Olga Campora: Finding the Gospel Behind the Iron Curtain
During the early 1980s in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, Olga Campora, then a young college student, became interested in yoga. Her interest led her to the home of a man who first taught her more about yoga, but eventually introduced her to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have learned through my life, how really important it is not to be afraid to take the imperfect action. Because it is by doing things that we really learn.
2:43- Religious climate behind the Iron Curtain
5:51- Spiritually numb
12:00- Introduced to the gospel through yoga
23:38- Road to conversion
32:56- Baptism miracle
37:08- Sharing faith amidst communism
47:22- Changed by belief
55:08- What does it mean to be "All In"
Morgan Jones: This is "All In," an LDS living podcast where we ask the question, "What does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones. And I am so grateful to have Olga Campora with us today. Olga, welcome.
Olga Campora: Thank you so much, Morgan. This is an absolutely amazing opportunity. And I'm so glad to be here.
MJ: Well, after reading some of your book, I mentioned to Olga going into this, that my stack of books for prepping for these interviews just keeps getting larger and larger. And I want to read all the books, but I think I'm about 115 ish pages into yours. And I've loved it. And so I'm really excited to have this conversation today. First of all, I wanted to kind of set the scene for those listening, those who may not be super familiar with the Iron Curtain and everything that was happening in Czechoslovakia as you were growing up, can you tell us a little bit about the history surrounding that and the religious climate in your country as you were growing up?
OC: Sure. So just to make sure that we know what kind of a period of time we are talking, we are talking basically 70s 80s? And so talking about a climate about religious climate or spiritual climate, I was just thinking about it when I, you know, had this question that you said that he would ask me, and I was just thinking, there was actually no climate, I would probably describe it as a constant tornado warning, or living on an orange code, you know, so there was really no such a thing as any climate, because all the religions were quite persecuted. And so there was basically no public talk about God or about any religions. So it was almost like a taboo topic. And people would be, of course, very, very worried that, you know, to even mention that they believe in some secret, in God.
MJ: Wow. And for you, what was your religious background? Like you had been a Christian, but you said that growing up, you know, it wasn't talked about. And so it really wasn't like a deep part of you.
OC: Right? So I have to go back to actually to my grandfather on my mother's side, whom I never met, but I always heard about him, and what an amazing individual he was, he was a Catholic. And in his 40s, he was quite disturbed what the church was doing, the Catholic Church was doing. And so he left the church and joined a Protestant church. And at those time, it was called a big deal. Because he was just publicly pronounced as an apostasy. And so that was a big deal. And he came from a little town. So it was really interesting when my mom talks about, you know, her dad and that type of change, you know, in his viewing of religion, that they lost a lot of friends, you know, because they felt like he did something that was completely terrible. So, I really did grow up with the Protestant background. My father was Catholic, but it was more whatever I experienced as a child, it was more from the Protestant religion background.
MJ: Okay. And is Catholicism the dominant religion there in Czechslovakia?
OC: Somehow, I would say yes, there's also quite a lot of Protestant churches, when you go more to Poland, it's very Catholic. Okay, you know, but yes, I would say that we are kind of half and half, you know, the Czech Republic.
MJ: Okay. Interesting. So in your book, you describe that you had become somewhat numb to religion, despite never subscribing to the communist regime? Can you kind of describe, I feel like that's a feeling that probably many of those listening have never felt. So how would you describe or put that into words?
OC: I would just use this kind of little description. So when I think about numbness, I think about dentist, you know, when you go to do you know, some work, you know, that you will get numb in the dentist office, and it takes a little while to just get back to your normal, you know, sensation of what's going on in your mouth. And so numbness in that type of a sense and religion, I was thinking, you know, the climate was a daily injection of just great lies about God, there was a saying that, you know, only a blockhead would believe in God, or "religion is the opium of people." That's what I was growing up with. So when you have these daily injections of thoughts that try to sabotage any feeling, not only about religion, but spirituality, or God, those are those little injections that you get, and even if you don't like it, or don't believe in those thoughts, but you don't have anything on the other side, it will get into your system. So you will somehow get that sense of numbness, you know, towards religions. My first encounter, besides going to a little protestant church was this big church in my hometown, it's a Catholic, little chapel. And whenever I walked into that place, it was just always so dark. You know, and so my feeling about the religion in general, in the beginning, I just felt that that was just so much of like, darkness there. And there was nobody there sitting in pews. You know, and so you walk into something that was like a catacomb, you know, something that just like, nobody is living there. Like, how is this about God? Or if you talk about religion, like, Where are the people? What, what is it about, you know.
