First Quarter

It’s been a minute since I’ve updated my blog and so much happened the last 4 months since 2019 started. I’ll try to break it down:

Zimowisko/English Art Winter Camp

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I was tasked with helping some American volunteers from Foundry Church (Kansas City) with running their English Club class every day and leading a singing workshop. We had a blast hanging out with our girls, aged 7 to 13, every day and playing English games and getting to know each other. Tekia and Jessamine did great interacting with our crew and sharing love on our girls’ group by handing out candy and hugs at the end of each meeting. I had some incredible talents in my singing group as well and taught some acapella Christian songs with parts. They did awesome at the end of the week, showcasing what they learned for the parents on the last day.

We had a diverse group of partners from all over the word (Israel, Palestine, US, and a few other places I can’t remember now) come to discuss about future events we may do together, specifically a summer camp in Israel and Palestine again (last year was the first). I had a chance to share my journey so far with a few of them and catch up with some of Proem’s long-term partners which I’d seen last year. I remembered telling them, “I hope I’ll be here next year.” And I just so happened to run into them as they’d just arrived in camp.

Night to Shine

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This event was probably one of the most impacting and life-changing for me. Proem’s first time hosting Night to Shine was a roaring success. All the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and there were so many tears and smiles the whole night. The best part was the red carpet walk where each guest was greeted with “paparazzi” and cheering fans as they made their way into the dance hall. Being a part of that, giving high fives and cheering for each person, can’t be put into words. The pure joy that came through every person was palpable. Especially on the dance floor, where I ended up staying the entire time, you just couldn’t stop smiling. It was the best time I’ve ever had.

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Proem Edu Carnival Ball and Talent Show

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School had some really fun events for the students in February and March.

The first was the carnival ball before Lent: the preschool had a Smurf forest theme and the school and high school had a Hawaiian paradise. The students created the decorations and the upper classes helped with snacks and other preparations. It all looked awesome and they had a blast.

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Bringing in spring with a bang, all the classes at school put on their best performances  (or at least entertaining ones) for the whole school to celebrate the first day of spring. Classes were cancelled for the day as the students from preschool to high school came to watch their friends and dance. Even the teachers were called on stage to show off our best dance moves.

Other things

I personally had a lot of new relationships form and bonding time in between ministry responsibilities. I made friends with a couple at church who love cats just as much as I do and are really fun, creative people. We’ve made plans to spend more time together in the future, possibly creating together. I’ve also grown in relationships with my students’ parents and the adult students I have as well, getting to know them better and inviting them to ministry events as well as my own events. There’s been a group of Americans (with some Polish spouses as well) meeting regularly for bible study, too.

And soon, I have the opportunity to sing with a choir and orchestra in two weeks time at one of the cultural centers in Tomaszów. My last concert with the jazz quartet earned a feature in the local paper and the orchestra director (who was present for that performance) had asked Wojtek (our percussionist) about asking me to perform with his group. A month later, he contacts me about doing a performance mid-April and I’m in the middle of practicing the two songs he sent me.

God is just so good. He’s using Proem in great ways to continue reaching people for Christ, opening new doors and opportunities to show the community in central Poland and beyond what it looks like to have a relationship with Jesus. I’m really blessed to be a part of such a mission and to be able to do what I do here because I have the support of people at home. Thank you so much to my supporters and keep praying for us!

The CELTA Experience

What a wild, crazy ride this past month has been! I apologize for not posting much over the summer, but in a moment, you’ll understand why.

First, I went back to the States for a little while to help my mom and aunt with my late grandma’s affairs and cleaning up my aunt’s house to sell. We would go about 10 AM and get back around 4-5 PM everyday for a week. Then I was working on the pre-CELTA course work, which was supposed to kind of prep all the trainees for the actual course, in the afternoons. There were about 50 tasks 6-8 hours of work. Yay! (That’s totally sarcasm there.) Plus I was doing a grammar refresher course online so I had a better handle on what I’d be teaching in a month. I got to sing one last time at Mosaic, which was as awesome as I remember and I definitely missed leading worship with the team there.

