Prague: Serving in the Gaps

(Post by Lauren Mathews)

“There is one God, Father of all, over all, through all, and in all.” Ephesians 4:6

For nine days in June, I traveled to Prague as part of a City Church supported short-term mission team, team led by Ellen Kelly and Jeremy Pryor. We were joined by City Church member Shelby Thompson plus three friends of Ellen's from Greenville, South Carolina. Our team gathered in response to a long-term partnership with Faith Community Church in Prague, under the leadership of Pastor Phil Davis. Phil had spoken to Erik about the possibility of a team coming to Prague to develop Art and Music outreach projects for the length of our stay. The nature of our trip evolved in response to the personalities of our team members, as well as the changing needs of the Faith Community congregation.

In Prague, there is no Christian popular culture. Czech Young Life Director Marek told us that immediately following the fall of communism here in 1989, there was a brief period where Christianity was hip, because it had been the most subversive sub-culture. Now, this period has given way to the human-centric focus common to Western Europe, which we can recognize in the United States as well. Young Czechs see Christian faith as something belonging to an older generation.

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During our nine days in Prague, I couldn't help but feel like I was spying on the Christian community in C.S. Lewis-era Oxford, where intellectuals met together in pubs to discuss the undeniability of a Loving Creator. On our final Sunday in the city, we rushed from the afternoon service at Faith Community Church (which meets in a train station and feels - we all noted - somehow so familiar to us who attend City Church, despite it being multi-lingual and so far removed), to the Czech-only Ta Cesta church, which meets in a backroom of Cafe Louvre, past home to conversations between Kafka and Einstein. We huddled in the back corner so that we could hear translation from the German owner of our hostel, Mathias. He had previously met with us to share with us about his 20 years in the city, as a businessman, employer and a Christian.

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The pastor of Ta Cesta, Sasha Flek, just finished translating the Bible into modern Czech in the past couple of years. There is so much new energy in the Czech Christian community, and I was struck by the maturity with which church leaders, non-profit leaders and government employees worked together for the common good. We had a glimpse of this one night during a movie screening of the human trafficking awareness film Nefarious, hosted by Faith Community Church. After the film, we heard from two different women working in very different ways to combat sex and labor trafficking in Prague (both are, sadly, common). One woman shared about the Czech governmental agencies who offer asylum and pursue litigation for trafficked individuals. Afterwards, another Christian woman discussed a long term team of women, from different Christian faith backgrounds, that visits the clubs on Friday nights to keep in contact with women there and let them know of their care for them. Again, I was struck by the collaboration of these two presenters, crossing religious/secular lines. I hope we can have such unified impact in Richmond.

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" Galatians 5:13

In reflecting on the trip, we all mentioned being under-prepared for the mental challenges of a mission trip to a beautiful city that is not noticeably impoverished. What is the appropriate line between enjoying a city's beauty and giving up our own ambitions as tourists, to serve the church? What were we even doing here?

Unlike the short-term mission trips that come most readily to your mind, we did not leave having built a cinderblock foundation or led an adventure camp. Instead, we simply filled in the gaps where Faith Community had daily needs: helping to set up for the movie event; babysitting for a family of five children who had a young son in the hospital, praying for new staff members arriving in Prague to join Faith Community Church; setting up a public mural to engage Prague residents on the idea of "home;" joining Czech Young Life for a frisbee club with local high school students; preparing an English lesson, devotion and games for a full afternoon at Teen Challenge, an after school program for Roma children, etc.

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Our most clear moments of mission and ministry were so normal, not so unlike moments we would hope to have home in Richmond. For example, we woke up early one morning at the end of our trip to study Galatians 5 together up above the city, at the Metronome. One of Ellen's Czech friends, who does not have a background in the church, joined us unexpectedly, after he spent the previous day hiking with us outside of Prague. We were wondering if he'd feel strange and uncomfortable in a circle with us, discussing the Bible together and praying to thank God for our week. Instead, by the end of our study, he said that he had never seen anything like it before - that we were approaching the Bible like a "science" and really trying to understand it. We were so honored to be able to share in that time with him.

Thank you for your willingness to support our team in Prague, as ambassadors of God's church in Richmond, to God's church at work in the Czech Republic. If you are interested in hearing (and seeing!) more, please join us after the service this Sunday (July 13th) for a short presentation from our team.

For more photos from the team's trip to Prague, check out this set on Flickr.