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Snapshot of the Czech Republic
Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic, though several other languages are also spoken within the country, including Slovak and German. The Czech Republic has one of the world’s least religious populations, with most of the population not adhering to any religion. About 13% of the population is Christian, most of which belong to the Roman Catholic church. Rock music and Czech-language versions of English pop songs are popular. Blown glass is a famous type of artwork from the Czech Republic. Ice hockey and soccer are the country’s most popular sports, though tennis and basketball are also somewhat popular. Czech meals generally have two courses – the first being soup, and the second being the main meal. Beef, pork, and chicken, as well as animal organs, are all popular meats, and are often served with gravy, dumplings, potatoes, or vegetables like cabbage and carrots. Goulash, a meat, onion, and spice stew is a popular dish. Mushrooms and eggs are also commonly used in Czech cooking. Fried potato pancakes are another typical dish. Sweet dumplings, pastries, and biscuits are also popular.
Snapshot of Slovakia (part of the Czech/Slovak Mission)
Slovakian is the official language of Slovakia, though Hungarian is also spoken in the south and many Slovakians also speak Czech. The Roman Catholic church is the largest religious denomination in Slovakia; about 60% of the population belongs to it. Other Christian denominations make up most of the rest of Slovakia’s religious population, though about 25% of the population does not practice any religion. Slovakia has a strong folk tradition that encompasses music, art, wooden architecture, and storytelling. Annual festivals are held to preserve folklore traditions. Modern influences have made rock, pop, and rap (both Slovakian and foreign) become popular. Soccer, ice hockey, and tennis are the most popular sports in Slovakia. One of the more popular dishes in Slovakia is Bryndzové halusky, a dish made using potato dumplings, sheep cheese, and bacon. Pork and chicken are popular in Slovakia, with most meat being served either in a style similar to German schnitzel or cooked with a sauce, though sausages are also popular. Soups (sauerkraut and bean soup are two popular varieties) usually accompany the main meal.
Currently, in the Czech/Slovak mission there are 2,500 members, 13 congregations, and 2 family history centers. The closest temple is in Freiberg, Germany.
The Church in the Czech/Slovak area has a long and rich history. The Church is small, but it is strong and progressing in a country that has had a difficult past marked with Nazi occupation and Communism. (To read a full history of the Church in the Czech Republic, see www.lds.org/ensign/1994/08/czech-saints-a-brighter-day?lang=eng )
The Czech/Slovak mission opened in 1929. Wallace Toronto was a pioneering missionary leader for the Church. He served three missions among the Czechs and continued as their mission president in absentia for another 25 years. In 1936 he was called to preside over the Czech Mission, but the Nazi occupation of Czech lands in 1938 and 1939 led to the evacuation of all missionaries. In 1949, Elder Toronto returned to Prague, and the Church expanded even after the 1948 Communist coup. But in 1950, the missionaries were expelled and the registration of the Church was cancelled. Faithful Saints were left unable to even hold branch meetings. Wallace Toronto kept in touch with them through cryptic letters, and he tried to visit as a tourist but was arrested and his request for Church recognition rejected. Elder Toronto remained president o the Czech Mission until his death in 1968. The Saints quietly stayed true to the faith for years. The building of the Freiberg temple in 1985 (the first temple built in eastern Europe), symbolized the emergence of the gospel in a communist world, and helped the Saints spread the gospel and stay strong. It wasn’t until February 1990 that the mission was officially rededicated. Elder Russell M. Nelson was key to petitioning for Church recognition in the country. After a year of fasting and prayer every third Sunday, the Czech Republic finally allowed the Church to be recognized.
Today, the majority of Czech converts are young, between the ages of eighteen and thirty. They are vibrant in the faith. Richard W. Winder, mission president from 1990 to 1993 said, “Once the Czech people hear the gospel, they become very interested and are very grateful for what they have learned.”
Czech cuisine is known for its emphasis on meat dishes. Pork is most common, but beef and chicken are also popular. Fish is rare, except at Christmas, when it is served as a traditional holiday dish. Other popular foods are bread dumplings, stewed cabbage, roast duck, potato pancakes, sausages, crepes, creme desserts, and crescent cookies.
Meals typically consist of two courses: the first course is traditionally a soup, and the second course is the main dish. Dessert sometimes follows.
There is a lot of variety in grocery stores and restaurants, compared to years ago when choices were very limited.
Most people get around by public transportation–trains, buses, trams, and taxis. There are lots of cars on the road, but it seems like cars are not the main choice of travel. Bikes are rarer. There are lots of cobblestone streets and hills, so none of the missionaries ride bikes in the mission. Some drive cars, but even those with cars use public transportation lots of the time. Cities smaller than Prague won’t have as much transportation in terms of subways and trams, but they have what is needed to get around safely and easily.
This is a very safe area.
Missionaries are expected to be very polite. People speak to those they don’t know well in a more formal way. Take your shoes off when entering a person’s home. If you’re going to someone’s home for dinner, you take them flowers.
Festivities and Traditions
Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Day, and the Feast of the Three Kings are major holidays in the Czech Republic.
