Two summers ago I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Prague in the Czech Republic. It’s only been since 1993 that this country became free from the bonds of communism. It was amazing to see the vibrant growth and renewal throughout the city. And yet the ravages of communism were still evident. You could sit at a street corner and watch the traffic go by and all the city busses. What I realized was there were no busses made after the 1960s. There were 50s era street cars, which were quaint. But no modern busses. It was as though life stopped when the money ran out. Democracy and capitalism take awhile to take hold — people trained to fear innovation and freedom need to adjust to the light.
I had heard about the Museum of Communism in Prague, established in 2001. The description of it is, “an immersive look at life behind the Iron Curtain.” But it was much more than that. I’ve told my friends that every single US student should visit this museum. It’s a stark, educational, hold no punches, recording of the dangers of communism. What has stayed with me were the photos of priests being led away by secret police. Hundreds of priest were killed in order to control religion. At first, churches were allowed to function only under state control. The government decided who were favored priests and who were not. The government decided which liturgies could be celebrated and which could not. And those who did not comply were shot. Priests that were “approved” were paid by the government to acquire their loyalty. In 1950, the government seized all church properties. They plundered over 1,000 church buildings, stealing thousands of works of art and religious artifacts. The approved churches began to lose parishioners as they were associated with the repressive government. The end result? The Czech Republic is considered one of the least religious countries in Europe.
Joseph Bondarenko, a Russian evangelical minister, didn’t give in to the communist regime. He was expelled from university for illegally engaging in religious activities in the Soviet Union. He was undeterred. He was put in prison multiple times. He took to heart the lessons the disciples wrote in the New Testament. When we make serving God our priority we will have eternal blessings. Recently, when speaking with worship leader and founder of Let Us Worship, Sean Feucht, Bondarenko spoke of the signs of communism creeping into our society. He said,
“Don’t they realize what is happening now in America is exactly what happened to us in communist Russia? It started with ‘Don’t gather. Don’t sing. Spread apart. Listen to the government.’ Then it quickly turned into full on persecution and the church did not wake up in time.”Joseph Bondarenko
You may be reading this and thinking, “that’s not going to happen in America.” In California we are told we cannot meet in our churches. We cannot sing. Indefinitely. We must listen to the government. And the majority of our pastors are compliant. Some have rebelled. The ones that rebel are vilified in our media — and by “Christians.” My friend who is not Christian doesn’t understand. She tells me if Christians think God is all mighty and who we should solely put our faith in then why aren’t all pastors rebelling?
In my Bible study group the other day we were talking about the loss of being with our church families. Praising God in community and raising our collective voices. I told them my fear is we will become like the Czech Republic. Where, once our churches are “allowed” to open, that no one or few will come. Our churches, our pastors, our faith leaders chose government over God. How can we move forward with them as our guides? They espouse “faith over fear” yet, fear is exactly what they have taught us these last six months.
The prophet Haggai was tasked to admonish the Israelites about rebuilding the temple in the year 520. But the Jews gave excuses. They said the economy wasn’t good enough. They said maybe God didn’t really want them to do it. They said they needed to take care of their own needs first. And yet, they continued to complain about the drought and their oppression. Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Haggai 1:1-4 is,
When we put God first and give Him what’s rightfully His, we open the door to spiritual enrichment and the kind of stewardship that honors God.
May we open our Christian eyes sooner, not later, to obey God’s command to rebuild His temple.
On a warm summer evening my husband and I were enjoying a walk along Prague’s Vltava River. We crossed over one of the beautiful bridges, heading to a park. We stopped in the middle to enjoy the view. I started humming along to a song I could hear off in the distance. As we got closer to the park, the music got louder. I kept thinking how familiar that song sounded. We took the steps down from the bridge into a park where a small concert was being held. And it hit me. Singing in Czech, was a band playing a Christian praise song. And all around — about 100 young people — were people singing, lifting hands in the name of our Lord. In this town that had seemingly lost its faith, faith was being re-born. He never forsakes us. He calls us back into His loving arms.