One of the cool things about our Czech missions’ trip is that we will have FOUR Czech-speaking people with us. One of those coming is Iva, who was raised in Brno. I wrote up her story and you have to read this!
Over the Mountains
By Iva Smid, as told to Tricia Goyer
Born and raised under communist rule in Brno, Czechoslovakia, Iva grew up understanding church was not something one took for granted. She and her mother attended a Roman Catholic Church a few times a year. And when they did, they drove to a church in the center of town, to ensure their actions were not noticed by their neighbors.
Iva’s father rarely attended church for fear of losing his job. In 1948, when Czechoslovakia was under control of the Soviet Union, everyone had such fears. The people were told where to work, where to live, what school to attend, and even what doctor to visit. Travel was rarely permitted, and places like Vienna, Austria—only a 2-3 hour drive—were especially off limits. Crossing the border without permission was as impossible as walking on the moon.
Iva grew up with the knowledge that wherever one went, it was important to watch behind your back. She learned to be careful with who she talked to, especially in public. She knew not to share too much, in order to protect those she cared for. And she knew that even in her family there were some people she couldn’t trust.
So in 1978, when Iva decided to escape Czechoslovakia, there was only one person she told, and that was her mother. Engaged to Pavel Smid, who’d escaped 1 ½ years prior, Iva knew she was being watched. Yet she also knew that the smallest hope of freedom was worth the risk. So, in her third year of law school, she applied for a vacation visa to Yugoslavia. Following Pavel’s escape route, Iva knew it would be easier to escape from there—making it into Austria over the Yugoslavian border—than attempting to leave Czechoslovakia itself, where every river, mountain, and trail was guarded.
Once on vacation, Iva tried to get her passport from the hands of the trip leader, but she discovered he’d been warned about her connection with Pavel.
“There is no way you are able to leave.” The man laughed. “There is no way you will succeed.”
Unable to get a hold of her Visa, and without a passport, Iva knew that she’d have to try to escape without those things. From Yugoslavia she called Pavel for advice and he told her of one way out—Iva could go over the mountains on foot. So following his direction, she took a bus to a border town and walked alone, in sandals, without even one complete change of clothes, in the direction of the border.
Iva followed alongside the road. She could see a tunnel cutting through the mountains ahead and knew it was not far. Within the tunnel was the border, and she couldn’t pass. Her only choice was to head off into the woods alongside the road for protection. She didn’t want anyone to question what she was doing there or where she was going.
It was late afternoon when she started her climb and darkness was soon upon her. As the air grew chilly, the woods became hard to navigate. Iva realized she’d lost her sweater. She retraced her steps trying to find it, but it was too dark.
She continued to do her best to head in the right direction, but it was hard to tell which way to go. Her ears were perked for the slightest noise, and she was worried that the border patrol would find her. And as she stumbled through the dark forest, miraculously a small shack appeared. It was hardly more than a lean-to with a dirt floor. It hadn’t been occupied for many, many years, yet it blocked her from the elements and even had a mattress for her to sleep on. She did her best to sleep, and as the new day dawned she set out again.
Iva climbed the mountain toward what appeared to be a ski resort, and although the trail was wet, there wasn’t snow. At the top, she saw some cabins and found help. The people there gave her water and boots. They also pointed her in direction of the border. She continued on, and by 3:00 p.m. she noticed markers announcing she was on the Austrian side. Below her was a huge valley … and freedom.
There was only one cottage in view, and Iva received help from the people there. From there, she walked to the closest town and traveled through the night by train to Vienna. Following Pavel’s advice, she received help from a refugee camp, where she stayed for six weeks. A charity organization helped her, and she was lent money for an airplane ticket that would take her to the United States.
Overjoyed to be reunited again, her and Pavel soon married. They first lived in Houston, and then Denver. It was in Denver that friends of theirs attended a Christian church, and where Pavel started reading the Bible, urging her to do the same.
Iva started reading the Bible in 1985, and it took her three years to read through it, though she found in very confusing. Moving to Kalispell in 1985, she and Pavel became friends with Dr. Heine and Mrs. Heine, who took the couple under their wings, giving them their first English Bible, and explaining the truth of God’s Word as they met together.
Soon, Pavel and Iva gave their hearts to the Lord and were baptized. Wanting to have children for the twelve years they were together, Iva started praying for a miracle. Also, wanting to commit themselves to each other before God, they renewed their vows on their 10th Anniversary and a year later she found herself pregnant with Jakub. Their second son, Josef, followed.
Now settled in Kalispell on a small farm, Iva has not forgotten those she’s left behind. Although the country of her birth is no longer under Communist rule, much pain is left over from that time in history. Most people in the Czech Republic consider themselves atheist. Even Iva’s family members do not understand her faith or her lifestyle. They listen to her speak about her hope in Christ, but they don’t believe. Even after all these years, they have a hard time trusting. Though they attended church growing up, Iva’s family never opened the Bible and they still don’t look to it for answers.
Now Iva hopes that she can relate to other Czechs the importance of God’s Word. She also hopes to tell her story. In crossing the Alps, she did what she had to without thinking much about the fears and dangers. It took her until she was in the refugee camp to realize that she couldn’t have done it on her own.
Iva knows she had help making her way to freedom. During her trek, she felt a protective and guiding hand over her. Now she knows now Who that was.
“I didn’t know God then like I do now,” Iva says. “I didn’t know anything about God’s plan and purpose for our lives—that He needed to take us half way across the world, all the way to Kalispell, to meet Him the way He intends for us. And now, almost 30 years later, it seems that He has a plan and purpose for me again.”
Interestingly enough, during this Czech mission trip, it will be exactly thirty years since Iva’s journey to the US. It will also be Josef’s birthday in the middle of our stay there. The fulfillment of two miracles.
“I am scared but so excited about what God has in store for us,” Iva says. “I trust Him fully that He will guide us again—no matter what obstacles seem to be in our way … God can do it. No matter what mountains of doubt we have to cross, God has a plan.”
Stop Lurking! Every week I will draw names for a free Tricia Goyer book from those who comment on my blogs. Winner’s choice! Tell your friends.
Wow, great story! Thanks for sharing it with us.
Every time I read a story like Iva’s, I realize how much I take our freedom to worship for granted. Thank you for giving voice to Iva’s testimony, Tricia. I am honored to pray for her witness to the family she left behind, and hope to hear more about her life.