Children sing during an LCMS International Mission English Bible Camp in the Czech Republic in July 2023. (Photo courtesy of Mark Winterstein.)

Story 3 of 6 — Spring 2024

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Office of International Mission has compiled a series of six commentaries about the experiences of short-term mission volunteers who served during an English Bible Camp in the Czech Republic in July 2023. The third commentary is below, and all of the stories are available in the series archives.

Crystal Potts, LCMS Short-term Mission Volunteer

This story could otherwise be known as “Why in the World is a Motley Crew of Americans Singing Silly Bible Songs in English to a Bunch of Adorable Czech Children?”

Let me open with full transparency, friends — this one is a doozy. But stick with me on this historical trek, and I think we’ll come out on the other side with a much better grasp of the situation in which we now find ourselves called to help here in the Czech Republic.

I basically just tried to fit 1,000 years of European religious history into 1,500 bite-sized words, so my apologies in advance if it’s a bit of a roller coaster. Let’s begin our journey by acknowledging that the beginning of the Reformation pre-dates our esteemed Martin Luther by almost 120 years. Shocking, I know.


Long before Luther was born, much less considering the posting of 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, Jan (John) Hus had already begun the long march toward the reform of Christianity. Born to a poor serf family in 1370, Hus pursued an education and the study of religion at the University of Prague, initially in the hopes of simply attaining financial security.

In about 1398 Hus earned a position as a professor (and later, rector) and began to see that his destiny was greater than material wealth and began the formal criticism of the moral decay in which the Catholic Church then found itself. Hus broke convention in many ways. He described the sale of indulgences as sacrilege, called out the Pope’s recent bull and declaration of war as a contradiction of Christ’s commandment of love and fundamentally attacked the church disciplines of the time.

At the same time, Hus also began to strongly support the translation of the Bible into the language of the common people. Hus insisted that all people, not just scholars and priests, have the right to read the Bible in an understandable language. He knew all too well that the authority of the corrupt ruling church, acting in direct contradiction with Scripture, would be exposed if the people only had access to the Bible in their own language. Hus’ support of unauthorized public evangelism, and of translation of the Bible into Czech and German, were just two of the key points of his split from the confines and corruption of medieval Catholicism.

The Catholic Church labeled him a heretic, and excommunicated him. Nevertheless (try, try again), in November 1414, Hus appeared at the Council of Constance to clear himself of all accusations. He was once again) condemned as a heretic, and was subsequently handed over to secular power under which he was ultimately burned at the stake when he refused to recant his teachings. Not the ending we might have hoped for.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of Hus’ contemporaries, it is easy to see why, after watching him burn at the stake for his beliefs, it is not unreasonable that they might choose to keep their feelings on the down-low.


Bear with me now, as we move at break-neck speed through the rising action of this historical plot pyramid. Fast forward to roughly the beginning of the 16th century. It is now that Luther, as a young student, comes across one of Jan Hus’ sermons and is astonished. He later makes the statement of having been a “Hussite” all along “without realizing it.” In 1517, Luther makes his legendary stand in the form of the 95 Theses, and the gauntlet is officially thrown.

Cycles of Persecution and Privilege

The movement, which in Europe became known then as the Evangelical denomination of the Augsburg Confession, found fertile soil across the part of the continent known at the time as Silesia. It was allowed and even embraced for a time, until the 30 Years War, which saw significant persecution of followers of reformed Christianity at the hands of the state.

Then, in 1643, the infamous Hapsburgs became (under less than moral circumstances) the rulers of the empire, and Protestantism was once again openly allowed. Do you have whiplash from these sharp turns yet? Just wait.

At this point, in Ciesyn Silesia, following the order of the Bohemian King (who later became Ferdinand III), the elimination of Protestantism was started. The scales tilted toward full-scale persecution at this point. People had to leave their families, hide in forests, or flee the region completely. Those unable or unwilling to flee tried to congregate to pray and worship in so-called “forest churches.” (I could write an entire article about these “forest churches,” but I digress.)

