|Slovak United Methodists hold fast to faith|
By Kathleen LaCamera*
Aug. 17, 2007 | BRATISLAVA, Slovak Republic (UMNS)
United Methodists have seen hard times in Slovakia.
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
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,"
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
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.
Martha and Philip Brice of Cincinnati are beginning a two-year appointment as missionaries.
"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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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