I had a lovely 10 days with my dad and stepmom, still doing my assignment, but I had a chance to take a break, eat, play some games — generally have some kind of a summer vacation. Then I flew back to Poland, picked up Miłosz, spent a week preparing to stay in Warsaw and packing up for my move when I returned. At the end of that week, I drove up to Warsaw, had a simple dinner for my birthday with friends and got as well rested as I could for CELTA that Monday.

Alright, now for the wild and crazy experience that is the CELTA program. Monday, I ride the tram down to Aleje Niepodłogości near Politechnika and walk into the second building behind the main school. It’s a nice space, a little small, but welcoming and bright. Another trainee walked in with me and we go downstairs where fifteen other strangers are sitting there with the same “this is new” look on their faces. But everyone is friendly and a girl, Justyna, that I later found was one of my teammates gave us newcomers a brief tour around the building.

First day is easy-going. We’re just getting acclimated and the tutors introduce themselves, give us an idea of what our weeks will look like and start building some camaraderie between us all. We had an un-assessed group lesson where we met our students for the next 2 weeks and figured out what kind of teaching abilities we were coming in with. All in all, seemed okay. Then came Tuesday and our lives were swiftly taken over by CELTA.

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My cat gets to sleep. Lucky duck.

Ten hour days for some of us (coming in at 8:30, leaving by 18:30). Having assignments to write while making lesson plans, being assessed and observed while we conduct our classes, input sessions twice a day with a feedback on the lessons from that day, and the ever present reports from our TP (teacher practices) with all the strengths and weaknesses we show so far in the course. Just…a lot. Literally eat, sleep (very little) CELTA for four weeks.

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Blue team! (left to right) Jola, me, Justyna, Nessie (and Jan is our honorary member not present)

It was so nuts! But I learned a ton and for someone who’s never had formal teacher training, it was invaluable. The people on my team are like family, and I already miss them even though it’s only been three days since our last day together. I’ve been invited to Belarus and Morocco, and some of the trainees that live in Poland want to come see me sing at the end of September (more on that later too). I’m incredibly grateful God provided for me in this, and that I had the chance to meet all these lovely people. I feel really well-prepared for this school year and ready to use my new skills to further enhance the quality of Tomy school and keep learning a lot about myself as a teacher, too.

 

Expectations and Onward

“Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

It’s been about 8 months since my arrival here in Poland. I anticipated some of my challenges with moving to a new country and embarking on a year of serving with Proem, but a lot of things have taken me by surprise.

The day to day task of teaching English lessons to the preschool has taught me so much about being flexible and handling the unexpected. It’s usual to have to change up lesson plans when you work with young kids, but even more so when your communication has to cross language barriers. It took me a while to adjust to the relaxed attitude to my lessons here, but it’s helped me simply enjoy being around my classes. I get to walk into a classroom, share my language and my love for singing, and give lots of hugs and high fives. It’s a pretty awesome way to serve and I’m grateful to bring smiles to the kids each day.

Being a part of Proem Ministries and their events has been awesome, too. The two major productions, Journey to Bethlehem and Road to Jerusalem, have been a lot of work. I mean, knocked-out-as-soon-as-I’m-home work. But tons of fun, especially when you see the impact you have on the thousands of people that come to see the story of Jesus played out. I enjoyed my time serving and bonding with my fellow volunteers through both experiences, and it helped my Polish get a little better as I had to sometimes direct the crowd and speak some short lines in my role. Other events and groups I’ve been able to be part of are the women’s meetings, the worship team, a youth group retreat, staff meetings/devotionals, and an English Winter Art camp. There’s a passion for sharing the gospel in each of these aspects, and what I appreciate most is the simple core message: Jesus’ love for us compels change and healing in our lives that we then share with others.

