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!

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.

 

z Miłości (with Love)

Tomy church hosted a women’s conference a few weekends ago with the theme of love; how it’s able to transform and heal in relationships through God’s example to us. We had a special guest performer, Agnieszka Dębowska, who was a contestant on The Voice Poland, and amazing speakers from our community that shared their stories.

The opening session began with a look at 1 Corinthians 13: how the Bible defines love; that it goes beneath the surface things and looks at the actions outpouring from the heart. Love gives our life meaning. And how to meet these expectations with behavior. If we replaced “love” with our name (i.e. “Theresa is patient, Theresa is kind”), would it ring true? And that without God’s grace to help fill in the gaps, we wouldn’t be able to do so.

The second half was an interview portion where three women from three different  backgrounds shared their stories about when they struggled to love, and when sometimes that meant no, and how that “no” shaped their lives going forward. I resonated most with the single woman who had to eventually say no to a relationship that wasn’t going to work, and uproot her plans to follow God’s lead in a different direction. Not that I was leaving a relationship, but the process of deciding to leave something familiar — my plans — for God’s plans is one that I’ve experienced before coming to Poland long-term, and in some ways, since.

Afterward, we each had discussions at our table about our personal experiences in loving people, experiencing love toward us, and times it was hard to love someone. For me, loving a person well is making the time and space to be with them, caring for their cares and praying over their concerns. It’s so much more than giving gifts or compliments. I shared some experiences I’d had in times when it was hard to love someone, and how God helped me break through those moments and healed my hurts enough to care about them.

The last session, one of our school directors shared her experience in learning what love meant through Jesus Christ, how it is healing past wounds in her life personally, and that God’s ultimate act of love — sending Jesus Christ to die for us — changes everything, and brings hope of real transformation and renewal. Then we were asked to think about a person who has been or still is hard to love, write down their name on a heart to pin to one of the boards they had at the front of the stage, and to pray for them — for whatever hurt or disappointment they caused us to keep us from loving them and to pray that God breaks through all that so that we are able to do so now. It was a really powerful moment and helped me realize there are some people and situations that I still need God’s love to heal.

The influence of this past conference continues still. We had a staff meeting to review updates and a really cool story came up. A group of women who aren’t part of Proem staff volunteered to organize different parts of the conference like drinks, food, decorations, etc. Well, there was a woman who attended who was going through a really difficult time: she was pregnant, living with her mother in law, and her husband was in prison. She’d been orphaned at a young age and hadn’t had a lot of stability in her life. Well, these same women, after learning of her, decided to throw her a baby shower and buy all the things she needed to care for her child and herself.

It’s really incredible seeing how God is using our presence here in Poland to change lives and provide a community of loving people to lean on in good and bad times. The follow up Bible studies post-conference have had about 40 women attend so far, and there will be another 4 meetings in the coming weeks between Łódź and Tomaszów. I pray that they will impact the women who attend and continue to define God’s love for them.

 

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.

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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 🙂