists, material prosperity – it’s not hard to understand why the Czechs are fed up with faith. They are used to being doormats. A metronome tower sways over the Vltava River in Prague in symbolism of their national identity: resignation to the inevitable back-and-forths of life.
Evangelism amongst Europeans is a slow-burn and highly private process. You don’t see tearful rallies. Because of several factors including the unique difficulty of the Czech language, the nation is somewhat of an island in Europe (it also uses its own currency), so there is relatively little spiritual infrastructure; the country still relies heavily on foreign missions. I know American missionaries who have labored there for twenty years with almost no fruit.
Yet there is hope. God’s Word never returns void.
One of the evangelism tools most favored by Czech believers is English camps. They invite their countrymen to learn English at these camps, using Americans (us!) as teachers, and in this relaxed atmosphere, they build friendships and share the Gospel with attendees.
Each year that our church sends a team to teach at these English camps, our relationship with that church and its network of as-yet-unbelieving contacts grow wider and stronger. Our Czech brothers have done a brilliant job of maintaining and deepening these friendships outside of the camps. Those connections have formed the backbone of numerous other initiatives, including at least one new church and the physical expansion of the one we partner with.
Stories are pouring in describing the younger generation accepting Christ. The older generation (those who lived under the Iron Curtain) are perhaps slower to open up, but thresholds are clearly being crossed each year – asking questions, obtaining Bibles, attending optional worship sessions, former campers driving out of their way to visit us for an evening even when they can’t attend the full camp that year. There have even been reports of physical healings. There is the sense that a great many dear friends of ours, piled up on the verge of faith, are close indeed to accepting Christ.
That is why I keep going back. I want to see God’s harvest when it hits.
Some friends of mine were skeptical that English camps are the most cost-effective method of evangelism. One visited the Czech himself recently; he came back convinced, after speaking with missionaries from multiple denominations (beyond just our own partner church), that “English camps are the way it’s done” in that country. English is highly sought as a skill in many nations for business purposes, and there are no better teachers than native American speakers (though the British make fine partners as well).
Other friends have expressed concern that mission funding should be reserved for third-world countries. I must respectfully disagree. Although citizens of undeveloped nations are certainly suffering in the physical realm, we know that God desires all men to be saved, and that he does not judge a man by his worldly state but by the state of his soul. Indeed, James says that the richer man actually has a lower position, and you could argue that living in a wealthier but spiritually dis-attuned nation indeed immunizes people to their spiritual need. In central Asian nations, you dig a well and people come to Christ (our church has a heartfelt ministry there as well). In the Czech Republic, the fruit takes longer to sprout.
Though our church partially supports us, each member is asked to raise part of the travel and camp attendance costs themselves.
This is why I am humbly inviting all the Christians I can reach to be part of this ministry (for that’s what you would be) through financial support.
I know – it seems wonky to ask strangers for money. I can’t quite believe I’m doing this – normally I feel pretty terrified asking my own family for help. But you have already blessed me by your kind words and companionship-in-blogging. I’ve actually been quite amazed at how supportive Christian WordPressers can be. I do consider you my friends. This is why I feel bold to ask. I have also been constantly encouraged by my church that I should never be ashamed to seek help in fulfilling the Great Commission, and that our God is certainly not one to be put in a box in regards to the possibilities!
At the bottom of this post is my GoFundMe link. There you can find details on how small your gift can be, and how you can verify that I’m not some scammer.
Will you prayerfully consider giving to this mission?
All donations received will go directly into the mission requirements; none will be used for personal purposes or to maintain this blog.
In the event that money is tight for you (which, haha, of course it is), I offer an alternative form of support: prayer. Actually, according to Oswald Chambers, it’s no alternative: “Prayer does not prepare us for the great work; prayer is the great work.” God seeks few things more than our determined, fervent prayer. I would certainly be grateful for it. Pray for the softening of the Czech hearts we are reaching; pray for the preparation work by our Czech partners; pray for the ongoing financial and logistic success of the trip. And, if you don’t mind me saying so – really pray. Set aside a little time. It’s ultimately for the lost that you’re praying.
Thanks for your consideration, and for your continued readership!