Around the Bend

I’ve got some tough news. My biggest financial supporters had an emergency happen last month and are no longer able to give financially to my mission. That’s $500 less a month to live on.

The time was coming (July) when their two-year commitment was up anyway, but it still hit hard. And it came with a harsh questioning of my motives for being overseas. Why did I leave the comfort and relationships–family and friends–to live thousands of miles in a foreign culture? Particularly one where I’d never be mistaken as a national.

The truth is I didn’t plan for this. I heeded the strong call I felt in my spirit to stay here and serve God’s kingdom. My living expenses are covered by the grace and generosity of others, individuals. No church has or is currently supporting me financially. (I asked, but they said no.) I’m only able to be here because there are 7 people who regularly give money as partners with me in what I’m doing (with a few one-time supporters here and there. Really, thank you; it all adds up). And now I’m down by one and it’s a big hit.

I questioned whether this was it. I should just stop now; I won’t be able to keep going if I don’t have others to back me up with actual means. Prayers and well-wishes are great, but missions need physical means. This is rent, food, gas, electricity, car maintenance (I drive back and forth to school, camp, giving rides, etc.), hospitality (having guests over to share life with), and just general living expenses (soap, toothpaste, laundry soap, etc). I have a pet, but I teach private lessons and that covers his food and maintenance pretty well. The rest is specifically for me to do ministry.

And I spend every day serving in some capacity: 4 days a week at school, my off-days doing private lessons and connecting with others outside the church; weekends serving in worship at church service or helping as staff with Zako events (sometimes including setting up and tearing down). In between, I plan lessons for every week (I have classes twice a week), plan private lessons, volunteer help at the after school program and finding time for fellowship and rest to recharge.

I love, love this mission field. I’ve said it so many times. It’s amazing and incredible, and hard and exhausting. I do it because I love Jesus and people. I want my life to show what’s possible with Christ at the center. Though, I’m far from flawless. Christian faith can be messy because there’s a lot of junk Jesus drags up from the pits of yourself, if you give him the chance. There are so many people here in Poland that aren’t aware of this: Jesus is personal.

I don’t think I’m done here. I’m just getting started. Proem is just getting started. Yes, I want to be a part of it, but there’s also this feeling of I’m meant to be a part of it. There are needs that I can meet and currently do meet now. It’s not that I’m so important that I couldn’t be replaced, but I’m here. I can’t forget that the highly improbable (as it seemed to me two years ago) happened already. God provided people to support me getting to and living in Poland. I couldn’t do it without them. And it’ll happen again. Only…I’m not on the other side of that leap, yet. I’m still holding my breath.

 

2019: Relationship

Something I regret not doing more of last year was bonding closer with the people in my ministry. There were several reasons I was distracted from it (a dating relationship, reconnecting with other friends outside of Proem, and my only-child, pseudo-loner spirit), but I want to do better in 2019.

The theme for Proem this year is “Better Together” and I think it’s apt for my personal growth goals for 2019. Already I’ve spent more time with my ministry family, from staying local over the Christmas holiday to inviting people to come have a meal at my place.¬†Moreover, I’d like to build friendships with more people outside of the Proem staff and volunteers. My Polish is far from perfect, but I’m able to have conversations more easily and I think sharing my story with others will inspire them to think about how they can make changes or take more risks in their lives as well.

I think I’ve struggled with this aspect of my Christian walk most of my life. Openness has always been hard for me, and I’m very picky when it comes to who I let in. I want to have this appearance that I’m strong and I trust God so I often say something like “yeah, I’m struggling, but God’s got my back.” It’s not the worst thing but it kinda shuts the door on my problem. I don’t let the deeper details out, really asking for prayer for specific things that are bothering me.

I felt that effect over the last few months. There were some hurts I carried over from last year that I never voiced; I dismissed them because it’s been months! And I’m still bothered. So, I’m slowly opening up, letting them out in the open to people I trust and I feel the burden leaving my mind. Praying with my sisters and just talking about things is so cathartic. I should be scared of vulnerability. That’s part of relationships; it’s what makes them special and so needed.

