Send forth the elders of my church unto the nations which are afar off (D&C 133:8).
Pioneers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aren’t only those members who crossed the plains in wagons or with handcarts or who sailed across the seas. Ever since the Church was founded in 1830, there have been pioneers in many different lands, facing their own trials in building the kingdom of God. The members of the Church in the Czech Republic are examples of these other pioneers.
In 1913 a Czech sister living in Vienna, Austria, was baptized. Her name was Frantiska Brodilová. During World War I, she, her husband, and their two daughters moved to Prague. After the war, Sister Brodilová was the only Church member living in Czechoslovakia. She faithfully sent her tithing to the Vienna Austria Branch and taught both her daughters the gospel. In 1921, two brethren from the Vienna Austria Branch went to Prague and baptized her teenage daughters.
For years, Sister Brodilová and her daughters prayed that missionaries would be sent to their country. If there were missionaries, there would be more members, and a branch or ward could be organized where she and her daughters could go to worship and partake of the sacrament. Finally in 1928 the Church obtained permission from the police and from the government to preach the gospel. Then, just two and a half months after the mission began, it closed when the mission president became ill.
Frantiska would not give up. She wrote to the Church, asking that missionary work begin again. On July 24, 1929, on a wooded hill near Karlstejn Castle, the land of Czechoslovakia was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. Missionary work went slowly, but it had begun!
In 1938 Hitler had his armies invade western Czechoslovakia, and he soon ruled it. All Americans were warned to leave the country. Before the mission president, Wallace Toronto, left, he set apart Josef Roubícek, a Czech and a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, as the acting mission president. For the next five and a half years, Church headquarters received no word from the Saints in Czechoslovakia.
During that time President Roubícek held regular meetings. For a few months the government outlawed public meetings. When that happened, President Roubícek kept in touch with members by mail. In his letters, he encouraged them to study the Book of Mormon with their families.
When the war ended in 1945, an American soldier took a letter from President Roubícek and mailed it to President Toronto. “I wish to inform you,” President Roubícek wrote in the letter, “that after six years of war all members of the Church have remained well and alive. It has been a terrible time. … The [Saints’] … testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel have not wavered even in the worst moments of this great conflict.” *
Missionaries returned to Czechoslovakia. Then in February 1948, the communists took over the government. Though persecuted and threatened with having their food rations reduced and losing their jobs, the members continued to attend their meetings and pay their tithes and offerings. In 1950 two missionaries were imprisoned as spies. The only way the government would let them go was if all the non-Czech leaders of the Church left the country.
Rudolf Kubiska was set apart as the acting mission president and branch president in Prague. For the next fourteen years, the government would not allow the Czech members to worship publicly. Instead, priesthood leaders visited members in their homes, administering the sacrament and teaching the gospel to one family at a time. Members were often called in for questioning by government officials to see if they were breaking the laws against public worship. If the government felt that the laws had been broken, the members could lose their opportunity to go to school, their homes, and/or their jobs. But even though they were persecuted, most of the Saints remained faithful.
In 1968 the Czech government decided to allow citizens the right to worship in public. Brother Jiri Snederfler was asked by the Church to find all the Saints scattered throughout the country and to have them begin holding meetings in their homes. Slowly the Saints began to feel safe attending meetings, and they even began to teach the gospel to their friends.
In 1985, Elder Russell M. Nelson asked the Czech government to officially recognize the Church. He was told that a Czech citizen had to ask. He and Elder Hans B. Ringger went to the home of Brother Snederfler and asked him if he would make the request. Despite the possibility of imprisonment—or even death—Brother Snederfler responded, “I will go. I will do it! We will do whatever is needed. This is for the Lord, and His work is more important than our freedom or life.” ** The members of the Church fasted and prayed for Brother Snederfler, whom the government brought in for questioning every month after he made the request.
On February 21, 1990, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially recognized. The members could now worship without fear. Missionaries returned to teach the gospel to the Czech people. And Elder Russell M. Nelson went to a wooded area near Karlstejn Castle and rededicated the land to the preaching of the gospel. It was a time of great joy, especially for the Czech pioneers who saw the long journey’s end.