Ministering Alongside Local Believers in Europe

Ministering Alongside Local Believers in Europe
photo by Joel Workman, Czech Republic

When someone asks if they can pray for me, it’s hard to imagine a scenario when I would decline. So when the woman requested to bless and pray for my husband and me, of course we agreed.

We had been slipping out toward the end of a late afternoon Easter Monday worship gathering on the grounds of the 13th century castle in our city in Czech Republic. The country remained in a pandemic lockdown for many months, but permission was granted for churches to gather under certain conditions (masks, social distancing, smaller groups, etc.)

This particular gathering represented a few different churches in the area who typically worship together monthly—or at least they did before the pandemic. Smaller than the pre-pandemic crowd, a dozen or so people had gathered outdoors in the chilly April weather to spend some time singing, praising and waving flags in a side area on a hill overlooking the city.

My husband and I were mostly observing. Since arriving in Czech Republic just prior to the pandemic, our language learning and acculturation efforts have been severely restricted. (That’s just a nice way of saying that most of the time we don’t know what’s going on.)

But we enjoyed the music and appreciated the heart of the worship and prayer that this handful of people was offering to God while looking over their city. At one point a shofar was blown, presumably in declaration of the celebration of Easter as well as a cry to God for intervention.

God has certainly intervened here in the past. Just over 30 years ago, this country was in the hands of a government that vehemently sought to keep God out.

Now, this little group meets freely on a hill, waving colorful flags and blowing the shofar. This is no small change in a relatively short amount of time. But even amid religious freedom, the picture of the country’s spiritual health remains dark, with a large majority of people considering themselves to be irreligious or atheist.

Desiring to walk alongside these beautiful people who are doing God’s work, in this place that often feels so spiritually dark, my family quietly arrived here. And we continue to look for ways to partner in Kingdom work even while living through lockdowns.

Observing this open worship on a hill, where just a few decades earlier this same activity might have been considered an act of defiance, was a blessing that didn’t really hit me until later. Honestly, it was a little cold and windy, and my mind was more on the food we were planning to eat afterward than it was on the weightiness of the moment as we bore witness to God’s work in this place.

So, as we were leaving, when the Czech woman (who had heard from our friend that we had come to do Kingdom work here) asked if she could bless us, I was caught off guard and rather distracted. And when she knelt down in front of me, with her hands on my feet and her mouth whispering prayers and blessings that I could not have understood even if she hadn’t been wearing a paper mask, I did not feel the gravity at the time as much as I do now.

And when she thanked us for coming to her country and quoted scripture from Isaiah about ‘how beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news’, and I smiled and said thank you and assured her that we are happy to be here, I wish I had been prepared with a better response.

For, she is the one who has lived her life surrounded by this spiritual darkness. She is the one who has been fighting the good fight for these years, hoping to bring some light in this world. We are simply guests here, obedient to do our Kingdom work, but certainly no more valuable or effective or dedicated than she.

I wish I had been prepared with a blessing for her in return.

Ministering Alongside Local Believers in Europe

But she is the one who blessed me. Who knelt down in front of me and touched my ankles, gazing adoringly past my Converse sneakers, to the feet that God made and sent here to walk alongside her in bringing the good news to the beloved people of this beautiful place with a difficult history.

At that moment, I was distracted (and, to be brutally honest, perhaps feeling a bit awkward about a strange woman kneeling before me in public, praying over my feet). So I didn’t pay enough attention to the full value of this Kingdom moment.

In that moment, she was Jesus to me—as much as if she had taken out a basin and started washing my feet. In that moment we were standing on holy ground and, upon reflection, I realize I probably should have taken off my shoes. We were in a thin place between this temporal world and the eternal one. And I almost missed it.

However, since it is a Kingdom moment, it is not fleeting and does not ever really go away. So, thankfully, I didn’t miss it.

That blessing she prayed over my feet and the scripture she quoted are not gone; they are part of time eternal. And if I close my eyes and think back, I can feel her touch on my ankles and hear her whispered prayers along with the sounds of the chilly wind blowing.

As I sit here weeks later in this continued lockdown, I carry her blessing with me and I am reminded that my feet are, indeed, beautiful and my presence here does offer value. Even if I was too distracted to fully receive it at the time, I receive her blessing now.

And as I sit here not knowing when or where I will be allowed to see this sister again, I am praying a prayer of blessing over her as well.

Even though I wasn’t prepared in the moment, it’s never too late and I can still bless her. Because we reside in a place together that transcends time and space. Our connection is as sisters in Christ, as partners in the Gospel, as inhabitants of an eternal Kingdom.

About the author: Julie Workman is a storyteller with Greater Europe Mission and serves in Brno, Czech Republic.