EDITOR’S NOTE: The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. The focus is on celebrating what God has done in recent years, praising Him for allowing Southern Baptists to be a part of His work, while emphasizing that reaching those who remain untouched by the Gospel is a doable task, but these will be the hardest people groups to reach — requiring that believers pray, go, partner and give as never before. The 2010 Week of Prayer for International Missions is Nov. 28-Dec. 5. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.
VALASSKE MEZIRICI, Czech Republic (BP)–Petr Cerny* thought he was losing his mind. He saw demons — hideous, seething creatures bulging through the walls of his bedroom like something from a horror movie.
And they were speaking to him, using sign language. “Preserve your life. Kill her. STAB YOUR WIFE!” they signed.
Cerny, a 43-year-old Czech laborer, didn’t understand what was happening, but this mindless, absolute, frantic terror was real. Escape was his only thought. Cerny’s wife and son watched in horror as he ran to the balcony of the family’s fifth-floor apartment and jumped.
SILENCE TO SIN
Born in 1959 to a Catholic family in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, Cerny’s initial encounter with religion came through his parents, who taught him about God’s existence and praying to the Virgin Mary. But their influence was limited by a barrier that isolated Cerny from his family, the church and society at large — he was born deaf.
“I knew about God since I was a toddler…. [But] we never, ever referred to Jesus…. Our attention was always toward Mary,” Cerny says.
His mother would tell Bible stories but wouldn’t use sign language. “So, it was very frustrating, very confusing [for me].”
By the time he reached his 30s, Cerny’s Catholic upbringing was barely recognizable. Handsome and charismatic, he was popular within the city’s deaf circles, buoyed by a reputation for knowing how to have a “good time.” He drank and gambled heavily. He verbally and physically abused his wife. He spent hours consuming pornography, and when that no longer satisfied his appetite for sex, he turned to adultery.
“I was ridiculously worldly…. Even though I was a Catholic, it had no impact on my life…. All you had to do was ask forgiveness of sins. [In the meantime] you did what you wanted when you wanted.”
Things began to change when Cerny met Mark and Vesta Sauter, Southern Baptist missionaries from Indiana and Texas, respectively. Supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program, they’d come to the Czech Republic to start churches among the country’s 50,000 deaf and had arranged to speak at the city’s deaf community center where Cerny and his friends hung out.
“We’d just come out of communism and all these religions were coming to town … Jehovah’s Witnesses and sects. So, I came out of curiosity,” Cerny says.
“[The Sauters] told the most incredible stories…. For the first time I saw these Bible stories [in sign language] and they had a real impact on me. And I thought, ‘This is not a sect. This is not a cult’…. And I began to understand who Jesus was — that He’d come to forgive our sins.”
THE WAR WITHIN
As the Sauters’ stories drew Cerny deeper into the Gospel, he was rapidly losing the ability to reconcile his behavior with his budding faith.
“The sin in my lifestyle just sickened me,” Cerny says.
“I thought my way out of hell was just to go to confession. But then I learned that through Jesus, my life could be transformed.”
That’s when Cerny believes Satan tightened his grip.
“Now I had to choose,” Cerny says. “I had a belief in God. Yet I lived like the devil…. And this war ensued inside me…. Trying to make that decision, I felt like I was right in the middle of a raging battle.”
Things escalated when the Sauters invited Cerny to a spiritual retreat for the deaf.
“My conviction just went out of the roof,” he says.
In tears, Cerny dropped his guard and began sharing openly about the sin in his life — the drinking, the porn, even the adultery.
“One of the deaf missionaries said, ‘God can forgive you. God can change you,'” Cerny recounts.
“And I said, ‘Does He forgive me immediately? For everything?’ And she said, ‘Instantly.’ But I thought, ‘I can’t … I don’t deserve that…. I’ve got to work my way into the Kingdom’ … I knew what I did. There is no way that Jesus could forgive me.”
Then Cerny saw something that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
“I wanted to give Him my life and follow Him in baptism … but as I began to move forward I felt that I was paralyzed,” he says. “There was this spiritual oppression that words can’t explain…. I could actually see demons battling for my soul.”
In a panic, Cerny begged Mark Sauter to take him home. By nightfall, and in the safety of his own bedroom, he’d calmed down enough to fall asleep. But the worst was yet to come.
“I woke up in the morning and in my house I saw a war,” Cerny says.
His apartment was filled with demons. They poured from the Catholic icons on the walls; they were inside the television. And he heard their voices — “KILL YOUR WIFE,” they commanded. Cerny was horrified. His wife Maria* and their teenage son Jan* watched as Cerny began to scream and thrash about wildly, trashing the apartment in an attempt to fight off the creatures he believed were invading their home.
“My wife tried to hold on to me,” Cerny says. “When I looked at [her], she turned into a demon.”
That’s when he lost control.
“I ran, really, to save my life,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘OK, I’m about to jump off five floors.’ All that was in my mind was that I was inundated with demons…. It was like I had been cast into the pit of hell.”
Maria and Jan did not see the demons, but they didn’t need to.
“I saw all of this going on. I had no doubt it was happening. I was scared. I was scared for my life,” Maria says.
“I knew he was struggling with following Christ…. I’d already spent a lot of time one-on-one being taught by Vesta [Sauter] and I knew this was spiritual warfare.”
