Final Moments – Poland, 1/27/16

As our team sits in the Warsaw airport, it is hard to believe our time in Poland is almost complete. For many of us this will be our only trip here, but as our friends from Poland have urged, this may not be the last glimpse of Poland for some of the 13 of us. Regardless, this trip has been a memorable one for our team and we have grown so much closer than when we set foot in this great country. This morning we already said goodbye to our Polish hosts and experts, Dave and Sandy, who work with Polish Christian Ministries. We are so grateful to them for their guidance and planning and for individually getting to know each member of our team. They have truly been a blessing to us and we will be praying for them and their ministry often.
The past 2 days of our trip have consisted of leaving our host families in Dobrova, travelling to Auschwitz where we experienced more of the solemn history of Poland, a trip back to familiar Warsaw, and some final souvenir shopping. Our visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau was something that I think everyone will be thankful for, but it was tough to go through in the moment. It is so difficult to walk through a former concentration camp and then straight back out into the normal things of life. Our team is still processing many of the things that we witnessed there. One of the main takeaways for me was just the fact that the people in the camps were only chosen because of something that they could not control such as their race. This fact made me put myself in the shoes of the victims.
After we left Auschwitz, we traveled right back to Warsaw and said goodbye to our faithful drivers Adam and Chris. This was another sad moment as they were so helpful to our team and interacted with each one of us. Our last full day was relaxing and allowed for us to pick some final gifts for family and friends, visit a ceramics shop, play ping pong and cards, and spend our final hours in the capital city. We also had our last team time after dinner where we exchanged gifts with Dave and Sandy and they expressed their great thanks to our team.
We are so grateful for you following us on our journey through this blog and for praying with us. Our final prayer would be our safe travel home, especially as we come through Newark, which may be affected by the blizzard.
Written by Davis Weerheim 

A Job Well Done – Poland 1/24/16

Early this Friday we said goodbye to Sandomierz; we said goodbye to the friends, schools, rooms, and cobblestone streets that had been our home for the past two weeks. As we made our way from “Little Krakow” to it’s namesake, it proved impossible to not reflect on our time in Sandomierz. It is with confidence that I can say our team was excellent in all that we did. The repeated requests from local schools asking us to come to their school again or for the first time when we return, coverage by local newspapers and TV stations of us teaching, and the tearful goodbyes with students and church members are just a few examples assuring us that we did our job well.

But the beauty of our “job” is that we have no idea what the fruits of us doing it well will be. We are but one small part in God’s plan for Sandomierz and Tarnobrzeg, as well as all of Poland. Now our duty to Poland and the students we have interacted with is to pray, to pray that their eyes would be opened to the presence of the Lord. That the church in Poland and the church of Sandomierz would be unceasingly filled and led by the Holy Spirit that they may continue to do great things for the Kingdom.

As our trip comes to a close, we will finish it in a manner similar to how it was started: by learning about and experiencing Polish history and culture. Once we arrived in Krakow on Friday the first thing we did was visit Wavel Castle. The castle is perhaps the most significant structure of Polish history. It was the home of monarchs and royals for centuries and in fact still is, housing the greatest Polish kings and queens as well as Polish heroes in its crypt. On Saturday we visited the Wieliczka salt mine, a massive mine that after centuries of use only stopped production in the late 1900s. The mine is over 2,000 feet deep, with only the first 500 open to the public. The salt mine has over 40 chapels covered into the salt rock and has excavated rooms so large they now host weddings and banquets. The mine is of important significance to Poland; during its peak production the mine provided over one-third of the revenue for the kingdom.

After visiting the salt mine we drove about an hour to the town of Dobrova. On Saturday and Sunday night our group stayed in the homes of various members of the church in Dobrova. This was an incredible time to get to know more Polish Christians and their families. The hospitality and warmth that has been shown to our team will never be forgotten. At church on Sunday we were able to see four church members get baptized and heard a testimony from our own Chin Ai and a sermon from David Hattfield.

Tomorrow (Monday) we will be going to Auschwitz, an experience that cannot be adequately prepared for nor sufficiently described. We will then drive to Warsaw that night, spend one last day in Warsaw, and then fly back to the US on Wednesday. Your prayers will still be greatly appreciated as we prepare to finish our time in Poland. God is good.

Written by Peter Smith

Phone call from Ethiopia, 1/22/16

Due to the inconsistency with electricity and internet that the Ethiopia team has faced, today’s update has come via phone call from Tammi Maloney, the trip leader. They want to thank you for your patience with the gaps between blog updates!

Although many members of the team have been dealing with some sort of stomach bug, they are recuperating well with help from antibiotics. Their ministry has been going well and has included teaching/tutoring every day, finishing an entire gardening project, and two days of teaching English to teachers.

