In Prague, college grads form real-life networks
EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 1-8 with the theme of "Totally His heart, hands, voice" from Matthew 22:36-39. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support nearly 5,000 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $175 million.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (BP) -- When Evan and Lauren Parker decided to venture overseas for six months after college graduation, their friends thought they were crazy.
But, as Evan put it, "We shouldn't let what the world is telling us to do get in the way of what God is calling us to do."The Parkers are in Prague -- the Czech Republic city known as the atheist capital of Europe -- serving in the semester-long Hands On program of the International Mission Board, which gives college students and young adults an opportunity to serve Christ alongside missionary mentors.
The Parkers learned quickly that Americans aren't the only ones who may think their plan -- deferring student loans and teaching English for free -- is crazy. From a Gospel standpoint, it has been a great conversation-starter with Czech young people.
Evan has been meeting with a language partner, Pavel, who doesn't really understand why anyone would make the kind of choices the Parkers have.
"To him it's just craziness, but I can see how it's turning in his mind that 'there's something different about this guy.' It makes him question the things he's been holding onto for so long and what his society is telling him," Evan said. "And it always comes back to the love of Christ that he has seen in me and the servant attitude I have."
Evan describes Pavel as someone who comes at faith from a different end of the spectrum. Like most Czechs, Pavel isn't even sure God exists, let alone that He leads and guides in life decisions.
But Evan and Lauren are in Prague to intentionally engage people like Pavel with face-to-face friendship and help them grapple with spiritual truths.
Prague team leader Will Robbins and team member Brian McClure have worked to help Evan and Lauren as well as two other Hands On volunteers, Taylor McGhee and Courtney Cox, understand how important it is to have true social networks -- not computer-generated ones -- to share the Gospel.
Lauren said her time in Prague has taught her "what a real, existing social network is -- something where there's real-life people in front of you. It's not electronic. You have to go out in the community and see what's going on, and you have to join it and be a part of it. That's when people really will be able to see and feel the love of Christ."
Taylor echoes this truth. She has been teaching English, working with youth and participating in clubs "with the intention of sharing the Gospel" and investing in people's lives. She described this outlook, which she has learned in Prague, as life-changing.
Although the primary motive behind joining clubs and interacting with people is to share the Gospel, Lauren also found that God would use those networks in other ways. She found a believer through her efforts and this believer now wants to partner with Brian and Will to create a Christian social network -- a church plant.
"It's exciting to be a part of that," Lauren said.
Courtney, who calls herself "just a Georgia girl," is a bit in awe of how God has called her, used her and changed her over the past few months.
Coming directly from college, Courtney thought she was ready to take on the world. But she said her time in Prague has been a time of creating a new person. Her fresh resolve is to be flexible, keep her eyes open and join God in His work.
"This is the Lord's work," she said. "We cannot save people. It is the Holy Spirit in His timing. I finally prayed, 'Lord, I want to join You in Your work that You were doing before Will [Robbins] got here -- before IMB even got here.’
"It's His work."
Hands On has given Courtney the opportunity to see what ministry looks like in another continent, country, culture and language. She hopes other young people will take hold of the opportunities Hands On provides.
"He can use each of us with our own talents -- our own gifts -- to reach the community we're in. He chooses us, sends us and equips us as we're going in a season of life."
Courtney marvels that although she's not a teacher, she's taught English in Prague; though she's not a basketball player, she's played ball to make relationships.
"He uses us when He wants to, how He wants to, for His glory," she said.
Although she has been used in Prague, Courtney said she's learned more importantly that she doesn't have to go anywhere to be on mission with God.
"Missions is not traveling. That's not what it's about. It's about going to reach your neighbor and getting to know them," she said. "I'm excited to go home and take what I've learned from Hands On training and from living here in Prague and just about being intentional with people.
"We can be [Christ's] hands and feet. People may not hear the actual words -- the script of the Gospel -- but they can see it," Courtney said. "That's a start. You gotta start somewhere. Meeting needs, meeting people where they are, loving on them -- that's what it's all about."
For more information about the IMB's Hands On program, go to http://www.imbstudents.org/HandsOn.aspx. For collegians or young adults who may want to serve for a week, a semester or two to three years in missions, learn of specific opportunities at imbstudents.org.
Nicole Lee is an IMB writer based in Europe. The video and photos for this story were produced by a team from California Baptist University who gave three weeks of their summer break to visit Prague.