Zimmufka

This past week, I went on a retreat with the youth group to Wisła, a mountain town bordering Czech Republic and Austria. It was gorgeous! And so much fun getting to know the teens and fellow interns better on this trip. Plus, I conquered a fear I’d had for a long time: learning to ski.

The first day was ridiculously cold. We left Tomaszów early  on a brisk Monday morning, driving about 4 hours toward Wisła. The sun made an appearance as we headed south and by the time we were on the winding path up to our hotel, the skies were bright blue instead of the smoggy gray we’d left behind at home. There was already a decent amount of snow covering the ground and we had a little trouble getting our bus down the sloping driveway but we all made it safe and sound.

I was roomed with Kaitlyn, my roommate, as per usual, and we were lucky. The other girls were housed 5 to a room and one bathroom between them (no thanks!). We went to rent our ski gear and my first impression was, “ok…I can handle this I think.” I had no idea what to expect the next day. That evening we had our introductory meeting, setting ground rules and played a quick get-to-know-you game. We hung out afterwards, chatting or playing cards/board games until lights out.

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We had a white out our second day.

First full day, we had breakfast and headed over to the slopes. I stuck on my ski boots with a lot of trouble and hated it immediately. The buckles strapped the hard plastic to my ankles and lower shin so tight, I could barely walk. Not to mention, the bottom of the boots were smooth, even with traction soles, so any slick, icy spots on the walk from the parking lot was a little scary. My feet and shins were pretty angry when I got to the bottom of the ski area, and because I had to walk so slowly, most of the group of new skiiers was gone already. I happened to see some people from our group and asked where the other newbies were. It took me a few minutes because I already felt like crying in frustration and pain of these awful shoes, but I found them eventually and reluctantly snapped on my skis.

Getting over to the lift: okay. Going up the lift: fine. Standing at the top: not bad. Trying to move: God awful. I fell over in the first two minutes trying to “make a pizza” with my skis and couldn’t get myself back up. See, I’d made the mistake of keeping my backpack with me for the first time so the extra weight wasn’t helping me at all. After falling my way down the hill, I was pretty frustrated with the whole process but I wanted to try a few more times. The last fall hadn’t been too bad. And I spotted a friend of mine who took the backpack for me. That made all the difference.

Second run, I still fell a lot, but I was able to get up. Crash landing at the bottom became my technique to stop, but at least I was making it down. And slowly, just a little bit, I wanted to keep going. The feeling of actually beginning to understand, through hard-knocks and snow in my face, was exhilarating. I started smiling and by the end of the first day, I had a pretty decent working knowledge of how to make it down the bunny slope without losing a ski or stick when I fell.

The second day was even better, and I managed to get down the bunny slope without falling and crashing to a stop. By the third day, I was ready to tackle a bigger slope and even though I wiped out so, sooo many times, I learned even more about what worked and what didn’t. I was a bit sad by the last day, but I went down the biggest slope almost the whole time. It was so much fun! I even went through a short forest path and didn’t fall down until trying to get back on the regular slope. I was pleasantly surprised to see what a little perseverance can achieve.

In between these days, we had evening meetings to come together for prayer, worship and a lesson. The theme was about making the right choices and how God uses unexpected people and circumstances to accomplish incredible things. We stayed in the first few chapters of Joshua and discussed the ways the Israelites’ experience related to our own lives now. Their fears of entering the Promised Land and mine of skiing lined up pretty nicely. I put faith in the techniques I had been shown and learned just as they were to put their faith in the Lord who’d guided them with the Laws out of a generation of slavery to a generation of a holy nationhood. It takes courage to step out of the comfort zone and embrace the unknown, but the risk has always been worth it: you will learn something either way.

I had a conversation yesterday at church about the experience and the other person said, “Wow, you’re a brave girl!” I suppose, yes. Yes I am.

Christmas Time in Poland – Part 2

(First, I have to apologize for how late this second part is. I’ve had a lot going on in January and just never got around to writing it until now. Enjoy!)

