What began in the 14th century with a wooden fortress and a farm has developed into an important refuge on the eastern edge of Czechia’s capital Prague: the Center for Christian Aid in Horni Pocernice.
The building alone has an eventful history: where there used to be a wooden fortress and a farm, a mansion was built in 1812. At the beginning of the 20th century it belonged to an Italian countess. Then it was taken over by an association that took care of orphans and old people between 1927 and 1947. With the help of American Methodists, the property was bought by the UMC in the then Czechoslovakia – however, it was then nationalized in 1958. It was not until 1997 that the church got the building back, and since 1999 it has been home to the Center for Christian Aid, which with its 84 beds – in keeping with the tradition of the earlier work – offers refuge to people in emergency situations.
Young pregnant women, single mothers and fathers, but also families of up to eight can find a temporary home there for a maximum of one year, accompanied by professionals from different fields. Two special programs are, on the one hand, the "Reading Club", which aims to encourage children and adults to expand their knowledge, vocabulary and imagination by engaging with age-appropriate literature. On the other hand, there are English classes for children that not only involve cramming words, but also include painting, drawing and cooking.
What this center means for individuals may be illustrated by the example of Monika. When she was 11 years old, her father left the family. Three years later, her mother found a new husband and left Monika in the care of her 16-year-old sister. It was a difficult time for the two young girls without a parent to walk their path with them. Monika's sister began experimenting with drugs, and Monika became pregnant. Looking for support, Monika went to her mother and her mother's boyfriend. But it was a bad environment for her. The boyfriend was aggressive towards Monika's mother. Out of fear, Monika took her baby and moved to a country house. She lived there for two years, raising her little one alone, as the baby's father had no interest in his child and offered no support. Then Monika met a man who moved to Prague with her and the baby. Soon after, they had a baby together.
Monika's husband went to work, but was still heavily in debt and did not pay the rent for the apartment. One day Monika came home and found herself locked out. With nowhere to go, she detoured to find the Center for Christian Help for parents with children who cannot live without help. Monika was a typical resident: a woman who had struggled through fragile circumstances and was looking for solid ground for herself and her children. She found a nurturing place and a place that gave her hope to go on. A place where she could find solutions to her problems, grieve the loss of her partner, and learn to live independently. By this time, Monika's children were seven and two years old. They were getting used to their new group home and lived there for seven months. Monika worked in different areas – and she did so well that the center director asked her to stay on as a staff member after her year of living there.
Currently, Monika is finishing her studies in social work at Charles University in Prague, and besides that she works as a social worker at the center. She has her own case list of families that she helps solve their problems and get their lives back on track. She coordinates group therapies, prepares assessments and tailor-made plans, ensures that the plans are implemented, and liaises with the state authorities. She also coordinates activities for the children's programs, for which she has a natural gift.
What she herself has received, she now gives back with all her strength, and through this she has a beneficial influence on the lives of people in whose shoes she has also walked.
Source: Susan Goldberg (USA), Barbara Woodard (USA), Urs Schweizer, Assistant to the Bishop, Zurich