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!

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.

 

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 Miłosz, 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 Niepodłogości 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 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.

 

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.

 

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 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 Tomaszów.  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. 🙂

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.

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 świetlica 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’t 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’t know what themes each teacher is going with yet…but it’s 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’re 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’m 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’re a bit more of an investment, but worth it for sure.

As far as financial support goes, I can’t thank my donators enough for helping me follow through on God’s 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’m 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 “Bam! Here’s my good news that I’ve been waiting for.” 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’re super sweet, coming to help us build furniture and lift stuff–love you guys!). But I’m pretty sure I’ll recover in time. And if not this week, maybe next!

 

Busyness

I have a chance to rest a bit this Saturday, but the past week has been a whirlwind of stuff to do.

The first part of this week was all preparation. I’ve been helping this sweet lady named Monika, who speaks about as much English as I do Polish (I think she’s a little better, actually), and who will be working exclusively in the świetlica (dayroom). All the shelves and toys have been organized pretty well. We had a lot of teachers drop off things they didn’t want, but we sort of found a place for them. She’s helped out with camp and been to the church a few times too, and loves it. We will see how God uses this year for her.

A few evenings, I had a chance to visit Zako where a different group of churches from Warsaw are having a big youth conference. They had the biggest number of kids this year: 250. There was no where in the camp for me to stay and check out the worship in the evenings, but I stayed close by at the Croziers’ and we had a chance to visit a few times. It’s really cool to experience worship from a different culture, but somehow really familiar, too.

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Nie z Tego Świata (Not of this World) conference

Later this week, I went to a small store by myself for the first time where they spoke no English at all, and somehow ended up with a sandwich and juice. Apparently, it’s not usual for them to make a sandwich for people so that was extra nice and I even got free cheese and pickles. Score!

 

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School has started here. Yesterday was the first of September and the preschool kids all came to the school for their first day. The morning was free play in the dayroom, and about 9:00am the kids all cleaned up and sat down for a big welcome to school circle. We sang “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” in English for me, then a good morning song in Polish that I kinda tried to mimic a bit.

Next, each przedskole class split up by age groups and I went with Ciocia Sylwia and the 4-year-old Hedgehogs. They sat around a circle and did welcome and good morning greeting, then a song, and Sylwia asked about their vacations. I understood the gist of their replies, but then I was asked in Polish what I did over the summer and I didn’t know at all what to say. I ended up babbling like “Eee, nie wiem…zrobiłam dużo,” which means “Ohhh, I don’t know…I did a lot.”
The second half of the morning was all play. (Which I think is actually pretty typical. There are lessons during the day, but most of the time for these younger kids, school is a lot of play time. And they need it!) I bonded with some girls named Nikola and Justyna, who I think saw me last June when I shadowed Kaitlyn at the school. And they were really comfortable asking me things in Polish.

The rest of the day was spent trying to catch on to the routine and clumsily replying in Polish to these kids. I asked a few about their English speaking skills and there was an older girl who was very proud to display her knowledge of English colors and numbers. Early in the afternoon, I left for a few minutes to go with Czesław and Paweł (who are live maintenance men) to the apartment to put beds together. Once I saw the beds put up against the wall, I realize we have a good bit of space to work with. Kaitlyn and I were afraid it would be super tiny, but we can easily fit a few pieces of moderate-sized living room furniture no problem. Pictures will come once we have everything decorated.

Once I was back at school, I felt kind of overwhelmed by the amount of kids going around in the świetlica and the teachers only used Polish to give me directions with them. I kind of got it, but it was a bit stressful.  Żaba had me help with a school fair at the mall after most of the kids were picked up, and I had another experience with walking around by myself to shop during a break or two. I’m getting accustomed to it now.

God totally provides though. I have yet to meet anyone who is rude or unkind to me, and are probably quite surprised that I speak any Polish at all. The move-in has gone smoothly so far and we’re getting furniture together, too. I’m grateful for all of it. Keep praying for this year.

