Week One in Poland (1/9/2017)

Dzien dobry from the Poland Lighthouse Team!

We arrived safely late Wednesday evening in Warsaw, Poland’s capital,where we were greeted by smiles and McDonald’s hamburgers by Dave and Sandy Hatfield, leaders of Poland Christian Ministries.

After eating our burgers at the Chopin Airport exit, we boarded a bus and sped off to our hotel as snow fell outside of the foggy windows. During the following few days, we became reacclimated to sleep, conquered jet lag and participated in a variety of cultural experiences. From visiting the Polin museum to taking part in a local church service we became more immersed in Polish culture before heading to our main destination, Sandomierz.

On Thursday morning, we awoke to a fresh snowfall and set out for the Polin museum, exhibiting 1000 years of Jewish history. The museum is located on what used to be part of the Warsaw ghetto, a site destroyed in the aftermath of the Holocaust. We were joined by Oksana, a Ukrainian woman who works at Astruda Christian Camp, a ministry sponsored by Polish Christian Ministries. Oksana shared her story with us and joined us for the museum tour and lunch afterward. Her joy and resilience were clear and stood out to our team.

Our group was amazed by the meaningful care put into the creation of the museum. The Hatfields explained to us that many memorials to the Jewish people in Poland focus on the horrors of the Holocaust. While the Polin museum does feature a Holocaust exhibit, its primary purpose is to show the life and zest of the Jewish people in Poland throughout the centuries. The Polin museum provided a space for solidarity with and learning from the Jewish people. Nearly every member of our team remarked, “I never knew ____ before about the Jewish history.” We are grateful to continue to learn from a cultural and historical experience far from our own.

After spending the morning in the Polin museum, we spent some time resting before visiting Ogrod Swiatla, a palace in Warsaw in the evening. The Polish culture is rich in the arts, with composers like Chopin, who once called Poland home. We saw the beauty of the arts through the architecture and light display we observed at the palace. The gardens were illuminated with nature themed lights which blinked to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and other classical pieces. We saw in the lights, the gardens and the grandeur of the palace, the mark of a creator which points toward the eternal Creator, the God of, as R.C. Sproul would put it, the good, the true and the beautiful. He is the God of peace, even when there is no peace.

On Friday, Poland celebrated the national holiday Three Kings Day and we visited the “Mother Church” in Warsaw for the first time. We walked up a staircase to the office of Nate, one of the ministry partners at the Protestant church. Sun poured into the windows of the office and Nate, accompanied by his wife, Ola, began to share his story. Polish Christian Ministries (PCM) works with several churches including: Warsaw North and South, several international churches and a collaborative initiative for growing church leaders to continue church development, evangelism and discipleship. Nate beamed as he described the limitless possibilities for ministry in Warsaw and beyond. While nations such as the United States, he said, have seen just about every church development and ministry strategy in one way or another, Poland has experienced little and leaves much room for creativity and ingenuity in ministry. Nate, and the evangelical church’s goal, is to immerse the city in prayer. Many of those prayers come from prayer walks in the community, organized by Nate and the Eli project. They disciple, because Christ first discipled. They love because Christ first loved. They speak, because Christ speaks through them. Tears brimmed in Nate’s eyes, a few spilling onto his cheeks as he spoke of a discipleship team member he was mentoring. The team member told Nate that he had never felt or understood the love of Christ. Nate grieved and continued to disciple the team member who began to understand the height and breadth of Christ’s love for the first time, even after working in a ministerial setting for numerous years.

From the church, we took a tram across Warsaw to Chopin Park, home of the Chopin monument (Poland’s equivalent of the Lincoln Memorial, according to the Hatfields). We traipsed across the snowy cobblestone through the wooded park to Lazienki Krolewskie, the summer palace of a former Polish royal. Peacocks and pigeons surrounded the palace entrance which overlooks an icy pond, full of ducks and swans walking on the frozen water. As we took the palace tour, the audio recording mentioned the goal of the founder to create not just a palace, but a museum, one of the first of its kind in Europe, which served as a place of thought and learning. The founder believed in the importance of the aesthetic, ethical and philosophical to establish a healthy society. It was a palace that became a cultural hub. During World War II, when 80% of Warsaw was destroyed, though Nazi troops drilled 1000 holes into the palace and set fire to some of the inside to prepare it for implosion, they never got the chance to destroy it. It stands today as a victory in solidarity. After the palace, we traveled to Old Town where we entered Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, a Catholic Church with an ornate interior. The moment we entered, a hush fell over our team. Slowly we gazed up and around. Murals of saints, apostles and Christ plastered the expanse. An organ sprawled across the entrance wall. The nave reached heaven-bound heights, covered in murals of scriptural scenes. Silently, we filed onto several pews and sat. Some prayed, others thought, a few grabbed several photos to capture the beauty of their surroundings. The awe factor of the cathedral was found in what it pointed to, a heavenly king. Holiness and awe, maybe even a dose of holy fear captivated our team. When one reflects on the centuries of worshippers who filled the expanse with sacred hymns and liturgies, it is humbling. It gives one the feeling of insignificance in self and eternal significance in the object of worship.

