ALCOA, Tenn. (March 1, 2018) If ever a mission field was thirsty for the gospel and love of Jesus, the place where Rev. John Redmond works – the Czech Republic -- is a vast land of opportunity.
A 2017 Pew Research Center study showed that about seven-in-ten Czechs (72 percent) do not identify with a religious group. Almost half (46 percent) describe their religion as “nothing in particular” and an additional 25 percent say “atheist” describes their religious identity.
“They are good people but they don’t know they have a God who loves them,” says Redmond, pastor of the English Speaking United Methodist Church of Prague. “If you ask them, they will say that when you die, the worms eat you and you’re gone.”
Since Feb. 22, Redmond has been in the United States to raise awareness for a ministry that was designated as a Holston Conference mission in 2016 but struggles to gain recognition among many missions.
Redmond spoke to First United Methodist Church in Cleveland on Sunday, Feb. 25, and to Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Johnson City on Wednesday, Feb. 28. He is scheduled to return to Prague on March 7.
Traveling with Redmond is Rev. Zdenek Neuzil, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Vimperk. In recent years, United Methodist teams from Holston Conference have worked with Neuzil to provide softball camps for Czech youth. At First Cleveland UMC, Neuzil said that he had recently opened a new church serving the Roma population, the youth and the addicted.
The Rev. Tom Hancock, chair of the Holston Missions Team, said the Czech pastors offer churches a “great opportunity to touch and transform people by introducing them to the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
“While John is able to build relationships in Prague through the ESUMC, others working in the Czech Republic are able to share the faith through English-speaking classes, sports camps and Vacation Bible School. This offers individuals from Holston opportunities to connect and build relationships with our sisters and brothers in the Czech Republic,” Hancock said.
EBB AND FLOW
Redmond and his family have lived in Prague for four years, advancing a ministry that was started 13 years ago by the former Johnson City District of Holston Conference.
“They deserve attention and they deserve to know God,” Redmond says of the people his church is trying to reach. “They’ve literally been through wars, overhauls, leadership changes. It’s no wonder they don’t have faith because so much has happened.”
Scholars have cited “centuries’ worth of historical reasons” for the Czech lack of affiliation with faith, according to Pew Research Center. Although the majority of adults in Central and Eastern Europe identify with a religious group, the Czechs are noted as outliers, “even in the former Eastern Bloc that was dominated by the officially atheist Soviet Union throughout much of the 20th century.”
Redmond was a youth pastor at Pleasant View United Methodist Church in Abingdon, Virginia, when English Speaking United Methodist Church in Prague (ESUMC) needed a new pastor in 2014. The Rev. Michelle McKinnon-Young, also from Holston, was ready for a new appointment after serving as ESUMC pastor from 2011 to 2014. At that time, people started coming up to Redmond and saying they had prayed about the Prague opening -- and his name came up.
“We didn’t know how difficult it would be,” says Redmond, husband to Denise and father to Eli, age 9, and Ada, 7. “I’m very glad that we did it but it’s been a very difficult journey for us.”
In addition to adjusting to a new culture, attempting to learn the language, and serving as pastor for the first time, Redmond says he and his family had to adjust to a congregation that constantly changes. The people who attend are often English-speaking teachers, students, or other expatriates in Prague for the short term. Others are locals who want to practice their English, who might be attending church for the first time.
“The ministry is very transient, very ebb and flow,” he says. “They’re here one year or six months and then they’re gone -- almost like a college ministry and then you get a new set of people. The beauty is you get to see a lot of people, but sometimes you don’t get to build those relationships. You start to give your heart to people and then they leave.”
IMPERFECT PEOPLE WELCOME
Yet, average Sunday worship attendance has grown from four in the first year of Redmond’s leadership to about 30 or 35 in recent months. ESUMC, the only English-speaking United Methodist church in the nation, is a faith community for a multi-ethnic group who often use public transportation and may travel a distance to participate.
“The beauty of our church is we get a lot of people who are not well-off, a very diverse group of people. That part is really cool,” Redmond said. The doors of the church proclaim: “Imperfect people welcome.” Worshipers are so hungry for fellowship, they often stay for an hour or two after church, just talking.
In addition to Sunday-morning worship, ESUMC offers a monthly potluck. (“At Thanksgiving we had 30 random dishes from all sorts of countries, even steak tartare.”) Two or more Bible study groups meet in the middle of the week. On the third Sunday of each month, the congregation travels an hour away to volunteer at SKP HOPO, a United Methodist homeless shelter in Horní Radechová.
“We’ve been praying for how we can begin to serve God in our own neighborhood,” Redmond said.
Now that a sanctuary renovation is completed and paid off, the goal is to do more work – possibly a climbing wall or recreation room – to serve more youth and children. About eight to 12 of the 35 regular attenders are children.
Fundraising is important, but Redmond also wants United Methodists to share with others that the Prague church is a resource, a church home away from home. Redmond says he’s learned about missionaries, United Methodists, or just lonely English-speakers working in the area who didn’t know the ESUMC existed. He also encourages clergy to consider preaching at the church in the summer, when the Redmond family itinerates to the U.S.
To learn more about the ministry or service opportunities, email Redmond at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send donations through the Three Rivers District (online) or make checks to "Johnson City District UMC" (write "Czech Republic missions" on memo line) and mail to: Three Rivers District, 100 Mary Street, Johnson City, TN 37615.
Another option, for Holston Conference members, is to write a check to your local church with “#716 English Speaking UMC - Prague” on the memo line.
Contact Annette Spence at email@example.com.
Give online to ESUMC Prague (GBGM)
Most Czechs don't believe in God (Pew Research Center, 6.19.17)
Photos below: (1) After baptism, Rev. John Redmond and Rev. Zdenek Neuzil present the twin baby grandsons of First Cleveland UMC Pastor Tim Bracken on Feb. 25. (2) ESUMC doors in Prague (3) John, Denise, Eli and Ada Redmond (4) ESUMC sanctuary (5) ESUMC children in Prague
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.
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