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.

 

Changes

It’s hard to describe how I’m doing lately. If I had to sum it up, it would be something like treading water with a wave about to take me under. The end of the year is one of the busiest times and while I don’t have quite the same amount of drama as I did last year, there’s still much on my mind.

I’ve decided, first of all, that this blog will be more about reflection and personal growth than my ministry updates. I’ve spent the last three months struggling to think of a great way to write about my experiences, to put them into journalistic prose or sweeping narrative…and I’ve come up frustrated. The truth is most of the time here in Poland is spent doing pretty normal, every day things except that I’m in a different country and with the motivation of sharing my life testimony with others. And the experiences I have at events, serving during camps or weekend conferences is so difficult to put into words. Honestly, pictures and videos that I share on social media are the best way to see what I’m up to.

What I’m missing is a space to reflect and share what comes out in hopes that it is inspiring or at least resonates with my readers. I lost focus of my first goal with this blog: to show you what life looks like on the mission field long-term.

And actually, the feeling of not being able to express just what you want to say is a great example. There’s a lot of things that happen every week and emotions that aren’t always clear enough to pin down. Sometimes I forget just how jam-packed my weeks are. Even more so because I’m surrounded by a foreign culture (well, not so much now) and have to expend energy just being in a room with other Polish speakers grasp at straws of understanding. Then you have students who don’t all speak English well and the challenge of trying to communicate instructions effectively. Then there’s driving. And having to do everything myself because I live alone. And, and, and鈥攖he list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m completely, utterly in love with what I’m doing here. I adore being a teacher and I’m hugely passionate about serving this community. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. It’s hard work and it gets tiring, but so, so forth every bead of sweat and lost hour of sleep. I’m incredibly grateful I have the privilege to serve with Proem. There are times I have to stop and just wondering that I’m seriously living in Poland. Like, this is my life now. What?! Crazy.

And so, it’s almost 3:00 AM. I’ve spent the last couple hours trying to sort out an idea for fundraising and how I want to structure this space from here on out. But I have a class in the morning, so I think it’s time for bed.

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.聽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. 馃檪

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 Mi艂osz, 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 Niepod艂ogo艣ci 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聽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.

dav
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.

celta_blues
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.

 

Hugs from Heaven

Yeah, the title is a little cheesy, but it suits the story I’m about to share.

So, last month was pretty rough for me. My mom sent a message on June 5th that my grandma had passed away. It was a lot sooner than everyone expected (although, these things tend to happen suddenly). I was bounced back and forth between my ticket agent and the airline that whole week in vain. I stopped trying eventually out of frustration because nothing was making a difference, and I was going to miss my grandma’s funeral. She and my mom had told me earlier that they understood if I wasn’t able to go, but it was still hard for me to accept that. Then, I broke up with my boyfriend at the end of the same week. I had been dating my close friend for 4 months when a situation made it clear that things were not working. It didn’t end the way I had imagined and it just capped off the terrible week I was having.

As you can imagine, by that next week, I was so emotionally and physically done. I’d slept poorly for the last 3-4 days, and I prayed a lot. That Tuesday, I had made a video with remarks about my grandma to send for her service. And the rest of that day had felt really heavy. I didn’t sleep well. I ended up dozing off and on, eventually feeling like I needed to pray. It was exactly during this prayer — where I started to really surrender my brokenness and accept His peace — where I heard this sound. It was about 4 AM and the sun was already up. I figured it was a bird at first because the magpies sometimes make a crying noise. But it came again and I could tell it was inside the building, and that it was definitely a cat.

I went out and up the stairs to the attic/storage space, and in the dark, I saw this little white creature scurry across the floor to duck behind some suitcases and boxes. I recalled hearing a crying sound like this the morning before, but I had been half asleep then and more distracted. And my roommate had said something ran across the floor when she went up there later that day. The distress in his cry told me he must be pretty hungry.

So I hurried downstairs to scrap together whatever I could find. I had a can of tuna and some bottled water, so I grabbed a food container and went back up to the attic. He cried very loudly and had come all the way outside the door to watch if I’d come back. As soon as I approached him, though, he ran right back into the bags and boxes, afraid. I tried coaxing him out with a piece of tuna, but he was too scared. Leaving had worked once, so I pretended to go away and hid behind the door to the attic. He cried, walked out, noticed me right away and the minute I took a step, he ran back inside quickly. We went at this for about 15-20 minutes before I finally cornered him in a dirty, cob-webbed corner of the attic and wrapped him up in a worn t-shirt.

 

He didn’t cry after that much. There was a little bit of struggle, but wrapped up snug and gently pet on the head, he calmed down right away and started to doze.

Now, besides being a sweet story about how I found my cat, there’s some symbolism behind it. I grew up with cats and have a deep fondness for them. In fact, my love language from God is whenever I see a cat or have a chance to encounter one, it’s like God reminding me how much He loves me and is thinking of me in that moment. After all the hurt and stress I’d gone through the last week, for me to encounter this random animal in my attic, seemingly out of nowhere, was kind of an ‘a-ha’ moment for me.

