Missionary work for building up a church can be planned strategically. Sometimes however it only requires open eyes, open ears – and the readiness to follow a call.
A census was carried out in Slovakia in 2011, and data were also collected regarding the religion of the population. What was interesting was that 33 persons in the northern Slovakian town of Dolný Kubín stated then that they were members of the UMC. Nobody knew who these persons were, and there had never been a Methodist congregation there, near the border with Poland.
Patrik Hipp, a minister of the UMC in Slovakia, would also not have chosen this town for starting up with a new activity – it was too far away from Senec, where he then lived. Moreover, there was really more than enough work at the church in Senec, a fairly new congregation. But one day Patrik Hipp looked out of the window and saw a mother with children in the playground. “I thought: we need such families to come to our congregation. And when I asked myself why we didn’t have such families, it became clear to me that someone should talk to this woman about God’s love.” But there was no “someone” around. So Patrik asked his wife to go to the playground. Her reaction was brief and clear: “Why me?” Patrik Hipp stuck to his guns: “Well, why me? You are a woman, after all. Please go to her and speak to her as one woman to another.” His wife Zuzana went and talked to the woman in the park about God’s love, invited her to come to the church – and she actually came. She began to open her heart to God and started off on the path of discipleship of Jesus Christ, accompanied by Zuzana Hipp. Together the two women read the Bible, prayed, exchanged experiences and learned.
The husband of this woman was not pleased about her recently discovered faith, and he was against her involvement in the church. But the woman remained faithful to the way she had taken. And at some stage she found the courage to invite her husband to come to the church himself. He came – and to everyone’s surprise, he very much liked what he experienced there. He came again and again, and finally he too started off on the path of believing.
This couple often had people from Dolný Kubín visiting them. At some point they began to talk about their belief and about God to these people, too. More than one attempt was needed, but suddenly these visitors also came to the church service – and they were deeply touched by it. It almost became a rule: whenever visitors from Dolný Kubín were in Senec, they were taken along to the service. Eventually two persons from Dolný Kubín were baptized, to the great joy of everyone, including their families.
But there was one sad aspect. When the visitors had to drive the two hours by car back to Dolný Kubín, they knew that there was no such Methodist congregation there. More and more frequently, therefore, they asked Patrik and Zuzana Hipp to come to Dolný Kubín as well and to start an activity there. Knowing how far away that was, their answer was always hesitant. The question “Why me?” also cropped up again somewhere. “But”, said Patrik Hipp, “in a moment of weakness we promised to pray about it and to come and visit them some time.” They kept their promise - and there was more than one single visit.
The response was encouraging, and then Patrik and Zuzana Hipp took a decision: “If it is God’s will, we will go to Dolný Kubín twice a month in future.” And that is how it was. From 2017 onwards, regular services were held, and the response was very encouraging. However, the number of visitors soon began to go down again. The family from Senec, with whom it all started, is also no longer part of the congregation. But that family was part of a greater whole, and God used it at the proper time.
In order to turn the development into new growth, the congregation, and Patrik and Zuzana Hipp were on the lookout for new possibilities. Since some of them had great musical talent, they developed a program which focused on music. And if there are currently 10 to 15 persons attending the church service on Sundays, there are 17 to 22 young persons aged between 12 and 18 who meet to make music and sing together – and to hear something about what God says about their quite practical and current questions of life through the Bible. A small group has already been formed in which this shared reflection can be intensified, and which makes quite another community possible.
Patrik and Zuzana Hipp know the question “Why me?”, but they also heard God’s counter-question: “Why not you?” And by following God’s call, they gained certainty: “It makes sense.” Perhaps there will soon be more than 33 persons who regard themselves as belonging to the UMC in Slovakia. And this time it will be known who they are.
Source: Pastor Patrik Hipp, Slovakia / Urs Schweizer, Zurich