Passion and Purpose

Ten-year-old Daniel Dostrašil walked home from his French lesson at the local school in Tunisia, knowing he was being watched by neighbors who kept a record of his family's activities.  Daniel's father, an engineer, had been assigned to work in Tunisia for five years, and some of the family was allowed to live there with him.  The family members rotated in and out, because the Communist government in their home country, Czechoslovakia, suspected they would defect if the entire family were allowed to leave together.

Being watched by neighbors, co-workers and even friends who reported to the secret police was an ordinary experience, one the Dostrašil family endured as did millions of others who lived in Communist controlled eastern Europe at that time.   Daniel's parents were not members of the Communist party and even listened to Radio Free Europe, read forbidden literature, and taught Daniel and his sister what not to say to people.

When Daniel was fifteen, the Berlin wall crumbled, and the choke hold Communism had on Czechslovakia was broken.  That same year Daniel's father was killed in an automobile accident, bringing intense sorrow into Daniel's young life.  He had been very close to his father and used him as the role model for his own life.   His father's sudden death left him feeling alone and empty.  Daniel describes that time as one of searching for God, and finding Him one night while viewing the "Jesus Movie" at a local Moravian church.  He joyfully repeated the salvation prayer at the end of the film, and started following Jesus that day.  

Daniel was baptized soon after that experience, along with 107 other new converts to Christ.  The Charismatic Movement had swept into the Czech Republic, finding a welcome in the Moravian Church, a church indigenous to that country.   Started by Jan Hus in the early 15th century, predating the Protestant Reformation by a century, many consider the Moravians to be the first Protestant church in Europe.

In the new political freedom and spiritual excitement of the 1990s revival in the Czech Moravian churches, Daniel and the other new Christians thrived.  Miracles, prophecies, and healings fueled the fire and sometimes the movement threatened to overtake the established church structures and leadership.  It soon became apparent that training and mentoring were needed to meet the waves of new converts.  Even though Daniel "felt the call" to ministry, he was advised not to attend theological training, but go to a university instead.

Within a few years, Daniel had finished his university program and trained as a home cell group leader at his church.   During his first cell group meeting, he met Marcela, a graduate of the law school in Prague.  She was not interested in him at first, but he worked valiantly to win her heart and seven months later they were married.   Marcela is a judge who was appointed by the famed leader Vaclav Havel, but in recent years she has resigned her seat on the judicial bench to work with Daniel in their many church ministries. Today Daniel names her as his closest friend and his "secret weapon" in ministry.  Their four children work tirelessly with them in the church: Daniel calls them "our most loyal of helpers".

When Daniel was 25, his Moravian bishop called him and told him to "pack his suitcase", as he was being assigned to a church with an empty pulpit.  Startled by this news, he hesitated to accept, as he had never "preached" in church, just led small groups.  He had begun night Bible classes, but had no other training in ministry.  The bishop was adamant, convinced he had heard from the Lord on the topic.  What Daniel did not know until much later was that the pastor who had just resigned left a deeply divided congregation and a badly deteriorated church building.

Daniel and Marcela prayed about the assignment, accepted the call, and moved to the small town where the church was located, to learn "on the job" how to pastor.   The first few years were lonely lessons in how a church differs from a small home cell group and how to bring the message of Christ to a community that had no experience with church.

Ninety percent of the population in the Czech Republic is atheist, a result of many decades of the Communist government dismantling churches and forbidding Christian teaching except in the state controlled churches.  When the Communist Party took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, the churches were placed under state control. The state owned the buildings, decided who could be a pastor, paid pastors' salaries and had the final word over churches' activities.  Of course that has changed now, as the government agreed to return the seized church properties in 2012 to their original owners, the denominations.  But the stigma of organized religion lingers, especially in the minds of the older generation who were taught that Christianity was a lie.  

Daniel once told me that preaching the Gospel in the Czech Republic was difficult because the people are not just secular, they are actually anti-Christian.  Humanism and materialism have captured the hearts of the people.  So how to reach them for Jesus?  Daniel says, "Make them jealous… jealous of what God does for me, as the Father that He is to me."

In the early days of his ministry, Daniel slowly began to think of himself as a "pastor", but he knew that the traditional role of "pastor" had to be modified for a new Czech generation.  As his vision for evangelism and ministry to an unbelieving population grew, some church members disagreed with his ideas and left.  He says he was left with the "humble people", those interested in what they could do for the church, not what the church could do for them!

