Rev. Jim Rand (Milwaukee) Reflects on trip/time with Diaconia Connections

Rev. Jim Rand is the head pastor at Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church in Wauwatosa, WI. Jim, along with his wife Sarah, were part of a 4-person delegation from the Milwaukee Presbytery that traveled with Diaconia Connections to explore potential international mission partnerships for the Milwaukee Presbytery. Jim's reflection is the first of a few. In this reflection, Jim reacts to and is challenged by the experience of the Church under Communism. 

Why, Then, Are You a Christian?”

Being Christian means different things, depending on where you live. My recent mission trip to Eastern Europe on behalf of the Presbytery of Milwaukee made that abundantly clear.

A leader of our tour group grew up under the Soviet umbrella in what was Czechoslovakia. Jan (pronounced “Yan”) came from a family that lived a mile from the border; they looked across barbed wire into Austrian territory. But they didn’t go near. Guards carried rifles and offered no warning before shooting at moving targets in no-man’s-land.

One day, young Jan took a walk with his father. The man pointed beyond the fence and said, “You and I will never go over there.”

Of course that prophecy didn’t come true – at least for Jan. He has visited the United States and most of Europe, and works with an international agency to promote Christian mission in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. The Soviet occupation is over, but not forgotten.

I asked Jan, “What did it feel like the first time you crossed the border?”

 “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “There’s no word for the feeling. It was as if I flapped my human arms and suddenly could fly. But I wasn’t sure if they’d let me back in.”

Another morning, Jan told us about restrictions inside the country, not just at the border. A government crackdown on the church and its pastors could come at any minute. The Communists didn’t tolerate competing values and ideas. If a preacher spoke critically of the state, he lost his government-issued license to preach. He could be blackballed from skilled occupations, sent to jail, or reduced to shoveling human waste for years on end.

Jan’s wife experienced that. Her father, a pastor, was whisked away one day without warning. She was four years old at the time, and didn’t see him again until she was twenty.

Someone in our group asked, “Why, then, did your parents and you choose to be Christian?”

“Those were the only people you could trust,” he answered. “You never knew if co-workers or neighbors might inform on you. The church gave us freedom and identity. It was the only place the government couldn’t define us.”

After a pause, he added, “It is good to remember where we came from.”

“Why, then, are you a Christian?”

That question came home on the plane with me – no longer for Jan, but as one we all should ask ourselves.

 

Jeremy Ault