As leader of the only Russian-speaking United Methodist congregation in the Czech Republic, Pastor Lev Shults knows about the need for reconciled cooperation across the borders of cultures and nations. That is why he calls it a blessing that in his church, Russians and Ukrainians — despite the antagonism between their countries of origin — share a common journey.
“I believe that Christians coming from different countries should always be able to find common ground in Jesus Christ,” he said. But he is also aware of reality: “Unfortunately, not every Russian or Ukrainian church can claim the same.”
Shults isn’t blinded by an idealistic view of a life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. His great-grandfather was persecuted for his faith, accused of being an enemy of the people, sentenced to death on Stalin's orders and executed by firing squad in 1937. His father, pastor of two Russian parishes, was a German prisoner of war for three years. But Shults, too, dedicates his life to the proclamation of the Gospel.
“I am convinced that as a pastor and a missionary, I carry a certain responsibility to use every opportunity that God opens up to me to share the Gospel,” he said.
He founded Agape United Methodist Church in Prague in late 2017, joining 22 other Czech-speaking churches in the country. There are about 100,000 Russian-speaking people living in the area of capital city Prague, though most of them do not attend any local church. Shults’ church currently has about 30 members, and he makes a point to go outside the church walls to create relationships with the surrounding community.
“If we make ourselves available to the Lord for his use, he will bring us in touch with all kinds of people, from the famous and respected to the simple and despised,” Shults said.
Sometimes, such relationships with influential people help to open new doors. For example, Shults has been invited to lecture at the School of Fine Arts for Russian-speaking youth seeking to become part of the Czech community. He lectures on important figures in Czech church history. In the course of this teaching activity, he not only speaks about the lives of these people, but also about how their faith in Jesus Christ drove them. He also gives regular lectures at the Russian Center for Science and Culture, reaching new sections of the population.
Shults also experiences how God sends him — together with others — to the poor and desperate and, if he is willing to follow this call, how God also gives him the means to help these people in their need. In these moments, living faith becomes concrete in a completely different way: passing on food, clothing and other signs of hope and love.
Another way to reach people is through Bible-based English classes. The courses are a good opportunity to invite friends who are secularized and have had few positive church experiences. In a joyful community, they make steps in learning a foreign language, and at the same time they are introduced to pivotal aspects of Christian faith.
Pastor Shults and Agape Church want to continue to perceive open doors and go where God sends them. It is their prayer that God will fill the many empty churches in the country, and that the buildings will not be visited primarily to take photos, but to meet God.
Schweizer is assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area, Zurich, Switzerland.
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