Visiting two schools and teaching three English lessons during a week-long Easter visit to the Czech Republic may sound like a busman’s holiday for someone who teaches for a living. But it was not really the case.
I had opportunity to tell over seventy children about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that without speaking a word of Czech! There are opportunities for witness in this country, even for monolingual Englishmen.
My visit, with my family, was at the invitation of Zdenek Karasek, a native Czech and former student at the London Reformed Baptist Seminary. He and his English wife, Nicola, are seeking to plant a Reformed church in his home town of Liberec, in Bohemia.
Liberec is in the northern part of the Czech Republic. Not only is there no Reformed witness in that town, but the Czech Republic is largely ignorant of the doctrines of grace.
Liberec, a university city of over 101,000 people, lies in a rugged area of mountains and woods. It was once a wealthy industrial city, but much of its former splendour has faded as a result of the Second World War, communist rule, and finally a heartless ‘Western-style’ capitalism.
Indeed, the area has been so buffeted by the winds of change that it has left a cynical and suspicious people, as hardened as the mountains around them. The weather was cold (we had snow) but the spiritual climate was even colder.
During our visit, the first tentative signs of spring were visible, but there was little evidence of new life in the souls of the people of Liberec. The seeds of the life-giving gospel have been sown, but have not yet taken firm root.
This Bible-based evangelistic work began less than a year ago. Zdenek returned to his home town with a burden for the people he grew up with. He had emigrated to Germany in 1982, disillusioned with the mendacious communist regime and dreaming of finding freedom of conscience in the West.
There, for the first time in his life, he met Christians. He gradually discovered that true liberty is not founded on democracy but on a relationship with the living Christ.
Zdenek had never planned to return home. He had settled well into life in Germany, where he married and had three small children. The Lord, however, called him to return to the town of his birth, to bring the life-giving gospel to his fellow countrymen.
Leaving his second home was not easy. In addition, just before he was to be sent out as a fully-supported missionary by his local church in Germany (a church which had been active in bringing Christian literature to the Czech Republic), Zdenek espoused the doctrines of grace.
This change in his understanding of the Scriptures estranged him from his Arminian church and from the many Christian friends with whom he had previously carried out evangelistic work.
The Lord has graciously sustained the Karasek family throughout this period of isolation. Only recently have they enjoyed the prayerful support and fellowship of a few like-minded churches in the UK.
Contact with UK reformed churches has proved a great blessing, but the work has still a long way to go. Much earnest prayer and more hands to serve the Lord’s cause in Bohemia are needed.
As elsewhere, many cults and sects in the Czech Republic propagate their false gospels with zeal and commitment. They are usually supported both financially and practically by groups in the West.
In Liberec there is also a large and influential charismatic church, which successfully markets a ‘bloodless gospel’.
Regular gospel meetings are held on the ground floor of the Karaseks’ home, and every effort is made to reach out to adults and children. At the time of writing, a small handful of as yet unconverted people gather each Lord’s day.
I preached twice on Easter Sunday, one service being translated into Czech, the other being for English-speaking visitors. The congregation was made up of our own two families and three or four near-neighbours.
There are posts available for English teachers at the University of Liberec. These jobs would provide ideal ‘tent-making’ opportunities for Christian teachers, who could befriend the many young Czechs studying English and invite them to the gospel meetings.
The need is great and the task is greater, but our God is greater still. As we left the chilly Czech Republic behind, we prayed that the Lord would bring spiritual life to this barren land and forward his work in Bohemia.