MJ: Why would I want to be a part of this. Yeah. So it's like you why would you even want to be a part of that? Olga, I love the analogy that you gave about the dentist, because while many of us have never lived in a communist country, and cannot imagine what that would be like, we've hopefully all of us have been to the dentist. Unfortunately, I hate going to the dentist. But I think that that feeling of numbness is something that we can all relate to. I wondered if you would be willing to, I think you do a great job in the book of kind of introducing people to who Olga was, at this point where you started to come in contact with the church, can you kind of just tell us what you were like, if you like go back in time, and think about yourself and what your personality was like, just to kind of set the scene for those listening.
OC: Wow. So as growing up, I was, you know, like a tomboy. Okay, I really liked climbing trees. And I was always interested in nature and reading books. And dolls were always sitting like family members somewhere, you know, on a floor, never touched.
MJ: You and I have that in common.
OC: That's great. And so I think that...as I was getting into teenage years, there was a growing desire within me to learn about great people who are in the world doing some really amazing stuff. And I think it was that quiet, leading of the Spirit to really find about God and about Jesus Christ. Because there was something in me to look for somebody who did accomplish something so amazing. And I wanted to be something, somebody, like that, like, I wanted to make a difference, you know, in my life and in other people's lives. So I started reading a lot of autobiographies at that point, and I just loved Einstein, a lot of different philosophers. And, and I started also reading about different philosophies and religions, you know, at that point. So, I think that especially in those teenage years, I can see how I was doing really hungry, and a sponge for learning about what is life is really about. And I never was afraid to ask, you know, at home, or just, you know, with people that I, you know, trust them, but that was just such an isolated opportunity to get real answers, because there was only certain literature you could get in a library, there was only a certain amount of information that you would get about even certain, you know, type of religious, you know, there was always this is a limited amount of information. So, I think that I would describe myself as a teenager really searching, I really wanted to know what the life is, you know, about? Yeah.
MJ: I think that, that is something that most of us, regardless of whether we grew up in the Church, or how we come in contact with the Church, wanting to feel a purpose in our lives, or recognize the purpose for our lives. That's something that we've all felt. And so Olga, now, I'd love it, if you could tell us how you initially came in contact with the Church.
OC: So that was at a point when I was at college, it was my first year at college, and I came out one day to class and it is friend of mine, she just said, I have met this really interesting guy on my way, you know, back home, on a train, and he just loves yoga. And she talked to me about it, because it was at that point that we, the two of us, were going to yoga classes. And she just said, if you want to, we can go to visit the guy. And I just said, Sure. And so so we decided to go one day, and we rented and this little short guy in his 70s with this huge smile on his face, opens the door. And just so lovely. So kind and so sweet, just started talking to us. And there was nothing You know, like weird about it the way he invited us to come in. And he made us comfortable to just sit down and be introduced. I introduced myself and we just started talking about life. And I mean, it was like first time I talked to somebody who would be really talking those deep questions like, what do you want to happen in your life? What do you think why you are here? And I mean, nobody asked me those question. So I never ever knew that he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But that was my initial introduction to church. And then I also met his family, I met his son, and he, you know, had his family and his kids and just the Spirit that I had witnessed in that home, I just have never ever felt anything like that. And I remember like today, just walking out of that home, I was just like, I have to go back. There is just something here so amazing. There is something more that I just don't know but just the way he made us feel, it was just simply amazing. Just to see him how happy, genuinely happy, this man was. It's something that you normally would not see because people, usually from West, when they traveling to my country, they always would describe people in my country or the Eastern European block, as plastic masks walking on a street because people just didn't want to show any emotion. You know, and so for me seeing somebody so kind and lovely and sweet. And just so genuine, it was just really, like something completely new that I have never experienced before that.
MJ: Right. And it's like he was kind of feeding a craving that you had to have these kinds of conversations. So one thing that I love, I love yoga. I just went this morning.
OC: That's two of us. Good.
MJ: Perfect. So I think that it's so cool that your conversion story involves yoga. And I feel like for me, Yoga has been something that's really helped me connect with God. But I think sometimes because of the history of yoga, we think of it as like separate. And so when this man started to teach you about yoga, what were some of the initial things that he taught you before he started talking at all about the gospel?
