by Vicky Kaniaru
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCNews) — A 14-year-old girl walks nervously into a large school with bare walls. As she walks down the hallway reverberating with sounds of gossiping gullets, the shadow of her school's mandatory career advice day casts her eyes to the floor. She reaches the principal's office, and with a clammy fist she taps on the door.
"Come in," a croaky voice says.
She pushes the heavy door and walks in the office. The walls reflect the grey flecks in the man's eyes and his coldness swallows the room as if the two are one. She sits down.
"What would you like to be when you grow up?" the principal asks.
"I would like to be a teacher," she says.
His wrinkled hand sifts through her file, and he says, "Sorry, it's not going to happen."
"Okay, what are my other options? Could I be a nurse or physical therapist?"
The principal fixes his gaze on her and assures her that she cannot work anywhere where she has influence. The choices for her are limited to factories—pushing a button on a machine or moving a lever for 12 hours a day.
"Listen," she says trembling. "If God wants me to be a physical therapist, I'm going to be a physical therapist."
She leaves the room petrified because she knows defying authority has consequences. Pacing down the hallway, she understands that in her file lies this truth—her father, Jan Titera, and grandfather are pastors and her family professes Christianity. She is the enemy of the communist regime.
This was Hana Caner's plight as a young girl living under communist rule in what was Czechoslovakia.
Hana -- wife of TMC President Emir Caner -- shared her testimony at "The Real Me" women's luncheon during the 2011 Georgia Baptist Convention, Nov. 14-15, at North Metro Baptist Church, Lawrenceville, Ga.
Spiritually, Hana recognized her family was blessed. Despite communism, the persecution for the Christian faith was less severe in Czechoslovakia than in the Soviet Union or Romania.
She never sensed this persecution as a child, and it was only recently that Hana discovered that her father's occasional "errands" were actually when the secret police were interrogating him. To this day he avoids talking about that.
"When a grown man, years past communism, says he doesn't want to talk about it, it must not be pretty," she said.
Unaware of the consequences of spreading the Gospel, the children still "understood we're not supposed to be speaking too openly about our faith," and "about what our parents do," Hana said.
She recalled how, as a first grader, she would travel with her father. Hana would excitedly hop in the car, hoping to visit places like West Germany.
At the border, her father would whisper, "Hana, lie down and pretend to be asleep. Shh... Don't make a noise."
They would always reach their destination at night, where Hana would see adults pulling out big black bags. Hana and her father would return home in the dark; and at the border, she would play the sleeping child.
"Hana, those days when you were going on these trips," her father told her recently, "I was smuggling Bibles. Those big bags were bags with Bibles in them."
The car had compartments at the bottom and behind the headrest of the backseat. Border agents would check the trunk -- empty.
"I had you sleeping on those Bibles, because everybody knows you do not wake up a sleeping child no matter what," her father continued.
A preacher's daughter, Hana felt pressured "to be the super child, prim and proper, with all the correct answers." She knew about Christ, but she did not live for Him.
"Everything was in my head; nothing was in my heart," Hana said.
One night in a town called Ostrava, Hana was seated with a friend in a church balcony during a youth choir concert. Her father was preaching, and the two friends were chatting during the sermon.
"I remember the only words I heard were: 'If you were to die today, are you going to be with Christ?'" Hana said.
In a panic, Hana realized she was not committed to Christ, and she pleaded with her friend to walk to the front with her.
"It was that fear of God, the fear of the one who can kill the soul," said Hana, referring to Matthew 10: 28-39.
However, at 13, Hana understood that if she professed Christianity, she risked exclusion by friends, losing an opportunity for a good education, and persecution for her faith.
"The fear of pleasing the world was bigger than the fear of going against God," she said.
In that moment, she promised God that if she ever sat in that same church, at the same time, in the same exact spot, next to the same person, and there was an invitation, she would commit her life to Christ.
"That year, I was living in open rebellion against God," Hana said. "It was the hardest year of my life because I was going against everything he told me to. There is no more miserable place to be than being outside the will of God."
A year later, Hana found herself in the same town, in the same church, with the same friend, in exactly the same spot, with her grandfather preaching the message.
In the midst of conversation, Hana heard the invitation and froze.
"It was God saying, 'You promised something, and I did it for you. Are you going to step up to the plate and do what you said you're going to do?'" said Hana, who realized her life is "not about what people think."
"I am not going to be held responsible for their actions," Hana said. "I'm going to be held responsible for my actions, for my decisions."
In a symphony of voices singing "Just as I am," Hana ran downstairs and committed her life to Christ.
"To me, that was the best decision of my life," said Hana, who lived in a world that questioned why she abandoned familiar comforts for an old faith.
"God told me I can trust him. God told me I can believe in him and he's going to take care of me and He will," she said.
A few months after her conversion, it was career day at school; and she stood in front of a school principal who deemed her a factory worker.
"It was just because of Jesus and Jesus living in me and understanding what kind of decision I made that I was able to stand up and say, 'Listen, if God wants me to be a physical therapist, I will be a physical therapist,'" Hana said.
That fall, she was accepted into physical therapy school. In the same year, the communist regime fell and a teenage Hana was ready to share her faith openly. "Everybody wanted to hear about God because it was something you didn't talk about for 40 years," she said.
In her newly found faith, Hana lived for a long time trying to act better so others would accept her.
"Finally, God took me through some really hard times in my life. And he finally got me to the point that I had to give up. And I said, 'God, again, this is not about me and about others; it's about you, and I'm just going to do whatever you're calling me to do. And my life is not about pleasing others, it's about pleasing you because that's the only way I can be happy and have a fulfilling life."
"That's something I want our ladies at Truett-McConnell College to understand ... It doesn't matter how you look or how smart you are, it's about reading God's Word, staying in His Word because that's the only way you can learn what is his will in your life. And once he tells you, you better go and do it because that's the only thing you should be doing," she advised.
Before a tearful audience, Hana reiterated her passion for Truett-McConnell students and encouraged the women to have same passion for the ladies in their church. She read the verses of the hymn, "In Christ Alone," saying the song sums up her testimony.
"This is what I want everybody to understand, people cannot determine your destiny," Hana said. "People cannot tell you what to do. The only person who can tell what to do is God and God alone. If you are not in his will, you're going to be miserable. If you are in His will, no matter what comes your way, you're going to be able to stand up and be strong and supportive to your husband because you are in [God's] will. And understand wherever God calls your husband, that's God's will for your life. You go with him."
"Who is the real me?" Hana said. "I don't know. The only thing I can say that I know is that I'm absolutely nothing. But because of Him, I have everything. I am a sinner saved by grace. I'm an ordinary person who has been saved by an extraordinary God."
Vicky Kaniaru is senior staff writer at Truett-McConnell College.