I suppose my biggest surprise is how easily I’ve adapted to life in Poland, being in the mission field, and how many new friendships I’ve been able to start since the beginning. The first few months were difficult, having to get used to asking for help more and not having easy access to things (aka. shopping at convenient, big-box stores like Target). Learning day-to-day Polish to get by wasn’t quite as hard, and I’ve gotten to a point where I generally understand everything someone says to me. I still have a hard time with some direct questions. Even being black in a homogeneous country (and small city like Tomaszów) hasn’t been what I thought it was. I anticipated some behaviors (blatant staring, whispers about me, stopping traffic…actually, I didn’t expect that last one haha), and my response to them was also kind of a surprise. I felt really self-conscious often walking down the street, and there are still days when I try my best to ignore being gawked at. But, I was never treated poorly by anyone. Every person I’ve encountered has been polite and very hospitable, and I would say, personally, the people are even more friendly than those in the States.

The other part of my experience that’s been so valuable is traveling to Warsaw and interact with other missionaries and ministries there, building close friendships and participating in some of their activities as well. I had the chance to lead a bible study recently off the cuff and it was really impacting, not only for me in being able to share my experience, but to see the girls I was speaking to really take in what I had to share. Warsaw is like a second home to me now, and I see future opportunities there as well as in Tomaszów.

And so, I’ve come to the decision to extend my time here beyond just a year’s length. I’d like to serve again at the school in Tomaszów another year with Proem (there’s a need for teachers to stay) and look into serving a different mission organization in Warsaw following the next year to connect even more with my adopted missionary family there. I continue to pray over my decision and ask for God’s guidance, but I sense he has a place for me in Poland and that I’m going the way he has planned. Still, prayers can’t hurt. So please do keep praying for me as well, and if it comes to mind for you to support me financially going forward, please do see my support page for details on how.

 

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…

Journey to Bethlehem

Proem puts on this huge event every December and first weekend of January (around Three King’s Day) where thousands of people come to watch an outdoor walk-through play about the birth of Christ. I mean, they really do it up. It was such an awesome experience to be a part of and go see. Roman centurions in full armor, real livestock, a replicated ancient village of Bethlehem complete with hagglers and craftsmen, and you even have a part where the soldiers leading you through will demand to see your papers before allowing you to enter the town.

Flow singers

I was so busy during the whole event, I didn’t get a chance to take many photos, but they have a Facebook page here where you can see what happened and see past editions of JourneyPodróż do Betlejem

Before the groups get to come through, they can stay warm and sit in the magazine to enjoy videos related to the story of Christmas, and live singing and dancing performances. This is what I was doing all December and this past weekend. And I had a blast. The green room was always lively, between having a bunch of performers’ children playing, some of the performers themselves playing (we had a kid chorus too), and the number of acts fluctuating. This past weekend we had the most: a full gospel choir from Katowice called Z Miłości, a band called CCZ, and a selected group of kids from Tomy School where I work re-performed some of their Wigilia pieces.

My role this time was to sing 3 songs, two together and one by itself further along in the program: “Jingle Bells,” “Joy to the World” (The Preacher’s Wife style), and “Emmanuel Come (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel),” which was a modern re-work of the traditional version. The first week was really hairy for me because I was going to do this without help of a confidence monitor (and it’d been a while since I’d had to remember the lyrics of that many pieces without any kind of help). I was also nervous about how this would go, being my first experience singing in Zako. But I had nothing to worry about; it went awesome! So many people thanked me and I made some new contacts for other singing opportunities in Katowice. God’s got some plan working here and I’m excited for it.

Something different culturally that I noticed was the way the crowd would react. They may really enjoy the performance they’re watching, one or two people you’ll see clap along or sway to the rhythm, but the overall feel is stiff. I’d encourage people to clap and they’d hold it for as long as I did and drop as soon as I couldn’t clap anymore because I started singing. Even toward the end of “Joy to the World,” when I’m really going in, they just watch. One of the leaders of the gospel choir (I’d met him a previous summer at Fishart camp in Zakosciele) was explaining why and I think it makes sense. Some of it relates to the conservative Catholic background and the other is that for so long people were repressed, told to keep their head down and be unnoticed. Things are slowly changing, but it’s still difficult for people to feel free expression. After telling me this, he looks at me and smiles, “But we’re here to really change that and bring the truth, sister.”

