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Young team makes a prayerful walk through Central Europe

The people of the Czech Republic aren’t at all what Corey Keen was expecting. When the 28-year-old civil engineer and his wife, Sarah, moved to the Central European nation last October with a church-planting team, they didn’t anticipate a warm welcome.
The Czech capital, Prague, is “a fast-paced, high-density, international hub of business and tourism,” corey Keen said. The Czech people, like most Europeans, are always on the move and tend to keep to themselves, they were told.
The even team members quickly discovered that their new home, Olomouc, is different. Pronounced “o-lo-moats,” the city of about 102,000 is a place of historic buildings and cobblestone streets. Young people still give up their seats on the trams for the elderly, team member Christie Shockley said.
Most everyone is friendly – including the girl at the pizza parlor who smiles patiently as the missionaries stumble through the Czech language to place an order. Even the landlords are friendly. The Keens’ “has already had us over for dinner in her house with her family – and has implied that we will get together soon to go bowling,” Corey Keen said.
The members of Team Olomouc – the Keens, Shockley, Mitchell Anderson, Joshua and Sarah Beall and Graham Kervin – probably don’t meet the Czech people’s perception of Christian missionaries, either. Their average age is 27, and their degrees include architecture, graphic design, nursing and speech pathology. Anderson and Kervin have graduate Bible degrees from Abilene Christian University in Texas.
The team members became friends while studying at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. They participated in the Razorbacks for Christ ministry, supported by the North Street church, and traveled to Central Europe on campaigns.
“While a few of us were relaxing between classes near the end of my first campaign to Romania, missionary Phil Jackson asked us, ‘Have you ever considered long-term mission work – committing to five to 10 years overseas?'” Anderson said. “I really never had, but the following school year, I wrestled with that question a lot.”
Arkansas campus minister Scott Karnes helped the students set up a survey trip to the Czech Republic in 2001. Prague missionaries Allen and Laurie Diles and Galen Harrill hosted the group. They visited several Czech cities. They distributed Christian literature and “prayer-walked” the streets, saying prayers for every person they passed.
“It made me realize how many people are in need of the Savior,” Shockley said.
The Prague missionaries challenged the group to form a team and select a city, said Allen Diles, now an assistant professor of Bible at Harding University in Searcy, Ark.
“They did,” he added.
The team spent two years lining up supporters and training for the mission, assisted by Jackson, facilitator for European church planting for Missions resource Network in Bedford, Texas.
In addition to preparing them for life in Europe, Missions Resource Network stressed team cooperation. The ministry “challenged us to take hard looks at ourselves – and our relationships with our fellow teammates – before landing on terra firma in Olomouc,” Kervin said.
The team plans to plant multiple “cell churches” in Olomouc, meeting in apartments or homes, in the next 10 years. Meeting in a central location has traditionally hampered church growth Corey Keen said. “Small groups can help Czech Christians interact on a deeper level and take active leadership roles,” he added.
During the summer months, most of Olomouc’s people walk or bike to their destinations, Sarah Beall said. parents make time to play with their children outdoors. And, “I know you will be disappointed to learn we do not have a Starbucks in Olomouc,” she said.
SHe and her teammates are enjoying the slow pace of life as they take language classes, learn to cook Czech food and spend time with their new neighbors. “Learning to be a part of – and growing to love – this culture is one way to express to the Czech people that we are not here to force anything upon them,” she said.
Despite the friendliness of the people they’ve met, Corey Keen said he knows that reaching Olomouc with the gospel will be difficult. People are tolerant, but individualistic. “They don’t want to be defined by rules and regulations,” he said. “They want to be free to live their lives the way they want to.”
Europeans have spiritual struggles but are “no different from the rest of us and the rest of the world,” Joshua Beall said.
“We could choose to see these struggles as characteristics of an unreachable people, or we could choose to see them as the framework through which God is working in his people.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, see www.teamolomouc.com.

Filed under: International

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