A Journey to the Czech
Republic, January 2004
look at her beautiful face but then she opens her mouth and I see
that she has an ugly soul...and no one can change her soul." His
navy blue conductor's hat in hand, Milan poked his head into our
train compartment then plopped eagerly into a vacant seat. He was
our ticket collector on our four hour train ride to Prague. Tim
had just asked him "So you're single! Would you ever want
to get married?" Milan was more than a cheery Czech practicing
his English. Milan was a divine exclamation point, ending our journey
with a flourish.
The Czech Republic is hardened soil. Less than one fifth of one
percent of the ten million sized population is an evangelical believer.
Located in the bull's-eye of central Europe the Czech Republic
is cradled by Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Poland. The Czech
people were fused to the Slovakians following the first world war,
then squirmed under the heel of communism for the 45 years following
the second, until they could finally fill their lungs with freedom...and
their bellies with materialism.
The nation has its share of Europe's grand cathedrals silhouetted
against the sky - stone mausoleums where the remains of a corrupt,
irrelevant institution are entombed. Ironically, these massive
structures which were erected to exclaim the permanency of God
and the church have become long lasting monuments to a dead faith.
stabbed his finger towards the window behind him in to the blackness
of night. "Over there are two churches with towering steeples." He
told us this story. "A pair a wealthy men decided to finance
and build a church but could not agree on where. One wanted it
built on one side of the street and the second on the other side.
The first went ahead and built his church. When it was finished
the second man build a church right across the street with a larger
steeple to eclipse and mock the first." Milan punctuated his
point to the story with a dismissive wave of his hand, "Silly,
silly!" This is the way the average Czech sees the church
- archaic, self-centered...and silly.
Czech Republic is the ultimate postmodern society where logical
defense of absolute truth was once the accepted norm but has now
given way to full blown relativism; pushing any proclamation of
theological and gospel facts into the drawer of the absurd. The
old colorless buildings and communist customs have given way to
strikingly bold hues painted on the sides of office complexes.
This land of Bohemia and Moravia has awakened to a new world.
Yet I could not let Milan's soul comment dissipate into the wintry
air. Having already identified ourselves as being connected to
a local church in the USA, I felt an instinctive twinge of shame
at the deserved reputation of the church in Czech. How tragic that
the only flame of hope in this dark land should have shown itself
to be a place of exploitation. "Milan," I gently challenged, "I
must disagree with you. There IS someone who can change the soul!
We have seen God transform angry, bitter, despairing individuals.
He has changed us. God alone can change the human soul."
Tim, Glenn, and I had journeyed to the Czech Republic in the
dead of winter on a quest to see if Grace Fellowship Church could
have a viable role in an effective church planting effort in this
land. We came with big questions and grave reservations. What could
a bible-belt congregation bring to the table to help reach such
a spiritually indifferent culture? More than that, our experience
thus far with global church planting had left us wondering how
it can be accomplished without creating western-financed and western-dependent
churches. A typical church planting model requires western church
planters to spearhead an evangelistic effort in a country, establish
a congregation, train national leadership, then transition out
of that church to start another. This is church planting by addition.
By God's grace, in our exploring other options we came across a
different model - church planting by multiplication. This approach
champions national church planters from the very start. The western
missionary takes on a facilitating role to equip, motivate, vision-cast,
and encourage that nation's "John Knoxers" to plant churches
which are themselves committed to planting churches. The goal is
to saturate that entire nation with viable local congregations.
this sounded great, but how does it work in reality? That is what
we came to find out. What we discovered was a healthy network -
small but growing - of Czechs who had caught the vision for reaching
their country. From what we saw, the emerging church in Czech is
being fueled by the movement of God's Spirit on the college campus
and amongst the young people. In their short experience with materialism
many are owning up to the fact that things don't satisfy. Milan
volunteered his own assessment of his generation as our train was
pulling up into Prague, "They keep buying things and more
things, but they are still hungry!"
A snowy-sleet was sticking to the sidewalks as our journey came
to an end. Milan's words gripped our hearts and imaginations -
for we distinctly heard that plea which stirred the heart of the
Apostle Paul, "Come over and help us." (Acts 16:9)
Grace Fellowship Church
Johnson City, TN