Most of that morning, I looked after him. He had some tuna after a while and napped a little bit. He looked pretty healthy: no mites or fleas from what I could tell. And he was pretty young. A friend of mine said about 5-7 weeks.

At first, I went about trying to find him a new home, but no one I asked wanted to keep him or couldn’t. There aren’t any cat shelters in Tomasz贸w, or really much of anywhere in Poland, and I was leaving for the States in a few more days. I thought to just let him go outside again where he probably came from, but he flipped out and scrambled around the parking lot at my apartment building, running under the parked cars and looking terrified. I caught him up again and he immediately calmed down. “Well,” I thought, “I have a cat now.”

nor

But still, I had a problem of where to keep him while I was in the US. He was too young to fly and would need to get his vaccinations in order first anyway. God totally provided. A friend’s family said they could help me by keeping him while I was away and that settled my decision. And so, I named him Mi艂osz聽 because he’s a symbol of God’s love and thoughtfulness of me and also because he’s really quite a sweet, loving cat.

Currently, he’s doing quite well and making some new friends where he’s staying. I promise he does more than sleep, but I do think that’s his favorite activity.

milo i mietek.jpg

Legacy

My grandma passed away two weeks ago. I didn’t have a lot of time to reflect about it until now. I walked into her house a few days after flying back to Maryland and it was strange. I almost expected to still see her sitting at the kitchen table with the news on TV and half-asleep.

Last Sunday, I went to a music appreciate service in honor of her at her church in downtown DC. I almost cried a couple times because it was beautifully done, but also, it reminded me of her.聽 She always loved gospel choir music and I could imagine her swaying and saying, “mmm!” at different parts. Her favorite color was purple and the men in the choir wore purple ties, and the program cover was printed in purple, black and white.

20170822_131606
Great-grandma and grandma

I wasn’t able to make her funeral unfortunately, despite trying to work something out with the cheap flights agent every day since I found out. But I was able to send my thoughts via video to be played at the service and people told me later how beautiful a tribute it was. She was 94 years old, lived in Washington, D.C. her whole life. She served her church until she didn’t have the strength to do it anymore and encouraged musical arts in young African American people in the area leading the Hammond Institute of Music started by her mother years ago. She touched a lot of lives and held our family up in many ways I kind of knew, but didn’t really grasp until she wasn’t there.

Someone at church told me she would always talk about me with the biggest smile on her face. The last words she said to me were “You’re a good girl.” I had hoped I would see her alive one more time, but she wouldn’t have wanted me to see her suffering at the end. She was ready to go, and like always, she didn’t waste time.

I’ll miss her a lot, but the values she taught me and the memories I have of her “no-nonsense” approach to life will stick with me. Love you, grandma.

20170822_133836

Worthy is the Lamb

“The Lord will fight for you; you must be quiet.” Exodus 14:14

“For I, Yahweh your God, hold your right hand and say to you: Do not fear, I will help you.”聽Isaiah 41:13

The past few weeks have been extremely trying. My mind and body are tired, and there’s still a whole summer of challenges ahead of me. But I hold onto hope as the waves rise around me because of the One that never leaves my side. He who continues to fight for me when I don’t have the strength on my own. And He knows the plan; I just have to follow with my eyes open.

My first year in Poland will be wrapping up in 3 months time. I’ve grown so much in this year, embracing fear and stepping out of comfort for Christ; in giving of myself in greater measure than I have before. I feel more courageous, daring, and bolder than I ever imagined I would be. I feel like God is waking me up to my true self. At the same time, I’m facing life challenges greater than I’ve had before to meet this new person I’m becoming. My family is changing. My relationships are transforming. My walk with God growing deeper and stronger. My human-ness being revealed layer by layer; I’m so far from perfect. That’s why I need Jesus — he is, so I don’t have to be.

This second year will be the greatest yet. And possibly the hardest. It’ll involve a more serious transition to setting a long-term home here in Poland. There’s something about this country, the needs here for people to care, to love, and show compassion, that’s called to my heart. I’m not sure what God wants with me yet (is it ever 100% clear?), but I’m heeding that push I felt the first time to keep going and trust him with the details. Be praying for me.

 

 

 

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,聽Journey to Bethlehem and聽Road to Jerusalem,聽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.聽Even being black in a homogeneous country (and small city like Tomasz贸w) 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 Tomasz贸w.

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 Tomasz贸w 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.

 

November/Listopad

“And we know that God causes everything to work together聽for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Romans 8:28聽

It’s difficult to write an update this past month because so much has happened internally for me. November was the first month where I felt some sense of normalcy here; I’m not new to Poland anymore. The language is becoming less mysterious and I don’t think twice about the inconvenience or discomforts in relying on others or myself to get around either. Complaint sometimes comes up, but more often with bigger issues like last minute scheduling or unexpected events popping up. All these are easy things to peg when I think about how I’ve changed.