I was really encouraged (and exhausted) through the whole thing. It was wonderful to serve and use my talent in this capacity, and I’m certain of more opportunities to come in 2018.

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Afer show fun 🙂

It’s the little things…

I caught some sickness again at the end of this week. It was pretty mild compared to the strep throat incident at the end of September, but not fun all the same. I’m recovered now for the most part, but I realized I haven’t really kept up to date with my blog and what’s been going on at the school and my life in general.

Proem Edu is in full swing, and keeping busy. The liceum/high school students just went on a field trip to Brazil. Yep, the country in South America. That would have been an awesome experience when I was in school in the States, but apparently, it’s a normal thing here to go on trips to other countries with your school. Lucky ducks! The most treat we ever got was maybe Sandy Point Beach or visiting Washington, D.C.

Anyway, the preschool, elementary, and middle grades all had Polish Independence Day presentations. The pre-K sang some national hymns and watched a short video about how Poland started. Then they took about 2 hours to take costumed pictures. You can imagine with little people how they responded to sitting on a carpet for that long. We had some fun watching and singing some English songs on the TV and eventually got through it. The upper grades put on a play later in the week, but unfortunately I was in the middle of doing my classes and didn’t get to see it.

Our small missionary group is finally meeting regularly now that my subbing is done, and that will help so much in the middle of the week. Just the opportunity to speak English and share our highs and lows is so valuable. Often I want to share what I’m going through with some of the staff at school, but I’m not versed enough in Polish to really express it and even those that know English well have a hard time understanding what I want to say. We’re currently going over a video series about the book of James and so far it’s pretty good.

I had a chance to visit Warsaw last weekend for a singing collaboration rehearsal, and it was ah-mazing as always. A piece of my heart gets left behind whenever I leave back for Tomaszów.  It’s really cool that God has put these people in my life. I relate to their experiences and have an easier time connecting to them, so it’s a nice haven from the daily grind of mission to go up and visit. My small jazz group I’m in now has an opportunity in January to perform, and I think we’ll totally be ready. More on that as I learn about it. 🙂

Overall, things are settling into normalcy. I mean, as normal as it gets in Poland. There’s never a dull moment and the culture is still different, but I’m feeling less and less outside of it now. And I’m understanding a lot more of the language, so that always helps. In it all, God is good and teaching me deeper issues I’ve been unaware of or only just scratched the surface into understanding. No time to get into that now, but I’ll share a post later.

Opportunity

I’ve had this half-dreamed wish about performing here before I left the States. Not just on stage at Tomy church, but in a club or venue around Tomaszów or elsewhere. Doing standards or a jazz piece, something that suits my voice, right? So it’s funny that on Sunday of the teacher trip, I got to know this couple that is involved in just that.

Wojtek, and his wife (I think her name was Isa), are big jazz fans. Wojtek plays drums and has jam sessions often with other musician friends around town, who do gigs all around Poland. He’d been striking up conversations with me, curious about where I came from and sharing some knowledge about things in Poland too. We got on the topic of music when he asked if I sang or played anything after we were done walking Tężnie Solankowe, and were were instantly best friends. He was so excited to have someone else to talk about music and share different artists with, and equally so to have me over to their house to play and sing whenever we could. I might even do some music gigs around town sometimes with the right band members together (we need a bassist).

I totally believe God planned this out. I’d been feeling a little down that I hadn’t been able to sing on a stage yet. It’s only been a month since I’ve come to Poland. I know I have time, yet. But when I got sick and missed that Sunday service, it really did hurt. I love singing so much; it’s a core part of who I am and one of my best gifts that I want others to enjoy too. I’m always encouraged when someone says they love my voice or that they felt blessed when I lead worship.