I got to Warsaw about 9:30pm Friday night after sitting in a 2 hour delay on the train (always fun). But my week was so much fun, despite the rocky beginning. My friend, Filip, picked me up from the station and we grabbed some Mickey Ds before going to his grandma’s place for the week. She was such a sweet lady, always wanting to strike up conversation even though I hardly understood anything she said. She had an old dog named Reksio that always made an appearance at meal time to wheezily beg for scraps.

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Christmas Eve (I dunno why he’s making that face :P)

Christmas Eve is a more important day than Christmas Day itself. Filip, Babcia and I went over to his parents’ apartment for dinner. The first thing was to give blessings for the year and show gratitude for each other. So, we all went around to break a wafer (kind of like a communion wafer, actually) and wish each other well for the year to come. It was really sweet and something that my family had never done intentionally before. The next thing was borscht soup to start, then there was pierogi, fish, some kind of pastry (it was good!) and szarlotka (apple cake). We had mandarin oranges and orange juice as well. After the meal, we exchanged gifts — I got some sweet boxing gloves and gear from Filip and Mariusz, and a lovely bracelet and ornament from Filip’s parents–before just chatting around the table. Childhood photo albums were broken out which was fun and maybe a little embarrassing for Filip, but he had a smile on his face anyway.

Later on, I went with Mari and Filip to see Old Town on Christmas Day and enjoy the lights. I tried some grilled cheese thing that wasn’t my favorite, but apparently, tradition. The day after, I went to a holiday party with my other friends, the Paprockis, and got to see Star Wars: the Last Jedi that evening (such a good movie!). The rest of the week was pretty relaxed. Filip and I watched Nigerian movies and ate lots of cake, then worked it off with a run. When he had work, I’d be with Mariusz and even went to a boxing class and learned quite a lot in 1.5 hours.

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Photo shenanigans in Old Town Warsaw

Babcia taught me how to make a potato dumpling (I can’t remember the name of it) and we had them for lunch the same day, while she shared stories of her family history and later showed us pictures of herself, her husband and her sister. At the end of the week, Filip and Mariusz drove me back home (I had so much stuff to carry back) and I got to work putting together a last-minute costume for Sylwester/New Year’s Eve.

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Potato dumplings before they’re fried

The New Year’s Party in Zakosciele was AH-MAZING. They had a giant clock on the stage, multiple performances (including mine) of pop songs, photo shoots for everyone in costume and delicious goodies all night. I was still pretty tired from my week in Warsaw, but I had a blast, laughing, dancing and being a part of it all.

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Itsy Bitsy Spider at her finest

The weekend after that was the last three days for Journey to Bethlehem. The weather was perfect on Saturday, and because it was also a holiday, we had a record 2,000 some people come through in that day alone! Needless to say, we went through our program about three times before we could wrap it up. We had a gospel choir from Katowice with us performing, which was so cool and I got to see my good friend Anna that I’d met two years ago at Fishart camp again. We chatted about what’s been going on and I may end up going to the choir’s 15th anniversary performance in April. Possibly even collaborate on something together; we’ll see…

Thorns

“…So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

I’ve been experiencing these little bad moments throughout my stay here in Poland. Today, I jabbed my finger against the door and broke my nail horizontally in the middle of the nail bed. The day before, I kept scrapping my already peeling cuticles every time I had to open my wallet (and that’s quite often when you’re buying for a new apartment). I’ve banged my head on cabinets. My living arrangements got complicated. I had to walk in the rain with Kaitlyn, lugging about 7-8 lbs. of furniture for 1.5 miles after walking the same distance to go pick it up. I’ve been bitten by mosquitoes about 5-6 times, and the bite marks are still on my face and arm after a week. I also fell and landed on thorny brush, scratching up my arm the first full day I was here.

Needless to say, I’ve faced some mishaps. And it’s only been 2 weeks now.

However, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not discouraged by any of this. Just as Paul saw his “thorn” as God’s way of reminding him not to be proud and to rely on his strength over Paul’s, I feel more confident that I’m where I’m supposed to be. Satan can’t do anything about my presence in Poland; I’m ready to share about Jesus and live with love, pursuing grace and truth here. My Polish skills keep improving, and I see where God can use me in sharing my faith with some other teachers and to pray for those who are hurting.

