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—the 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.

Fall(ing)

“Rejoice always! Pray constantly.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

The first month was so busy, frustrating, and required a lot of adjusting to the new school year. Now that it’s mid-October, everything is settling into routine and I feel a lot less out of control. There is still something I’m worried about, though.

Burnout.

Like, big time burnout. I’ve come home nearly every day, crashed on my couch, and slept for 2-3 hours before I can even get up and make something to eat. Part of it is I have to wake up early for my cat (6:00 am on the dot), but I honestly have no energy left by 4 pm. Maybe I need more vitamins, or going to bed earlier (that’s an issue, too), or to pick back up my exercise regimen I’ve abandoned since the summer. I don’t feel like I have the time or can motivate myself enough to just do it.

From what I’ve been reading in John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, the likely culprit is ‘soul fatigue.’ It’s not just mental or physical exhaustion alone, but deep inside, I feel hurried even when I don’t have anything planned for the day. There’s a perpetual to-do list that hangs over my head every hour and I can’t seem to make it smaller or check off enough things to feel at peace. Plus, my “busyness” has knocked time with God and inner rest off my radar. I’m so preoccupied with things I need to do/should do/should have done that I forget to take care of my inner self. My soul needs rest. My soul needs peace. I can’t get that without time for prayer, meditating on a scripture, and uninterrupted, quiet space. Just to be still.

Even knowing this, I struggle to apply it on a daily basis. Mondays, like today, are especially hard when I spend all day at school teaching six 45-minute lessons, half of which I have to stop 4-5 times to tell kids to listen. This is a whole other post, but I feel like I’m failing as a good teacher. That really beats me up because I try so hard to make my lessons interesting and it never seems to work with some of my groups.

And being in the mission field, I feel this sense of having to serve in as many capacities as possible because people are supporting me with their finances to be here. If I’m not working my tail off every free moment, I’m somehow taking advantage of their generosity. I know this isn’t true. Rest is a fundamental part of faith, and well needed if I’m going to serve with Proem, the school, and among my relationships here effectively. But it’s that nagging sense that I’m not doing enough and that someday, my support won’t be there anymore — as if I have to earn this.

Looking back at that last sentence, I’m realizing how skewed my perspective is lately. I’m here because of God’s plan and providence. I definitely worry about money because this year is more expensive than the last by far and I’m not the best fundraiser, but I really want to try and trust Him as I had in the beginning. I didn’t even know if I’d make it to Poland, but somehow, I’m still here over a year later and taken care of. Amen.

Rejoice and pray. Let’s see how this plays out in the next few weeks.

 

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.