Yesterday morning, the team got the chance to do a hike. The students who did not feel confident in hiking to the higher elevation stayed back and enjoyed their time with children from Project Mercy. The Project Mercy staff has done an excellent job at taking care of the entire team!

Here are some specific prayer requests as they finish up their time abroad:
-pray for them as they all fully recuperate physically
-pray for safety as they continue their travels and exploration
-pray for closure to their month of ministry and preparation for returning home

Pray for Poland – 1/22/16

A phone call update from the Poland team has informed us that they have finished up their time of ministry and are doing well. They spent Friday touring Krakow to gain cultural and historical knowledge of Poland. This weekend they stayed with Polish host families .

Their prayer requests for the next few days include:

-energy for conversations with their host families this weekend
-showing God’s incarnational love to their host families
-their ability to be an encouragement to the church that is hosting them
-closure to their time in Poland as they prepare to return home

For those of you who have seen recent news media from Poland, there have been protesters in Warsaw protesting “new antidemocratic laws” as of yesterday. As an update, the team wanted to communicate that they have not encountered any protests in their travels thus far and as far as they know, the protests are nonviolent. They will be mindful of these events as they travel back to Warsaw this evening.

Thank you for your continued prayers!

Killing Spiders – Paraguay 1/23/16

Well, we’re at the end of another incredible week in Paraguay! After getting some time to rest and recuperate on Sunday, we got back to work on Marianna and Lucho’s house. By the end of the day on Monday we had finished the entire backyard and started work on the curbside. Half of the team also started digging holes for fence posts along the side of the yard. The team has settled into a routine when we are at the house of work, lunch, siesta, more work, pool, and then dinner. (There are usually some ping-pong matches throughout the day as well) While we spend a large portion of our days working, we truly love the time that we get to spend sitting on the porch talking, in the kitchen helping Mariana prepare meals or by the grill with Lucho because we have been able to learn so much each other’s lives and really connect with our hosts.

On Tuesday we began our day with a presentation from Lucho about Bible translation and his experience translating the Bible into the Toba Maskoy language.  He told us that no word can be translated from one language to another exactly as it should be, so a big part of Bible translation is interpreting and explaining Scripture in alternative ways that can be received by the culture. Lucho said that because of his work with translation, he has been able to experience the Scripture in deeper and more intimate ways. The entire team sat captivated while Lucho explained his experience, struggles and successes, working to give the Toba a Bible in their own language. It was incredible to see the passion and dedication he had for his job and the Toba people.

On Wednesday we left for Casanillo early in the morning and planned to stay there for however long it took us to paint the church, even if that meant staying overnight again. We started the project by clearing everything out of the church including benches, speakers, and random instruments such as a harp. We then used brooms and rags to sweep the spider webs off of the walls and the ceiling rafters. The team kept a count of how many spiders they killed throughout the project and a few individual’s scores were around 50. We then used paint rollers and brushes to paint the outside of the church red and the inside white. Some of the guys on the team also helped to repair window frames and shutters so that the windows could be closed properly. While we worked we had some of the children from the village come and help us sweep, pick up trash, and kill spiders.  Our breaks from working were spent with the children, playing with bubbles, making shapes out of playdough, teaching them handclapping games, or running around with them. It is amazing to see the joy on these kids’ faces as we interact with them and to see how big their smiles get as they go chasing after runaway bubbles. We ended up running out of paint early so we returned to Lucho’s house for dinner.

On Thursday the team split up for out last work day. Half of us, including myself, went back to Casanillo to finish painting the church while the other half stayed at the house to finish weeding the curbside and digging the fence post holes. At the church we stained the doors and windows a dark brown and finished touching up the paint on the outside. The children would come and go while we worked so occasionally we would take a short break and chase them around. The air was filled with the sound of birds chirping, children laughing, windows creaking, and languages mixing together in a way that made a sometimes tedious task completely enjoyable. We left around noon and arrived back at the house for a late lunch. The team at the house had finished both projects before lunch so we were able to spend the afternoon playing games and relaxing at our favorite retreat location- the pool. It has become a special place for everyone to unwind from the day and soak tired muscles in the warm water. We ended the day with an amazing dinner back at the house.

Friday and Saturday have been days of rest for this tired team. A few of us have had some sensitive tummy issues, so being able to get a few extra hours of sleep has been very beneficial. We have spent the mornings having team time at the hotel before heading over to the house for lunch. During the afternoon we usually play games or sit out on the porch and talk. Saturday afternoon was spent preparing for a youth service that would be led by us at Lucho and Mariana’s church that night and for the adult service that would be led by us on Sunday morning.

As we reach the end of this journey it is incredible to look back and see the growth that has happened in the individuals on the team and also in the team as a whole because of our experiences here. It is hard to believe that it is almost over but we will be heading back to Asuncion on Monday and then leaving for the airport on Wednesday. We would like to ask that you pray against illness on the team, for safe travels, and for present minds during our last few days in Paraguay.

