Today officially marks one month since I've been home from Poland. It's weird to think that a month ago I was living in Poland. But it's also weird to think about the fact that a month has already gone by.
Since coming home a lot of people have asked me what my team did in Poland and the answer is: a whole lot a praying.
Praying wasn't the only thing that we did, but it was the foundation of the time that my team was there.
Praying over people.
Praying over towns.
Praying for believers.
Praying for non-believers.
Praying for our team.
Praying for the people we were meeting.
Praying for outreach events.
Praying over our room.
Praying for restful sleep.
Praying against attacks from the enemy.
Praying for clear communication in a foreign language.
Praying for our food not to get stolen from the communal fridge... after it happened twice.
In some ways it was like how Paul encourages the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
We prayed for anything and everything. We had to in a foreign culture and country. We were completely dependent upon the Lord.
While we didn't see some of our prayers answered while we were in Poland, it's amazing seeing how God is answering my team's prayers since being home.
Like our prayers for Kolbuszowa (Coal - boo - show - va). Kolbuszowa is a town in Poland with no known believers, this means that there isn't a Gospel preaching church and there are known known people that believe in the Gospel (The good and incredible news that Christ died for the sins of all people, so that we could be made right with God, reconciled, and given eternal life, and that belief in Christ alone offers eternal life and salvation). There could be believers in this town, but there definitely isn't a Gospel preaching church, which is why my team went to this town to pray.
We prayed over the town and the people. We prayed that the people would come to know Jesus, the source of true joy and life. We prayed that a church would be planted in this town. We prayed for many things.
And a month later, God is answering our prayers.
While a church has yet to be planted in this town, a couple from Kolbuszowa just recently visited the church we attended in Rzeszow (Jah - shoe - ve). Even though they aren't believers and just wanted to check out the church in Rzeszow, God is opening doors in Kolbuszowa. He is opening doors that allow Polish and American Christians to get to know communities in other towns, building relationships, and potentially paving the way to plant a church that preaches the good news of the Gospel.
A couple just visiting a church might sound like a small thing, but it's actually a huge praise and an answer to prayer. And it's just a small instance of how God is on the move in Poland and everywhere, answering prayers, drawing people to Himself, and working all things together for good.
Below are some photos I took while praying over Kolbuszowa in case you're a visual person like me or you just like seeing different places. These photos were taken primarily in town center.
A year ago, I didn't know a whole lot about Poland. If I'm honest, I probably didn't realize it was a country until I heard about an opportunity to go.
But ever since coming home from Poland, I feel like I hear about Poland everywhere.
Even over the past few days, I've heard Poland mentioned many times.
While at the American History Museum at the Smithsonian in DC, I was reminded of Poland while walking through the exhibit on World War II.
While at The Amish Village tour in Lancaster with my family, I laughed when the tour guide told us that the tour was available in Polish.
And I asked myself, "How many Polish people come to Lancaster?"
Although a lot of Polish people that I met asked why an American would go to Poland.
There was Polish pottery available at the gift shop of a Lancaster restaurant, Shady Maple. (FYI, Polish pottery is a lot less expensive if you buy it in Poland)
And at that point, I realized a profound truth. Poland keeps following me wherever I go.
Before I went to Poland, I never realized how much one country could come up in my everyday life. I never paid attention before.
In a way, it's cool, the mark that Poland has left on me.
I'll be reading about an actress and how her ancestry is Polish and immediately have some cultural context.
Or I'll find out that a tour is given in Polish and smile because of how rare it is for a tour to be in Polish outside of Poland.
Or even be excited by the fact that I can show my family what Polish pottery looks beyond the dish I bought them as a souvenir.
What can I say? I've got Poland on my mind.
P.S. I have no idea what "No BSR" means. If you do, feel free to enlighten me.
I've been HOME home from Poland for a week. And it's weird.
In some ways it feels like I never left and that my time in Poland was a dream. In other ways, I'm reminded a lot that I was gone. The reminding comes in many forms like seeing friends, hearing about things that I missed, and even small changes in myself.
I was only gone for a little under eight weeks, but they say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. And I was gone for 54 days, so says my mother... not that she was counting. This means that I had plenty of time to form new habits.
Since being home, I've noticed since coming home some habits that I've picked up, ways that I've changed, and even things that I never realized I enjoyed.
1. I don't mind prolonged moments of silence (I never thought I would say that).
2. I don't mind disagreeing with people whether it's about films, books, musical taste, or other things. We can agree to disagree. Although, if you dis Gone With the Wind, we might have a problem.
