When I was a teenager and college student, I am ashamed to admit I was self-righteously appalled by elaborate Catholic Churches. I even wrote a paper in my second year at UT Knoxville World History class about how Mother Teresa was a much more accurate depiction of Christ than the Pope. And although I still believe this to be likely true (because I think she totally rocks!), the paper was written with much disdain and arrogance at the time, which I regret. I remember desperately wanting to worship with other Christians in Cuzco, Peru my junior semester abroad and thinking I couldn’t worship at the only churches in town, which were Catholic. I was also appalled by the poor laying on their doorsteps and more disgusted by the opulence I saw on the outside. I have had a change of heart on this trip. Perhaps it’s because as I grow older, humility seems to be finding its way into my heart more and more, and I realize the only thing I know for sure is that none of us have it all figured out (or even have hardly anything figured out). I understand their reasoning and the need, when they were built to communicate with a primarily illiterate population through stained glass stories and paintings, and other reasons Catholics cite. Check out the linked article above for a summary.
While in Budapest, we worshipped at St. Matthias Church. I will admit the kids were totally weirded out, and it’s not like we haven’t been to a Catholic service before. Of course, it was in Hungarian, so that added to the strangeness. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer the Protestant worship I grew up around much more; but I actually enjoyed the droning liturgy, alternating kneeling and standing, and awe-inspiring surroundings. The combination was a perfect encouragement for meditation on Christ and his week of Passion that was ahead. I caught a glimpse of perhaps what my Christian Catholic brothers and sisters are drawn to.
The following Holy Week, we traveled through Auschwitz and the Polish Jewish Quarter. Poland is actually the most religious country in Eastern Europe, claiming 90% to be Catholic. Many people think this is related to their being a more agrarian society, the church being an adamant force against communism there, and their beloved Pope John Paul II’s 27 year reign in the Vatican. Still, as usual, only about 20-40% of those go to weekly mass.
And then we arrived in Prague. We were there for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. We planned to worship at the Church of Our Lady before Tyne,
But ended up at Saint Nicholas Church for their Easter Concert.
And then as we toured around, I was shocked to hear the Czech Republic may be the most nonreligious country in the world. Our guide said his latest statistics told him 80% of the people were atheist. 80%…. Wow, now that is really sad. What could have caused this? Why did I not know this? When I looked into it and listened further, I discovered the following:
Christianity came to the Czech Republic near the 10th century through the Roman Catholic Church and converted Moravian chieftains around the 850s. This state enforced Catholicism continued for 4 centuries. Then, in the 14th century, John Wyclife championed the cause of translating the Bible for the masses, and in the 15th century Jan Hus came on the scene in what is now the Czech Republic. I have heard of Martin Luther, but not this guy. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses weren’t posted on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany till October 31, 1517. The Catholic Church had burned Hus at the stake almost 100 years before that. He founded the Hussites, which were influenced heavily by Wycliffe. His followers basically believed in returning to the ways of the first century church. They believed the church should have no hierarchy and the Bible was the sole rule for humans in all matters, They believed that anything without a specific basis in the Bible, such as honoring saints and images, holidays, confession to priests, indulgences, intercession for the dead, confirmation, and anointing the sick (but this was traditionally used for things more than sickness) was not allowed. They also didn’t believe the bread and wine actually become the flesh and blood of Christ when taken in the Lord’s Supper. Any of my church of Christ friends think this sounds familiar? However, while they did believe laymen could be preachers, they also allowed women to preach. Eventually though, the pope believed this justified 5 crusades against the Hussites (but he was defeated 5 times) and burning Hus at the stake. This is a statue of him in Old Town Square on fire.
During all this, several incidences of Protestants throwing Catholics out windows ( or defenestrations) increased the turmoil obviously; even though technically this wasn’t killing. The concept of defenestration is that If God wanted to He could intervene and miraculously alter gravity. Then, with the Battle of White Mountain that ended the wars with the beheading of 27 Bohemian nobles, the Catholics took control again. Add 40 years of Communism and a lot of Catholic scandals (see Spotlight and Philomena just to name a few) and you have a country soundly indifferent towards the church. Yuck. We can really mess it up sometimes.
I have discovered throughout our trip the great need for Christ everywhere we’ve been. But most of the people we have met think He is decidedly absent. The PEW report still claims that in 2014, 70.6% of Americans were still Christians, especially in the Bible Belt. In 2014, three-fourths of the Bible Belt still describes itself as Christian. Your odds of believing in Jesus were definitely set up nicely if you were born in this area. Hartford Institute for Religion Research recently did a study noting that there are more megachurches per capita (67) in Tennessee than any other state. And, according to the Barna Group in 2016, Chattanooga is the most “Bible-minded” city in the country.
