Ruled by Faith in God in a Communist Land
AS TOLD BY ONDREJ KADLEC
DURING the summer of 1966, I was conducting a sight-seeing tour of my hometown—Prague, Czechoslovakia. Zealous for my newfound faith, I spoke about God while I showed the group our city’s impressive churches and temples.
“Are you one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” an American professor of economics asked.
“No,” I replied. “I have never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am a Roman Catholic.”
Becoming a Believer in God
I was reared by parents who were prominent in the fields of education, politics, and medicine. Shortly after my birth in 1944 and the end of World War II the following year, my father became a Communist. In fact, he was cofounder of the Communist reformist movement, and in 1966 he became chancellor of the University of Economics located in Prague. A couple of years later, he was appointed minister of education of Czechoslovakia, which by then was both a Communist and an atheistic country.
Mother was a scrupulously honest, talented woman. She was an eye surgeon, reputedly the best in the country. Yet, she would contribute her efforts to the needy without charge. She used to say: “Whatever gifts with which one is entrusted, these must be put to work for the benefit of the community and the nation.” She didn’t even take a maternity leave when I was born so she could be available at her clinic.
I was expected to excel scholastically. Father would ask: “Is anyone doing better than you?” I came to enjoy the competition, since I often won scholastic awards for excellence. I learned Russian, English, and German and traveled widely in the Communist world and beyond. I enjoyed refuting religious concepts as preposterous superstition. And although I fully embraced atheism, I came to hate its political expressions.
A trip to England in 1965, when I was only 21, had a profound effect on me. I met people who defended their faith in a Supreme Being with conviction and logic. After I returned to Prague, a Roman Catholic acquaintance suggested: “Don’t read about Christianity. Read the Bible.” That is what I did. It took me three months to finish it.
What impressed me was the way the Bible writers presented their messages. They were candid and self-critical. I came to believe that the magnificent future they spoke about was something that only a personal God could envision and provide.
After months of private Bible reading and meditation, I felt ready to face my father and friends. I knew they would challenge my newfound faith. After that, I became an avid proselytizer. Whoever was near me—such as that American professor mentioned at the outset—had to face my proselytizing. I even hung a crucifix on the wall above my bed to make everyone aware of my faith.
Mother, however, objected that I could hardly be a Christian, since I was so much like my father, an avid Communist. Yet, I persisted. I read the Bible a second and a third time. By then I realized that to make further progress, I needed guidance.
My Search Rewarded
I contacted the Roman Catholic Church. The main concern of a young priest was to teach me the doctrines of the church, which I fully accepted. Then, in 1966—to the shame of my father—I was baptized. After sprinkling me with water, the priest suggested that I read the Bible, but he added: “The pope has already accepted the theory of evolution, so don’t worry; we shall differentiate the wheat from the weeds.” I was shocked that the book that had supplied me with faith should be questioned.
Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1966, I spoke with a friend from a Catholic family and shared my beliefs with him. He was also familiar with the Bible, and he spoke to me about Armageddon. (Revelation 16:16) He said that he was in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, whom I had first heard about a couple of months before when I was conducting that sight-seeing tour mentioned earlier. However, I considered his group insignificant compared with my powerful, rich, populous Roman Catholic Church.
During further discussions, we examined three burning issues. First, Is the Roman Catholic Church the heir of first-century Christianity? Second, What should be considered the ultimate authority—my church or the Bible? And third, Which is right, the Bible account of creation or the theory of evolution?
As the Bible was the source of faith for both of us, my friend had no problem convincing me that the teachings of the Catholic Church are very different from those of early Christianity. For example, I learned that even Catholic sources acknowledge that the prominent church teaching of the Trinity is not based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles.
That brought us to the related question of what our ultimate authority should be. I referred to the quotation of St. Augustine: “Roma locuta est; causa finita est,” that is, “Rome has spoken; the case is concluded.” But my friend held that God’s Word, the Bible, should be our supreme authority. I had to agree with the words of the apostle Paul: “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.”—Romans 3:4.
Finally, my friend offered me a shabby, typewritten manuscript entitled Evolution Versus the New World. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses had been banned in Czechoslovakia in the late 1940’s, they would make copies of their publications and would exercise care as to who received them. Upon reading this booklet, I knew it contained the truth. My friend started a Bible study with me. He would lend me several pages at a time from the Bible study aid “Let God Be True,” and we would discuss these pages together.
