The Ehlers family is about to take a big step of faith — a very big step.
On July 19, Josh and Marie, along with 3-year-old son, Jonah, and the couple’s 11-month-old twins, Roman and Emma, will embark on a long-planned journey to the Czech Republic, where the couple will serve as missionaries.
“There are a lot of factors as to why we’re going long-term instead of short-term,” Josh Ehlers said. “A lot who go short-term have a short-term impact, but if you stay long-term, you can have a long-term impact.”
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 72% of the Czech Republic’s nearly 11 million people declared themselves as “irreligious,” a category that includes atheists, agnostics and those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.”
“They’re very skeptical about you talking about God,” said Josh, who hails from the Chicago suburbs. “You have to prove that you love them, live next to them, share your life with them. It might be three or four years before they’re even willing to listen to the Gospel.
“So, if that means 20, 30 years, or throughout our life, we’re going to be there. We’re going to be there as long as God wants us to be there.”
Josh’s wife, Marie, will be returning to her home country, and he will be departing his.
Marie was born in Moravia, in the eastern region of the Czech Republic, but came to the U.S. 11 years ago to attend college in Tennessee. She has returned home for only brief periods.
The couple, both 31, met in 2012 while Josh was on a summer mission trip to the Czech Republic and Marie was there on a visit home.
During the trip, Marie was at the same camp serving as a Czech translator.
“Marie was already a Christian,” Josh said, “helping our American team.”
After the mission trip, the couple remained in contact as Josh returned to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and Marie resumed her schooling in Tennessee.
“I was not this random Czech girl who met this American boy at a camp,” Marie told the Messenger-Inquirer last summer. “We realized toward the end of camp that we lived in the States very close to each other. In the world’s scheme, we thought that’s about a four-hour drive; that’s much better than traveling across the Atlantic Ocean.”
Josh worked as a youth minister in Elizabethtown for four years at Severns Valley Baptist Church — the oldest church west of the Allegheny Mountains — before the Ehlers moved to Owensboro less than four years ago. They were attracted to the city after listening to podcasts from the Rev. Jamus Edwards, a pastor at Pleasant Valley Community Church.
And the Ehlers would not be going to the Czech Republic without assistance from PVCC.
“Oh, they’ve been so tremendous,” Josh said of the church. “They have loved our family, and they’ve supported us financially, emotionally and spiritually — we could not be more thankful.”
To reach their destination, the Ehlers will fly from Louisville to Chicago, then London and Prague. The Ehlers will initially live in a city called Sumperk for two years, a period in which Josh will attend a university full-time to study the Czech language. Then, they intend to move to Olomouc, a sister city to Owensboro in the Czech Republic.
“We’ll plant a church in that city,” Josh said, “and it’s just amazing how God put these two cities together in our life.”
The Ehlers originally planned to make their big move on Mother’s Day (May 10), but the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the trip back more than two months.
“We were coming home from our missionary training in Colorado when the coronavirus happened,” Josh said. “The training in Colorado prepared us to depart well, but it didn’t prepare us for a mass pandemic.
“We consider ourselves blessed, though, because (the pandemic) has pushed back other missionaries much longer.”
Now, the Ehlers are just eight days away from departing the states.
“We’re totally at peace with it,” Josh said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to leave family, friends and our church — that part of it isn’t easy at all, for either one of us.
“But the Gospel is going to bring us together with new people, with people who need to know the Good News, and that’s the call that we’re responding to.
“It all comes down to trusting Jesus.”