The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Šárka Berankova works as a civil engineer living in Prague. She heared the gospel in Spain, the UK and Colombia. “God surrounded me with Christians, even before I knew anything about faith”.
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 your wrestle with your own situation.
Šárka Berankova is an experienced civil engineer living in Prague and working as a project manager for an international construction consultancy.
Question. To get us started, can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background? What kind of work do you do?
Answer. My name is Šárka, I am 30 years old. I was raised in Prague, and have been living here all my life except for some traveling, studying abroad, and working abroad for a time. I am a civil engineer, and I work for an international construction consultancy as a project manager.
Basically, I coordinate construction projects on behalf of the investors. So, in short, if you want to build a house and you don’t know how to build it, you can hire us. We will get the architect, design the building to your requirements and expectations, make sure the design meets all of the Czech legal standards, and obtain all the required documentation. Then we also contract for all of the necessary construction, coordinate all the work on site, check for quality, make sure the project stays within your budget and in the end, give you the house! As a project manager I oversee this entire process.
Q. How did you become a Christian?
A. I would say that for most of my life, I was agnostic. I didn’t really deny the existence of God, but I didn’t think God was something important. I thought maybe there was a God, but who cares?
When I was about 24 and living in Spain, I went through a very difficult time. Both my best friend and my Mom discovered they had cancer. I was struggling because my friend died while I was in Spain. And then my mother died about six months after I returned to Prague.
When I was in Spain, God surrounded me with Christians, even before I knew anything about faith. It turns out I made friends with many people who were Christians. One friend especially, a Colombian named Diego, was an amazing support to me. He had a really hard life in Spain – struggling to live, have enough money, and finish his Master’s studies.
But he always made it clear to me that he relied on God’s grace, and he had this amazing peace that I really did not have. And he was able to transfer this peace to me. When my mother was passing away, Diego’s parents and pastor got in touch with me and I began to Skype with the pastor. It was a surprise to me because I didn’t think a pastor could be a fun or knowledgeable person. But he was happy to talk about life and to tell jokes.
He got me to start reading the Bible – he sent me daily devotionals using WhatsApp, and we would talk about them. He would ask me what I thought about what the Bible said – yes, this is cool or no, this is not cool. Through that, I sort of started believing in some sort of God.
But I wasn’t a Christian yet. Then I finished University and I went to London for a 3 month internship. One of my co-workers was a girl from Ecuador. We spent hours traveling through London together to inspect buildings. It turns out she was a Christian, and shared a lot about her faith with me. So, I decided to try and find a church. But I wanted to find a church like what I thought my Colombian friends would go to. Hah! In London! But I found one, and I was amazed at how welcome I was there, how nice the atmosphere was.
So by the end of my London internship, I believed and accepted Jesus. After the internship, I traveled to South America to see my Colombian friend and his family and pastor. It was a trip full of blessings and grace. When I came back to Prague, I found the international church I am going to now and was baptized about a year after that.
Q. How does the fact that you are a Christian influence the way you do your job?
A. That’s a good question! I’m not sure. Somehow, for my whole life, even before I became a Christian, I have wanted to be fair. And basically that’s the most important thing in my business life. To always play fair and not to do anything bad to anyone – not to cheat or be dishonest. I don’t think I would be different if I wasn’t a Christian, but I’m not sure.
Q. Do your colleagues know that you are a Christian?
A. Some of them do, some of them don’t. I’m definitely not a person to say to your face, “Good morning! Jesus is Lord!” or that kind of thing! But I do get to have some good “God conversations” with my colleagues. It mostly comes up in one-on-one conversations.
Q. How do your colleagues tend to find out that you are a Christian?
A. It just comes out in conversation.
Q. How do people generally receive it?
A. I don’t know if I can say positive – it can be “Oh yeah? That’s nice”. It can be mixed – some of them, back when I was baptized, were like, “Oh? Me too!” And some people were like, “Are you serious?” But, for the most part, they basically don’t care.