We can’t wait to get home soon and tell you all about our trip!

written by Jenni Riddett

A Prayerful Reflection – Spain – 1/20/16

It is crazy to know that we are over halfway done with our time in Spain. I am amazed by how fast the time is going. As I think about the trip so far, it is hard not to be dissatisfied with myself. I can see so clearly things that I wish I had done and ways that I could have done things differently. Yesterday, Maddie and I were talking about how we only have a week left but we feel like we are just getting settled and starting to have a few real relationships with a couple of Basque students. As I think about the trip so far, all that we have left, and how I am going to hit the ground running with school, relationships, and wedding stuff when I get home, I am overwhelmed. I want to use the time/space provided by this journal assignment to pray.

Lord, you have sent my team to the Basque country to sweep the streets for your gospel. You have brought international workers and the SUSA program to the Basque country. Your love for the Basque people is greater than I can comprehend. I praise you for your great love. God, you are omnipotent – all power belongs to you. Reveal yourself to the Basque people. I cry out to you – give these people whom you love the gift of your salvation.

I praise you that your power is made perfect in our weakness. For surely Lord, we are weak without you. I confess that I vainly try to accomplish things on my own that are only possible through you. I want so desperately to see Basque people come to know you, help me to rely on you to work in powerful ways among the Basque people. I confess that I forget that you are in control. I confess my pride and my sin to you. Father, be near to me. As I strive to show my new Basque friends your love, pour your love through me. Let me radiate your joy. Thank you for the reminder that your joy is my strength.

I pray for my team members. Give them the grace to do your will. When we are discouraged, help us to trust in you. We do not see the full picture of how you are at work. Help us to put our faith and trust in you. Empty us of our sinful nature and fill us with yourself. Give us confidence in the truth of your resurrection and may that be the motivating factor behind all that we do. Though we are weak, use us to spread your kingdom on the earth. Lord, we want to serve you.

I pray for the many Basque students that we have met. I pray for Carlos, Maria, Larraitz, Guiermo, Juan, Mike, Inoia, Sonyia, Estella, Carlos, Nacho, Carla, Rafa, Thomas, Zaria, and the many others that I can’t remember by name. Lord, make yourself know to them. I pray that you would work through our conversations in this next week. Use us to draw these students closer to you.

Thank you, Lord, for the Basque people. Thank you for the beauty I have seen in Donosti and other parts of Spain – your beauty revealed through architecture, landscapes, nature, people, conversations, friendships, and culture. Thank you for using us, though we are weak, for your glory.

We love you Lord, please be near to us I pray.


Tutoring and Coffee Shops – Poland – 1/20/16

In less than one week we will be back on U.S. soil. While it is sad that this amazing journey is coming to an end, we are abundantly grateful for the experiences God has allowed us to share in with the students and church leaders. This week we made the most of every moment. In the mornings, we traveled to public schools in the town of Tarnobrzeg. The schools in this district were both a challenge and a joy. We were able to meet several times with the same classes, allowing for deeper learning and relationships. It is amazing how God can use a seemingly insignificant topic like Justin Bieber or food, to create a bond that stretches through cultural differences! Unfortunately, not all the students were as engaged in learning, so it was a challenge for our high school team to connect with some of the students. We were so glad to be able to get to know more students this week, in addition to the Sandomierz students we were meeting with for nightly tutoring.

For two nights, we led tutoring sessions in the church. On Monday, we anxiously waited to see if any students would come (it is, after all, their winter break), but God provided about eight students. Nightly tutoring was a great time, not just to work on English, but also to further relationships and conversations with the students. Because tutoring took place at the church, it was a great opportunity for the students to interact with the church in a nonthreatening way.

As hoped, the church in Sandomierz has been getting great publicity in the community. Multiple schools have called the church asking how they can book the Americans for English tutoring at their schools! This is a great encouragement for our team, and more importantly, it is a great opportunity for the church. It is the hope of the church the tutoring would provide a needed service, bring more students to church, and help to change the negative perceptions the community has about the non-Catholic denominations. God is good and we can already see some of this happening.

Between school and tutoring, several members of the Taylor Team met up with students at the local coffee shop. Because these meet-ups were completely unassociated with the school tutoring, Taylor students could feel free to bring up their faith. It is the prayer of our team the relationships grown from these encounters and those at the schools will continue into long-term relationships with our new Polish friends.

We thank God for the opportunity to interact with more than seven hundred Polish students in the last two weeks. Please pray God blesses the teachers and students we met in Sandomierz and Tarnobrzeg. Pray also God grants our team rest, so we will be able to take in everything we see in our last few days.

-Kelsey Baker