In describing his congregation, Daniel sees the people in "layers": the first layer of about 20 people are the core group who do much of the work of the church's many ministries.  A second layer is made up of about 100 people who attend services and support the church.  On top of it all is another layer of about 300 people in the community who sometimes attend services but frequently participate in the outreach programs such as summer camps.

The community outreach programs of Daniel's church are the driving force of their congregation.  Consider just a partial list here:

  • Kids' clubs at church and in the local schools

  • Summer camps for all ages, including mountain camps and English camps

  • Mothers' Center, for moms on maternity leave (Czech Republic allows up to four years leave)

  • Men's support groups

  • Marriage courses and retreats for community couples

  • Alpha Courses (in which people can ask wide ranging questions about Christianity)

  • Gypsy Ministry to the biggest ethnic minority in Czech Republic, but not "accepted" by many Czech people - the church reaches out to them with love

  • Coffee Bar, open every day with church volunteers who talk with visitors about Jesus

  • MacGyver Workshops with fathers and children

  • Bee Hives and Beekeeping - a successful fundraising effort for the church

  • Fast Food Stands near schools

  • Special holiday dinners such as Passover, open to all

  • Youth service projects with other churches in the area

And on and on the list goes!

I was privileged to sing in this community with our church choir when we visited the Czech Republic.  Daniel was able to secure the large, local Catholic church for our gospel music concert, something that had never been done before.   As a result of our visit and the new, friendly relationship with the Catholic priest and others, Daniel and his church sponsored a "round the clock" Bible reading in front of the Catholic church when the new modern language Czech translation of the Bible was released.  Even some town leaders participated, marking a new beginning of cooperation between the churches and the community.

For American readers, this does not seem so unusual, but for Czech it was remarkable.   In western Czech Republic the word "pastor" is not respected.  Daniel tells of a man actually spitting on the ground when he told the man his vocation.  Christians cannot win political elections, and even polls show only about 20% of Czechs think the church is trustworthy.  More than 60% report the military is the most trusted institution.

After several years in ministry, Daniel had a transforming experience.  He had always thought of himself as a "good boy scout", and even after accepting Jesus, he still had a feeling that "he was not that bad".   One day the Holy Spirit showed him the reality of his dark heart, his selfishness, cowardice, and other unpleasant sins.  Daniel knew he must immediately confess these things, and was relieved to discover that his growing and maturing church was ready to help him.  Forgiveness and love flowed from his church members and he finally realized the unconditional love of God the Father.

If you ask Daniel what makes a "successful ministry", he will reply that it is not defined by outward signs of success.   He has learned that ministry is not about pleasing others, but rather to please the Lord.  In our conversation about this, Daniel said, "The only eternal good is not what is good for me, but what is good for the whole community… I want to be in the will of the Father, feeling about things the way He feels, seeing through his eyes…willing to actively be a part of His business on earth…I will adopt new tools, approaches and methods to help communicate the eternal message of the love of God."  One of Daniel's urgent messages to young pastors embarking on Christian ministry is, "Don't manipulate people… inspire them!"

Recently, Europe has experienced an influx of refugees from such hazardous places as Syria and Iraq.  Daniel's church welcomed a young student from Mosul, who had been abandoned by a human smuggler.  He was fed and cared for, and he told his story at the Sunday service.  Most of the people in Daniel's town had never met a Muslim, so this was an interesting experience for them all and changed many attitudes that had been shaped by media.   Out of this encounter came an organized effort to collect food, medicine, sleeping bags, and tents for refugees in border camps.  The church has begun to pray for the Lord to give them ways to reach Muslims instead of fearing them.

When asked what the church in the Czech Republic needs most right now, you might expect a young pastor on the front lines like Daniel to mention money.  But his response was "Workers!"   Because there are so few Christians in the Czech Republic, many ministries must hire non-believers to do some of the work as a "job".    Mentors, teachers, trainers, helpers, workers, preachers, missionaries, all are needed.   Daniel's church and their sister churches all across the country would welcome short term missions or long term missionaries as well.  Two weeks?  Fine! Two months?  Great!  Two years?  Wonderful!

Let's remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 9:38 (NLT): "So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields."  Pray for the harvest in the Czech Republic.  

If you are interested in learning more about mission opportunities in the Czech Republic, contact us through the Faith and Peace Project website. We will put you in touch with Daniel.

 

by J. Kathleen Harder

March, 2017

© 2015-2017 by J.K. Harder and P.H. Harder