A little background will help you understand. When I was in high school, I had been refining my singing voice on my own, listening to opera arias, ballads, whatever I thought would fit my soprano voice at the time. I was pretty confident because many people said I was good. The first disappointment was at a county-wide drama festival where I had entered a singing competition and didn’t win. I received a lot of positive feedback from other students, but that loss stuck with me. The second time was when I auditioned for a role in a musical in school my junior year and didn’t get a part. I had taken a risk and went for a more vocally powerful song. Well, those two experiences left scars of insecurity for me that still echo now. I decided to sing just for myself after that. It wasn’t until I wanted to do a special song for church one time that I got up in front of a public stage again. People were blown away, and I was too that they were so impressed. I sang for special services for a while, gaining more confidence, and when I changed churches and auditioned for the band at Mosaic, I felt like I really could do this.

Church is a little different from other stages. For one thing, the focus is worship. I’m not as self-conscious because it’s not about me in that moment. Normal performances still make me nervous and I’m very aware of mistakes (I think that’s any artist), but I feel more prepared mentally and vocally than I ever have to step out into a public arena. I’ve wanted to perform before in the States, but insecurity and feeling like I didn’t really know the business kept me from pursuing it seriously. I had plenty of musician friends who did gigs, but they usually needed other musicians instead of vocalists.

In Poland, though, I’m actually the missing piece for this music group. They need a frontman and I’m available.

I’m kind of in shock, in a good way. First, Travis with an event in Warsaw next month, then Wojtek and his crew locally, and I’m still pursuing worship leading at Tomy (they told me soon; working out the details). This is the start of some really cool adventures and I can’t wait.

 

Shenanigans

I had an opportunity to visit two dear friends in Warsaw last weekend and it was a blast! It was my first time traveling solo on the train up to the city as well, and really, that wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Friday night, the Winans girls came over (they’re the daughters of some missionaries here) to spend the night and we had lots of junk food and ice cream to enjoy. My train was pretty early in the morning so I was a little distracted getting my stuff together. They must have been sleepy too, because as soon as the movie was over, we were all asleep by about 10:00 PM.

The next morning, I was up at 6:30 AM to wrap up my packing and be at the train station before 7:56 AM. It was really cold! (I regretted not bringing a heavier sweater later on, too.) After finally getting to Tomaszów Maz station, I hear a little voice say, “Ciocia!” One of my students, Ala, and her parents were going to the sea via Warsaw Central to transfer trains. It was nice to see them and chat for a little bit. Ala was really excited because it was her first time on a train as well and going to the ocean for the last “warm” weekend of the year. We parted ways when the train arrived and I rode the hour and 40 minutes to Warsaw with half-asleep passengers around me.

Coming into Warsaw Wschodnia (East station), I ended up waiting a little longer because Mariusz had to take care of some errand for his mission family. Eventually, he and Filip came and we went for lunch before driving to feed parrots. I had a laugh on the way helping Mariusz to pronounce “parrot” like pear-uht instead of “pirate.”

The parrot place (I can’t remember the name) was really cool! They had some large Macaws that you weren’t allowed to feed because they’d probably take your finger off, but they were perched freely inside. I don’t know the names of all the parrots, but there were African Greys, some budgies, a white cockatoo, and some green mid-sized ones that really took to Mariusz and Filip.

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Filip and Mariusz loving on some papugami
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Filip getting a little too close…

My first encounter with a parrot, he spied my shiny watch, then my zipper and all the way up to my ear where I had some gold ball studs. I probably should have seen it coming, but he ended up nabbing it off my ear (didn’t hurt, thankfully) and flying away. I was okay with the loss, but Mariusz didn’t want him to choke and die, so he somehow got it back. I took my earrings off after that.

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Filip being funny.
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Making a new friend.

There were a ton of kids and parents around already, and since we were there around 1:00 PM, the birds had probably eaten their fill and were more interested in jacket zippers, my purse straps and my watch. Filip did great, coaxing the parrots to come sit on his arm and feed them. It also helps that he’s as tall as a tree, so he could reach the parrots the kids couldn’t get to.

I also had a run in with an African Grey parrot. These are the most intelligent birds in the world, and obviously so, because he wasn’t easily distracted from my bag. My favorite purse (which in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have even brought in) got a little beat up — there’s some chunks missing on the straps and beak marks in other spots now. I ended up getting bit in the process of trying to save my purse. Filip somehow got him to leave, but not before he jacked the whole cup of bird seed from me.

