Viewpoint: Step Forward, Saints!
Contributed By the Church News
- Because of one Czech man’s courage 26 years ago, 2,500 members enjoy the blessings of the gospel.
- As God’s covenant people, we cannot be ordinary; we must rise above the crowd.
“God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.” —2 Timothy 1:7–8
For almost four decades beginning in 1950, Latter-day Saints in Czechoslovakia kept their faith in silence, unable to worship publicly or to enjoy any regular contact with the Church beyond Czech borders.
Through the efforts of President Thomas S. Monson, then of the First Presidency; Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy, a native of Switzerland; and then-Czechoslovakia District President Jiri Snederfler, the Church was granted recognition in 1990.
But the process was not simple. When the Church began the process for recognition, “the government leaders had said to us, ‘Don’t send an American, a German or a Swiss. Send a Czech,’” recalled President Monson (Church News, Mar. 9, 1991, 3).
Because admitting one was a Church leader during the prohibition of religion was tantamount to imprisonment, a Czech citizen would put everything on the line by going before government leaders and requesting recognition.
President Monson and other Church leaders determined that they could not, and would not, ask anyone to take such a risk. However, Brother Snederfler volunteered.
“It was a dangerous thing to have a Czechoslovakian member step forward and apply for recognition of the Church,” related President Monson. “Having a member identify himself to the government as a leader of the Church in Czechoslovakia at that time could have been an invitation to prison.”
President Monson continued, “With only a moment’s pause, Brother Snederfler said, ‘I will go. I will do it.’ He looked at his wife, and then said, ‘We will do whatever is needed. This is for the Lord, and His work is more important than our freedom or life.’
“Brother and Sister Snederfler embraced each other and said a tearful goodbye. He left home, not knowing if he would be able to return home. He was as Paul before Agrippa. He stepped forward before a powerful government to declare his witness and be the official representative of the Church in Czechoslovakia” (“He Was as Paul before Agrippa,” Church News, Aug. 31, 1991).
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we all took upon ourselves the name of the Savior at the time of our baptisms. Each week we renew that act during the sacrament.
However, given the same choice as Brother Snederfler, would we stand up and proclaim our faith?
“We are blessed with a great and noble heritage that offers a pathway to truth that veers dramatically from the so-called ways of the world,” said Elder L. Tom Perry in his April 2001 general conference address. “We need to remind ourselves about the value of our heritage so we do not underestimate its worth. I challenge the Saints to stand tall and proclaim loudly the treasured teachings of our common heritage” (“Building a Community of Saints”).
Long before Brother Snederfler stood before his government and proclaimed his membership in the Church, a young queen named Esther made a similar decision to plead for her people. Like Brother Snederfler, Esther knew her decision to step forward could result in death or imprisonment. Yet Mordecai’s reminder helped her find the courage to speak up. “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” he told Esther (Esther 4:14).
Joseph Smith also refused to deny what he knew—even though he eventually died as a martyr.
“For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation” (Joseph Smith—History 1:25).
While most of us will never be asked to proclaim our membership in the Church at the risk of our lives, we can follow the examples of Brother Snederfler, Esther, Joseph Smith, and the countless others who have found the courage to proclaim their membership in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
President Monson told Church members during his April 2009 general conference address it is his earnest prayer that we will have “the courage to stand firm for truth and righteousness.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “This work requires sacrifice, it requires effort, it means courage to speak out and faith to try. This cause does not need critics; it does not need doubters. It needs men and women of solemn purpose. As Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord’ (2 Timothy 1:7–8).
“I would that every member of this Church, and every good man throughout the world, would put those words where he might see them every morning as he begins his day,” said President Hinckley. “They would give him the courage to speak up, they would give him the faith to try, they would strengthen his conviction of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“I believe that miracles would begin to happen over the earth” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 145).
Miracles did happen in what is now called the Czech Republic—where it is impossible to ignore the fruits of Brother Snederfler’s sacrifice. Today there are 2,500 members in the Czech Republic, with one mission, two family history centers, and 13 Church units. And in May of this year, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, created the Prague Czech Republic Stake, the first in the country (see related story).
Latter-day Saints gather in Zofîn Palace for a conference in Prague, Czech Republic, on Sunday, May 15. During the meeting, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, created the Prague Czech Republic Stake—the first stake in the country. Photo by Brian E. Cordray.
“When we came into the Church … we became a part of a covenant people; and each time we partake of the sacrament, not only do we do it in remembrance of the sacrifice of the Son of God, who gave His life for each of us, but there is the added element that we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ,” said President Hinckley at a fireside in Copenhagen, Denmark, June 14, 1996. “We are a covenant people, and great are the obligations which go with that covenant. We cannot be ordinary people. We must rise above the crowd. We must stand a little taller.”