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.

 

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 Tomaszów 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.

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Filip and Mariusz loving on some papugami
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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.

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Filip being funny.
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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.

Kontakt Piotrków

My last visit to Poland was for Kontakt Piotrków, a week-long community service festival in Piotrków Trybunalski. It was the first time Proem had hosted Kontakt in that city and the officials were nervous. By the end of the week, though, they absolutely wanted us back.

I’d never done a Kontakt Festival before and wasn’t totally prepared for the amount of hard labor involved. We spackled, moved furniture, swept, taped, wiped, scrubbed, sanded, primed, painted, then re-sanded and primed and re-painted some more. There was a wall at one site that refused to be painted over (that’s a long story for another time) and required us to chip away at it to get rid of the layers that wouldn’t keep the paint. But it was worth all the sweat and dirt to serve the city because God planted seeds that will grow as Proem goes back and continues to do Kontakt there.

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Polska vs. USA tug-o-war match. We are both strong together was the message at the end.

My favorite part was definitely playing with the kids in afterschool programs. I loved to see their excitement, meeting Americans for the first time and wanting photos and autographs with us. They were so sweet, and I think a little taken aback that our crew was actually there.

It’s hard work that paid off because at one of the sites, we had a chance to share why we were there. “Why have you come all the way to our school?” “Because we love Jesus and he says to love others.” Simple truth.

20170607_110107One of the translators for our group offered to do a tour of Piotrków’s Jewish history one afternoon. We learned about the city pre-WWII, then during Nazi occupation, and the fate of Jewish residents there. Walking into what’s left of the old buildings of the Jewish quarter is a tell-tale of the whole thing. The buildings are not kept well, maybe one or two have been renovated along the way, but due to money and/or legal issues, they are left to ruin. Though the one shining jewel was the Great Synagogue, one of the best preserved synagogues left after WWII. There’s also the medieval Royal Castle that stands about two blocks away.

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Great Synagogue in Piotrków.
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Piotrków Trybunalski Royal Castle

When our tour was over and our groups were leaving, I came over to the guide and thanked her. I won’t forget what she said to me: “You can’t pray for a city [as effectively] if you don’t know about it’s history.”

Back at the camp, another team member and I had bonded with a teen from Belarus named Paul. He’d come up to us every evening to chat in English and ask questions or share something funny. He’s a dancer and wants to move to the Caribbean to learn more about his favorite style of dance. We still keep in touch and I hope he makes his dream happen.

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I loved Kontakt! It was so much work, and by the end of the day, I was so wiped. But it felt good to help, to give and spend time with the campers and residents of the city. They showed their gratitude through delicious food, afternoon parties and a big picnic celebration for families at the end of the week, inviting everyone that participated in Kontakt to come too. It was ah-mazing! Can’t wait to do it again.

 

Fishart Camp

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My singing workshop group being goofy. 🙂

My first trip to Poland was what jump started my love for this place. It was a trip where nothing went as expected, but everything happened as it should have. I learned to roll with what was given to me and make it work.

So, here’s the story. When we first arrived at the camp, our room arrangements were definitely not what we had imagined. We’d thought we were going to have to share a room with maybe one or two other women. Nope, make that all seven of us. In bunkbeds. One room. One bathroom. Wow, really, God? It was trying at times, but we were forced to be unselfish the whole week.

The next challenge was responsibilities around camp. Our team, being the largest, was in charge of cleaning up after meals, then booking it to the meeting hall to hype up the kids with a dance in the evenings. We also had guard duty (there are places accessible for adults, but not to the kids) and workshops.

The workshop I was helping to lead was a singing one. I’ve got a gift for it, and I enjoy teaching, so naturally, I thought I’d do alright. Can I say, I’m so grateful for Anna (pictured above to the far right). She taught me a ton about how to make singing accessible to these kids and have fun doing it. I was really out of my element a bit, but she was a great help!

The first day, I was by myself with two or three of the younger girls who didn’t speak any Polish. I pretty much only got their names by pointing at myself, saying mine, then pointing to them. I had to do that about twice before I heard them right. Once Anna arrived with some of the other girls, all eyes were on me to start the lessons. I’m not trained professionally, so I had to wrack my brain for some vocal warm ups and exercises that I’d used. I think they liked the siren and the hissing breaths the most. Anna taught them the ‘Kiwi, Banana, Mango’ warm-up to get them used to parts.

Throughout the week, we practiced these exercises and worked on our two songs we’d be presenting to the whole camp at the end of the week. I’d see them outside of workshops and we’d smile and say hello to each other. We gave hugs and I even helped coach two of the girls that wanted to solo for the talent show. They did fantastic, by the way.

My last day at camp was really bittersweet because there were a lot of tears. I’d bonded with these girls, giving advice, loving on them through the week and encouraging their efforts. They’re gratitude really struck me. I thought my contribution was not that great, but for them, it was a huge deal that I’d come all the way from the US to teach them this skill and befriend them in the process. I’m so glad I met them and God knew what he was doing when he pointed me to go on this trip.

Jadzia, Karolina, Bianca, Natalia, Paulina and Marisha: keep on singing and I hope we see each other again soon!