Shortly after we began these discussions—during the Christmas season of 1966—friends from West Germany came to Prague to see me. In one of our discussions, they ridiculed Christians as hypocritical warmongers. “As soldiers of NATO countries, we could fight against you as a professed Christian in a Communist Warsaw Pact country,” they said. Their conclusion: “It’s better to be cynical than hypocritical.” I felt that perhaps they were right. So during my next Bible study, I asked my friend how true Christians deal with war and training for it.
Decisions I Faced
I was stunned by my friend’s clear explanation. Yet, to comply with the Bible teaching to ‘beat swords into plowshares’ would dramatically change my life and intended career. (Isaiah 2:4) In five months I was to graduate from the medical university, after which I would be required to perform a period of compulsory military service. What should I do? I was in shock. So I prayed to God.
After days of deep, contemplative thought, I could find no excuse for not complying with the requirement for true Christians to be men of peace. After graduating from the university, I determined that until I was sentenced as a conscientious objector, I would accept a position in a hospital. But then I learned what the Bible says about abstaining from blood. Realizing that my work might involve me in giving blood transfusions, I decided to quit working in the hospital. (Acts 15:19, 20, 28, 29) The decision resulted in my suffering widespread public disrepute.
My father, after making sure that I hadn’t become a willful troublemaker who sought to ruin his political career, stepped in and had my compulsory military service postponed for a year. That summer of 1967 was difficult for me. Consider my situation: I was a new Bible student whose study instructor, the only Witness with whom I had yet come in contact, was away for the summer. And he had left behind only a few chapters from the “Let God Be True” book for my personal study. These and my Bible were my only sources of spiritual guidance.
Later, I became acquainted with other Witnesses, and on March 8, 1968, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism. The following year I was offered a two-year course of postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford in England. Some suggested that I accept the offer and go to England where I could progress spiritually in a land where the Witnesses were not under ban. At the same time, I could prepare for a fine professional career. Yet, a Christian elder said that my services were not needed as much in England as they were in Czechoslovakia. So I decided to decline that offer to further my secular education, and I stayed in Czechoslovakia to help in our underground preaching activity.
In 1969, I was invited to attend a Kingdom Ministry School course that featured specialized instruction for Christian overseers. That same year I won a scholarship as the best young pharmacologist in Czechoslovakia. As a result, I attended a convention of the International Union of Pharmacology in Switzerland.
A Scientist Changes His Views
During a lecture I attended in 1970, a scientist named Frantis̆ek Vyskočil explained the complicated subject of nerve-impulse transmission. He said that whenever a need in an organism was encountered, an outstanding solution was provided. “Nature, the Enchantress, knows how to do this,” he concluded.
After the lecture I approached him. “Don’t you think,” I asked, “that credit for the excellent design in living things should go to God?” My question took him by surprise, as he was an atheist. He responded with questions of a different sort. He asked: “Where did evil come from?” and, “Who is to blame that so many children are orphans?”
When I gave reasonable, Bible-based answers, his interest was aroused. But he asked why the Bible does not provide specific scientific information, such as a description of the structure of a cell, so that people could easily recognize its author to be the Creator. “What is more difficult,” I responded, “to describe or to create?” I lent him the book Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation?
After a superficial reading of it, Frantis̆ek branded it simple and incorrect. He also criticized what the Bible said about polygamy, David’s adultery, and David’s murder of an innocent man. (Genesis 29:23-29; 2 Samuel 11:1-25) I refuted his objections, pointing out that the Bible honestly reports the shortcomings even of God’s servants, as well as their outright transgressions.
Finally, in one of our discussions, I told Frantis̆ek that if one is without good motive, if he lacks love for the truth, no form of argument or reason would convince him of God’s existence. As I was about to leave, he stopped me and asked for a Bible study. He said he would read again the book Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation?—this time with an open mind. Afterward, his attitude changed completely, as evidenced by the following quotation he included in one of his letters: “The haughtiness of the earthling man must bow down, and the loftiness of men must become low; and Jehovah alone must be put on high in that day.”—Isaiah 2:17.
In the summer of 1973, Frantis̆ek and his wife were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Presently, he serves as an elder in one of Prague’s congregations.