After that, we left for the Warsaw Zoo. (The guys know how much I love animals.) It’s nice, a little small, but there were a lot of creatures to see. Most of them were sleeping or hiding at that time of day. The highlight for me was the reptile house because, for some reason, seeing turtles swimming around or chillin’ on rocks reminded me of Maryland. I started crying out of nowhere when I watched them. Didn’t realize I was so homesick after all.

We drove to Filip’s house to have kebab and rest from all the walking we did before they dropped me off at the Paprocki’s house. They’re an awesome family who lead another evangelistic mission here called Athletes in Action. Heidi is from the US, so we shared some stories about working in childcare and things we miss. I definitely want to visit them again and may have an opportunity to do so soon.

Sunday, Mariusz took me to an international church where the service is in English (hallelujah!) and where there’s quite a bit more diversity than I was used to. And I met a familiar face from a few weekends ago (when I was supposed to sing, but got really sick that weekend after practice). Travis and his wife, Patrycja, live in Warsaw and he’s been an intern for Proem in the past. We talked about doing some kind of music collaboration next month, which would be amazing. I hope the details work out!

The afternoon was pretty much relaxed. We had done so much walking on Saturday, none of us felt like doing a whole lot more, and Mariusz and I had taken public transportation all morning. The weekend ended with some lody, the guys amusing themselves by making me read in Polish, and making faces at me before the train left Warsaw. As the train pulled out of the station, I had to choke back my tears a bit. I really love them and was so grateful for a weekend with good friends. I miss having those times in the States. But it won’t be the last, and I can’t wait for the next adventure here.

Week 1

This past week was challenging for a lot of reasons. The first day on Monday was a little crazy with all the kids coming back from summer vacation and a the teachers not really having a full-out plan for what subjects to do in the preschool. The świetlica was totally overwhelming the first two days because we had the entire preschool in there at once with only a few kids having left for the day. Needless to say, that wasn’t going to fly for very long. By Wednesday, the afternoon crew (me, Monika, and Ella–she helps out with the 2 year olds–usually with one other preschool teacher) had come up with a plan for separating the groups to not only keep the kids safe, but our sanity as well. Teaching English is a little tricky as well because I don’t know what themes each teacher is going with yet…but it’s also preschool. I can really just have some fun, singing in English and trying some games so the kids will pick it up. This week coming will be about establishing our routine.

On top of this is an ever changing teaching schedule, which is just how it is because we have outside instructors with separate schedules themselves, so coordinating everyone is a big job. The apartment is also still a work in progress, but I think we’re nearly settled with it too. We have a kitchen table (yay!) and will be getting a washing machine courtesy of the school for the Proem Edu interns, who happen to all be living in the same building or have access to a washer already. That was a big headache for K and I, so I’m really grateful God has worked it out. The only thing now is maybe purchasing a bike to travel a little bit faster and more efficiently around town. They’re a bit more of an investment, but worth it for sure.

As far as financial support goes, I can’t thank my donators enough for helping me follow through on God’s plans here. There have been some unexpected expenses with preparing a home, and God has provided either through you or by someone here beautifully. I’m so, so grateful and will be doing my best to touch base with any of you that would like to know more about my work here or plans for the next few months as far as sharing the gospel is concerned.

One really exciting thing is I was asked to sing at the church next Sunday! I miss leading worship so much, and when Karolina asked me, I was like “Bam! Here’s my good news that I’ve been waiting for.” Hopefully, my voice is strong enough to do so because I caught a cold on Friday, felt better by Saturday evening, but lost my voice Sunday after having too much fun with my brothers from Warsaw (they’re super sweet, coming to help us build furniture and lift stuff–love you guys!). But I’m pretty sure I’ll recover in time. And if not this week, maybe next!

 

Day One: Tacos

I’m running around the house, trying to finish all the things on my to-do list. I didn’t manage my time time that well, but this is my first time leaving for a year. I’m used to coming back after a week or two. I won’t have that opportunity this time. Mom tells me she’ll take care of things and not to panic in the way moms do. I appreciate it, but it’s not really helping me be calm.

