The house was quiet. Brian and the boys had packed the car with baseball gear and left for their Monday night practice. I mindlessly filled the dishwasher with plates and silverware from the hurried dinner we had consumed an hour earlier and now looked forward to some quiet time with a book a friend had recommended. As I left the kitchen, I was startled by a pounding noise that made the front windows rattle. I moved toward the dining room where I could peak outside. With relief, since it was already dark outside, I saw the familiar form of my next-door neighbor standing at the door thrashing it with his fist. I smiled, imagining he was here to thank me for keeping his boys over the weekend.
I should probably backtrack a few months and take this story to its true beginning. Our next-door neighbors, Chad and Barbara, shared many interests with us. They had sons about the age of our boys and they also enjoyed boating. Barbara and I would sit together in our backyard and share the latest happenings in our busy lives as the boys played together. Often, Barbara would channel the conversation toward humanitarian causes that she felt strongly about. She had attended church as a child, although the habit was now a distant memory for her, but she never forgot her strong social justice upbringing. I would listen and even identify with her concern for staving children because Brian and I supported a child in a third world country at the time. Then I would steer the conversation to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Barbara would listen carefully and ask thoughtful questions. She even seemed receptive at times, as if she were hearing a song from her childhood that triggered memories dear to her but whose notes she had long forgotten.
I remember one particular conversation where she shared what weighed heaviest on her heart—her disintegrating marriage. This wasn’t news since our homes were nestled close together, and I couldn’t help but overhear with more and more frequency Chad verbally bludgeon her with his vitriol, then retreat to his car and speed away. My heart ached for this family as I watched their relentless march towards becoming another statistic. As Barbara disclosed her worst fears to me, I shared with her again the one place she could find hope—in Christ.
In the following months, Chad and Barbara’s marriage proved to be a slow-burning implosion, and the subsequent changes in Barbara were impossible to ignore. At first she experienced depression. Then she began missing work for long stretches of time. Next came news that she was under psychiatric care. She no longer joined me at the swings with her sons. I noticed Chad wasn’t home on weekends anymore, and the boys roamed the neighborhood from morning until evening with nothing but a bag of bread in their hands. Although their home had never been a candidate for the “Yard of the Month” award, it was evident that home was no longer where Chad’s heart resided.
In the midst of this ominous progression, Barbara showed up at my door one morning, begging me to take her to the hospital. She seemed disoriented, agitated, and confused. With little time to think, I acquiesced to her demands and grabbed my keys.
As we went racing down the highway, she suddenly started screaming incoherently and pushing frantically at the buttons on the door panel. The windows popped up and down erratically as the door locks snapped in and out. Wind pressure at ever-changing degrees completed the cacophonous clash of hysteria with automation. As if that weren’t bad enough— I’m in full panic mode now—Barbara managed to extend half her body out the passenger-side window like renegade sausage escaping its casing, gesticulating wildly to drivers in the next lane. With one hand gripped on the steering wheel, I leaned over and grabbed at her blouse with the other, attempting to reel her back into the vehicle. I had no idea who was going to win this melee, but I can tell you that nothing ever looked sweeter to me than the emergency sign at the hospital. I ran through the parking lot, bolted into the entrance door, and gasped out a plea for help. Within a few minutes, Barbara appeared at the door with the aid of hospital staff who calmly seated her in the waiting room. The front desk asked their usual list of questions, Barbara was admitted, and I returned home.
Home. Home was where her children had taken up residence on my front porch. Did the children have any idea where their dad was? No. This was Friday. So we welcomed the boys into our home for the weekend. Of course, the boys took part in everything we did. First, they experienced family worship. It was a wonderful time of sharing the saving love of Jesus Christ with them. Like their mother, they seemed receptive and even wanted to pray with us. On Sunday, they experienced Sunday School for the first time in their lives, along with morning and evening worship. As we turned into our driveway late Sunday evening, we noticed lights on in their home. The boys gathered their few possessions and ran home, excited to tell their father about Jesus.
On Monday evening, as I moved toward the front door after seeing Chad’s back through the window, the only question I entertained was why he thought it necessary to batter my door. As I turned the lock and handle, nothing could have prepared me for what was on the other side. In fact, I barely recognized the man at my door. His crimson face and flashing eyes caught me totally off guard. Barking out profanities and threats, he suddenly lunged towards me in a rage. The only things in my line of vision were his hands that appeared to be aiming for my throat. In my haste to escape his advance, I slipped backwards against a large wall mirror. For some reason, this seemed to arrest him in his advance, and after a momentary pause, he exited the front door as quickly as he had entered it. My heart beat wildly as I sat on the floor listening to his bellowing voice echo through the neighborhood. Finally, with a sigh of relief, I heard only silence—punctuated by a loud slam.
The story of Chad and his family does not have a happy ending. Barbara disappeared into a psychiatric hospital, Chad’s girlfriend moved into the family home, and the children spent their days roaming the streets, parks, and malls. Chad made sure the boys never came near our home again by threats of physical violence should they dare to defy him.
I hadn’t thought about this event for years until we recently had dinner with a Czech pastor who was traveling in the states. He shared with us the animosity that Czechs sometimes feel towards pastors or clergy. When he returned to the Czech Republic after living in Toronto for many years, his next-door neighbor discovered that he was a pastor. One day the neighbor actually stood at the fence between their homes, waited for the pastor to come outside, and then angrily screamed out, “THERE IS NO GOD! THERE IS NO GOD!”
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul asks the question, “Why are we in danger every hour?” The context of this question is the resurrection of the dead. If the dead aren’t raised, then why do we take risks for the sake of the Gospel? If all we have is this life, then “we are of all people most to be pitied,” because according Paul, we die daily. We suffer. We are persecuted and afflicted. We are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing whether we live in Corinth, America, or the Czech Republic. But thanks be to God, this life is not all we have.
Digger deeper into the animosity felt towards Christians in the Czech Republic, I happened upon an article that explored the effects of this antagonism on children from Christian homes. The author states, “Children from religious families often face complex situations at school and even amongst their friends which are similar to the situations faced by children who are stigmatized for any other reason.” The article goes on to say that the way Christian families handle money often becomes the point of contention. When children from Christian homes don’t keep up with the Jones children, who have the latest and greatest deluxe models of highly prized items, they are called to account by their friends or classmates. According to the article, these children “get annoyed at their parents,” who they view as responsible for the embarrassment and ridicule they suffer.
Beyond the hostility shown Christians, an even deeper concern is the absence of Christian categories in the minds of Czechs, especially young Czechs. The writer of the same article included an example from an event at a Czech school.
At one junior school, an evangelical vicar asked the children who they thought Christ was. Most of the children knew that the expressions “Christ” or “Jesus and Mary” were used when something annoys or surprises us. Several of the children genuinely thought that Jesus was an extraterrestrial who visited Planet Earth some time ago. One girl thought that it was the make of a mobile telephone (she had heard the commercial saying “Go Jesus go”). One pupil in year one wrote on his questionnaire that Jesus is another name for a Christmas tree.
Are these children’s answers a shock to your evangelical ears? I suppose the answer is both yes and no. They should shock us into prayer and action while at the same time remind us that even in America (or any other country) we’re only one generation away from apostasy at any given time. Remove the truth and there’s only one outcome.
Please pray for a spiritual awakening in the Czech Republic. Pray that churches will nurture their children in the truth of Scripture and always encourage them in the faith. Pray for Christian parents, that they will faithfully raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. And finally, pray for the rapid advance of the Gospel in the Czech Republic.