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.

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My cat gets to sleep. Lucky duck.

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

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

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

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

z Mi艂o艣ci (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 D臋bowska, 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聽 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 艁贸d藕 and Tomasz贸w. I pray that they will impact the women who attend and continue to define God’s love for them.

 

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.

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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!