Salon.com calls it the number one most atheist-friendly country. The Global Index of Religion and Atheism states that it’s home to the third-highest rate of atheists among its population (30%) behind Japan and China (31% and 47% respectively), and just above France (29%).
It’s the Czech Republic, where church planter and TEAM missionary Zach Harrod is praying for a revolution to capture hearts for Christ.
But he’s not just planting churches. He’s coaching football.
And in the process, he’s winning hearts.
Harrod is part of an urban church called TaCesta in Prague, a city of 1.2 million. Unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic rates high on the United Nation’s Human Development Report, so its capital, Prague, is bustling with young professionals and middle-class families. To reach them, Harrod coaches an American-style football team called the Prague Lions, serving as the head coach for the Junior Division and offensive coordinator for the Senior Division.
Harrod’s approach is to make athletic competition a positive, character- and leadership-building experience for young men. This is a new concept in the Czech Republic, where it’s culturally acceptable for coaches to deal harshly with their players – even children. “There are six to eight year olds practicing before us, and I can’t even stand to be out there and hear their coach yell and swear at them,” Harrod says. “We really try to create an ethos of doing things completely different.”
Harrod’s hallmark recruiting and coaching style emphasizes being men of good character. “This is all connected of course with the bigger reasons of why I’m there,” Harrod says. “I’m not there just to develop the game or win. Those are two things I want, of course, but I want to see guys’ lives change and them come to Christ.”
But win they have.
The Lions have back-to-back national championships to their name as well as undefeated regular seasons. But winning comes secondary to the souls that are being reached, Harrod says. “When we have this impact on kids of the field, whether be in the practice field or the game field, it really changes their lives,” he said. “I think that’s created a lot of the credibility I have.”
Harrod’s credibility also comes from the fact he played for the Prague Lions before coaching them, and also played for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, “arguably the hardest Division III conference in the nation,” he says. “I played football because my father was a head coach at my high school for 20 years. It’s in my blood. That alone and being an American got me instant credibility.”
That credibility allows Harrod to speak into the lives of the young men he’s mentoring. “I’ve had as many as eight players attend our church gatherings with me on Sunday nights where we have our church plant,” he says. “And really in the Czech Republic, if you want to have a deep impact, you need to be among the people.”
Harrod is launching a nonprofit called Interception Foundation (IF) to help him raise funds for missional coaching in Europe and around the world. “IF was founded out of a need to find a way to resource and equip teams to develop the game across Czech, while at the same time having a positive influence on an entire generation of young men,” Harrod says.
-Written by Cara Davis
-Photos courtesy of Lukas Machala