 

 

Day 2: Mushrooms

My body woke me up at about 3 am. I scrolled through my phone a little before exhaustion hit me again and I fell back asleep. Żaba’s voice woke me next. She was going to pick me up at 11am. It was already 11. I groggily opened the door and said I would be ready around 1pm instead.

After showering and getting dressed, I walked into the living room and met Marcin, one of Alicja and Radek’s sons. We ate breakfast and watched an episode of Breaking Bad with English subtitles. Then Jacek, his older brother, came down and said hello for a bit before they both disappeared upstairs.

I went outside and wrote a bit in my journal until Żaba rolled up to take me to see the apartment and check an alternative Scandinavian furniture store called Jysk. The apartment complex is very close to the school, literally around the block, and extremely 20170825_130353nice. Everything is being freshly renovated and it’s right on the corner of the street. The downstairs will be a salon with hair and nail services by the owner’s daughter. Upstairs, there are quite a few nicely done apartments. Ours is the second-largest, corner apartment with balconies and big windows. The main room is spacious and the bedroom is more than enough for Kaitlyn, my roommate, and I. Sadly we can’t move in until Wednesday because the builder is still working on the stairs, but we can start bringing in furniture. Tomorrow we will shop for bedframes, mattresses and any other small things.

After visiting the apartment, Żaba and I head over to Jysk and check out what their prices are like compared to IKEA. It’s smaller, but pretty similar to IKEA’s offerings. Sadly, they don’t have much for bed frames and their mattresses prices are comparable. But the bedding and pillows are cheap, and it’s more convenient to come here for that than travel to the nearest IKEA nearly an hour away.

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School entrance.

Next, we head to the school because Żaba has some work to do and I’m given the task of cleaning off my new kitchen chairs. They’re dusty and covered in pollen and cobwebs after being stored in an outside shed, but they’re quite sturdy wooden chairs and they’ll match the table we already have. Alicja is there working too and I show her the photos of the apartment, which she agrees, is gorgeous. I meet a few of the other school staff and have a brief conversation in Polish and English with a lady named Kasia. I pull together some English books that I think would be good for teaching, and a few minutes after that, we’re ready to go.

There’s time, so I get my Polish phone number at T-Mobile and no longer have to depend on wi-fi to contact people. Yay! Żaba drops me off at Alicja and Radek’s for a lovely dinner. (Her salads are the bomb!) Radek comes in later and he and Alicja eat while asking me how things are going. Then Radek shares about his history and shows me an actual letter from his grandfather from Auschwitz. They recently went to the Czech Republic and were close enough to the Austrian border to visit Mauthausen where he was able to find records of his grandfather, thanks to a Polish staff member working there.  

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Later, they invite me on a walk with Fiona. Little did I expect a walk would be an hour jaunt over train tracks and through tall grass and brush toward the river. I definitely wore the wrong shoes, but it was lovely all the same. Radek and Alicja pointed out different things to me in Polish, most of which I remembered vaguely from lessons I’d self-studied. I asked some questions about the Pilica (pronounced pee-lee-tsah) River and wild-life. Fiona dipped in the river multiple times along the way. We saw a swan and some ducks. We met some horses that were friendly so I pet one on their nose. Toward the end, walked through some birch trees and pines and I was told all about the Polish national sport, mushroom collecting. It’s very popular and there are plenty you can eat, and some you can only eat once according to Radek (haha). Sadly this year, there haven’t been many around. Alicja says it is a must for Christmas time.

Heading back, I slip and get a little scratched up in some thick brush with thorns. Ouch. It’s no trouble though, and after we get back and I wash my arm, I’m in good shape. Radek shares some stories about his trip to Africa and about the neighborhood in Tomaszów. It’s interesting how the concept of safe/dangerous varies, but we both agree that being out late is probably not the best idea.

The evening is rounded off with a popular Polish version of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and an episode of Planet Earth. I’m not quite tired yet, so I end up chatting with a few Polish friends and messaging my family before bed.

All in all, a very good day.