A letter arrived from eastern Slovakia inviting me to go to the town of Presov to preach the gospel. Whilst an avid student of atlases, I had never heard of Presov, nor was I familiar with that part of the world!
I felt drawn to accept the invitation, and Willis Metcalfe offered to come with me. On 21 March we left Manchester Airport for Kosice, flying via Vienna. At Kosice we were met by the pastor of an Evangelical church in Presov, who took us to the hotel where we stayed for the next ten days.
Presov is a university town with many fine buildings, especially churches. The large main square has numerous shops and a fine museum, with many exhibits from the troubled communist times.
In the square there is a Tesco store, a Roman Catholic seminary, a vast Orthodox church. There is also a large Roman Catholic church and, just a few feet away, a large Lutheran church. Sadly, ‘unity’ between Roman Catholics and some Lutherans was sealed by a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification on 31 October 1999 in Augsburg, Germany.
The streets of Presov were filled with pedestrians and trolley buses, but there were few cars. The monthly income for non-professional households is less than £30. Having said that, public transport seemed incredibly cheap. For example, we went to Bardejov, a town close to the Polish border and 45 km away, and the train fare was £1.27 return! However, that is not ‘cheap’ for the Slovakians.
In Bardejov we found a most attractive part of the old town, containing many beautiful and colourful buildings. Dominating its large square were, of course, Roman and Lutheran churches. We encountered a friendly man gardening in the Lutheran church forecourt. It appeared that his only English words were ‘Football’ and ‘Manchester United’!
Through our gesticulations he understood that we would like to see inside the Lutheran church, so he ran off to get the keys. Inside it was a beautiful, ornate meeting place. The first things he showed us were stained glass windows on either side of the ‘altar’, one featuring Martin Luther and the other Philip Melanchthon. We were saddened to see an ‘altar’ associated with such reformers.
We spent further time looking around the town, noting the numerous other church buildings and a former Jewish area. We learned that two or three thousand Jews had been rounded up and slaughtered there by the Nazis. The Town Hall also had a plaque on the wall bearing testimony to the Reformation.
Our newfound friend led us down narrow streets to another large church building in order to meet an English-speaking Slovak from Bratislava. This turned out to be the pastor of a Free Evangelical church. We were shown around his church. It was very plain — just like home! He read to us the text on the wall behind the pulpit — ‘We preach Christ Crucified’. He then took us into his well-stocked library, containing many books from Evangelical Press and Banner of Truth!
Slovakia is a country where 80% claim to be Catholic. The priest rules, especially in village areas. Well-filled seminaries, monasteries and nunneries abound. It is difficult to distinguish between Roman, Eastern Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches, because they vie with one another for the ‘grandeur’ of their buildings.
Furthermore, the ‘salvation’ they all offer is on the basis of works and not solely by grace through Christ alone. Indeed their ‘Calvary hills’ demonstrate their misplaced hopes. These are hills on which are set crucifixes and shrines, and up which ‘the faithful’ scramble on hands and knees, pausing to pray at the shrines as they go.
In Presov, I preached six times through an interpreter at the Evangelical church. The church is led by a 23-year-old pastor and the congregation has an average age of 20! My subjects included apostolic authority and its relevance today, the Lordship of Christ, sanctification, preaching, the Scriptures and the family, and the glory of God.
There was keen attention to the Word and the young listeners were full of questions. How I wished I could have answered them more fully, as they were put to me through the interpreter!
These believers live ‘where Satan’s seat is’. The forces around them expose them to persecutions of which we know nothing. But the church is active in evangelism. They seem to have the freedom to hold open-air meetings and they can gossip the gospel in the streets. The pastor is active in bringing the gospel to students in the university and has opportunity to speak to prisoners in the local prison.
As our stay in Slovakia drew to a close, the pastor took us to see the glorious beauty of the high Tatras mountains that border Poland. With snow standing metres high, we explored the wonders of God’s creation in that part of Slovakia.
Even amongst such beauty, the evidence of heathenism was apparent — ‘Calvary hills’ standing out as beacons of idolatry. Willis described the visit as ‘a journey into Acts 17’, and one could not agree with him more.
Let those in so-called Evangelical churches who are happy to fraternise with Rome, through local ecumenical connections, go to Slovakia and Eastern Europe and see what Rome is really like!
Rome has no gospel. A religion that urges the faithful to scramble up hills, to supplement the work of Christ on the one and only Calvary, offers nothing but hopelessness. I was grateful for the privilege of preaching Christ in a region beyond the travelling itinerary of many.