I’m blessed thoroughly. The challenges I’m facing at the just the beginning are only going to reap a richer, durable character in me. I want to keep up my faithful attitude, even when the times will get harder (and they certainly will as the school year goes forward).

The sermon this morning at Tomy church was about Joshua 1, and following the promise of God courageously. The take-away at the end and I hope to keep it in mind in the months to come:

Kiedy Bóg mówi: “Naprzód!”– odważnie zaufaj Jego Słowu.
When God says: “Go forward!” — boldly/courageously trust His Words.

 

Busyness

I have a chance to rest a bit this Saturday, but the past week has been a whirlwind of stuff to do.

The first part of this week was all preparation. I’ve been helping this sweet lady named Monika, who speaks about as much English as I do Polish (I think she’s a little better, actually), and who will be working exclusively in the świetlica (dayroom). All the shelves and toys have been organized pretty well. We had a lot of teachers drop off things they didn’t want, but we sort of found a place for them. She’s helped out with camp and been to the church a few times too, and loves it. We will see how God uses this year for her.

A few evenings, I had a chance to visit Zako where a different group of churches from Warsaw are having a big youth conference. They had the biggest number of kids this year: 250. There was no where in the camp for me to stay and check out the worship in the evenings, but I stayed close by at the Croziers’ and we had a chance to visit a few times. It’s really cool to experience worship from a different culture, but somehow really familiar, too.

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Nie z Tego Świata (Not of this World) conference

Later this week, I went to a small store by myself for the first time where they spoke no English at all, and somehow ended up with a sandwich and juice. Apparently, it’s not usual for them to make a sandwich for people so that was extra nice and I even got free cheese and pickles. Score!

 

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School has started here. Yesterday was the first of September and the preschool kids all came to the school for their first day. The morning was free play in the dayroom, and about 9:00am the kids all cleaned up and sat down for a big welcome to school circle. We sang “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” in English for me, then a good morning song in Polish that I kinda tried to mimic a bit.

Next, each przedskole class split up by age groups and I went with Ciocia Sylwia and the 4-year-old Hedgehogs. They sat around a circle and did welcome and good morning greeting, then a song, and Sylwia asked about their vacations. I understood the gist of their replies, but then I was asked in Polish what I did over the summer and I didn’t know at all what to say. I ended up babbling like “Eee, nie wiem…zrobiłam dużo,” which means “Ohhh, I don’t know…I did a lot.”
The second half of the morning was all play. (Which I think is actually pretty typical. There are lessons during the day, but most of the time for these younger kids, school is a lot of play time. And they need it!) I bonded with some girls named Nikola and Justyna, who I think saw me last June when I shadowed Kaitlyn at the school. And they were really comfortable asking me things in Polish.

The rest of the day was spent trying to catch on to the routine and clumsily replying in Polish to these kids. I asked a few about their English speaking skills and there was an older girl who was very proud to display her knowledge of English colors and numbers. Early in the afternoon, I left for a few minutes to go with Czesław and Paweł (who are live maintenance men) to the apartment to put beds together. Once I saw the beds put up against the wall, I realize we have a good bit of space to work with. Kaitlyn and I were afraid it would be super tiny, but we can easily fit a few pieces of moderate-sized living room furniture no problem. Pictures will come once we have everything decorated.

Once I was back at school, I felt kind of overwhelmed by the amount of kids going around in the świetlica and the teachers only used Polish to give me directions with them. I kind of got it, but it was a bit stressful.  Żaba had me help with a school fair at the mall after most of the kids were picked up, and I had another experience with walking around by myself to shop during a break or two. I’m getting accustomed to it now.

God totally provides though. I have yet to meet anyone who is rude or unkind to me, and are probably quite surprised that I speak any Polish at all. The move-in has gone smoothly so far and we’re getting furniture together, too. I’m grateful for all of it. Keep praying for this year.