On a spiritual level, I’m still discovering how God has been shaping my character through my challenges. I’ve become aware of my need for control and where that need is rooted from my past. I’m learning my limits, where my boundary lines are with relationships, and how to explain them better. I’m so in need of God everyday; there’s real thirst on a regular basis for his Word and taking time to pray. And that vulnerability is not easy to start over with new people. And that’s all 3 months in. God’s been busy!

New relationships have been popping up for me: there’s a new American missionary previously living in Ukraine that’s living here now long-term; my jazz friend, Wojtek, and his musician friends I’m becoming closer to as we practice together; a few of the other women helping at Proem that I started connecting to earlier, got away from for a while, and have been reconnecting with now. My two close friends from Warsaw have been invaluable for me, too, and I’ve come to know and make new friends through them. God has been setting up a village around me here.

The highlight of this month is getting to jam with my jazz crew and preparing a set to perform sometime in the coming months. I’m really thankful that I have an outlet like this, and an outreach opportunity because none of them are Christians. Two of them have asked me why I came to Poland or if I’ve been here before, and I hope that they’ll come to some Proem events and get tied in even more.

bty
First official snowy day.

Thanksgiving away from family and friends was not as hard as I thought. There’s so many other Americans here, we had our own celebration and it kind of made up for missing out on time at home. Christmas will probably be a little harder to bear, but I’m excited for something different and making new memories with my Polish family.

December comes in with a bang: teams of volunteers are coming tomorrow to help with Journey to Bethlehem and I’m so excited to see some of my Mosaic family this week! Every weekend will be busy helping out with Bethlehem, since it’s one of the biggest outreach events we do here. I’ll be singing every weekend, so please pray for my voice and health to keep up. Looking forward to it and more!

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聽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 Tomasz贸w.聽 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. 馃檪

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.

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贸w, which was blocked off from car traffic by a police van. There’s usually a few permanent kwiarnia聽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.聽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.聽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聽Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God鈥檚 love and keep you strong.18聽And may you have the power to understand, as all God鈥檚 people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.19聽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.

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 Tomasz贸w 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 T臋偶nie 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 Tomasz贸w 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.

20170930_132042
Filip and Mariusz loving on some papugami
20170930_132047
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.

20170930_131229
Filip being funny.
20170930_131647
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.

Refocus

Settling into life here has been very draining, but good. I had a little homesickness moment last Thursday when I missed having a car to get around and being able to find things conveniently. K and I live really close to the school, but really far from everything else which means any kind of shopping trip takes a whole afternoon. I’ve probably walked about 2-3 miles every week back and forth to school and another 2 miles going into town every weekend. It doesn’t sound like that much, but it’s tiring when you’re used to driving everywhere.

But, I am enjoying the challenges more now than in the beginning. The first two weeks of mishaps had me going “seriously, God?!” nearly every day. They still happen — our oven can’t be turned on because it will blow our power out, and our brand new washing machine has to drain its waste water into the toilet — but I just laugh and roll with it. That’s life here in Poland. More often than not, what you expect is not what you’ll get. But I see where God is using these opportunities to help me grow bit by bit in perseverance and humility, and recognizing what’s most important.

I started a Bible reading plan this past week called “Awakening” based on Stovall Weems’ book about fasting and prayer. “Disconnecting from the distractions of the world through fasting, and connecting into the power and presence of God through prayer, brings a supernatural freshness and newness to our souls.” I totally need that right now. Setting up the apartment has been drawing all my energy and attention lately. Plus, I’ve always seen fasting as kind of a necessary hardship as a Christian, when really, it’s not supposed to be like that at all. “Fasting is no longer ‘do in order to become,’ but ‘you already are, therefore act like it.’ ” Distraction-free celebration of God’s mercy through Jesus because I’ve been set free — this is what New Testament fasting should be.

My times of prayer and reading haven’t been consistent, and I certainly feel like they haven’t. Spiritually, I’m running on empty. And it’s harder to love others and show grace when you need those things yourself. So, I’ll be fasting this week from distractions. More reading, more praying, more worship when I have breaks instead of mindless social media surfing. I pray for amazing things to come as a result. Zobaczymy 馃檪

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 艣wietlica 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鈥檛 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鈥檛 know what themes each teacher is going with yet…but it鈥檚 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鈥檙e 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鈥檓 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鈥檙e a bit more of an investment, but worth it for sure.

As far as financial support goes, I can鈥檛 thank my donators enough for helping me follow through on God鈥檚 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鈥檓 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 鈥淏am! Here鈥檚 my good news that I鈥檝e been waiting for.鈥 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鈥檙e super sweet, coming to help us build furniture and lift stuff–love you guys!). But I鈥檓 pretty sure I鈥檒l recover in time. And if not this week, maybe next!