Q. In what way do you regard your workplace as a mission field?
A. Conversations. If the topic comes up, we can simply have a chat about God. This is the way I feel most comfortable sharing about God. This is a way that I feel I can have a positive influence. In business, the topic of God would normally be something too personal to talk about with a client, and most of our conversations at work are about work. But there are times like lunch and sometimes hanging out after work.
Q. How do church leaders refer to the workplace as a mission field? Do you think that church leaders actually have a proper understanding of what it is like to be working in an ordinary job?
A. I don’t think this has been much of a topic in our church. It’s hard to say. I don’t actually recall any preaching on this. But I am part of a home group [small group], and we are all young professionals.
We encourage each other – we talk about what is going on at work, ask each other how God is using us, how we can share the Gospel, what lessons have been helpful, and we pray with each other.
So, in this small group, yes. And although I don’t think there has been any specific preaching on it, but as I listen to the sermons, more than once I have thought I would have done something differently at work because of what the sermon was talking about.
Q. How does your local church support you in the mission field of your workplace?
A. Definitely through the home group. That is really a good place where a person can grow. Especially our one leader, Fiona, who has a lot of wisdom, and her husband, Pavel, as well. They are good friends and it’s the kind of place where we can be more intimate and more open.
Q. Can you tell us about any opportunities you’ve had to talk about your faith with colleagues?
A. I have one colleague who is a good bit older than me. We were put together on a certain project. He’s a guy I didn’t really know before because he spends almost all his time on the construction sites. But I also thought that he was this super grumpy person who didn’t talk much but did smoke all the time.
So, to be honest, not the kind of person I thought I was interested in being friends with. But then here we had this project where we had to travel together 3 times a week, an hour by car out to a site and an hour back. So, suddenly we had all this time in the car – we had to find something to talk about. Somehow, one-on-one, he turned out to actually be a really great person!
We had some good conversations about faith and about family, even about getting baptized. We learned that we could trust each other, and he has become a good friend.
Q. How often do you get these kinds of opportunities to talk about your faith?
A. It depends on God, when opportunities open up. Sometimes moments have come and I’ve used them. Sometimes moments have come up and I’ve probably missed them.
Q. What factors made this possible?
A. I think I get to work with a good group of people. People are quite willing to talk because we have good working partnerships. Having good colleagues makes it easier to have good conversations over lunch or a beer after work.
Q. Is “being light” in your workplace context always talking to people about your faith in Jesus? What other ways have you found to be a fruitful follower of Jesus in your work?
A. Talking is not always the most important. It’s about how I act, the way that I do my work. I try to do the best job I can, and try to be a helpful person. Also, as I mentioned, fair play is really important to me. So, being honest and fair with my co-workers and our clients and all the other people that I am required to interact with.
Q. What types of pressure are most common in you workplace?
A. Well, there are always challenges when you are working with people. I coordinate worksites, I have to make sure the clients understand what is going on and what is possible with the given time and budget. There can be pressure around making decisions, because I need to deliver quality projects in good time and on budget.
So there can be a lot of pressure sometimes. But I really like what I do – I don’t feel like I’m overworked or stressed out. I don’t have to ‘take my job home with me’ at the end of the day. I am super thankful to have this job, because it is what I studied to be able to do.
Q. How does your walk with Jesus help you navigate these types of pressure?
A. If I’m stressed, I pray. It is as simple as that. I ask God for help. I also try to keep a mindset of being thankful, and to thank God when something turns out good. It’s not just about asking God for help when I am stressed, but also about thanking God when things are going well.
Q. What resources have helped you most in your Christian thinking about your work?
A. Well, almost any topic about the Christian life can be helpful, because so much of life is spent at work, so many hours every day, that almost any topic about Christian life can be applied at work.
It is perhaps more about understanding that the Christian life is about all of life. I am currently reading C.S. Lewis, in Czech it is Rady zkušeného d'ábla (The Screwtape Letters).