By Sarah Sovitzky
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, has five hundred church spires, and yet this little eastern European country has one of the highest atheism rates in Europe. Czechs extravagantly care for their loved ones’ graves, but they don’t believe in the One who rose from the grave to give Eternal Life. They believe Baby Jesus brings gifts on Christmas Eve, but don’t believe in the gifts of Word and Sacrament. Most hearts in Prague are hardened toward God, including mine.
Before I left the United States, I attended the same church for nineteen years. As our family grew, so did my involvement at church. I taught Sunday School and VBS, baked for coffee hour, attended meetings, and planned events for youth. Over time, serving my church family became a burden. I felt that I was doing more than my fair share. I taught and cooked all week for my large family; I didn’t want to during my free time. I began to like the idea that in Prague, I would be at a new congregation, with no expectations regarding my involvement. I wouldn’t be responsible for anything except sitting in the pew each week. Unknowingly, my heart hardened, just like God’s people in the Old Testament stories I begrudgingly taught, and just like the people I was going to live among in a new country.
Guess what? Within weeks of moving to Prague, I found myself in charge of Sunday School, coffee hour, VBS, and the Christmas program.
Our church is part of the Eurasian mission field, without the boxes full of decades-old Sunday School materials that are common in the U.S. Thankfully, I had packed my deluxe felt board set of 175 bible stories. I was going to donate it to a needy congregation, only to find that we were the needy congregation. While waiting several months for the CPH order to arrive (due to shipping costs and the difficulty getting packages from the post office, we order when someone visits the US), the felt board and the Seeds of Faith podcast were all I had. Even though this was worse than the burden I wanted to escape, as I listened and took notes, an amazing thing happened: I learned new and wonderful things about the boring old stories I thought I knew everything about. I became excited to share what I learned with the children, and looked forward to preparing for each Sunday.
We gather around coffee and treats after service, like most congregations in the States. The difference is that our members and guests come from all over the world. For some, our coffee hour is the only time during the week they are with other English speakers. People relax, not having to struggle with language and cultural differences. A party atmosphere fills the room, fueled by caffeine and sugar. The burden of weekly baking lifted when I saw how much people appreciated my pan of brownies. Food brings people together.
I still was irritated about VBS, though. Last summer was unusually hot in Europe and we couldn’t find fans, my mother was visiting, I had recently gotten out of the hospital, and the student materials with craft kits didn’t arrive. My attitude was terrible; I just wanted to get through the week and on to vacation. After a frustrating day, a father stopped me before leaving. “I want to tell you how thankful our family is that you are doing this. My girls’ faith life has changed since you came.” I was speechless – with shame. I found my copy of Spirituality of the Cross by Gene Edward Veith, and turned to the chapter on vocation.
Vocation is fulfilling the needs of others through the work God gives you to do. God gives each person a skill set, and then puts him in a situation to use it. He provides the care we need through other people. I can teach, organize, and enjoy being with children. I was put in a situation where those talents and my experience were needed for the good of my faith community. Instead of cheerfully serving and letting God work through me to show His love, I listened to Satan telling me my work was worthless, and I should quit.
It’s comforting to know God’s work is always accomplished, even when done by a poor, miserable sinner who is unenthusiastic and obstinate. I listened to a podcast by Pastor David Petersen about the parable of the sheep and goats. On the last day, all of us will be surprised because we did more good works than we knew, and the works did more good than we realized. I learned even with impure hearts, our good works are accepted in love for the sake of Christ. He makes them good. My new understanding freed me from the guilt I felt.
By God’s grace, I was able to look forward to leading our tiny Christmas program. Our mission congregation, St. Michael’s in Prague, was built in the 1300s. The church has weathered wars, plagues, floods, Nazi occupation, a communist regime, and now, atheism. God continually cared for His people in smallest detail, calling pastors and lay people for centuries to do His work while it is still day, before night comes and no one can work. He even sends someone to make the Bundt cake.
Sarah lives in Prague, Czech Republic with her husband, the Business Manager for the Eurasia Region of the LCMS, and their eight children. Like Bilbo Baggins, she invites: "If ever you are passing my way, don't wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time."