We left as silently as we came and walked further into Old Town where we ate a late lunch at a local Polish restaurant before exploring Old Town in the dark of night, by Christmas lights. Saturday morning, we awoke and traveled to the Warsaw Uprising museum. The exhibits featured the surrounding context to the historical event – nearly five years under siege and deep rooted hurt and long memory after a city was very literally blown to pieces. We began to consider what it would mean for the oldest residents of Warsaw to have culture shock within their culture. When the remaining Warsaw Uprising survivors, who remember Warsaw in its historical grandeur, saw it in its post-war destruction and today in its metropolitan development, what would they think? Could they still identify with their own culture. What did “home” become for them?

We left the museum with a new understanding for the people of Warsaw, who stood with their city when other cities surrendered because they loved their home, their culture and their people and would do everything to keep it safe. This morning (Sunday), we packed our bags and checked out of Hotel Aramis. Before leaving for Sandomierz, we visited church at Warsaw South, a contemporary congregation housed in a former Soviet printing press. The church, a sizeable congregation by Polish Protestant standards comprises only three percent of the entire facility. Prior to the service, a member of the congregation approached our team and exclaimed, “Oh, the famous Taylor!” and smiled. The ministerial staff extended immense hospitality to our team, offering us free coffee or tea from the church’s coffee shop.

During the service, several worship songs, though sung in Polish, had English equivalents like “How Great is Our God.” As our Polish brothers and sisters sang in their native tongue, we sang in ours and we both sang in one unified voice of worship to our one Father in heaven. We praised God for varying our culture and uniting us in worship and praise. As we sang, we felt solidarity with the Body of Christ. Not only were we worshipping Christ, we were declaring light and truth in a facility, the Soviet printing press, that was once founded on evil and propaganda. We were shouting the truth, transcending cultures and ascending to Christ. The lead pastor preached a sermon on Revelation titled “Apocalypse Now,” the first in a series of sermons on the final book of the Bible. Our interpreter, Pavo, explained the sermon to us. He spoke of its ability to give us a “healthy tremble” and what it means to be “engaged to Christ,” awaiting the time when we will be fully united with him. The pastor stated, “You have to have the past and the future together to live in love today.” He outlined the idea of being a suffering servant, something we’ve seen showcased throughout Poland’s history. The pastor ended with a call to hope in the future reign of Christ as king. After the sermon, Pavo shared part of his own story with us. Several years ago, Pavo was diagnosed with what the doctors thought was multiple sclerosis. At the time, Pavo was a worship leader, a part of two choirs and a lover of music. Along with the diagnosis, the doctors, informed Pavo that he had lost over half of his hearing in his left ear and nearly ten percent of his hearing in his right ear. Music, then, became difficult. God spoke to Pavo in a dream and gave him hope in his circumstances. A time later, Pavo heard the voice of God in another dream, telling him that in the next decade, he would become a supporting pastor at a church. Pavo did not want to be a supporting pastor. His father was a pastor. His grandfather was a pastor. Pavo did not want to be a pastor. But Pavo trusted the voice of God and still trusts his voice, even as he is unsure how a pastor’s salary will provide for his wife and children in comparison to his current salary working at a bank. Pavo chuckled as he told us that he is learning to trust Christ, even as he has no idea how everything will work out.

After church and lunch at Warsaw South, we left for Sandomierz and arrived this evening. Wedebriefed, finalized lesson plans for tomorrow and will start our first day of teaching at 8 a.m.!

Praise God for safe travels and a blessed transition into life in Poland.

Please continue to pray for our team’s physical, emotional and spiritual energy. Wherever the hand of Christ is at work, opposition pushes against. Pray for resilience and courage as we approach our ministry in the elementary and high schools. Pray that we would listen and love with empathy and grace. Pray that we would have open hearts and flexible schedules to see and serve where we are most needed. Pray that the students would see the love of Christ in us and that we, like road signs, would point them closer to Him. Pray that the students will become connected with long-term church partners in Sandomierz to continue relationships with them after we leave.

On behalf of our team, thank you for your prayers and support. We are humbled by your thoughtfulness and for keeping us in your hearts.

Do widzenia! – Katherine Yeager

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