OC: Right. So I love the way he introduced yoga to me, he was really talking about how to train the self discipline; how you are in a in charge of your mind and of your mood; how the self-discipline that yoga offers, not only through yoga postures, asanas, how it can really affect you as a person to be more content, to be more present. And all those things really did resonate with me. Because there was just nothing like that. Like, you know, I was always if you read my book, you can see about growing up, I was very athletic. I was competing in swimming, fencing, you know, or running all that stuff. So somehow, you know, the physical part of yoga, which is the Hatha Yoga part, it was appealing to me, it was different from all the other movements I did before because you have to do them. I mean, there are different types of yoga today. But just the origin of Hatha Yoga is that when you move slowly when you stay in the pose, and we know that that type of a practice really awakens the parasympathetic nervous system in our body. And that helps us to be more calm, more present. And I have witnessed that just going through those classes, I just felt so great. So I felt that there was something that was definitely doing good to my body and my mind. But he, Otakar Vojkuvka, Brother Vojkuvka, he did introduce me more just kind of, you know, to the yamas and niyamas, which are just like the basic moral codes of conduct, how we treat ourselves, how we should treat other people, how we need to exercise self control what we say or what we do. And so I have never been introduced to that, like that. And from the yoga perspective, it was just, I could relate to it. It was not, it was in no way related to any, you know, spiritual idea of God, the way he talked, he just said, it's really important to work on your mind and on your character. And I completely agreed with that. So he and he also, you have to kind of understand that this family was just heavily persecuted by police. So in these beginnings, where we were getting to know each other, he was also careful, I didn't, I didn't know about him that he was a member of the Church (until) probably three or four months after meeting with him. So just to answer your question about kind of the yoga, he started very slowly with me and mainly focusing on you know, how to cultivate positive mind, how to be more present to you know, what is happening around me and and how to think positively and...I remember he always said, you don't want to live like a boat on the ocean that just whatever wind comes, that blows, you just kind of you are the captain of your mind. And I love that! I realize just, "Yes, that's true. I can change the direction of my thoughts."
MJ: And this was very different than what you had (thought previously).
OC: Oh, absolutely. Nobody told me anything like that, there was just no such a thing, even to just talking about mind in general because the way the communist system is, it was brainwashing. There was only one way to think, one way to explain things, one way to live, one way to do things. Yeah, so this was very different. Because somebody told me, "Hey, you are in charge of your mind. Nobody else."
MJ: Yeah, that's so cool. So then, at some point, this man who when you said his name, I was like, "Holy cow, that was a long name." But he eventually told you that he was a member of the Church. And that he had found that one of the best ways to open someone's heart up to the messages of the gospel was by introducing them to yoga. When I read that part of the book, I was like, "Mind blown, this is so cool." For you, what was that like? How did that conversation go? And then how did you feel a desire to learn more about the Church?
OC: Right. So it's really interesting, the journey he took with me, I just want you to know that my first spiritual or religious meeting was three people. One was a person who was a knife eater, and a fire eater. It's just like a circus guy. Okay. The other guy who was in that little group was a guy who was just diagnosed with cancer. And I was the third one, I was the only one who survived. So as the meeting went, either one of those couldn't make it, and so I was the one who was continuing coming to these classes. I mean, it was in his home, it was in his living room, and we just simply talk, you know, and so he started actually with me with yoga book. It was from, I don't remember now, exactly the title of it. It was from Swami Sivananda. And it was a book about general, you know, what the purpose of yoga is? And so I would be reading things and we would meet and he would say, "Well, what kind of questions do you have?" And so as we progressed, of course, the discussion came more to spirituality and to God. And I realized at that point, although I was somehow growing up in a belief of God, that it was not there. I just had so many doubts. And as I was asking questions about God, I kind of could see from the questions that I was asking Dr. Vojkuvka, that I was complete atheist. And I mean, and he wasn't making fun of it, because I did tell him that I think that I believe in God but (he was like), "Just as well, everything what you are kind of the way you are answering me..."
MJ: It's not matching up.
OJ: No, it's not matching up. So he went a little while with me with this. And then he introduced me to a book that is called, "A Skeptic Discovers Mormonism." And it was actually published by Deseret Book, but it was in, we are talking like maybe 30s, and it was really an excellent book for an atheist mind person, or somebody who just doesn't have any background about God. And I totally fell in love with that book. And that book actually was the reason why I started really being serious about the religion and about God. Then, one thing was, because, you know, the book talks about the church. So I, my question was, like, I just love all this author is saying about God, but why is it religion, I just don't like that part. And so then he gave me actually a book. And it was from Widtsoe, and it was about you know, like the priesthood is governed at church. And that blew my mind. I was just, this organization is absolutely amazing. Like, they think about every single detail of a heart and mind of a human. And so that really, as I was reading the book, I was just like, I want to meet these people. Where are they? And it's so sad that we read about this religion, but I don't know anything about them, you know, do you know where they are? And he just says, "Well, you are sitting in the room of one of them." So that was the first time I was introduced to a member of the Church. And like I said, that took three or four months from the first initial meeting with him.
