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In The Book Episode 1: Finding God Behind Enemy Lines
“Finding God Behind Enemy Lines” by Olga Campora
[00:00:00] Rebecca: I knew almost nothing about Czechoslovakia before this interview, so I poured over articles and looked at maps, completely absorbed in my history lesson.
[00:00:27] I learned that the former Czechoslovakia was under Soviet political power from 1948 to 1989. That is 41 years of communism in the country. 41 years.
Something important to know about communism is that faith in and worship of God were not only frowned upon, but suppressed. Or as an article in the Wall Street Journal said, it wasn't only irreligious, but anti-religious. One could say atheism was the official religion of communism.
[00:00:59] Olga: You just [00:01:00] don't think that there is anything else. You just think this is everybody anywhere in the world; that's probably how people live. So I think as a kid, I really didn't give it any thought that I was living in a place that was either better or worse than any other place in the world.
[00:01:21] Rebecca: Those whose convictions were first and foremost communist were rewarded. Those who did not subscribe to the political ideology, were not.
Today's guest, Dr. Olga Campora, was born and raised in that former Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic, and at first glance was not one of those lucky ones.
[00:01:41] Olga: I think it came probably around the time when I became a teenager that I just realized, “Why cannot I travel anywhere where I want to? Why are there some people in my country that can travel and I cannot?” And then I realized, “Well, these [00:02:00] kids or these peers at school, their parents are communist.”
I started seeing that there is something different when people who are not members of the Communist Party were kind of on the side of the society.
[00:02:18] Rebecca: And it didn't stop there for her. Olga's choice to not affiliate with the Communist Party while living in Czechoslovakia continue to have repercussions. But if it hadn't been for a major setback, she may not have found yoga shortly after, and subsequently, God.
I'm Rebecca Devonas, and this is In The Book.
This is a podcast where we flood the earth with testimonies of the Book of Mormon.
Dr. Olga [00:03:00] Campora is the author of Saint Behind Enemy Lines. She has worked as an educator and owns a life coaching and yoga business that offers therapeutic yoga for people, suffering from chronic back pain, anxiety issues, and depression.
We're back in Czechoslovakia. It's about a decade before the Velvet Revolution and Olga is applying for college.
Most people have a buffet of choices when it comes to college applications. Students typically apply to three or four or more schools and then go through a vetting process to announce their final choice.
It wasn't that way for Olga. She could only apply to one school
[00:03:46] Olga: and I didn't get in
[00:03:47] Rebecca: and that put her back an entire year. She didn't have much of an explanation for why she wasn't accepted either.
[00:03:54] Olga: There were people who got in and I knew that their grades and [00:04:00] just the way they treated their education was completely different from mine and they got in a school. And again, those were the kids of communists, you know, so that was really devastating to me. I was 18 years old and I couldn't get in a school. I got a letter [stating], "Just because there are too many students who apply to the school, you cannot be submitted…” That was a blow to me, because I felt like, “Okay, somebody is stopping me.”
[00:04:33] Rebecca: After her application was rejected, Olga went to work at an elementary school. It was a full-time job, and she would simply help out. While at the school, she met a lady who taught physical education. Olga herself was exceptionally athletic.
[00:04:55] Olga: I was very physically active as a kid and as a teenager. [00:05:00] I did swimming and long jump and track and I also was doing fencing and I competed for my country in fencing.
[00:05:10] Rebecca: One day, Olga confided in this coworker that she wanted to reapply to college with the hopes of being admitted the second time around. The woman listened and offered a suggestion, one I'm sure Olga wasn't expecting. She suggested Olga apply for a physical education degree with an emphasis in civic education where she would be teaching about communist philosophy, the very philosophy that had kept her from entering college in the first place.
[00:05:36] Olga: She just says, “You know, I know that it's not appealing to you, but I think that this is going to be your pathway to get into the school,” and sure enough, I applied. I was really good in fencing, so they saw that, “Oh, she does contribute to our country.”
[00:05:54] Rebecca: Olga wasn't exactly jazzed up about the application, but it was her ticket in.
[00:05:59] Olga: I [00:06:00] just applied and I got in and it was great. I had to take a detour and it was fine because of course life then unfolded in completely new way for me. I never ever taught physical education, and I never ever taught civic education, but it was a doorway for me and actually it was one of the pathways that God really created for me to find him.
