It’s snowing softly outside and our team is just beginning to wake up on this Saturday morning in Sandomierz. After finishing our first week in the Collegium, we’ve had the opportunity to speak with students inside and outside of class.
Several members of our team met a group of students at a local coffee shop where we learned about their experiences, hopes and aspirations. One student wants to enter an IT profession, others want to be doctors. Many are nervous about their upcoming Matura exam (somewhat similar to the SAT or ACT tests). Often, if we ask students, “What are your hopes after Collegium?” they answer something like, “It’s hard to say, it depends on my Matura exam.” Others respond, “If my Matura score is high enough, I can become _____. If not, maybe I’ll _____.”
While some students are more shy in speaking English than others, most whom we ask about the Matura tell us they felt stressed or nervous. When asked what they do in their free time, many students respond: study.
To help students study for the Matura, the local church offers English classes, open to the community where we have the privilege to serve. For students preparing for the Matura, there are practice tests and times of conversation with our team. Cassidy and I spoke with Iga, a third year student at the Collegium. (There are only three years of “high school” at the Collegium in Sandomierz where we visit). Iga hopes to become a linguist and passionately pursues the study of language. She speaks English well, but also wants to learn Spanish. Once, she spent time in Spain and was captivated by the language there. She remembers looking at an older woman who spoke Spanish and knew no Polish. Iga was frustrated that here was a woman in front of her with whom she desperately wanted to speak. Yet, due to the language barrier, it became an impossibility.
So Iga continued to study language as she returned to Sandomierz. She met some Taylor students last year whom she invited to her house. When she met some members of our team this year, she did the same.
Several members of our team visited Iga’s home where we were welcomed by her father, mother, older sister and four-month-old niece. We sat in Iga’s room as she showed us shelves of foreign language textbooks, flash cards, fiction books and decor (including a Taylor University mug, British flag and tumbler printed with the New York skyline.
Her eyes lit up as she described her love for languages and music. When Iga is not studying, she sings at her church, which according to Iga, is one of nine Catholic Churches in Sandomierz. Iga smiled as she described visiting a worship service while in Spain where she remembers singing with people of all backgrounds of Christianity. She saw unity in the worship service and that filled her with joy.
Iga told us that sometimes, she watches Taylor University videos online, including chapel videos and has seen many films showing Americans at church. She asked us if all churches in the United States dance and feel so free when they worship. We explained chapel and some of our varied experiences with different church backgrounds. Iga told us, she love the beauty in her church, an ornate cathedral in Sandomierz. Though she does not know the meaning of every tradition, it is treasured to her.
We are continuing to learn from the students we meet, even despite illness that has spread to many members of our team. Please pray for restored health and a smooth, speedy recovery so that we may encourage the students and love them with Christ’s love well.
We are encouraged by the curiosity and passion of many students in our conversations. We feel privileged that, though most of us do not speak Polish, the students learn to speak our language, even as it is difficult. When we discover a topic which they love, they gather the a English words to express their thoughts, even if they were shy before.
Please pray for the students at the Collegium (and elementary schools). Pray that they would be courageous in their pursuit of language and relationships with the church community. Pray that they would be resilient in a difficult season of exams. Pray that they would feel the love of Christ tangibly, that hey may know the God who fully knows and fully loves them. Pray that they would accept and experience grace. Pray that they would be, as C.S. Lewis would say, ‘surprised by joy.’
We’re resting today, but continue to praise God for his unfolding story in Sandomierz. It has unfolded for centuries, from the beauty of cathedrals to the people of valor who fought battles in the tunnels below the city. We see His story in the narratives of generations with varied experiences, blending together. We see precious children of God with stories, some hidden by language barriers and told instead through expressions, passions and the eyes.