MJ: Wow, that's fascinating. I want to touch on one thing that you said. So you mentioned the book by Elder Widtsoe. So what was it, because to me, I hear like that the book was about the priesthood, you said? And to me, I'm like, what was it about that connected the mind and heart and all of that for you?
OC: Right. I think I just kind of tapped into that a little bit in the previous answer. It was just about the organization of the churches, the way the church is governed. Okay? I mean I have never seen because, I mean, it's really interesting that it sparked my attention because I came from a place and a government that was very much everything was regulated, I mean, every single part of your life, how much you could travel, what you could eat, when the stores were open, whatever. But this, reading about the way Heavenly Father's Kingdom was organized on the earth, it made me feel free. It made me feel free when I was reading, how things really were organized, not only from the primary to the other organization, but what they did, how they, how they help people to feel, because I have never gone through any education that they would be asking you, how you feel about things? And how do you feel the Holy Ghost? What does it mean? How do you understand God with your heart? That was I was not never ever growing up, feel and what does your heart say? Everything was based just logically, this is how you think this is what do you do? And so reading that it just became apparent to me how that was connected to people to really experience joy, and love and freedom and happiness in their heart and so I think that was just, you know, like that underlying spirit that I have felt just reading that book.
MJ: Right. And so then as you began to learn more about the gospel, what led up to your being baptized?
OC: So of course, I was reading these church books. I mean, there are not like church, church books, but there are authors, you know, who are members of the Church. And so I came across the Book of Mormon. And I just said, What is that? Or I was kind of reading about Nephi, that's how we would pronounce, or Lehi.
MJ: That's how you say it in Spanish, too,
MJ: You're like, "One of these things is not like the other, and it's me."
OC: Right. And so I was just like, I had a very limited knowledge of the Bible. And so I was flipping through the Bible at home, and I couldn't find these names. So I was like, I have to ask Brother Vojkuvka who these people are. And I can see today the big smile on his face. And he just says "Well, they are not in the Bible these, these people, they are in a different book." And so that was when I was introduced to the Book of Mormon. And it was really, really interesting to me, because I was so excited about that book, and when I brought it to my dormitory, I was at that time a college student, and I opened it, I started reading it, it's just was really first hard difficult for me, because I didn't have any background of the history, the Bible and all that. I mean, so it was kind of hard. But then I kept reading. And I came to this verse in 2 Nephi 2:25. So for all those listeners, who went through seminary, you know that this is a scripture mastery, right? Do you remember what this one is, "Adam fell that men might be and men are, they might have joy." Now, when I read this sentence, it just completely pierced so deeply into not only my heart, but my whole being, like something can happened instantly in the moment with me, like physically, mentally, emotionally, I just suddenly was like, I just discovered the puzzle that I was looking for. Now it made sense, you know, this girl, teenager looking in the libraries for...reading the autobiographies. I was searching to find that the purpose why am I here is really to have joy. And so that verse entered my soul so deeply that immediately, and I was not praying before that, I just went on my knees and I started praying, and I just felt so much love from Heavenly Father, for me, but I felt it like for everybody, I never forget about that experience. It just was so profound. And so that was a moment. So I kept reading the book, as soon in the morning as I kind of could get up and just go, and it was like, probably eight o'clock in the morning, I went back to Brother Vojkuvka and I was just like, I love this book and I want to be a new person. I just didn't have any concept on baptism. We didn't discuss anything like that at that point, right? But the desire in me like, "I want to be a new person, I want to do this, I want to live, what do I do?" And so he explained to me the steps. And, of course, he talked about about baptism, and I was like, "Can I be baptized today?" And he's just like, "Well, I would love to introduce you to other brothers and sisters, so that you can get to know them. And there is also some little preparation so that you know a little bit more about what it means to be just kind of to, to enter to a new life that you are describing Olga, that you want to be a new person." I was at that point really also introduced because he realized that he can trust me. And so he invited me to come on Sunday to the little church meetings, and it was in a home, in his home. And when I walked in, there were like, probably seven people, and all of them were like these old people like over 70 years old, 80 years old. And I'm like, "Brother Vojkuvka, is this religion for old people only?"
