Prague Church: Evangelism Through the Back Door
By Sandy Brands
When the Rev. Michelle McKinnon-Young, then the pastor at Cherokee United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, told her district superintendent that she wanted to go into the mission field before retiring, she didn’t expect to find herself posted to Prague in the Czech Republic a year later.
It just so happened that the Rev. Petr Procházka, the District Superintendent serving the Czech Republic, wanted to start an English-speaking United Methodist Church in Prague, a desire he shared while visiting the Rev. Randy Frye, Johnson City District Superintendent. The two districts had been In Mission Together Partners for years, and it just made sense for Procházka to ask his Tennessean counterpart
So when Frye heard of McKinnon-Young’s dream, he said, “Have I got an opportunity for you!”
In July 2011, McKinnon-Young and her husband of nine months, Gary Young, a professional musician, moved to Prague to serve the English Speaking United Methodist Church
The original intention was for the couple to be in ministry to the international English-speaking population in Prague. Considered the Paris of Eastern Europe, Prague is a major business hub and home to approximately 200,000 English-speaking internationals.
And while the church has attracted some English-speaking internationals, McKinnon-Young said it wasn’t long before they realized they were reaching as many native Czechs as they were internationals. Attracted by the opportunity to learn English and to grow in the Word, “they wanted to be in fellowship with other Christians,” she said.
That’s particularly true for young people, she said. In fact, the interest from students is so great, that the church campus now offers some housing for students from all over Prague. “They want to talk about their faith and how their faith affects their political views.”
“This is unusual,” said Young. “The society is so secular—the second most atheistic/agnostic country in the world—the students have had few opportunities to talk about issues of faith. They find the openness we have very new, very refreshing.”
ESUMC stands on the site of the first Methodist church in Prague, built in the 1920s. Prior to that, the property was used for the original tent revivals held after World War I. World War II brought everything to a standstill, and at the end of the war, the Czech Republic fell under Soviet domination.
“Religion was discouraged,” Young said, “and no new churches were started. The regime in the Czech Republic was very repressive.”
McKinnon said that history has created a need for a safe place to worship where people can deepen their faith. As relationships develop, “we will begin to talk about the unique theology of Methodism and our place in the world.”
The students and young adults also expressed an interest in building fellowship through playing classic family games such as Monopoly, McKinnon-Young said. When they learned of the desire, the people of Johnson City District collected a variety of games and sent them over with a mission team.
These opportunities for fellowship are extended to include English-language camps, Bible studies, and a sports camp. The latter began in 2007 at the request of Czech United Methodists who expressed an interest in learning more about American sports, such as baseball.
“Sharing the gospel around baseball has been very successful,” said McKinnon-Young.
Frye calls this type of relationship building “backdoor evangelism.”
“[You] find a way to connect with the community and then you have an opportunity to share faith,” he said. The camps are evangelistic tools, but in a secular culture, they offer opportunities for the sharing of faith in nonthreatening settings.
“Petr Procházka said to me that one of the great aspects of our [In Mission Together] Partnership is that it has opened the minds of their pastors in many cases,” Frye said. “Many of the pastors have had a heart for reaching young people, but may not have had the means. By bringing things such as English- and sports-camps, we have opened doors and helped those pastors think out of the box.”
Pastors from the Johnson City District have been mentoring their Czech counterparts through an annual pastor’s school since 2007. McKinnon-Young, who first traveled to the Czech Republic to teach at the pastor’s school in 2008, said, “The whole area was open and needed people who mentored them and shared with them how we do Methodism in the states.”
The annual pastor’s school, held March 23 through April 1 this year, was established at the request of Procházka to enhance the United Methodist presence in the country. “We all feel the UM theology is too good a theology not to be represented.”
The partnership between the Johnson City District and the United Methodist churches of the Czech Republic began in 2005. According to Frye, all 66 churches of the district annually pledge financial support for the Czech UMC. More, they have committed to building sustained relationships with each other via letters, emails, phone calls, and visits.
“We’ve been in this partnership for six years,” said Frye. “The IMT Partnership is a three-year commitment; but we have made it a focus and we’ve stayed with it. It allows you to build very strong relationships—with pastors, people in the church, with people in the communities. In the meantime, we continue to learn from each other. Cyberspace opens up whole new ways of communication to share the gospel and to continue to enrich our mutual relationship. They learn from us; we learn from them.”
It is that mutuality that is at the heart of IMT Partnerships.
“In Mission Together embodies what I think is important in ministry as The United Methodist Church,” Frye said. “We’re in mission and we’re in ministry together. We bring resources they might not have, and they bring resources and experiences we may not have. We build on each other’s churches.
“Becoming an IMT partner is one of the most important things you can do for your church and for the church universal,” he said. “We don’t go there as experts, we don’t go there with all the answers. We go as their servants.”
The Johnson City District shares the philosophy behind their ministry in the Czech Republic and their enthusiasm for their partnership with the country’s United Methodists in a video they’ve posted on YouTube
Learn more about In Mission Together Partnerships