There are still a few more burdens to unload, but I’m in the process of making that happen. Good things. ūüôā

Lighting the Way

It wasn’t too cold. There was a bit of mist falling from the sky, but nothing like the torrents of rain we’d had lately. The sun had stayed behind clouds all day, and it was pretty much night by 5:00 PM. K and I had stayed inside, cleaning the apartment, attempting to plan lessons for the next day, and binge-watching Netflix episodes of the latest popular series. After about 3-4 hours of this, some fresh air was a good idea and for me, it would be my first experience.

November 1 in Poland is a day of sad or solemn remembrance for some, dutifully traditional to others…I don’t really know the gambit of emotions. I don’t come from a Catholic background and Halloween overshadows All Saints’ Day where I’m from. The limited scope of emotions I gathered came from the people walking around that I saw and one conversation with a student during Konsultacja yesterday afternoon. But it’s definitely a special thing to see while here.

There were several lantern and flower sellers lining the street outside the large cemetery in Tomasz√≥w, which was blocked off from car traffic by a police van. There’s usually a few permanent kwiarnia¬†that sell flowers and candles year-round outside the wall, but it was at least double that this time. And it wouldn’t be Poland without some bread sellers as well — I saw at least two stands on the side we were walking on.¬†Cmentarz Rzymskokatolicki (I totally copy-pasted that) is pretty huge, spanning a few blocks all around. It rivals most of the city parks in size. So I was actually really excited to see how it would look lit up with lanterns and was not at all disappointed.

The photo I featured here really doesn’t do it justice. My phone camera is not a fancy SLR by a long shot, so you won’t see the same depth and atmosphere as I did, but I’ll do my best to share the feeling in words. The wall is solid brick as you walk up to it so I didn’t get any glimpse of what the inside looked like before coming up to the open gate. Immediately, your surroundings are illuminated in golden light and far off into the distant corners of the cemetery (when the second wall doesn’t obstruct your view), you can see lit lanterns resting on the graves. They reminded me of stars from far away in the dark. And because it wasn’t completely night, there was still a bit of blue-gray in the sky and you could see the trees beyond the reach of the lantern light. There was a huge variety of lights as well: some sites had only red-glass lanterns, some had open oil lamps with real flames, and there were some with color changing LED bulb flames too. The flowers were hard to see, but what I did catch were a lot of white chrysanthemums and roses.

Walking through, close to the path, there were very small graves of children — I didn’t check to see how old all of them were, but I remember one was 12 years and there were smaller stones than that nearby. There were also quite a few young adults — one said 27 years, another in their 30s. Each of them had at least one lantern lit. I can’t imagine how hard it must be, coming back every year to pray and light a flame for them. It toned down the whole experience for me at that moment. I didn’t become sad so much as sobered by what I was seeing and the sentiment behind it.

I was reminded that there are no guarantees of our time here. What legacy will I leave behind? How will people remember me? I have faith in heaven and God’s mercy. I have purpose in sharing of Jesus and leading people to him through how I live. I hope my example — my attitude in joy and hardship, my response to living, the way I treat others — will have lasting influence for his glory. And moreover, I want to be remembered as genuine. Not religious or just a good person or any of that. Real. Gut-level. I follow Christ; not because I was taught to as a kid, or I’m following a crowd, or only that it’s the right thing to do (while I believe that’s true, my reasons go deeper). I follow him because he’s offered me, completely and undeservedly, his all. I’ve seen incredible change in the person I’ve become from being open to his teachings and obeying them. My heart is light. My mind is at peace (…most of the time, hah). We are not made to burden ourselves with baggage and trudge through the hazards on our journey alone. He’s promised to be there always, and he truly is.¬†Just as families remember and honor their past loved ones, I must remember daily the God I serve and who’s love for me goes beyond my capacity to grasp wholly.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.¬†17¬†Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God‚Äôs love and keep you strong.¬†18¬†And may you have the power to understand, as all God‚Äôs people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.¬†19¬†May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

Ephesians 3:16-19

Pains and Passage

This week has been tough. The extent of the culture shock I’m experiencing really hit me hard. I cried over not being able to explain an order error at McDonald’s. Like, legit felt humiliated and stupid. I ended up leaving the restaurant because I didn’t want to get stared at with tears streaming down my face and the fresh air would be better for me anyway. I prayed in frustration and ended up calling another missionary who helped me regain perspective. She told me this is all still new (October is my second month here), and the things that were easy in the US are not going to be here for a number of reasons. There’s a grieving process happening and it’s completely normal. All of the veteran missionaries have been through it. You feel the loss of something you took for granted: normalcy.