If exposed, they suffered severe punishment. Any printed materials were confiscated and destroyed. These atrocities are then followed by about two centuries of a cycle of blisteringly hot and icy-cold attitudes and treatment toward reformed Christianity, along with multiple “re-conversion” movements and the creation of intentionally biased rules and obstacles to hinder Reformist beliefs and teachings.

Added to the mix was the chaos of the First World War from 1914–1918, followed by a very messy and violent division of the region into Poland and Czechoslovakia, resulting in access to most churches again being lost. With the outbreak of World War II, things worsened yet again. Almost all clergymen were sent to Nazi camps and were replaced with clergy subordinate to the German authorities, and all manner of horrors ensued.

In 1945, with the end of the war, some rebuilding of churches began, but then came the Communist regime, which was far from friendly to these churches. Nowhere was this whole sordid, chaotic process more difficult than in the region now known as the Czech Republic.

Modern-Day Czech Lutheran Church

Today, the Czech Republic enjoys strict freedom of religion. Cool. But thanks to innumerable power coups, two world wars, an inconceivable number of atrocities under Nazi occupation, uncountable border demarcation changes, and multiple styles of government — including 40 years of institutionalized atheism (we’re looking at you, Communist rule) during which religion was virtually outlawed and churchgoing was strongly discouraged — the Czech Republic today has the highest level of atheism in the civilized world. Not so cool. 

According to Dr. Zdeněk Vojtíšek, the head of the Department of Religious Studies at the Hussite Theological Faculty of Charles University in Prague, Czechs do not trust institutions, especially religious institutions.

“They hesitate to be members of any institution or any church,” he said. “Such denial is often expressed by the sentence, ‘I am an atheist.’ ” My knee-jerk response to this statement is “Can you blame them?”

Priest, philosopher, theologian, and former communist dissident Reverend Tomáš Halík, a Czech Roman Catholic priest, puts it like this: “During communism, many priests exchanged their Christian faith for nationalism, declaring faith to be ‘work for the nation.’ The nation became their god.” (Dempsey, 2021)

In summary, Czechs are deeply suspicious of organized religion, but they certainly do not want to emulate the communists who expressly forbade religion. To be clear, there is no mandate against organized religion here.

My layperson’s takeaway is that the void in religion in the Czech Republic is simply the result of experiencing first-hand the repeated abuse of power by the state and of the awareness that organized religion can provide an abuser with added leverage, which should be avoided at all costs.

And then add Americans

So how could an eclectic group of idealistic Americans do anything but further complicate this multi-layered and highly complex situation? The answer to that question is far more straightforward than it might seem. Our oft-taken-for-granted understanding of the English language, when coupled with the love of God and a desire to do his work, marks us as uniquely qualified to help.

Those we are serving see the opportunity to learn or practice their English as such a blessing (or “mercy,” if you will) that their willingness to hear the Word in order to access this opportunity increases exponentially. When done gracefully and from a place of love, the simple act of sharing the Word in our native tongue can frame the Gospel in a new way and can serve to rebuild trust in the practice of religion that the people of the Czech Republic have, through no fault of their own, lost throughout their history of governmental unrest, abuse and oppression. 

Maybe the people we will serve already know that there was a man called Jesus. Maybe they have a vague idea about what it means to be a Christian. Maybe they want to know more but fear being ridiculed, or persecuted, or any of the other atrocities that Christians before them endured — and this is their only chance to seek knowledge of the Word without risking the stigma that could accompany that admission. Maybe they just want to play games, and sing songs, and engage with some foreign, silly Americans.

Regardless, English Bible Camp allows us the platform for the sharing of the Word, and God promises that His Word will not return empty (Is. 55:11).

Consider joining us next year to experience this challenge for yourself and help the people of the Czech Republic unlock the freedom of Christ. Visit to find out how.


Dempsey, S. (2021, May 26). Religion in the Czech Republic is Misidentified, and in Light of Pandemic, May be Prophetic for the Rest of the World. Prague Morning.