3. I've appreciated being more event-oriented rather than time-oriented.
4. I like beets.
5. I've started noticing how many of the shows and movies I enjoy have an element of cultural engagement or having to get use to a new culture with new rules and norms (Like Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, The Chronicles of Narnia, or even Dr. Who).
When I tell people about some of these things, they ask questions like, "How could you have changed? You were only gone for a short amount of time."
And they're right. I was gone for a short amount of time. But being emerged in a foreign culture does influence you and it can even change you.
While debriefing from the trip with my team, we attended a seminar that prepared us for reverse culture shock and how to really utilize what we've learned. One of the things that we talked about are the three responses to coming back from time abroad whether you're gone for two weeks to thirty years. The responses are as follows.
1. Assimilation: returning from a host culture and eventually slipping back into the culture of one's home culture.
2. Alienation: returning from a host culture, identifying with the host culture, and criticizing the home culture.
3. Integration: identifying with both the home and host culture and bringing together the things one identifies with from both cultures.
When I first listened to the seminar, I definitely wanted to be more of an integrator, but I didn't account for how easy it is to just be an assimilator. Integration is hard and it takes a lot of work to integrate the cultural norms that I appreciated in Poland with the cultural norms that I enjoy at home.
For instance, Poles are quiet and soft spoken. And I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but Americans are loud. It's just plain weird being able to hear conversations that should be in private.
If there's one thing I definitely plan on integrating it is being wise about my volume and what I share in public places.
So, in the aftermath of my time in Poland, I can look back and say that it was an incredible experience. I was so blessed to be able to go. God provided abundantly just to get me there and during my time in the country. He grew me in a lot of ways spiritually, but He also grew me culturally.
As much as I do enjoy my home culture, I also like a lot of things about Polish culture. So I guess it's time to start integrating them.
Five months ago when I heard that I was accepted onto a team to go to Poland, I had no idea what God had in store.
I had no idea what it was like to fly on a plane internationally.
I had no idea what Polish sounded like.
I had no idea what Poland even looked like.
I couldn't even tell you where Poland was on a map.
I didn't know anything about Polish culture.
I didn't know that pierogi's could be filled with things other than potatoes.
But for some reason, God put it on my heart to go to Poland.
And to Poland I came.
Through it all, God provided.
He provided financially.
He provided emotionally.
He provided spiritually.
He provided in so many ways.
But now, I have to say goodbye.
And it's hard.
It's hard to leave people that God has brought into my life.
It's hard leaving when you never might see these people again.
People that made you laugh.
People that were patient with your broken Polish.
People that taught you words.
People that told you stories.
People that taught you how to make pierogi.
People that climbed a mountain with you.
People that worshipped Jesus with you.
People that asked you a lot of hard questions.
And even the people that you lived with.
The people that you were on a team with.
Saying goodbye is hard.
Leaving is hard.
Leaving is harder than staying.
But this time has been a short season.
I don't know if I'm called to come back.
I don't know what is ahead.
I don't know what God has planned for my future, but these people and this land has a part of my heart.
Leaving is hard.
But I'm thankful for this time that I have been bless with.
It has taught me so much.
I wouldn't have traded this time for the world.
Saying goodbye is hard.
So here is my goodbye.
Bardzo dziękuję, Polska.
Thank you very much, Poland.
Do widzenia. Na Razie.
Goodbye, See you soon.
There is one word in Polish that I find myself using more than the words for "Thank you" and "Sorry," and it's ciekawy (chi-ka-veh).
Sample instances of the usage of this word include:
Person A: I just saw a man walking his cat. (This is a true story)
Person B: Ciekawy.
Person A: In Poland, it is perfectly acceptable to eat sandwiches for breakfast.
Person B: Ciekawy.
Person A: The only difference between a pierogi and a dumpling is that pierogis are made in Poland.
Person B: Ciekawy.
Person A: I told someone that I sat on their sandwich. ( A common language blunder considering the words for "sandwich" and "couch" are "kanapka" and "kanapa".)
Person B: Ciekawy
Ciekawy (adj): Interesting or Curious
This word gets throw around like candy. How else would you respond to a man walking his cat down the street? Ciekawy.
Or even the fact that Poles think that having ice with your drink will give you a sore throat. Ciekawy.
There are over ten words that mean 2 in Polish. Ciekawy.
You can buy a pastry from a stand by a bus stop. Ciekawy.