Preaching Under Ban
During the ban we were directed to carry on our field ministry with great caution. Once, a younger Witness kept after me to share in the preaching work with him. He questioned whether those who take the lead in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses actually go out in the ministry themselves. We enjoyed many nice conversations in our informal ministry. But eventually we met a man who, although I did not realize it at the time, recognized my face from a photograph in an album of the state secret police. Although I wasn’t arrested, from then on I was subject to close official scrutiny that hindered my effectiveness in our underground preaching activity.
During the summer of 1983, as had been my custom in previous years, I organized a group of young Witnesses to spend a few days witnessing informally in a remote part of the country. Failing to heed wise counsel, I drove my car because it was more convenient than using public transportation. When we took a short break to buy a few items at a department store, I parked my car out front. While paying for the items, I pointed to some young shop assistants and remarked to an older employee: “In the future, all of us could be young.” The lady smiled. “However, it is not within our human reach,” I continued. “Assistance from above would be necessary.”
Since there was no further response, I left. Unknown to me, the employee, suspecting that I was promoting religious views, watched me through the window as I put the parcel into my car. She then informed the police. Hours later, after sharing in informal witnessing in other parts of town, my partner and I returned to the car. Suddenly, two policemen appeared and took us into custody.
At the police station, we were interrogated for many hours before we were told we could go. My first thought was regarding what to do with the addresses of interested persons we had acquired that day. So I went to the toilet to flush them away. But before I could, the strong hand of a policeman prevented me. He retrieved the papers from the toilet bowl and cleaned them off. This caused further stress for me, since people who had given me their addresses were now put in danger.
Afterward, all of us were taken to our hotel, where the police had already raided our room. But they had not found any other addresses of interested persons, although these had not been carefully hidden. Later, at my place of employment as a neuropharmacologist, I was publicly reprimanded for my involvement in illegal activity. Also, I was chastised by the overseer of the preaching work in Czechoslovakia, who earlier had warned me not to use my car when we traveled to share in the ministry.
Submitting to Discipline
In 1976, I had been assigned to serve on the committee that oversees the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Czechoslovakia. But since my life had come under close scrutiny by the secret police due to my exercise of poor judgment in such matters as mentioned earlier, I was relieved of serving on the country committee and of various other privileges. One of these privileges that I especially treasured was that of teaching the school for traveling overseers and pioneers, as full-time ministers are called.
I accepted the discipline received, but this period in the mid-to-late 1980’s was a difficult one of self-examination for me. Would I learn to work more discreetly and avoid further indiscretions? Psalm 30, verse 5, says: “In the evening weeping may take up lodging, but in the morning there is a joyful cry.” That morning came for me with the fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in November 1989.
What a change it was to share in our ministry freely and to enjoy open communication with the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York! Soon I was assigned as a traveling overseer, and I began this work in January 1990.
Then, in 1991, I was privileged to attend the Ministerial Training School in Manchester, England. What a blessing it was to spend two months enjoying association with and instruction from mature Christian men! For a period each day, we students had a work assignment, which provided relief from our intense academic instruction. I was assigned to clean windows.
Immediately after returning from England, I began to help arrange for the momentous gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses held August 9 to 11 at the huge Strahov Stadium in Prague. On that occasion 74,587 people from many lands met freely to worship our God, Jehovah!
The following year I stopped working secularly as a neuropharmacologist. For nearly four years, I have been working at the office in Prague, where I serve again on the committee that oversees the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Czech Republic. Recently a new ten-story building, donated to Jehovah’s Witnesses, was renovated and put to use as a branch office. On May 28, 1994, this fine facility was dedicated to Jehovah’s service.
Among my greatest blessings has been the privilege of sharing Bible truths with others, including my relatives. As yet, my father and mother have not become Witnesses, but they are now favorable to my activity. During the past few years, they have attended some of our meetings. My earnest hope is that they, along with millions more honesthearted persons, will humbly submit to the rule of God’s Kingdom and enjoy the everlasting blessings that God holds in store for those who choose to serve him.
(Publications referred to in this article are published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.)
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When I was a university student
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My father, who became the minister of education of Czechoslovakia, and my mother, who was a prominent eye surgeon
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Frantis̆ek Vyskočil, a scientist and an atheist, who became a Witness
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Since the fall of Communism, Jehovah’s Witnesses have held many large conventions in Eastern Europe. Over 74,000 attended this one in Prague in 1991
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On my work assignment when attending the Ministerial Training School in England
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Our branch facilities in Prague, dedicated May 28, 1994