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Heroes serving God in hard places

by Laurie Lind, Entrust staff writer

Marilyn Farnik spends hours on trains, traveling to conduct women’s training seminars. In her hometown of Prague, she meets with women of all ages to study Scripture, teaches English classes, helps at a children’s Bible club, and assists at evangelistic summer camps and biblical counseling conferences.

Yet, she calls some of the local Czech women her heroes. Czech pastors’ wives, a single woman serving diligently in her church and among refugees, women whose husbands are not yet Christians. More about those heroes in a moment.

Marilyn and her husband, Jerry, have served God faithfully in the Czech Republic for 35 years, and are still going strong. As evangelists, church planters, disciplers and ministry trainers, they have invested their lives in thousands of people across the country. They are accustomed to serving in a place of notoriously hard spiritual soil, where most people consider themselves atheists and where materialism has quickly supplanted socialistic communism in society.

The Farniks came to Czechoslovakia in 1982, seven years prior to the end of communism. Sent by a student Christian organization, their cover was Jerry’s study of Czech opera. They were students in a socialist country, seeking to share Christ with whomever they could. After communism ended, they were able to do ministry openly.

Even now, 32 years after the country gained political and religious freedom, Christian work is tough going. The Czech Republic consistently ranks as the #1 or #2 most atheistic country in Europe. “It’s kind of a sad situation,” Marilyn says, explaining that the people they work with either grew up during the communist era or are the children of that generation, raised to believe in scientific atheism. “About one-half of one percent are evangelical Protestants,” she says, adding that a higher percentage might call themselves Roman Catholic, but few practice that faith, many attending church only at Christmas.

Jerry and Marilyn are planting a church in Prague. Jerry preaches God’s word each Sunday and leads Bible studies for the congregation, while Marilyn teaches studies for women and meets with them regularly. She plans to launch a young moms’ group soon, as there has been a spate of new babies born in the congregation.

“We do a lot of evangelism,” Marilyn says. Jerry and Marilyn conduct a Bible club in a public school for elementary aged kids, most of whom are unchurched. They also offer English classes for people of all ages, incorporating the Bible and the gospel whenever possible. Those English classes “are one of the best ways to meet people” and talk about the Lord.

One of Marilyn’s greatest joys is “seeing someone come to faith in Christ. Then, seeing them walk faithfully with the Lord, seeing that they are coming to understand who God is better, growing in their understanding of the word of God. That is wonderful.”

Jerry and Marilyn both conduct Entrust training modules with groups of men and women, respectively.

That is where Marilyn’s travel comes in.

She takes groups of women through a series of seven Entrust training modules over the course of five years. She has one group in Prague, with little travel but a great deal of preparation required. Her other groups are in Silesia (northeast Czech Republic, on the Polish and Slovak border) and in Moravia (southeast part of the country).

Each group meets for four hours once a month, and each woman has about nine hours of homework between meetings. Marilyn puts in a lot of time, studying different material for each of her groups. The courses the women take include how to study the Bible, the Christian life, evangelism and discipleship, marriage, family, women’s ministry and biblical counseling.

Ideally, the women will pass on their learning to new small groups or other ministries of their own in their churches or communities. Marilyn and Jerry have “a very strong desire to pass on leadership,” but find that Czechs are sometimes hesitant to take on leadership roles.

Marilyn sees several reasons for this. Many of the women have very full lives, working outside the home and caring for their families. Others are concerned that some people in the church will think that they are proud if they offer to lead a Bible study. Marilyn says that some of the students need to better understand Jesus’ ministry as a servant-leader and how humble leadership provides others with an opportunity or mutual encouragement and growth.

Thus it is that another of Marilyn’s greatest joys is when a woman steps out in faith to initiate ministry in some way. “When you hear a woman say, ‘I am going to meet with this group of women,’ and they really see the value of leading others and discipling them, that is a very joyful aspect of the work. It is wonderful to see God giving them this desire and using them to help others.”

Which leads Marilyn to bring up her heroes.

“Some of the pastors’ wives are really amazing here. In spite of the fact that they have to share their husbands with the whole congregation, they have a great attitude, and they’re grateful to the Lord that God is using their husbands. They themselves are continually looking for opportunities to encourage women in their church, lead studies, or meet with women and counsel them. They live very sacrificially, frequently opening their homes to provide meals and have people stay with them. And they do this cheerfully, rejoicing in the Lord. They’re a great model for their churches of how to trust God even when life is very difficult.”

Another of her heroes is a single woman who is a lawyer, involved in many ministries in her church and caring for her mother who is very ill. A few years ago, this woman initiated one of the training groups Marilyn leads in her Silesian church. In addition, she “has a great heart for immigrants, especially from the Middle East.” As often as she can, up to four times a year, she goes to Greece, Turkey or other countries where there are refugee camps, bringing basic supplies and Christian literature. “She continually tries to motivate others to come with her, pray for these people and help them.” She also helps immigrants seeking asylum in the Czech Republic in coordination with a Christian lawyers’ association.

Yet another of Marilyn’s heroes is a woman in their church in Prague. Marilyn first met this woman when she attended Jerry and Marilyn’s English classes and her children came to their Bible club. “She heard the gospel many times,” Marilyn says, “and it was very new to her.” Eventually, she came to faith in Christ and is now part of the church. “She is learning what it means to be a Christian in the workplace and as a wife and mother. It hasn’t been easy for her, but God in his graciousness has brought her husband along, as well. For many years, we had very little contact with him, but now he attends our church services frequently or listens to them online. We’re hoping and praying that he will also put his faith in Christ.”

Such women are heroes in Marilyn’s eyes. In the end, all of them, including Marilyn, do what they do for the glory of their ultimate hero, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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