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Slovak United Methodists hold fast to faith

By Kathleen LaCamera*
Aug. 17, 2007 | BRATISLAVA, Slovak Republic (UMNS)

The Rev. Robert Zachar is district superintendent of the Slovak United Methodist Church and asks for prayers from the global Methodist family. United Methodists in the Slovak Republic continue to live out their Christian faith under adverse conditions. UMNS photos by
Kathleen LaCamera.

United Methodists have seen hard times in Slovakia.

The Methodist tradition was first brought to this region by Czech Methodists who then left during World War II. In the decades of communist rule that followed, life didn't get any easier.

"The regime made conditions for mission very difficult," said the Rev. Robert Zachar, Slovakia's United Methodist district superintendent.

Those who kept Methodism alive printed hymn books in their basements at night on primitive mimeograph machines. Others hand-copied parts of the Bible and distributed them in secret. While the government reluctantly tolerated Catholicism as a cultural institution, other faith traditions were continually harassed.

In 1989, things changed when Communist rule across Eastern Europe collapsed and Slovakia later declared itself the independent Slovak Republic. United Methodists and other religious groups were able to go about their work and worship without fear of reprisal.

Keeping the faith

This heritage made for a powerful moment when Jan Juran from the Slovak Republic's Ministry for Culture spoke at the Aug. 1 opening of the 2007 European Methodist Festival in Bratislava. He told the crowd he is thankful for what Methodists accomplished during communist rule.

"He said, 'You have kept the faith during difficult times, and I expect you to live the life of the Gospel, to live as the real Christians we expect you to be,'" recounted Zachar. "That's quite something to publicly speak out like that. We don't hear that very often from a government minister. That was really encouraging."

It is still a challenge, however, to keep the faith in the Slovak Republic. The average income per capita is about $500 a month, and there has been high and persistent unemployment in recent years. Many feel they have to go abroad to earn better wages.

“We need Methodists in other countries to pray for us and support us. It makes us feel we are not alone.”
–The Rev. Robert Zachar

"Families are broken, children are without parents. Those who are in churches have many burdens. It's difficult," Zachar told United Methodist News Service. "There is still much need, but we must show people a different set of values as well."

Zachar was a "non-believer" in his early 20s when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe. Like so many others during this new period of openness, he took a closer look at these "Christians" who were so keen to pray for him. "It was like a revival in those first years," remembered Zachar.

He said it was a Polish preacher who finally "opened my heart to the fact that Jesus loved me."

Fourteen years later, Zachar is looking after the Slovak United Methodist Church with its 400 members, eight churches and five missions. Through worship, fellowship, social service activities and working with schools, the denomination serves some 2,000 people a week. A scholarship from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries allowed Zacher to have a year of pastoral training at Cliff College in England, where he met his wife. They now have three young children.

Asking for prayers

Martha and Philip Brice of Cincinnati are beginning a two-year appointment as missionaries. 

Philip and Martha Brice, from the West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference, have been visiting Methodist friends in the Slovak Republic on and off for many years. In July, the couple began a two-year term as volunteer missionaries through the Board of Global Ministries.

"The church here has struggled through the survival phase. Now resources are going other places and there's nothing left for the church," said Martha. "People feel they don't have to depend on the church; that the state will take care of them. Those that are interested spend all their time trying to make a living."

She is a former Volunteers in Mission coordinator for her conference, and he is a retired architect. They have brought their 12-year-old adopted granddaughter, Aria, so she can get to know the Slovak people and Methodist church that have inspired and welcomed them over the years.

Martha says knowing they are part of a larger global Methodist family is important to Slovak Methodists, and Zachar agrees.

"The connection to the larger church makes a big difference," he said. "We need Methodists in other countries to pray for us and support us. It makes us feel we are not alone."

Zachar is convinced that despite being spread thin, Slovak United Methodists must continue to go out into the streets and tell the Christian story. "We know people are listening at their windows," he said. "We have to speak out and do it simply. We long for revival."

*LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in England.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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The United Methodist Church in the Slovak Republic

The United Methodist Church in Central and Southern Europe

Board of Global Ministries

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