We live in a society in which admitting one’s own sins is seen as a sign of weakness.
Czech researcher David Vokoun shares about what it means to live out his faith in the workplace. “What makes a difference is my motivation for doing my work”.
The Czech Republic in Central Europe is one of the most secular countries in the world. There may be fewer than 40,000 evangelical Christians out of a nation of 10.5 million.
Because there are so few Christians, the workplace provides a particularly excellent opportunity to demonstrate the reality of one’s faith.
This interview is part of a series exploring different ways Czech Christians are dealing with the opportunities and challenges of living out their faith in the secular workplace. We hope you find this encouraging as you wrestle with your own situation.
David Vokoun works in a research institute in Prague. He spends many hours in a field where the Christian faith is often perceived as being incompatible with science. And yet he remains passionate about his work and his faith. David is married with two children. Here is a look into his story.
Question. To get us started, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Answer. If anybody enters my name in an internet search, after excluding people with the same name, he or she would find out that I work as a material researcher at a middle-size research institute in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic and my birth place. My work responsibilities involve applying for research project funding and to manage a project if my research proposal is successful, doing some computer simulations, following the newest research in my field, and collaborating with my colleagues. If we find something interesting that other people in the field have not noticed, we write research articles to describe our findings.
Sometimes I am involved in teaching at a university or in the popularization of science. Several times a year I review manuscripts for various research journals. I am quite busy with my work.
I enjoy free time when I can be with my family. My wife is a foreigner in my country, however, thanks to our children and thanks to sisters and brothers from our local church, she is more than ever before familiar with the environment and the language.
Q. How did you become a Christian?
A. During my studies at university, soon after collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, my friend and classmate invited me to join a youth group in a Brethren church. I participated in hiking and camping activities and made friends there.
After studying the Bible and experiencing good relationships with people in the church, I got know the importance of God for my life and I asked for baptism.
Q. How does the fact that you are a Christian influence the way you do your job?
A. I do not think that because I am a Christian I have any better performance or efficiency in my job than I would have as a non-Christian. What makes a difference is not my performance but perhaps my motivation for doing my work. Generally, many people long for acknowledgment from other people and want to show their colleagues that they are better, faster, more knowledgeable and more capable than others. I try to be immune to this need for acknowledgment from others because God accepts me regardless of my performance.
Another aspect of the fact that I am a Christian is that I try to be honest, to not change data in order to prove my own theory or in order to complete a task and avoid the necessity of doing some additional tests. I like to do research, but I do not wish to be obsessed with solving various material engineering problems. This is not easy and sometimes I fail – I get obsessed and may or may not solve the problem.
Q. Do your colleagues know that you are a Christian? What do they think of that?
A. I have many colleagues I collaborate with. Some of them know I am a Christian and some do not. Some of my colleagues even read the Bible and also the Quran just to get an idea about the largest religions without believing in either one.
Some other colleagues believe in God, and I am glad to have such colleagues. Generally, I have not met with any hostility from people who got know that I am a Christian. For non-believing colleagues, it is usually hard to accept the concept that God created the world. Often they believe in Darwin’s evolution theory. This may be a reason why some of them, who strictly believe in main-stream science, are reserved towards the Bible. I ever heard surprise from some of my non-believing colleagues, wondering how Christians can believe in the creation of the world.
Q. In what way do you regard your workplace as a mission field?
A. Truly speaking, I seldom see my workplace as a mission field. Here, I understand mission as spreading the good news of what Jesus has done for people to those who are interested. I think that an important condition for realising such a mission is to be trust-able. We have a saying: ‘Do not promote water and then secretly drink wine’. On the other hand, if a Christian behaves honestly at the workplace, for example, he/she does not use a work phone or a printer for their own private purposes, etc., then other colleagues may be curious and have some questions about what is behind such behavior.
Q. How does your local church support you in the mission field of your workplace?
A. As for my home church, I see a strong support from church leaders for Christians who have secular jobs and see their workplaces as the mission field.
The leaders regularly organise discussion panels with interesting topics related to life and society. It is an opportunity to invite colleagues from our workplaces. There are some other opportunities to invite people to some church activities throughout the year, such as the children’s Christmas performance.
Q. Can you tell us about opportunities you've had to talk about your faith with colleagues?
A. Just recently I had such an opportunity when I talked to a foreign colleague about my faith during lunch time. I found out she had met with Christian believers during her previous stays abroad in different places (France and South Korea). I got to know about her attitude towards Christianity.
I should note that non-believing colleagues often see the Christian life as a life without much freedom. They want to always reserve the possibility to decide and plan on their own.
Last year I had an opportunity to talk about my faith with another foreign researcher during some sport activities after work. Mutual trust is quite important in this sport activity, therefore it was better to know the other person well. It is why we spoke also about faith in God.
Q. What factors made these conversations possible?
A. Interestingly, I find it is easier for me to speak about my faith with my foreign colleagues than with my Czech colleagues. I am able to discuss my faith with others if I see that others may be interested and when there is less work pressure - after an important project is finished or before holidays such as Christmas or Easter, or in the Czech Republic the Jan Hus and Cyril and Methodius holidays or the Saint Wenceslas holiday.
Q. How often does this happen?
A. My work is relatively busy, so I do not speak about my faith often. But the opportunities come, even if unfortunately I sometimes fail to use them.
Q. Is "being light" in your workplace context always talking to people about your faith in Jesus?
A. No, I do not think that “being light” is always talking about my faith in Jesus. As I already mentioned it is important for me to be trust-able and not to do things that would contradict what I believe. This may be more difficult than simply talking to people in my workplace about my faith in Jesus.
Q. What other ways have you found to be a fruitful follower of Jesus in your work?
A. It is fruitful to do my work well.
Q. What types of pressure are most common in you workplace?
A. There are multiple sources of pressure in my workplace, such as various deadlines, a big work load, sometimes disputes with other colleagues, the inability to concentrate in my office, long meetings, the necessity to do more than one thing simultaneously, the necessity to write reports or learn new devices, new software, and participating in various international conferences.
Q. How does your walk with Jesus help you navigate these types of pressure?
A. The Bible says: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV)). These verses from the Bible help me a lot. Also, prayer helps me to overcome pressures at my workplace.
Q. What resources (books, websites, sermons, articles…) have helped you most in your Christian thinking about your work?
A. These resources have been very hepful to me: the Bible, Sunday sermons, and talking with other Christians. After so many workdays staring into computer monitors at my office, I cannot read books as I used to do when I was young, I now find audio-sermons on the internet quite useful.