The reports about Andrew Brunson’s release are just another example of how little the media know about evangelical churches.
Is the red light district the best place to have church activities? “When I try to imagine where Jesus would want a church, I definitely think it would be here”, says the pastor of International Church Prague.
A church family game night has been organised by the International Church of Prague (ICP). I am walking with my family to the place. It's as busy as usual in the city centre.
Then, one of my children asks: “Mummy, the lady in the video on that building is dancing very strangely in her underwear, why is that?” I am reminded again of the place where we actually are: the red light district of Prague.
We're just passing another night club. In general, we're a very open family and talk about everything that comes up. But confronted with reality, so unexpectedly through the eyes of my child, I have to think what to say.
But I realise something else. It is a bit uncommon for a church to organise a family game night in the middle of the red light district. A church building there is unusual too. There must be a story behind it, so I decided to ask pastor Drew Stephens a few questions. We meet in my favourite coffee place, La Boheme.
Question. The International Church of Prague meets every Sunday in a church building of the Seventh Day Adventists. And, recently, you opened ‘The Bridge Center’ in the middle of the red light district. Why?
A. Our church didn't have an office space for quite a while already. We really needed a church office again. And we needed a place to get together with the youth ministry on Fridays as well. They had been meeting in a variety of different places over the past view years. A place of their own would be good.
Also, we wanted to be a visible presence, to engage with the city and to serve it. We had been looking for a place for about a year, and finding a suitable building wasn't so easy. Many landlords were not eager to rent their places to a church and they simply refused to give it to us.
At some point I decided to stop looking. It felt as if I was in the way of getting the right building by looking for it myself. So I started to pray that God would bring us the building we needed instead. Within a week after we started praying God answered. I got in touch with the owners of the building where we're meeting now and they believed we could have a positive contribution to this neighbourhood.
It is a street with many night clubs, true enough, but there are also other things going on. Like a cafe that trains disabled people to serve. And a copy shop that prints for the blind. There is also a swimming club for mothers with toddlers. In the future we hope to be able to connect with these neighbours as well.
Q. What is the main purpose of ‘The Bridge Center’?
A. We want to be a bridge between churches, ministries and cultures. A bridge for the gospel also.
Q. And has the famous Charles Bridge here in Prague anything to do with this?
A. Only a little bit. The logo of our church is a cross with the Charles Bridge on it, so there is a small link between the bridge and our church. But the name is mainly connected with the purpose that we see for this building and our church.
Q. Is there already cooperation between your center and other churches, organisations and ministries?
A. Yes, there is. A Czech church, Kresanske spolecenstvi, needed a place to worship on Sundays and right after the building was ready and open they started having their church services there every Sunday morning.
Also during weekdays there are many ministries using this building. The International Baptist Church has a homeless ministry and every Saturday they come here to cook and bring food to the homeless on the street, and they share the Gospel with them.
Youth With A Mission (YWAM) have an office in our building and they also minister to the homeless, but also to ladies who work in the sex industry. Before they go out on the streets they first pray together at ‘The Bridge Center’.
Also there is the group called Journey. They have a heart for young people who call themselves agnostic or atheist. Journey cooks for them and invites them over to ‘The Bridge Center’ to talk with them about the important questions in life.
In the future we hope to start with other activities as well. This building has so many possibilities.
Q. So, the building can be a blessing for a lot of things. But how about the location? It's impossible to avoid sex and erotica in this city with so many sex shops all around, but you don't have to go into the area of the night clubs and sex clubs if you don't want to. Yet there are Youth Praha meetings in the new ‘The Bridge Center’ every Friday evening. What to think of the fact that you deliberately have impressionable and maybe vulnerable teenagers every week coming into this street full of night clubs?
A. Yes, this is a good question. Of course we've thought about that, but when I try to imagine where Jesus would want a church, I definitely think it would be in the red light district!
So if Jesus wants a church there, then there is no better place to have one. But, indeed, we have to deal with the challenges that come along with it. We've talked with the police about safety issues.
They said that there could be illegal things happening, but only inside the night clubs and definitely not on the streets, where the police are present. One of our measures is that we have the teenagers go in groups escorted by an adult always, to get them to places where it's safe enough for them to continue on their own.
Q. Yes, that's the safety part. But how about the seductive side of a night club? The moving images outside the buildings are not particularly subtle.
A. Yes it is a tough neighbourhood for the youth. There are ways to minimize the risks. When you come from Wenseclas square you have to pass a lot of night clubs, but when you walk in from the other end of the street you don't. But then still you have to pass a few clubs and also the adult book store.
It's impossible to avoid it completely. More important than shielding this from them is teaching our youth about it. So one of the things Youth Praha do on Friday evening is, they split up in small discipleship groups. And in these groups one of the things we discuss is how they can guard their eyes and hearts in an environment that is at odds with what the Bible and the church say about sexuality.”
Q. Now there is this great place that is an answer to many prayers. When you think about the future, what are your hopes and expectations? What will ‘The Bridge Center’ look like in, say, five years?
A. Five years from now? I hope it will be a safe place to have spiritual conversation. A place of transformation that builds the Kingdom. A place to be at home and do live and faith together.
I hope many other churches and organisations will use this building for Kingdom purposes. As an international community we want to serve many different cultures. I hope the staff that we have will have developed new projects and outreaches and that we as a church will have established firm connections and relationships with the people in our neighbourhood.
Learn more about the International Church in Prague by visiting its website.