And she was right. Besides the culture shift, I’m working my brain cells overtime trying to convert Polish words and sounds into cohesive meaning, all while managing and teaching young children which is a huge mental and emotional drain already. All of this seemed forgotten because all I could think about in that moment was the embarrassment of not being able to order a hamburger meal. My pride was hurt.

I know I keep referencing James 1:3-4 a lot (and Romans 5:3-4 is a similar message), but its exactly what I am in the midst of. Refining and growth to build endurance: painful, awkward, and uncomfortable; the results of which are a strong and resilient person, rooted firmly in faith because she was tested and came out better.

All is not grim struggle here, though. I’ve made new friends, strengthened previous relationships, and really, I have an amazing community here and in the States. I love being here. There are just days when it makes me feel like screaming or huddling under a blanket away from everything. One cool thing is that even my limited experience of living abroad and being on mission allows me to share advice to those about to do the same or considering it.

My best friend is on her way to teaching English in Korea. We had a chance to Skype the other day and it felt really good to reassure her about living overseas and how God has been pruning and pushing me. To encourage her to set aside misconceptions or insecurities, and know that God is the one opening and closing doors. I thought, while I was talking with her, how I felt the same just 2 months ago, a week before I was going to fly to Poland. I didn’t know fully what to expect or how my life was going to change. I couldn’t have been prepared for the challenges that cropped up or the emotional waves that I’ve had overwhelm me. But through it all, I have Jesus. I have the people he’s put in my circles. I’m not alone in this and remembering that makes a huge difference.

Patient Endurance

So, while I’m definitely having fun and enjoying good times in Poland, there’s often a lot of challenges. We had a meeting a few weekends back about the things that are really hard right now and some things that are going good. Last Thursday, a small group of us American women missionaries got together to check-in on our hearts, feelings, etc.

I shared that the adjustment to life here has been hard. (I’ve made a few posts about this before, too, I think.) I miss the ease of things in the States, because it’s familiar and habitual. The cultural shock is subtle, but definitely there. It’ll probably hit me more in the coming months as the weather changes. But out of all of this, God has been refining my character a lot. I don’t complain as much as I had in the US. I have to practice a lot of grace living in a one-room apartment with another person, receiving and giving. Serving is just an expected part of life here, and doesn’t feel weird to me. I get frustrated when something doesn’t go the way I wanted or expected, but I can also let it go really quickly instead of marinating on it.

Emotions are amplified overseas. There’s a grieving over the loss of your previous lifestyle. I’m beginning to see that in me. (I often lament there being no Target here…) But I also see my response to these things is reflective and perspective-forming. I’m growing.

We’re currently following a study by Francis Chan about the book of James. James 1:1-12 was our first meeting, and was a good reminder that patient endurance is so needed when we encounter hardships and trials. That we should ask God for wisdom through the difficulties to better understand what we’re going through. That like silversmiths refine silver over and over with fire, God will refine us in the same manner until we are a perfect reflection of him.

This is actually the second time I’m seeing this verse within a month. At the student conference a few weekends ago, the morning’s meeting was centered around James 1:1-8 as well. And I have a small painting I made with a verse from Hebrews 10:36, “Patient endurance is what you need…then you will receive all that he has promised.”

I’m here because I wanted to be part of effecting change for others toward Jesus. In turn, I’m really being transformed as well. It’s kind of amazing how God maps these things, puts details together to shape us how we need to be.

My next personal study is about praying without limits. Looking forward to what that will bring.