Work In Czechoslovakia
In December, my wife and I will return to preach in Czechoslovakia. We returned to America the last week in May of this year after having spent just over eight months there. As the time for our return draws close I would like to share some information concerning the work there and make some observations about the work.
At the time of this writing 13 Czechs have been baptized. Studies continue with numerous others. A number of the current contacts have been made as a result of the Czech Christians' interest in helping spread the Word. While this proper and natural manifestation of growth was anticipated, it is still quite heartwarming.
There were some aspects of the work that were quite surprising. One unpleasant surprise was the proliferation of denominational and cultic influence. Charismatic and ecumenical ideology is very wide-spread. I truly believe that I spent more time discussing the work of the Holy Spirit than evidences or Catholicism. Also, the Mormons, Adventist, and Jehovah's Witnesses are well organized and typically evangelistic. Institutional churches are involved in some efforts there, but to this point have not been particularly effective, especially in Bohemia and Moravia.
The intelligence and study habits of the Czechs were a more pleasant surprise. They are surprisingly well read in many areas, including philosophy. In an early study with a young man who has since been converted I was asked to compare and contrast the Genesis flood account with the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Akkadian flood legend. The studies are often quite lengthy because of their enthusiasm. Many ore also willing to do a great deal of reading between studies. On one occasion, after having asked a young man to read several chapters in Matthew, he replied that he would probably read the entire book. Also, they are critical listeners, ready to challenge what is presented. In addition to manifesting the attitude of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) it makes them less susceptible to the inevitable false teachers.
Since our return I have been contacted by a number of people who are interested in the work and want my thoughts on the best way they could be involved. Now I would like to put in print some of the things I have articulated in the discussions. I do not claim to have all of the answers. Some of the conclusions that I have reached have resulted from mistakes I have made or helped make. I also hasten to acknowledge that these observations are matters of judgment. Also, I am presupposing an interest in only scriptural I commend the interest that many are expressing financially, with words of encouragement and prayer, or in actually planning to go. I hope this interest will be an enduring one. The part of the world under consideration has a population of around 400 million people, many years of work and many laborers are needed. To this end, I offer the following thoughts.
In Czechoslovakia the work is in the process of "spreading out." Some of the people who have been baptized in Prague are actually from other cities in Bohemia and Moravia. Work needs to be done with these people in their home towns. Mike Morrow who has recently returned from several months there is planning to return in January to do this. Anyone interested in helping Mike in this work can contact him through me. Also, anyone planning to go to Czechoslovakia should at least consider locating in one of these areas.
The type and length of trip that will be profitable has also been an area of interest to many. I would like to preface my thoughts on this with a couple of comments. First, as suggested earlier, this is essentially a matter of judgment. Also, theoretically, any trip can be of some value. With this background accepted, I offer the following
In most cases, trips of a couple of months or less will be of limited value. I am led to this conclusion by a combination of considerations. The culture shock is drastic enough that is takes some time to adjust sufficiently to truly communicate with the indigenous population, even those who speak English with some proficiency. Obviously this time factor lessens the effectiveness of a very short trip. Also, while as a whole the people are open and receptive, conversion has been a protracted process. Few have been taught in less than three or four months. So the question becomes who will "follow up" with these folks and when will it occur? We went to Prague initially in part because we thought that we had a pool of contacts waiting to be worked with. These contacts were made during a short trip made earlier in the year. However, we were able to develop studies with only a couple of these people and neither was converted.
What about a broad distribution of Bibles and materials? Of course there is value in placing the Truth in the hands of people who have not had previous access to it. However, the tangible results have been very limited. Early in our work in Prague we tried this type of approach. Even with us living there and giving a local address we did not receive even one response from anyone we met during a general distribution of literature. Our success came from more personal contact with the people.
Previously, I stated that this described "most cases." What would cause the exception? One circumstance that creates a different situation is a person having prior contact with people in a specific area. If a person goes into an area like this and stays working with these people it may well be profitable. It helps to solve both the communication problem and the problem of spending too much time traveling. Also, I believe that it may be worthwhile for a person planning to move to Eastern Europe to go first to help them make good decisions.
Questions have also arisen concerning the value of trips that involve staying only a few months. I would preface my thoughts by acknowledging that ideally, capable men would determine to go to these places for a number of years to work. Having acknowledged the axiomatic, what is the value of a shorter stay? I offer two lines of reasoning to vindicate the legitimacy of this approach. The first is that the problems I suggested previously concerning short visits can be reasonably handled in a stay of a number of months. Also, the work that has been done thus far has been accomplish ed with workers staying a year or less, with the notable exception of the Young's who have been there just over a year. Most of the doubts about the value of a stay of a year or less come from trying to apply basically valid generalizations about work in Europe to the central and eastern countries. The difference in the situations encountered in the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands and those encountered in the formerly communist countries are too basic for the generalizations to legitimately apply. The people in Czech Romania, etc. have been denied access to the Truth. Western Europe has not. Establishing credibility is a problem for gospel preachers in many foreign works. However, in the Central and Eastern countries it is not. To this and other comments about short stays I would add that it is easier to be critical of others' judgment from a comfortable house with no plans to go.
So what is needed in reaching these peoples? Christians who are willing to sacrifice and go, men and women who will do the work and be supportive of one another, people who are willing and capable of adapting to the culture of the country and respecting and loving the people, churches and individuals are needed that will sacrifice to send and support these people are the answer. (Surely some of the work on the building will wait.) All Christians are needed to offer the prayers and words of encouragement necessary to spread the gospel to this part of the world.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 23, pp. 717-718