[00:06:25] Rebecca: It's like that old adage says: when one door closes, another one opens. What came next was all entirely unanticipated.
[00:06:34] Olga: I knew a little bit about yoga through my mom, and I remember that she was practicing a little bit of yoga and I remember just crawling under her when she was doing poses. But then when I came to the university, that interest in yoga was there although I was not really studying that at that point with anyone or taking any classes. I had just read a few [00:07:00] books, but there was something about yoga that was just simply fascinating to me.
[00:07:06] Rebecca: Of all the athletics she had explored up until she went to the university, she hadn't tapped into yoga, but while there, she made a friend who had.
[00:07:15] Olga: And so this friend of mine, she just says, “Hey, I met someone on a train last week. And he's like someone who knows so much about yoga; wrote a book about yoga. And so she just says, if you are interested, I'm planning to go to visit with him and you can go along with me.”
That was really the beginning of a journey in to yoga, because sure enough, we met this older gentleman and we had a remarkable conversation about yoga; how it helps to develop the sense of awareness of your body, of who you are, and how [00:08:00] there simply is a shift in your nervous system and in your being that just helps you to become a little bit more quiet and more grounded and more centered. That was something that was really very appealing to me because I didn't have any concept of how to quiet my monkey mind.
My friend never, ever went back with me to visit this gentleman, but I just kept going and we started exploring yoga. I started really practicing yoga on a daily basis.
[00:08:32] Rebecca: Olga continued to study with this yogi, though these meetings really had nothing to do with her university curriculum, but she couldn't seem to get enough.
[00:08:42] Olga: There is just that simple sense of wellbeing physically and mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
[00:08:48] Rebecca: Because of a friend and an old gentleman, Olga was finding something in yoga she had not found anywhere else in her communist world. It was physically, [00:09:00] mentally, emotionally, and spiritually stimulating.
Yoga originated in ancient India and is a spiritual discipline for at least three major world religions. It focuses on breath control, meditation, and bodily postures that are practiced in large part for health and relaxation purposes. Somehow yoga didn't come to the attention of the communists enough to ban the practice in Czechoslovakia.
As Olga continued to practice yoga, she explained how it was actually foundational to her eventual discovery of a higher power.
[00:09:33] Olga: You bring your mind in a place of quietness and peace. For someone who really does have a hard time to believe in a higher power and in praying, I think a great way to start is to be able to soften your mind.
When your mind [00:10:00] has the capability to become quiet, there is simply a sense of spaciousness in that place of quietness. Suddenly you just feel how your heart starts to open and soften. Instead of feeling stuck and overwhelmed, you feel the opposite. You feel just the sense of openness.
And any time I feel that sense of openness and spaciousness in my heart, that's where I feel the connection with the Creator and I'm capable to tune myself in a way that I just become in connection with that source of life.
[00:10:42] Rebecca: But backing up, when Olga first started doing yoga, she wasn't attending a church or praying to God, so her mention of a creator or source of life needs an explanation.
Well, the story goes back to that old gentleman. Olga was frequently traveling to meet with him to learn [00:11:00] about yoga, however, she soon noticed something different about him. She didn't know at the time, but this gentleman was devoutly religious and practicing his faith in private, along with his family and a few other Czech people. They would secretly meet on Sundays in his house.
Olga's curiosity was insatiable, and one day after many months, she had a copy of the Book of Mormon in her hands. She took it home and began to read.
[00:11:26] Olga: and I came to 2 Nephi 2:25.
[00:11:36] Rebecca: That verse reads, “Adam fell that men might be and men are, that they might have joy.” Or in other words, we all - all of humankind - exist to be joyful.
[00:11:52] Olga: and that scripture changed my life because I was looking for the meaning of life. You know, yoga [00:12:00] was a pathway that I was preparing myself physically and mentally, emotionally, right? And so that was one part of the journey. And the other one, I was just reading something and that thought was just like a beam of light into my heart. I realized that my purpose is to be happy and have a joy. And I'll tell you, where I was growing up, nobody talk about anything like that: the purpose of life is to be happy and to have a joy. And then suddenly I'm reading this and and that thought just totally absorbed every single particle and cell of my being. I was on a fire. [00:13:00]
[00:13:02] Rebecca: I feel fairly confident saying that nearly every person on this earth has questioned the purpose of their existence at one time or another. I assume it was unlikely that a college student in communist Czechoslovakia at the time was going to find out that the purpose of life was to find joy.
