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Retired missionary Johnny Johnson (L) with Roman Martyščák

As MTW Missionaries Retire, Czech Christians Rise to the Challenge to Grow Local Church

Growing up in the Czech Republic, Roman Martyščák had no interest in Christianity. The way he saw it, God was for old people and the dying, a superstitious talking point for weddings and funerals with little practical use.

“I didn’t care for any of that,” Roman said. “At that time, I was just looking to fulfil my own desires. I thought that life gives pleasure and I should take as much as I could.”

Today, the Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic nations in the world—with between 65 and 70% of Czechs self-identifying as atheist. Back then, Roman was one of them, little suspecting how God would use him in the years to come.

Money and Motorcycles

As a young man, Roman moved to the U.S. intending to make his fortune and then return home. Over the next decade, he moved all over the country for work: from Colorado to Rhode Island and beyond, making good money along the way.

“I loved motocross, so I bought a motorcycle and started racing,” Roman said. “My life was all about that. And yet, even when I had money, when I had the sport I loved, when I had everything, I was still unsatisfied inside.”

One day, standing out on the motocross track, Roman turned to a friend and asked: “What is this all about? Why are we here?”

“I don’t know,” his friend answered. “Just forget it.”

But the question kept nagging Roman, tugging on his empty heart. Six months later, Roman woke up in the middle of the night, the question ringing in his ears louder than ever.

Money and motorcycles could not bring him happiness—so what was life all about? Suddenly, the thought came to him: “If there is a God, I am here for Him, and He is here for me.”

“It was like everything was changed from black to white,” said Roman. “I was a brand new man.”

The next day, Roman went straight to a bookstore, bought a Bible, and started to read.

“The Bible was answering all my questions, opening the world in front of my eyes,” he said. “I started reading it from Genesis—from God creating the world, the curse—and I knew I was a sinner. And then I read about the Savior who came for His own, for the world, and I was happy. I was different. And I didn’t want to turn back.”

Utterly transformed, Roman prayed that God would use him to bring the gospel to his fellow Czechs.

Glued Together in Hardship

MTW missionaries Johnny and Annette Johnson met Roman soon after they moved to the Czech Republic in 2010 to work with the Zlin Reformed Church. At that point, Roman had moved back to his home country, gotten married, and he and his family were members of the church, armed with a fierce love for Jesus and a passion for the Reformed faith.

“When he got back, Roman invited some of our former missionary partners to come into his household and teach a Bible study,” said Annette. “Through that, his sister and her then-future husband came to know the Lord. After that missionary couple left, Roman invited us to come in and start leading the Bible study with them.”

For the next three years, the Johnsons worked side by side with Roman and his wife, sharing the gospel, talking about Christ, and praying and worshipping together in Roman’s home two or three times every month. This, they thought, was exactly the sort of budding Christian leader the church in Zlin needed! But Roman lacked confidence, never believing that he was cut out for church leadership. His humility was admirable, but his hesitancy held him back from serving the church to his full potential.

Then Roman’s business fell into serious trouble, and eventual failure—an unfortunate result of the global financial crisis. The next few years were an extremely trying, testing time for Roman’s heart, soul, and faith. But the Johnsons and the church came around him, supporting Roman and his family spiritually, emotionally, and financially. Ultimately, the period of hardship pushed Roman to seek the Lord more deeply. It stretched him, growing him into a wiser, more sensitive, spiritually mature believer.

“We glue together in hardship,” Roman said. “When the business was going down, it felt like God had abandoned me. But the church showed us what community really means. That was a moment of gluing the church and our family together as one.”

In 2016, the Johnsons and the church invited Roman to help teach the junior high Sunday school class. At first, Roman doubted that he could do the job. “I don’t know how to teach,” he argued. “I don’t have anything to say.”

Johnny and Annette worked with him, planning lessons and teaching side by side. Over the coming months, God grew Roman’s love for the children, as well as his confidence. By 2018, the elders of Zlin Reformed Church asked Roman to lead the entire Sunday school program—a task he took on with gusto, skill, and a gospel-driven passion. By late 2020, he had been ordained as an elder himself—ushering in a new era of spiritual leadership.

Roman & Maddie

“During the last few years, we watched Roman become a powerful witness for the Lord,” said Johnny. “He really stepped up to the plate—started holding teacher training meetings and opportunities to pray for the kids. He is pretty widely recognized in the church as someone that God has His hand upon.

A Pattern of Gospel Growth

The way Johnny and Annette see it, Roman is representative of what God has been doing in the Zlin Reformed Church over their whole period of missionary service. Over the last 10 years, the Johnsons have seen not only Roman, but many others come forward to develop the church and spread the gospel in the Czech Republic. The kids who the Johnsons taught in Sunday school when they were but 9 or 10 years old are now in their early 20s and leading Christian youth groups, not just for their church, but for the whole community.

Meanwhile, older Christians in the church are looking toward the future, strategizing about how to best disciple the younger generation and draw them into ministry. Just in the last year, the Zlin Reformed Church joined a network of churches that is actively working to plant churches throughout the Czech Republic.

As for Roman, he sees the legacy of the MTW missionaries who have cycled through Zlin over years as a core to the church’s current health and self-sufficiency: “The first missionaries were Sid and Louise Anderson, and through them I saw God grow the church from its beginning to a firm foundation; then Hans and Gretchen Deutschmann came, and through them the Lord gave the church even more love and heart and compassion; and finally the Johnsons came, and through them the Lord gave the church stability, warmth, focus, and vision. All of them gave to the church their full hearts, gifts, and talents. The church grew as the seasons went by. The best thing now would be if we could have all of them here and enjoy the fullness with them.”

Each missionary family served as a crucial building block for the church, giving it a unique element that only they could give, and ultimately setting it up to succeed and grow on its own.

This past December, Johnny and Annette retired from the mission field after a decade of faithful service. They’re leaving behind not a church scrambling to survive in their absence, but a body of believers strengthened by the legacy of several generations of missionaries and ready to lead the way into the future. Roman is just one of many fueled by grace and on fire for the gospel.

We are praying for God to send 300 new missionaries to Europe in the next 10 years. How could you serve? Visit mtw.org/join

Andrew Shaughnessy, Czech Republic May 25, 2021
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