OC: Right! And so he said, "Well, it's just, no, it's not like that. But unfortunately, what has happened is, all of their kids, they really cannot live here, most of the kids of these members were people who had to leave the country in order to worship, you know, God openly. Because at that point, we are talking really, now those 80s 90s, the Church was still, it was not recognized. And so a lot of these members, these old members, they were questioned by the police. If they got a card from Salt Lake, you know, like postcard, immediately, they had to go to the police, and who is this? Who wrote this card, you know, so I kind of then realized the bitter reality of just not only my church, but the religion in general, that just I realized how actually religious people in my country were persecuted. And it was a new thing for me, I never knew that. And just seeing that but seeing just kind of how sweet and how strong these people were, and how they really hold, you know, to the faith, it was inspiring. So that was how I came to the first meeting.
MJ: And how long after that were you baptized?
OC: And I was introduced to one of the brethren who was a member of the earlier branch presidency there, and I started taking the discussions with him. And what was really cool, I just didn't know I was just so nervous, because I thought that I will be questioned. So I was studying just kind of the Bible, studying the Book of Mormon for my first missionary discussion. And I was so surprised when I just, you know, came to his home, to his family. And he started the meeting with a prayer and it was the very first time in my life when somebody prayed for me, and for my heart. I have never, ever had anybody to pray for my heart, to be able to be opened, he prayed for the feeling of the Holy Ghost that I will be able to feel things that are really important for me to experience that day, that I can be able to be open to things that you know, we will be discussing, and just that prayer, it was just so cleansing to me. It was just really coming home. And then of course, we just kind of went through all those discussions that we had, and then I was prepared for the baptism. And this probably might be your next question, I will just leave it up to you, because that was quiet an extraordinary experience, the baptism on its own. Because it's something that most of the members of the Church in a free world don't experience.
MJ: Yeah, go ahead and tell us about that.
OC: So of course, we know that the Church was not recognized publicly. And so we had to first of all, I was ready for baptism, it was around March, and I really wanted to get baptized. And they just said, "Well, we have to wait until the water is warmer." And I'm like, "No, we have to do it. No, just I will be okay," as they explained the process. But regardless, we waited, we waited until July 11, which in Europe, we have name days and it was my name day. But it was not kind of planned for that. It just happened on the day. And so we are talking it's dark, 10pm in the evening, and they had a little place outside of the city of Brno, where this family lived and where most of the members gathered. And it was a little reservoir. And they had the little place when there were any baptisms in the past, when actually missionaries did baptisms, when there were actually missionaries in the Czech Republic some very long time ago. So they had a place and we came to this place. And they were like, I could tell that something was going on that it was not right because I could see how the members became kind of like nervous. And they started to kind of you know, talking and I just realized from the discussion they had that there were a lot of fishermen at that spot where they were just kind of booked for the baptism... So one of the brethren, he came to me and just said, "You know what, we need to wait because we cannot do that. And we don't know any other places," because there was a steep dip in that the reservoir, it was the only place that was kind of easy to enter. So he just said we will be waiting, so we waited and waited, we waited for 30 minutes (to) an hour and I just started like being nervous. I was like, "Maybe I'm not ready. Maybe Heavenly Father just kind of realizes that I am not ready to do this." Not so much questioning like, should I do this? Or rather just Heavenly Father probably just kind of thinks that I'm not ready for this, maybe I just don't know enough. Maybe there is something more than I have to do. And what they just kind of did after an hour or so, we gathered and one of the brothers said, You know, I think that we really have to pray and see if we can do it today. Because if they don't leave, we might need to just kind of you know, pick a different date. So we all of us knelt down and one of the brethren was praying for make it possible for me to be baptized that evening. And within five minutes, these fishermen started leaving the spot. It was just, it was my first miracle. It was just like, it sounds so simple but it was just to me, it was just so profound. And so you can imagine how absolutely ecstatic I was when I walked out, you know, from the water. It was just, I was just so happy to be able to be baptized, to be able to go to the water, and then just walk out of the water. And that was also the first time when I was driving with a car with the other members of the church and heard first the Tabernacle Choir. I had never heard it before. And it was just like, I felt like I was just floating. I just felt like I'm not even on Earth. Because I'm in the spirit of the Tabernacle Choir. It was just so amazing to experience it. I just never, you know, forget about it. And it was one of those very unique experiences that I have had, that really have stayed within me for the rest of my life and eternity. It was just such a privilege to be able to be with these people who are so courageous to take me to the reservoir and then patient waiting and praying for me to be able to be baptized. And I was actually very first young person who was baptized after almost 40 years, I was the very first kind of person, the young person at that point. I was really young. I was talking about 20 years old.