Cerny fell five stories. His body snagged a clothesline just before hitting the ground, slowing his descent and saving his life. Doctors thought he was drunk, high or crazy, but Cerny says he hadn’t had any alcohol or drugs.
“I was in total shock…. I didn’t believe anything that I was seeing,” he says.
The fall shattered the bones in Cerny’s legs. Doctors told him he would never walk again.
“I wanted to die. My life had just ended for me,” he says. “I’d gone from a really popular, successful, free-living guy, and then overnight I’m an invalid.”
Cerny spent two weeks in the hospital. The Sauters visited him repeatedly, but Cerny’s heart grew bitter.
“There was no purpose for me to live. What kind of God would leave me like this?” Cerny asked the Sauters. He told the couple not to come back, but they did anyway.
Crippled and depressed, Cerny spent the next year and a half confined to his home, rarely setting foot outdoors.
“All these friends that wanted to drink with me, hang with me, that I thought were my buddies? Not a one of them called,” he says. “As I lay there in the bed … I went back over the whole course of my life thinking about everything I’d done. And all this stuff that I’d thought was great fun was worthless.
“Vesta would leave me these Bible stories. And I would look at them and I’d weep…. It was almost like the Word was suddenly illuminated for me. Every time I would look at the Scripture, it’d just be so clear.”
But still he resisted. And while Cerny wrestled with God, Maria and Jan forged ahead, giving their lives to Jesus and being baptized. The news shocked and angered Cerny, who feared another attack. But instead of demons, he saw Maria begin to change.
“She began to talk about the love of God. And then she loved me with the love of God,” Cerny says.
“And I thought, ‘What a fool I’ve been! I have not loved her. I have not been a husband to her.'”
Hopeful he could walk again, the Sauters persuaded Cerny to accompany them to a hospital in Prague where he might receive better care. He eventually underwent five reconstructive surgeries to repair his legs and months of rehabilitation. During that time, the Sauters and their Czech church-planting partner Anna Smolkova, who also is deaf, took turns caring for Cerny as he recovered.
“I thought, ‘These people love me,'” Cerny says. “They were believers; true believers — so unlike anything I’d seen. And so unlike the Catholics that were in my life…. They became family to me. And they emulated what the Scriptures say a Christian is. It wasn’t just a religion these people practiced; going to church, making confession and praying. I saw light in them. They worked on my behalf.”
Nearly three years after jumping from the balcony, Cerny finally gave his life to Jesus. He was still on crutches, learning how walk again, the day he was baptized.
“One day, Lenka [another of the Sauters’ Czech church-planting partners] and Anna [Smolkova] came from Prague. And they just sat there and they went story by story by story and there was nothing I could refuse,” Cerny says. “And they said, ‘Within a second of turning your life to Christ, you will know His power.’ And I did. I said, ‘I’m ready.’ It was not without fear, but the moment I said yes to Jesus, they took me to the bathtub and I was baptized and He’s been mine ever since.
“My life was different. I’m telling you — totally, totally different…. I was in awe of life. Everything looked so real to me, unlike anything I’d seen…. It was like everything I experienced, everything I did felt right…. Even the words that fell from my hands [through sign language] were different and beautiful.”
But the most powerful evidence of Cerny’s relationship with Jesus was how his relationship with Maria changed.
“He never cared about what made me happy,” Maria says. “And suddenly what made me happy was important…. He became a helpmate and a partner.”
Maria continues, “There’s not a day that goes by [that he doesn’t ask for forgiveness]…. People look at me and say, ‘You’re out of your mind. Your husband is just gross [because of his past]…. You are so gullible. Why are you staying with him?’ But for me, there’s peace.”
“Before I became a Christian,” Cerny says, “I thought I had a plain Jane. But now my wife is the most beautiful woman on earth…. I go to bed every night and think, Thank you, God, that I did not continue in that lifestyle…. When my life changed, I could see my wife for who she really was.”
What’s more, Cerny apologized face to face to each of the women he’d had affairs with — and Maria went with him.
“My wife and I knew that’s what I had to do. That’s the kind of witness I had to be. So one after one, every woman I sinned against … I told them what I believed. They looked at me like I was out of my mind, but it didn’t matter…. I knew I’d obeyed what God wanted.”
And Cerny’s sharing didn’t stop there. He started telling everyone in the deaf community how Jesus had changed his life.
“I lived among them. I drank among them. These were women I’d slept with. These were men I had really been wicked with. And yet, now, God was with me,” Cerny says.
“I began to say, ‘Come with me. Let’s talk.’ And deaf people began to surround me and I began to tell these stories that I’d learned.”
Soon after accepting Christ, God gave the use of Cerny’s legs back to him, first walking with crutches, then a cane, then on his own. This year he and Maria celebrated 27 years of marriage and continue to grow together in their belief in Jesus. And Cerny no longer lives in fear of demons.
“I’ve never [again] had the experience that I had on the balcony. Although, there are times that I experience a sense of spiritual warfare,” he says. “We know that Satan doesn’t want deaf people to come to Christ…. It’s not something I like to talk about…. But it’s very real…. And it’s something we don’t take lightly. We guard ourselves, knowing that God can protect us.
“He took my body; He took everything from me. Then I knew that there was nothing I could do to deserve His forgiveness. And I gave my life to Him. And He gave it back.
“Regardless of how hard it is, I know my task is to tell people who I was and what they can be.”
*Name changed. Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.