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Piotr’s Possibilities

One Polish entrepreneur creates opportunities for Christ.

Piotr Czech
  • Author: By Katie Croft
  • Credits: Photographs By Guy Gerrard
  • Published: September 4, 2012
  • Location: Poland

At 20 years old, Piotr Czech experienced the fall of communism in Poland. Shops were empty, but opportunities were on the horizon.

Piotr was inspired to launch a small business selling oil and margarine from the back of his truck. Several times a week, the entrepreneur would travel to Austria to buy goods.

They would sell out within an hour in the town square of Racibórz, a medieval town that was nearly destroyed in World War II. Soon Piotr expanded his business to include fruits like bananas and oranges.

“It was easy to sell everything, because everyone needed everything,” he remembers.

Yet, opportunity soon waned. Piotr had the typical small-business debt; but lack of refrigeration, oversaturation of market products and nation-wide hyperinflation soon put him in deeper debt. At a time when good jobs in Poland paid the equivalent of $25 a month, he owed $60,000.

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Piotr’s only way out was more opportunity. A factory in Bulgaria was laden with spare parts for Polish trucks. Newly married and neck-deep in debt, he knew it was risky to spend more money to buy parts. Careful calculation suggested the risk would eventually pay off. Piotr and his business partner moved forward, but not without fear.

Piotr’s brother, Andrzej—18 years his elder—stepped in to offer guidance about business and life while also urging Piotr to strengthen his relationship with God.

“My great-grandmother was a believer, before communism even,” explains Piotr. “I am fourth-generation Christian.” This spiritual heritage is unusual in Poland, where many people understand Christianity in terms of church attendance, tradition and rituals.

Piotr and his five siblings were taught to look past the religious tradition and focus on the heart of the Christian faith: a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet as he pursued his business, Piotr’s relationship with Christ drifted.

“I was not close to God at the time, though I did know Him,” he explains. Andrzej challenged Piotr to become more intentional in the spiritual lives of others by serving through their church. As he watched fellow church members care for the poor and the addicted around the city, Piotr’s heart was burdened, but for another segment of society—people he interacted with naturally, in the business world.

“Business was growing, and I could talk with my friends about many things: vacation, cars, money, how to build a new business, but nothing about Jesus,” he says, his animated face tightening to a sad expression with the memory. “But inside I was thinking, How do I share the gospel?” In time, the entrepreneur found avenues to do that by doing what he is good at—creating opportunities.

Piotr and his wife, Ania, decided to try a dinner outreach strategy they heard about through a connection at church. The couple organized and hosted a large outreach dinner party at a fine-dining restaurant on the outskirts of Racibórz. City leaders, lawyers and business owners were treated to Polish delicacies of borsch, pierogi and salmon with dill sauce. Before coffee and dessert were served, the dining room fell silent as a Christian executive explained how his business and life were influenced by a personal faith in Jesus Christ. The evening ended with an invitation to begin a relationship with Jesus, and many guests indicated a decision to trust Christ.

Bible discussion groups meet Wednesday evenings at the Czech home.

But when they left, there was very little direction for how to move people forward spiritually. Piotr knew the event had potential for more, but he couldn’t pinpoint what needed to change. “At that time it was only an event,” Piotr states, “No follow-up.”

That trend changed in 2005, when Piotr and Ania met Swede and Judy Anderson, staff members with Cru (now the name of Campus Crusade for Christ in the U.S.) who serve with Executive Ministry. The Andersons were looking for European leaders like Piotr who were passionate about reaching key people in their cities for Christ.

“They had a big influence in showing us a new perspective,” says Piotr. “They helped us to see that the outreach is only one of many steps in the process.” The meeting was a turning point for the ministry in Racibórz. Since that time, Executive Ministry staff members have helped Piotr and Ania use the outreach dinner party not as an event only, but as a tool for creating hundreds more opportunities for spiritual discussion. Ania’s eyes still light up when she remembers this key conversation: “I thought, Yes! This is God’s plan for us.”

Something as simple as having dinner guests fill out comment cards at the end of the night opened numerous opportunities for follow-up conversations. In these conversations Piotr, Ania and now other ministry leaders unpack their personal stories of walking with Jesus, and they invite their newfound friends to consider God’s offer of eternal life through a personal relationship with Jesus.

“And that was the start of where God’s possibilities took off,” Piotr says. “Many people got the invitation and wanted to come.” Piotr pauses and his baritone voice takes on a whispery tone: “And we understand—it is because of God.”

Today, Piotr continues to take advantage of every opportunity, calling each person he has invited to the outreach to remind them of the party. He encourages them to come and enjoy. After the dinner, he follows up with each person he invited with a phone call or a personal visit. Piotr and Ania often have two or three follow-up meetings a day throughout the fall, in addition to work, church and home responsibilities.

A few years ago, Paul and Sue Johnson, U.S. staff members with Priority Associates (a Cru ministry to business professionals), began coming to Poland during this intense social follow-up season to offer their support, time, expertise and encouragement. Their presence frees up Piotr to do what he does best: make the most of windows of opportunity.

Piotr's boyish grin comes out when his wife, Ania, is in the room.

In the past three years, these couples have met more than 100 dinner guests for follow-up conversations. Nearly half have gone on to try the bi-weekly Wednesday-night Bible discussion groups for men and women. The women gather around Piotr and Ania’s dining-room table while the men meet in Piotr’s company boardroom. “This is not just a room for business,” says Piotr of his large office space. “It’s also a room for spiritual strategy—for praying. Spiritual business.”

There are now 35 active participants in the men’s Bible discussion group. On average, 16 to 18 of those men will show up for the meeting. One regular attendee is Jarek Chudy. Piotr invited Jarek to the outreach dinner six years ago. At the time, this serious man found spiritual conversations unfamiliar and awkward. Today he sits comfortably in the corner seat of Piotr’s black leather office couch, chatting about life and faith.

Like many others, Jarek agreed to try the Wednesday-night group after attending an outreach dinner party. “I work in a tax office. It’s nervous, stressful work,” he explains. “My relationships with my family, wife, children, parents weren’t very good.”

Jarek sways a little, lowers his head and chuckles nervously, implying there is still more to resolve at home. “But, I discovered many fantastic answers to my problems,” he continues, detailing how he has become more calm and at peace after getting involved with the men’s discussion group. His relationships with his teenaged children have improved. Priorities have shifted.

“I realized when I read the Bible and discussed it, that the reason I live here on earth is not money, not work, but my relationship with family, friends and . . .” he points up, leaning back slightly as he lifts his eyes to heaven.

“Your relationship with Him,” Piotr finishes from his perch on the arm of a nearby leather chair.

Many men and women who are involved in the Bible discussion groups can testify to a similar life-change experience. Piotr has changed, too.

In the 22 years since the fall of communism, the businessman who started with a truckload of margarine and oil now employs 140 people. Financially, God has blessed Piotr and Ania’s sacrifice with more than 1,000 customers in Poland and 150 other customers throughout central Europe.

God continues to ask Piotr to trust Him in his professional life as he explores new business ventures and dreams about bigger ministry opportunities as well. In business, sometimes it is wise to franchise—to duplicate a good plan for a greater profit. Piotr and Ania believe God is using them to set up a ministry template that could be used in cities throughout Poland and surrounding former Eastern Bloc nations.

“I believe we are making a model,” says Piotr, “But it isn’t as easy as copy-and-paste. Many things will need to change, but we are talking to many people.”

Once again, as Piotr has always viewed it, opportunity appears to be right on the horizon.

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