MJ: Amazing. My eyes are like leaking over here. It's very embarrassing. But, Olga, after that, you continued to meet with these members of the Church, you had desires to share the things that you had found, but there were dangers associated with being a member of the Church and with sharing your faith. Can you tell those listening a little bit about that?
OC: Right. So right after I was baptized, I felt such a great desire to share it. Not that I was told, you know, every member should be a missionary, right? There was such a desire for me, because what I had experienced, it's just, I knew deep in my soul, this is true, this is what I am a living. This is true, this is truth that I was looking, you know, my whole life. And so I wanted to introduce that to my friends and also my family. And as I talked about it with, especially Dr. Vojkuvka, we have to find a way to do that. Because of course at that point, I just knew that the Church was persecuted. And he just says, "This is what we do. And this is why you actually came to my house and learn first about yoga. Because most of our missionary work is done, just helping people to live a healthy life and sharing what we can publicly and yoga, to some degree was allowed to be practiced. And so that was that a doorway, really to talk about positive values of life without mentioning the Church or the Book of Mormon or even the word God. So I started teaching this big yoga classes. So I got certified, it just is like you have to start first teaching yoga. And that will be your way to just start sharing what you believe in. And what was amazing was that each Friday, I would be driving from college to my little hometown. And I would have classes that literally there were like 100 people in a class and I would teach like from four until 9pm. So I had about like four courses and it would be every Friday. And what was really interesting what he told me the way you have to do it, it's just of course I did poses yoga asanas, we did relaxation, but always in the end he says, "You have to give like little fireside and it just kind of can be like that five minutes thing." And so he was coaching me, it just is like how to start. The people in Europe are so secular and focused on health. So he just says, "Let's start with the Word of Wisdom, but we will be very smart about it, we'll just kind of say how to eat, you know how it's important for us to exercise." So we started really with these little baby steps. And then we started, I started introducing the topics of joy, or respect or forgiveness, okay, and, and the way I started doing it, I started looking for the quotes and books from people who were generally ok for the communist society. So I could cite Gorbachev, and he would say something that I could completely be aligned with the gospel of Jesus Christ, or they love to hear from Russian authors. So if I would have some really great quote from Tolstoy, or whatever so that was because there was always a secret police there too. And I knew that because all those guys, they didn't want to exercise, you could tell that they were smoking every single time when they came. And so you knew that you were watched in those, it was not kind of free, especially when so many people gathered, it was suspicious. And then later on, I also started being questioned by the police and stuff like that, but that's how it started. And then what we did was that we started doing what was called like a yoga camps, summer yoga camps. And we started doing it with Brother Vojkuvka, (and) his son. And it was kind of like a little group of people, maybe we are talking about 20-30 people. And we would just do like this weekly camps, we started, you know, like, on Monday, and went until Saturday. And it was just, that was the most amazing coaching of my life. I did it for 10 years since I was just kind of baptized. And it was because I saw how these priesthood brethren were working with other people, and just how they really just talked to people about being happy, because one of the things people came, so these people came from my classes and from other, you know, yoga classes, they would come to these camps. And the first meeting with us, as the leaders of the camp was like, Brother Vojkuvka says, "Okay guys," to everybody, "You are here to experience the most amazing week of your life, you are going to be taught how to be happy." And everybody was like, "What?" You know?
MJ: They're like "What does happy mean?"
MJ: Yeah, yoga missionary work maybe we need to...
