Around the first of the year 2016, a former staff member at First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, VA, who is currently serving as a missionary pastor in Prague, The Czech Republic, came back to Norfolk and issued us an invitation to send a Dunamis-related ministry team to Prague to make presentations on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit at their church’s semi-annual retreat.
More than two dozen members of First Presbyterian have participated in Dunamis retreats at the Community of the Cross over the last three to four years, so the connection between the church in Prague, First Pres Norfolk, and PRMI seemed a perfect fit. The Prague congregation is an English-speaking international church, serving the needs of English-speaking believers and seekers from many nations.
Meanwhile, my own personal connections with a former American student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk had gotten me connected with mission work in Estonia. This student met and married an Estonian woman, moved to Estonia, and connected there with a PC(USA) mission pastor of a small church in Rapla, Estonia.
The pastor, hearing about our work through PRMI and having checked us out on the web site, was interested enough in what we do in ministry to offer a couple of us the opportunity to come to Estonia and share with his congregation. Although there is a high level of English-language ability in Estonia, our work in Rapla was necessarily done in the Estonian language through interpreters.
The Lingering Effects of Soviet Control
Both Estonia and The Czech Republic are former Soviet bloc countries, and both were deeply indoctrinated with the official state atheism of the former Soviet Union. Both of those countries are in the top five most highly atheistic nations in the world.
It is not so much that Christians are now being persecuted in these countries, as that the people of those nations look down on adherence to religion as being anti-intellectual and a sign of personal weakness. Nevertheless, the Church of Jesus Christ is present and there are sincere and mature believers in both countries.
Stepping Out in Ministry
Our team of five Dunamis-trained people from First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, spent a week in Prague in late April and early May of 2016, leading and providing prayer ministry at the church’s retreat, leading worship and doing prayer ministry on Sunday, and speaking at almost a dozen small groups in various homes on topics related to the work of the Spirit. Ministry was done on each occasion, and reports we have heard from Prague suggest that the most effective work was done in the small home groups.
Two of our team then went from Prague to Estonia and spent three days with my student friend and his pastor contact, speaking at two events at the church and doing some home visitation and prayer ministry. We also had the opportunity to minister to the pastor himself.
A Light in the Darkness
Several characteristics of the contacts we had in these two countries stand out. One is the tremendous power of the loving witness of Christian people in their atheistic setting. Another is the openness of several avowed atheists to the church and its fellowship even when they don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
A third is the widespread demonization of society at large and of the church itself, probably due to their long history of repression under Nazism and Communism. A fourth characteristic is the high level of marital brokenness and other effects of sin that are quite similar to what we see in Western Europe, the United Kingdom, and North America.
In both countries there is significant interest in pursuing further connections with PRMI, and both of our pastor contacts are actively looking for opportunities to set up a Dunamis track or similar ministry.
Logistics and Challenges
In the Czech Republic, the church we had contact with would probably run the Dunamis track primarily for their congregation. We would strongly encourage them to reach out to other English-speaking congregations in Prague, and others who might be interested, so that the Dunamis teaching could have an even broader impact. Nevertheless, with the large number of nations represented in the congregation, even a track limited to their church would have a significant international impact.
The challenge is that most people would have difficulty setting aside four days at a retreat setting for a full Dunamis track. Prague is a national capital city, and people are very busy. Many of them are high-powered, influential people.
We have discussed the possibility of doing part of the Dunamis teaching for each of the six “retreats” on line and then meeting for perhaps a couple of days in a retreat setting for the interactive and lab work. This approach would not qualify as a “Dunamis Track,” but would be something like a combination of Ignite and Dunamis, with an on-line component. Please pray for clear guidance for the Prague church as they pray about a format that would work for their congregation.
In Estonia, the church we had contact with was a small, small-town congregation. It is part of a fellowship of churches created by the Soviets, who seized all the church buildings of all the Protestant denominations except the Lutherans and forced all the non-Lutheran Protestants to become one congregation in each location.
The Communists’ hope was that these feuding denominations would kill each other off. That, in fact, did not happen, and the unity attained by this fellowship of churches has been sustained even after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.
We had the chance to meet and speak with the head of this fellowship of churches. Our pastor friend and his denominational head have agreed that it is worth pursuing a Dunamis track for interested pastors and leaders of the small Protestant congregations scattered throughout Estonia. Please pray for the efforts being made in Estonia to find a location and a time table for such an effort.
At this point, I would say that the chances are very good that more opportunities will open up for PRMI in both these Eastern European nations. The main challenges are logistical rather than theological.
The Holy Spirit did some awesome work in both countries while we were there–healing, deliverance, giving understanding and hope, etc.–and proved that by His power these churches can grow and become effective witnesses for Christ. Please join us in praying that these connections would grow and flourish, allowing PRMI to partner with the Holy Spirit in Eastern Europe.