They serve hot dogs in a pocket bun. Ciekawy.
Stores here have a lot of nonsensical shirts. Ciekawy.
Besides "Please," "I'm sorry," and "Thank you," you only need to know one other word in Polish. You got it. It's...
Lody. (Ice Cream)
I bet you thought I was going to say ciekawy.
Recently, my team here in Poland joined forces with a church a few hours away in a town called Novy Sącz (pronounced Noveh Shontz). It was an outreach event intended to build contacts in a town where a church plant is taking place.
This outreach, unlike other outreach events I've been a part of here in Poland and at home, was an interesting experience.
This is mainly due to the fact that it was a multicultural experience with five Americans, over seven Brits, and many Poles.
My team's role in the event was to provide face and nail painting.
Now, I'm sure that you're probably sitting at home wondering, "How does face painting and nail painting lead to building contacts for a church plant?"
Well, I'll tell you. Because I had the same thought.
But when you offer free face painting and nail painting, people are bound to come to you.
And they did.
As soon as little old Polish ladies saw nail polish on the table, they came over and asked what we were doing. And oczywiście (of course) we told them that we were with a local church in Novy
Sącz trying to get to know people in the community, that we were offering New Testament Bibles in Polish, great worship music, and prayer as well as free face and nail painting.
Many people did walk away. But a good number stayed.
Some people stayed to listen to the music. Some people stayed and received prayer. Some people accepted a New Testament. Some people even let their children play on the bounce house. Some people let their children have their faces painting. And some women even sat down to have their nails done.
This is where I come in. Somehow, I ended being the primary nail painter. And honestly, I had no idea how to paint another person's nails. I've painted my own nails since I was a kid, but painting someone else's nails is a completely different story.
So, my first customer was an elderly Polish woman. She sat down in front of me, and began speaking to me in Polish. All I could do was kindly smile at her and say, "Dzien dobry, Pani. Nie rozumiem Polski. Amerikanka." (Good day, lady. I don't understand Polish. American.)
She then smiled and nodded and said something to me in Polish. I smiled and nodded in return. And pointed at the nail colors and said, "Prosze," which means "please." She then proceeded to pick a lovely purple color.
And so I proceeded to paint her nails.
A few fingers in, she began speaking Polish to me. I kindly smiled and responded, "Nie rozumiem, Pani."
Luckily, my team leader was by the table and was able to translate for me.
The woman had asked me what I thought of Poland.
"Bardzo ładna (very beautiful)," I responded.
At this point, the woman probably didn't know what to make of me since I said that I didn't understand Polish, but I was responding in Polish.
She smiled brightly and asked me more about myself. My team leader translated for me, and we carried on a lovely conversation between English and Polish while I painted this woman's nails. Honestly, I made a few mistakes, and there was a little bit of a glob on one of her fingers, but as the woman proceeded to ask me to paint a clear coat of glitter over the purple (mind you, this is a woman that could have easily been a Polish grandma), I realized something.
I couldn't understand a word that this woman was saying in Polish, yet I was having a great conversation with her. I was able to connect with her and smile with her. And I was sad when I finished painting glitter on her last finger.
As she stood up to leave, she started saying something to me in Polish. But of course I didn't understand.
But someone translated, "She wants to buy you lody (ice cream)."
My heart swelled.
I had just met this woman. I couldn't understand a single word that she said. I could only communicate with her via a translator or smiles, yet this woman wanted to buy me an ice cream.
And she did. She bought me lody truskawka (strawberry ice cream). Unfortunately, she messed up a nail in the process, but it was quickly fixed.
And before she walked away, one of the people handing out New Testaments was able to give one to her, and she accepted it.
But while I enjoyed my ice cream, I was told something very interesting about Polish culture.
And it's that while Poles are very gracious, they have a hard time accepting something for free. Poles like reciprocity. I painted the woman's nails, she felt obligated to pay me back in some way, so she bought me ice cream. And then I started seeing the same thing with other people. Poles have a hard time with receiving something free of charge.
They have a hard time understanding, let alone believing that Jesus died on the cross for them because he loves them, that it was a free gift from God. They have a hard time believing that Jesus doesn't want them to earn their salvation, that he freely gave it to them and that all they have to do is believe.
They don't understand this. The world doesn't get this either.
There is no way to pay God back. No good deeds and not amount of giving can out-give God.
This is my prayer for the Polish people and even people all over the world: that they would understand the radical grace of Jesus. He died on the cross free of charge, simply because he loves us and because he wants us to be reconciled with God. All we have to do is accept that gift and believe in him.