The weird part is, we still send most missionaries to mostly Christian nations. A 2013 Christianity Today article noted the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary study, “The ‘top nine’ receiving countries were home to only 3.5% of the world’s non-Christians but received more than 34% of all international missionaries…All nine have Christian majorities, and they were home to over 34% of the world’s Christians in 2010…” The most non-Christian nations received only 9%. Why is this?
And guess what? The US received more missionaries in 2010 than anywhere else! That one blew my mind and hurt my heart at the same time.
This just doesn’t make any sense to me. Does anyone else think our Christian missionary focus needs just a good hearty round table discussion. First, I realize sometimes God truly puts a certain country or location or group of people firmly on our heart, and you don’t question that. He is clearly calling you there. But, I know most often in my life experience, mission trips go to Latin America generally. I know Latin America is close, but the language barrier is significant and the majority are Christians. Even if we know Spanish, when I was in Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Costa Rica, we almost always had to have two translators – one from English to Spanish and then one from Spanish to the local tribal language. We had the same experience in Ghana, first to English and often two more steps into the correct tribal language. This is not very effective, and I won’t even start thinking about how culturally inept we are in these communities for shorter trips.
Now, I’m not that naive. The majority of Latin America is Roman Catholic. I realize a lot of Protestants think Catholics are going to hell, and I have discovered a lot of Catholics think Protestants are going to hell (or at least are at very high risk!). So maybe we are just trying to convert each other? But I think we can see from the Hussite example above and a hundred others, this is not a great idea if we want more people to embrace Jesus. Or, as I was talking to Walden and Ella about it, we all agreed physical need was another great factor in missions. But, it seems more and more research shows this is best done in country by local people who have a longterm commitment for many reasons. We can be a tremendous aid in supporting these works financially, with prayer and encouraging visits; but we are not always the best to do the hands on work.
Meanwhile, PEW research discovered in 2016 that California, Minnesota, Nevada, Rhode Island, Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, New York, Alaska, Washington, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maine claim less than 50% Christians in their populations, with Massachusetts and New Hampshire down at 33%. They are in our own backyard and speak English! It reminds me hauntingly of a homeschool conference I went to, where a Harvard graduate beseeched us as parents and students to consider universities in these states. Who else will show these people the love of Christ, if not students who know Him and what He can do in the lives of people who know Him. Or, even families, who are willing to relocate and work in these places while supporting a church, could make a real impact.
But … I don’t really want to do this. It is really hard to live somewhere where you spend the whole day and never meet a Christian, or you have to drive over an hour or more to meet with a group of believers. And what about my kids and marriage? I feel like we’re barely holding it together when we’re meeting with Christians 4 times a week! Maybe a group of families would be a better idea to go and plant a church in these areas, so their kids and parents could support each other. I’m sure this is happening, but I just never hear about it.
And, If I’m totally honest, I feel most safe if my children go to David Lipscomb or close to home with the UCSC at TN Tech. The thought of one of them taking on a jaded group of intellectuals at an Ivy League university sounds overwhelming. But that is how I hoped to raise them … confident, bold, and brave while overflowing with compassion, love, mercy, and a desire for justice. That what salt is for right?
And then I think internationally. Even outside of the hostile Middle East, the Christian population in much of Asia is almost nonexistent. Nepal has .9% Christians, India 2.3%, Cambodia has 1%, Thailand has 1.2%. Imagine what this looks like. Do you know how crowded these places are? I keep seeing Ms. Opal when we did the 30 hour Famine, physically impacted when she saw the 25,000 paper links draped throughout our hallway representing the children that die daily from starvation. She almost came down on her knees when she walked in the door. That is how I want to be impacted by this. But … not really if I’m honest, cause it really hurts and makes it hard to live. Do I really think if I were born there, somehow I would miraculously believe in Jesus? I just want to make sure if I find any glimmer of a spark there, I do all I can to kindle it, like with Mission India.
So, CORE Group and CR family, are you ready to move to Massachusetts? I feel confident Celebrate Recovery would be welcome anywhere! I love you all so much and I pray someday the Lord prepares my family to do something like this and every member is willing. Thank you for being that support to me, so I can do that for others.
I will add one slightly funny but disturbing comment to end. After sharing these disheartening stories about faith in the Czech Republic, he then followed with the statistic that beer drinking per capita here was 142.6 liters vs 75.8 for the USA. That works out to 3 beers per day on average for every man, woman, child (so clearly lots of people have more than 3 per day (unless they also feed it to their infants and pregnant ladies). Everyone laughed at this, like there was a connection possibly. Maybe Celebrate Recovery is the best idea ever here!