On February 27, 1884, Thomas Biesinger arrived in Prague, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because local law did not allow preaching, Biesinger worked gospel messages into everyday conversations.
One afternoon Biesinger felt that he would soon be arrested. Rather than flee, he decided to stay and to share his message in Prague, even with court officials, if it came to that.
In the early morning of March 30, Biesinger was awakened by police and arrested. After 38 days in prison, he was brought before the fifth judge syndicate to answer the charge of proselytizing. Among those who testified against him was Anthon Just, a fur dealer with whom Biesinger had had a conversation about the gospel. Before the trial concluded Biesinger spoke to the court. “I had the opportunity of bearing my testimony in detail,” Biesinger later wrote. He was sentenced to 30 more days in prison.
After his release, Biesinger spent two days in Prague and baptized his only convert: Anthon Just.
Although no missionaries returned to Prague for several decades, a few Czech people found the gospel elsewhere. In 1913, Františka Brodilová joined the Church while living in Vienna.
When men in the Vienna Branch were conscripted to fight in World War I, the women, including Brodilová, continued to hold meetings, teach one another the gospel, and offer comfort. At the war’s end, however, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved, and Czech citizens were driven from Vienna. Brodilová, her husband, and their two daughters were forced to flee. Her husband, František, died shortly after they arrived in Prague.
Widowed and alone, Brodilová had no contact with other Church members for more than two years. Despite this, she continued to teach her daughters the principles of the restored gospel and prayed for the day when missionaries would preach in Czechoslovakia.
In 1928, Brodilová greeted the first missionary assigned to Prague in more than 40 years: 84-year-old Thomas Biesinger, who himself had prayed since 1884 for the opportunity to return. On March 7, 1928, Biesinger personally delivered a petition to the minister of the interior requesting permission to establish a mission in the country.
Permission was soon granted. On July 24, 1929, John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, accompanied by members, missionaries, and Church leaders, climbed Priest Hill near Karlštejn Castle, outside Prague, and dedicated the country for the preaching of the restored gospel and formally organized the Czechoslovak Mission with Arthur Gaeth as president. The following Sunday, the first meeting of the Church in Czechoslovakia was held in the home of Františka Brodilová. The mission remained open and found some success until August 1939, when all North American missionaries were evacuated from Europe in the lead-up to World War II.