At Christmastime, tables are set for dinner on Christmas Eve, and there must always be an even number of place settings. An odd number is believed to bring bad luck. All the lights of the house are turned off, and only when the first star appears in the night sky do they start eating dinner. The first person to leave the table is said to be the first person to die that year, so everyone makes a point to stand up at the same time. They have Christmas trees for the holiday, and these aren’t usually taken down until January 6th, the Feast of the Three Kings.
Easter is a light-hearted holiday, with people decorating Easter eggs together. Red is a popular color for this holiday, since red symbolizes joy, health, happiness, and new life.
At the New Year, they eat pork for good luck and lentils for prosperity. They don’t eat fish, because your luck could swim away with it. Nor do they eat poultry, because your luck could fly away.
The Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated on January 6th. In many Czech and Slovak villages, boys dress up as the three wise men (Kaspar, Bathlazar, and Melchior), and go around to peoples’ houses with a piece of chalk blessed by the village priest. With the chalk, they mark “K + B + M” on peoples’ doorways to bring blessings to the home that year. The chalk letters aren’t cleaned off, but are left up until they are redone the next year.
The official language of the area is Czech, but there are many other officially-recognized minority languages, such as Slovak, German, Polish, Bulgarian, Russian, and Greek. Czech and Slovak are very similar and are mutually intelligible. Czech has a trilled R that is said to be unique to the language (similar to a rolled R in Spanish).
If you want to learn some Czech phrases before heading to the MTC, www.locallingo.com/czech/phrases/ is a good resource.
All essential equipment is sent in the missionary packet, and the mission secretary sends out an explanation of the equipment.
Prague is the largest city in the Czech Republic with a population of nearly 2 million. It has been a center of politics, culture, and economy in eastern Europe for centuries. It was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and has played major roles throughout history. Despite the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe, many of the city’s famous structures and monuments have survived and now serve as tourist attractions. The most famous are the Prague Castle, the Charles Bride, Old Town Square, and the Lennon Wall. There are over ten major museums, as well as theaters, galleries, and historical exhibits. In 2011 was the sixth-most-visited city in Europe.
This is a temperate continental climate, with relatively hot summers and cold, cloudy, and snowy winters. The temperatures vary greatly depending on elevation, and the mountains make the climate varied. The coldest month is January, with snow in the mountains and sometimes in the major cities and lowlands. In the spring, water levels are high due to melting snow. The warmest month is July, with an average temperature of 68-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Most rain falls during the summer, but sporadic rainfall is relatively constant throughout the year. Autumn generally begins in September.
160 00 Praha 6
Straight from the Czech/Slovak Mission (Prague) field:
*What items were hard to get or not available?
“peanut butter, chocolate chips, chocolate chip cookies, root beer, ICE, good ice cream, shower curtains (hard to find)”
*What did you eat the most of?
“Tons of rohliky (special kind of bread that are sold in huge bins b/c people buy tons of it) dipped in yogurt (sounds gross, but the czechs did it and it was GOOD) or a sandwich made from rohliky, muesli with milk that was shelf stable (yuk!). Every restaurant meal came with knedliky (a sliced up dumpling made from potatoes or flour that isn’t ground as fine as Americans), sliced cucumbers and some other raw vegetable, and your meat. They also make ovocne knedliky with is the dumplings with fruit and a cream cheese like sauce (it’s like dessert for dinner).”
*What is the craziest thing you ate?
“If I knew what it was I would tell you – it was some kind of mushy meat with chunks of fat that look like the skin was still on it – yuk! A lot of their processed meat (like hot dogs) had huge chunks of fat in it.”
*What was most surprising about the culture?
“The pornography is everywhere. The newspapers even have a couple of pages with a tons of photos dedicated to it that people would sit on the public transportation and look at. They also don’t eat a lot of sugar, their desserts aren’t very sweet. But they eat tons of fat, even their soup has a layer of oil across the top and everyone is skinny. Almost everyone lives in tiny apartments in the cities and then on the weekends they’d go out to their weekend houses or gardens. We’d be in these huge cities that were like a ghost town on the weekends. Their were tons of castle ruins to explore. Every time you visited someone they’d always offered you tea and something to eat.”
*What advice would you give to someone going to the Czech/Slovak Mission?
“Either don’t drink unfiltered water (which is hard to do when every where you go they give you food and drink) or when you get home go to the doctor and get treated for Giardia. A lot a missionaries came home with it and suffered with it for years. It’s hard for a doctor to find, a lot of them just prescribe Nexium b/c it causes acid reflux.”
*What do you wish you had known before you served?
“I wish I had known that when you get a lot of 19-21 year olds together you end of having a lot of peer pressure and competition which motivates you to do things for the wrong reason. Missionaries love to label other missionaries as “apostate” or “black” if they are a little slack and I thought that was so wrong. I think if you go to convert others and you alienate your companion or other missionaries than you missed the point. I have a brother who came home not believing in God after how he was treated on his mission. I think that love is a much better way to motivate, being in missionary mode all the time is extremely hard and some are more capable than others and we all get better as we keep trying. I went on a mission after I graduated from BYU and it was still extremely challenging. I also learned that even though I tried extremely hard it’s impossible to be exactly obedient and if I hadn’t had those expectations I would have enjoyed the work more and not felt guilty all the time.”
**Did you serve in the Czech/Slovak Mission? If so we would love to hear your advice and your stories! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org**