OC: Yes, exactly. Like joy, what? And so, if you read really closely, my book, you know that it was a concept to it, what we did, of course, we did exercise, we eat very simple food, but there are a lot of good lectures, but you couldn't still kind of talk openly about God, you know, but because of all these positive values that you have introducing to people, people's hearts got open, and they felt that there was just something more and some of them came. So from that number, we would have people and they kind of sense, you know, I want to know more about this, I just really want to live like you are. What should I read? What should I do? So then we started something what was called "A School of Wisdom" with Brother Vujkuvka. So we would meet like, every Sunday, before the church, little meetings that we had, we would meet in his house, so that was a smaller group, right from this 150 people that I will be teaching yoga every week, to these little camps that was like we are talking about maybe each can be 30 people or 20 people, so and then from there, like three or four people would come to school of wisdom. And that was the point where he started introducing really the concept of what does it really mean to believe in God? You know, who who is He? You know, and how, how we can communicate with Him. And that was just so new to people. Because even though to me, when I was first introduced through concept that actually Heavenly Father is talking to you, what? There is a God who actually is interested in me to communicate with me. And so, and all those concepts, you know for people, it was also for them, so new, and we still had to mingle through things, we have to a little bit do yoga stuff, because they were coming for it, we cannot just, "Woo, so you guys are here." So we have to have some integrity, you know, but then from those people, there were people who really were interested, you know, in church. And so it was so much fun, because then I was really, I was the one who was teaching the discussions...and I was just so happy. I mean, there were like, over probably 50 baptisms that just kind of I was ready to prepare people for baptism. And it's so amazing to see, of course, some of them they fall astray, you know, but it's just like today, the first Stake President that we have...in the Czech Republic in Prague, he, I remember, he was the very small group that I was teaching in my hometown, and it was four people. And all four of them are people who are just active at church doing beautiful things...translation of the Book of Mormon, and many other kind of, you know, beautiful things. And it's just so wonderful to see that, that you could be a part of this very small, small miracle in this small little town, in this smaller little room that I was preparing like four people for baptism. And today, these people are just such a pillars, you know, back, you know, in in the country where I come from.
OC: I'll tell you, I mean, you realize that the Lord, he and I always, you know, I know that people kind of might think about it, that it was just strange and weird but you know, if you think about your life, and there are probably a lot of listeners, you know, who are listening to it, that it was not a straightforward pathway through a missionary, it's just sometimes people go, even through experiences that you would never ever guess like how through that negative experience, somebody can actually embrace the gospel, you know? And I think, from the perspective where we were, I think that it's obvious that the Lord He knew exactly what the field was, like, there was just simply, it was desert, there were a lot of stones, a lot of just like, what can I use? How can I bring the light here among these people? And so He knew that there were simply tools that He could use to be able to open up the light, and just, you know, the restored gospel, you know, to people, in my country. And so as strange as it is, it worked really great in the beginning, because it was that little foundation, that we needed to have to start off the church when came time when the church was recognized. And we started actually having little branches. And it all started with from these little yoga camps and school of wisdom.
MJ: So neat. If this story is not blowing anybody else's mind, I'm sitting over here in awe because you talk about all of this in your book, but to hear you say it I'm, it's like too much for me. Olga, we are running kind of short on time. So as much as I feel like I could listen to you talk all day long. But I'm curious, how in the year since, so you've come to America, you live here now, how in the year since the gospel has blessed your life? And then a follow-up question to that and I didn't prepare you for this one, but I'm curious about how you feel toward the man that shared the gospel with you, in your native country.
OC: Oh, wow, that's just, that's a big one. That's a big one because many times as I feel just my, my life is a dream. My life is just, I mean, it's something that I would actually never ever thought the way my life has unfold. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of challenges like everybody else have, but just the way my life has evolved, because of the gospel of Jesus Christ just blows my mind. Every single day when I wake up is kind of it's like I have a like a goose bump realizing, and if I especially get ungrateful, or just I complain about something, I realize, "Olga!" or I drive on a highway, and I'm sitting in this car, and I'm like, "Gosh, I'm just living in this, you know, beautiful country that has a freedom of religion, and I live the gospel. And how it blessed my life. Because I know that if I did not have a gospel in my life, I would be probably three times divorced, at least, I would because I am very strongheaded person. And so I think that it would be just so difficult for me to plot through the life and just having the gospel of Jesus Christ, it just gives me such an amazing perspective on just daily things of life. Because the main thing we know that the translation of the word gospel is joy, right? It's a message of joy. And it is true, that's just that was like, you know, with that first scripture that I was reading, 2 Nephi 2:25, I that was just, I mean, that's me, I just love to be happy. I just love to find ways in my life, even when things don't go in a way that I just thought that they should or our lives becomes challenging. I always realized like this, Olga, it's a part of a journey. This is part of why you are here, this is how we can make it to the next school after this life. And so I