I can honestly say that I never thought I would visit the Czech Republic—never. Not because I have anything against the Czechs, but because they were behind the Iron Curtain for most of my life, and it is an very small country—smaller even than our small state of Arkansas. What would ever take me to an obscure place like that anyway? God would, and God did. (I never thought I’d go to Russia either and I’ve been there three times—again, at God’s bidding.)
Anyway, here’s the deal. A couple of years ago a missionary to the Czech Republic named Harold attended our church’s annual mission celebration. He and I talked a good bit. He was discouraged. He was hearing other missionaries at the celebration talking about the people who were coming to Christ and the churches that were being planted. And Harold had no such stories. The Czech Republic is not exactly primed and ready for a Christian revival. After enduring a long, bitter history of religious war and then forty years of atheistic communist domination that seemed like 400 years (the Czechs aren’t too fond of Russia), hearts have hardened to Christ and the church. Czech is one of the most irreligious countries in the world. Our Prague tour guide, Klara, told us that Czech is 60% atheist, 30% Catholic (most of whom never darken the door of their magnificent cathedrals), and 10% Protestant. Not exactly fertile soil for the gospel, huh?
I couldn’t help but think about the shoe company who sent two representatives to scope out the market in central Africa. One sent back his report, “Nobody here wears shoes so no need to send them. I’m coming home on the next flight.” The second representative sent home a different report: “Nobody here wears shoes. Send me all you got. I’m sure I can sell a boat load.” It would be easy to look at Czech and say, “What’s the use of sending missionaries or helping the local church? Nobody much here believes and they probably never will.” Thankfully, Harold, Ginger, and their kids take a different view: “Nobody much here believes. With God’s help, we think we can lead many to Christ.” And so they stick it out and plow away at the blade-dulling soil, believing that sooner or later seeds will go down and a harvest will come up.
So our church decided to help them. We like going to hard places. They wanted English teachers. Along with a very small Czech congregation in a neighboring city, Harold and the church (pastured by Vladia and Zdenek) are trying to plant a church in Hradec Karlove, a city of over 100,000 that has no evangelical church that we know of. And they believe English classes are the way to build relationships and find doors for sharing the gospel. Heck, everybody in our church can speak English (Arkansas English anyway), so were rounded up thirteen folks and went to the Czech Republic to lead English classes.
We didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t. The country is a beautiful place. I thought it would look like Russia (something of an arm pit in terms of color or beauty or pizzazz and you can’t even drink the water). But no, Czech is a beautiful place: well-maintained and colorful buildings, lovely gardens and rivers, good roads, modern water system. And best of all: wonderful people. Our team and those who came to the English classes warmed to one another quickly. We had all ages and we hit it off fabulously.
Most of the people who came to the English classes consider themselves unbelievers or atheists (which I discovered to the Czech mind is really more agnosticism than classic scientific atheism). We did what we came to do: teach English. But when asked why we came, we were quick to tell them that we are Christians, followers of Jesus, and that God loves them and that we serve God by serving them. Harold was afraid this might put off Czechs and cause them to drop out of the class, but it didn’t. In fact, many signed up for follow up English which uses Bible stories to teach the language. Yea, God!! So we’ll see what comes of that. And by the way, the Czechs and the missionaries want us to come back. We’ve already got to future dates to go.
Near the end of the English camp, a Czech veterinarian, George, an unbeliever, told our trip leader that he never liked Americans. He said that Americans are typically arrogant and think the world revolves around them. Who can argue with that? But then he added this, “After being around your team, I feel differently now.” You know, George wasn’t drawn to us because we’re good Americans; he was drawn to Christ in us, the hope of glory. By being salt in that spiritually parched land, we were helping George get thirsty for Christ. He doesn’t understand that yet, but that’s what’s going on. The “Hound of heaven” is on his heels. And I pray George and the other wonderful people it was our pleasure to serve will one day recognize God’s great love for them and their great need for God and find the life that is really life in Jesus.
So we went to Czech with love, some English lessons, and not much else. And we found that God had gone to Czech with love long before us and was already there doing His thing—preparing, wooing, loving Czech people toward a relationship with Him. I wouldn’t have said this before I went there myself, but you know what? I believe God is up to something big in the Czech Republic and I can’t wait to see it happen.