What Olga read in 2 Nephi was a foreign concept. It was novel. It was revolutionary.
[00:13:29] Olga: “Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy" that was like the expansion of sense of abundance and lightness. I have never experienced anything like that. I have never felt as light. I have never felt completely clear, like when you feel like, oh my gosh, my brain really works today; just like 100%, you know! It was just like everything physically, mentally, emotionally, everything was aligned in this[00:14:00] enormous sense of being part of something that is absolutely amazing.
And I just uttered the words, “God lives. Hey, Olga, God lives!”
As I listened to myself, it was almost like I was listening to someone else saying that, and I was so amused, you know, by that. And then I felt like, “Wow, I really feel how much he loves me.” And at that point I felt like he loves everybody and anything in this world: the nature, the trees, people, the sun. I just felt like it was like a glimpse of a very tiny moment when I just felt this love that he has for me and for everybody [00:15:00] else!
That was my awakening to realize, “Hey God lives. He is fun. He loves me and he loves everybody else around me. And he loves having me on this earth and I'm really important to him.” And that was just so enlightening to me to experience.
[00:15:26] Rebecca: It's remarkable to me that Olga's first tangible experience with God happened with one short line of scripture from the Book of Mormon. She had received a copy of the book from that gentleman who knew so much about yoga, and yoga itself had been preparatory to that experience. All of this was happening in a country run by communism, which not only frowned upon faith in and worship of God, but often suppressed it.
But that didn't stop her. While she had to be extremely careful, Olga became both actively religious in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an active yogi.
She was baptized [00:16:00] quietly in the dead of the night outside in the river, so as to not be found out by government authorities, and thereafter continued to worship in private with a few other fellow believers.
She opened a yoga camp in her country with the aim of helping the Czech participants find that same quietness she had first found, and in a subtle, roundabout way, God.
I was curious about that camp. I thought about how many of the participants in her yoga camps probably had backgrounds of atheism, or at least skepticism towards God.
[00:16:30] Olga: I remember like today there was a gentleman who came to me after one of the lectures and classes. And he just said, “Olga, I don't know what I would give if I could believe. I just cannot.” And it was really interesting to see someone who said that he would love to believe, but he could not. [00:17:00]
And so I asked him, “Why is that?” And he just said, “Well, my education and my life on the intellectual level is just really keeping me from being able to open up myself to that possibility. I am just way too smart to believe in God.” I mean, he was humble to say,“I am way too smart to believe in God.”
And I was thinking about that comment many times in my life. And I really did recognize that it is a gift to believe.
[00:17:38] Rebecca: So if belief in God is ultimately a gift from God, how does Olga propose someone get the gift?
[00:17:45] Olga: And it comes back to their thought: is it possible for me who might be someone who it doesn't believe in God to just simply open up myself to a [00:18:00] thought, to an idea?
Is it possible that I could get the gift of simply believing?
It's kind of really interesting how we end up in certain circles of thoughts that we recycle over and over and over again.
If I had the skills that I have today, I would love to talk back to the gentleman that I met at the camp and I would just ask him why does he believe in the thought that he cannot believe? What is behind that? I would like to explore it. I would just ask that question. Why do you believe that you cannot believe?
[00:18:51] Rebecca: One thing that struck me in this interview is how God is evidently findable and will speak to us no matter the political climate, the freedoms we do or [00:19:00] don't have, or our previous convictions.
And for Olga, yoga was the tool that was preparatory to a life altering scripture in the Book of Mormon.
Thanks for joining us today with Olga. You can read her book, Saint Behind Enemy Lines to read her full story or visit her website, olgacampora.com to learn about her life coaching and yoga business.
Has the Book of Mormon changed your life? Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a Scripture Central podcast directed with James Dalrymple and I produced this episode with script contributions by Ryan Kunz. I'm Rebecca Devonas, and this is In The Book.
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