always remind myself, you have something that gives you tools, and I mean the gospel, that you can look at any circumstances of your life from an eternal perspective, that you don't see the tree only, but you can see the roots. And the gospel is giving me that perspective, all the tools that we have in the gospel, all the ordinances, all the doctrine that we just have. And if we really tap into it, honestly, and with all these beautiful changes that we have today at church, how we can see how the Lord really wants to have, when we live the faith in Him, the daily life that we do, how he really wants to have us, that depth and integrity in him, that it's really not only something that we do as a culture or something that we normally, that we go through the movements, the time is over to go through the movements, because that's not going to help us and help us to survive. That we are at the point that we really need every single day to realize, "This is a gift. How am I going to use this gift? And how I can bless you know, other people's lives?" As the second part of your question about about Brother Vojkuvka, I think about him, he would be today probably around 109 years old. This man really has changed my life. And the gratitude that I have toward him and toward his family, and how he had helped me also to become a person who I am, just being in his presence. And having the blessing of really being with him for 10 years doing missionary work under the circumstances we had. It's just trained me to be able to be also with people, to be able to listen to people, to be able to get on the platform with people who are trying to learn about God or gospel, that I don't have any second agenda in my mind or just judging them. Why do they look this way? Or why do they think this way but he was a master in being able to get on the level with people that people could feel his love for them and his heart. And that was a training, I was like for 10 years with this man. And it's something that just affected my life. As Olga, as a wife, as a mom, as a member of the Church, as a human being that I just, he always told me never ever only look at people like you just want to change them. You just have to look at people who they are and just lift them up. What is it? What is there, what you can lift, because if you lift them up, they will trust you. And they will want to just kind of be your friend. So this man, really, it was a miracle that he came to my life. I was at that point 19 years old, and just thinking about the circumstances and darkness of the place that I was living in. I mean, it's so obvious to me that the Lord wanted to make that happen. And I hope that everything what I even do just even a living in this country. It was not a plan. It's just also happened as a big surprise to me and a miracle that I actually end up here in the United States. But I am so grateful because I know that I was also brought here with a purpose. And I'm always mindful to it with whenever inside of the church, when I'm asked to do callings I was four times Relief Society president and all the time, each and every time when I was called, like, "There are people who are much more qualified than I am," you know, but there was something in me like, well, the Lord wants me be out there because He wants to. Okay, so I'm not going to question it. And He has been stretching me, oh, my goodness, Heavenly Father has been stretching me with the callings. It's just never break, never ever break. And even to, even to this day, but I just, I just love it. Because like I said, you know, I'm grateful for him that he was teaching me how to, you know, be around the people, how to really love people unconditionally, and how to respect people from any walks of life that never, ever just look beyond just what you see, look beyond what you see. And it's sometimes hard because it's just so easy for us as a natural man to immediately see the flaws in other people. And it's a training, it's really training and we have the tools in church to do that. We have scriptures, we have prayer, we have our living prophets, we have so many resources to be able to do that. But I don't think that most of us really exercise that, that quality, not to have the judgment, just look at the people. He is a man of God, she is a woman of God and and treat people like that even though they just completely look like nothing like that, you know, concept?
MJ: Yeah. Olga, I feel like we've hardly scratched the surface of your story. And so I hope people will—is your book still in print?
OC: My book is actually available as an E-book. And also, it can be on a Kindle, you know, or Deseret Book just offers it. I believe that there are copies if people want to, I know that it's in a soft print now available. So people can really find it, they can find it on Amazon or different places. But yes, it's available. And like you said, you know, Morgan, we just only hardly scratched, you know, the surfaces.
MJ: For sure. The last question that I have for you, Olga, is the question that we always ask at the end of this podcast, and that is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
OC: I would answer in one sentence. And that is, my dear friends, don't be afraid to take an imperfect action. And what I mean by that is that many times, especially as a members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we just, when we do something, we just want it to be perfect. And I totally get that because all of us we strive with that. But I have learned through my life, how really important it is not to be afraid to take the imperfect action. Because it is by doing things that we really learn. And even when we fail, failure is actually really good. And I have failed many times in my life. If you read my book, you will see that, but I am so grateful for those failures. And I'm especially grateful that I was not afraid to do something, and not to be good at it. And then actually, that became like a doorway, and a blessing to something that was much larger that I would even just kind of you know, dream about. So that's what I would just, you know, especially to youth, but everybody just don't be afraid to take imperfect action. I have tried it and it's a beautiful thing.
MJ: I think that is so interesting, because to me, that kind of sums up why I love yoga, is that for me, it is very imperfect. But it stretches me, makes me step outside of my comfort zone. And so, Olga, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. I appreciate it so much.
You're welcome. And thank you so much for all of you who have listened to my story.