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My friend Michelle comes to pick me up at 5. It takes me another 20 minutes or so to get myself together enough and load my suitcases and bags in her car. Mom snaps one last photo of me, sweaty and bedraggled, then we’re off to Dulles International. We’re chatting away about Andy Grammar, the beginning of the school year, her classroom (she’s a first-year teacher this year)…I’m trying to listen, but I’m just feeling nerves. I’ve never traveled alone before. Whenever I have gone overseas, I had at least 5 other people to point out which terminal is where and what’s next.

We stop at Departures after laughing that I mistakenly thought we needed Arrivals. It’s good, one last giggle. We pull out my bags and hug about 3 or 4 times good-bye. She snaps a picture of me dragging all 5 of my bags with me awkwardly.

Inside, I get through checking my bags, TSA security and my terminal within 10 minutes. Easy. Boarding the plane, I get lucky. My seat is near the very front and the couple next to me reserved seats in a way that there was an open seat between us and we had extra storage and arm room. I slept most of the flight to Paris. Charles De Gaulle is supposedly a difficult airport, but I had no issues grabbing a shuttle quickly and getting to the right terminal. My knowledge of French was indeed helpful. I had to speak a little and guess what some of the staff asked for (I pulled out my passport a few times rather than my boarding pass). Eventually, after sitting around 2 hours and watching people, I got on the airbus to Warsaw.

The lady I sat beside  was Polish and couldn’t speak any English. I tried out a little of my Polish skills with her, but while she understood my small phrases, I couldn’t answer her very well. But she was very friendly and I was able to help her with the flight attendant once or twice. We ran into each other again after landing while heading to baggage pick-up and had one last broken conversation.

All my luggage arrived safely, thank God! Nothing was missing inside either as far as I could tell when I cheked later. (I did get a TSA search notice, but all they seemed to do was rifle through the plastic bag that had all my peanut butter gifts in it.) As I rounded the corner to where people got picked up, Żaba was there to meet me and drive to Tomaszów. Żaba is one of the school directors and Proem staff. She was a little worried when my flight didn’t show up on the board but all was well as soon as I came around the corner.

She was excited to see me and chatted a lot about the coming school year: expectations, plans, events, my responsiblities, ideas…they all sounded great. It was going to be a very busy year for me. We also talked a bit about our journey in becoming Christians, understanding Christ’s grace, and how important it is that this come across at the school, too. I’ll be teaching songs in English to the kids, and even simple ones like “Jesus Loves Me,” the kids don’t know yet. Right up my alley, so I’m happy to do it.

We pull up to one of the other’s teacher’s beautiful home. Żaba, John and their family were invited to dinner a while ago, but they included me since I was just arrived and quite hungry. Addison was an American that came first for a few months, then ended up staying. She’s been with Proem for 11 years, teaching English at the school. She has two kids, who were so excited to see John and Żaba’s two boys and girl. She had made us tacos and it smelled amazing. Tasted amazing too.

We all sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather and the fire pit. They spoke a lot in Polish, so I didn’t really get it, but parts were explained to me in English and they asked me questions, too. I would be teaching her little boy, Kaiden, this year. Of course, I was also feeling my 11 hours of travel  by this point and sitting on a comfy chair next to a fire was making my brain relax too much to chat.

We said good-bye eventually and on the car ride over to Radek and Alicja’s house ( I would be staying with them until my apartment was finished), she shared with me that Addison was taking a break from teaching this year and it would have been very hard on the other American English teachers to take over her schedule hours, when they weren’t sure if I was coming. But, God made a way! So, already, my reason for being here is made quite clear. 🙂 God knew what was needed and in John’s words, it was probably the quickest he’d seen someone gather support to stay.

I’m excited and nervous about this year to come. I’ll be at the school, and as a Proem missionary, I’m expected to help with the other events, which happen year-round (I expected this anyway, too). It feels like a lot just hearing about it, but once I’m in the middle, I’m pretty sure I’ll love it.