Return to Czechoslovakia


July 1990: I had come home. I was back in Prague, in my native country of Czechoslovakia—a country I had left twenty-two years before. I left because I couldn’t tolerate the political climate of the time. Now, within a few months, an overwhelming change had been wrought in the country, and I was free to return.

I suppose I expected to feel the same as I had so many years before. But I felt like a tourist. Everything seemed smaller and shabbier, and I felt as though I had lost my family and childhood roots.

But a few days after I had arrived, as I was walking along a crowded street, I suddenly felt a kinship with the people around me. I was among my own people. A great feeling of love and belonging came over me, and I felt the joy of the freedoms that they had gained after forty-five years of strict control.

It was exciting to meet with family and friends to tell them what I had been doing since I left home and to introduce them to the gospel. At a meeting I had with former school friends, I explained that I was a member of the Church and shared my testimony with them. I gave each one of them a copy of the Book of Mormon, along with any other Church literature available in Czech, and I referred them to the missionaries. I told them that now they had the freedom to choose, and that the best thing they could do for themselves and their families was to choose to accept the gospel. “If you are going to build a new home,” I told them, “start with a good, solid foundation.”

Eagerly I attended church in Prague, where the members met in a rented room. They were very happy to be able to gather together publicly and to openly discuss the gospel with relatives and friends.

My oldest son, David, had the opportunity to pass the sacrament, and later, at a testimony meeting back home, he said the experience made him realize the responsibilities and blessings that came with the priesthood.

A special experience for me was meeting with my sisters. One of them, Ilona Kebrt, and her daughter, Olga, went with me to church. Olga was very impressed with the appearance and behavior of the full-time missionaries. “I have never seen boys my age act and look like this,” she said. “They look as though they came from a different world.”

We had the opportunity to meet President and Sister Richard W. Winder. He is the first mission president in Czechoslovakia since before World War II. My sister was very curious about President and Sister Winder, the life they had left behind in Salt Lake City to fulfill their mission assignment, their unpretentious way of living in Czechoslovakia, and the love they showed for the people. She felt of their spirit, and cried.

Five days before I was due to leave Czechoslovakia for home, President Winder informed me that President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency would be visiting Czechoslovakia and holding a meeting in Brno, 160 kilometers from Prague. President Winder asked if I would attend the meeting and act as an interpreter for President Hinckley. I accepted, and with Ilona, I drove to Brno.

That meeting was a highlight of my visit. With President was Sister Hinckley, and President Hans B. Ringger, president of the Europe Area, with Sister Ringger, President and Sister Winder, and my brothers and sisters in the gospel. President Hinckley understood how nervous I was, acting as his interpreter and translating Church terminology into Czech, and he was very considerate. It was a very spiritual experience for us all. My sister didn’t take her eyes off of him, and her face shone at me from the congregation.

Since my visit, I have learned that the gospel seeds I planted have started to bear fruit. My niece, Olga, has been baptized, and she is now living with a family in London, England. She wrote to me: “When you visited with us, I heard you share your testimony of the gospel, and although I didn’t completely understand what you meant, I wanted to know more. Now, as a member of the Church, I know. I feel as though I have grown in wisdom beyond my years. Life makes sense to me, and for the first time I know what to do.”

In returning to Czechoslovakia, I found my family and friends—roots that I thought were lost. And I have come to realize that the basic desire for truth is never dead. I am sure that the gospel will spread in Czechoslovakia and that the Czech and the Slovak Saints will take their rightful place in the worldwide family of the Church.

[photos] Above: On her 1990 return to Czechoslovakia, Sister Rostya Gordon-Smith met with President and Sister Richard W. Winder. Left: Rostya, with her sister, Ilona, and President and Sister Gordon B. Hinckley. Rostya was interpreter for President Hinckley at a Church meeting in Brno. She currently serves as the spiritual living instructor in the Tokyo 2nd Ward Relief Society.