The woman that bought me ice cream wasn't my only customer that day. The Lord provided many more ladies' nails for me to paint. Ironically, they all ended up being Polish grandmas.
And it was really humbling, seeing how God could use a person that doesn't speak the language and is simply painting nails or even my teammates painting nails and faces to make them comfortable with talking with others, accepting prayer or even a New Testament.
In the end, it was a successful event. Over 150 New Testaments were handed out, church members were able to pray over people in the community, and some were even able to share the gospel. Not to mention, my teammate Savannah painted some pretty cool curly mustaches and goatees onto pre-teen boys.
But what's even better is the seeds that were sown by a ragamuffin group of American women, British expats, and Polish nationals being faithful and serving the God that they love, because He loves them free of charge.
Photo credit goes to Chelsea. You can check out her blog at peachywhimsy.wordpress.com
This past week, my team took part in an outreach event in a town called Novy Sącz. I'll talk more about the outreach event in another post, but as a fun activity after visiting the church that was doing the outreach on Sunday, several of us went on a hike.
This wasn't just any old hike. This was a hike up a mountain to go to a restaurant that you can only get to by hiking.
Not to mention, the group that went was composed of American, British, and Polish people. It was a cross cultural mix.
From these details it probably sounds like an interesting and fun experience, but I had very different thoughts from the start.
Honestly, I'm not a fan of rigorous hiking.
I like wandering around the woods. I like camping. I like the outdoors. And I like climbing hills.
But for some reason the idea of hiking high inclines through the mountains just does not appeal to me.
Now if I could climb at a leisurely pace, I would probably feel differently.
But we were hiking to get to lunch, which means a hungry stomach, and that means hiking with haste.
Before we even got to the mountain I kept thinking in my head: I don't want to do this. I really don't want to do this. I'm not going to complain out loud, but God, I really don't want to do this. Please let something happen that we don't take the short and fast way up. I really don't want to do this.
And even as we began the hike: Why do we have to do this?? Why couldn't we have taken the other way? Pierogi is definitely not worth this hike. This restaurant better be worth it. Why would anyone enjoy this for fun?
Obviously, I had a sour attitude.
And I realized it when we took our first break.
You see, being with a group of Brits and Poles makes for an interesting cultural experience. That means that they ask a lot of questions about America and American culture, and we get to ask a lot of questions about British and Polish culture.
Everyone else was taking the time to enjoy the hike, even slow down a bit, and ask questions, get to know each other. But all I cared about was complaining in my head.
When we finally came to a meadow overlooking a great view, I realized that I needed to change my attitude.
Yeah, climbing a mountain is hard work, you have to take it one step at a time, and you need to take rests every now and then. But you climb a mountain for a reason. Usually it's to get to the top. But most of the time the real joy comes from the journey.
The meadow was only half of the way up the mountain to the restaurant, but the view from the meadow was worth the climb.
It honestly felt like a scene straight out of The Sound of Music or even a Lord of the Rings movie.
The view from the meadow gave me hope. It helped me shift my attitude and keep climbing.
And it made me think.
There are times when living life feels similar to climbing a steep mountain. The terrain isn't level, and there isn't always an easy path. You get hungry. Your legs get tired. You slip on a couple of rocks and cut up your knee. And you're not sure if the climb is worth it. Climbing a mountain is hard work. Just like living life can be hard.
All you can do is live life the way that you climb a mountain: take it one step at a time, rest when needed, check your attitude, and take time to enjoy the view.
After an hour or more, we finally reached the restaurant, and we were greeted by a cute little lodge that serves traditional Polish food.
Of course, I had pierogi. And we even had a cake called szarlotka, which is like an apple pie. Our group was even able to chat for a while, and I learned some very interesting things about British culture from a visiting Brit (maybe I will share those factoids in a later post).
The climb was really worth it. And as I repented from my sour attitude at the start of the hike. I realized something else.
At the top of the mountain of Life, there isn't a restaurant that serves pierogi. The end of the journey means coming face to face with our Maker. And for those that believe in Jesus, the end of the hard climb, the rigorous work, and the struggle, means an eternity with Jesus, which is an eternity free from pain, tears, and strife. Eternity with Jesus is the final rest after the long journey. Knowing Jesus is worth climbing every mountain.
All I can say, is when given the chance to climb a mountain to get to a Polish restaurant, do it! Especially when freshly made pierogi is waiting for you at the top.
All of the images on this post were taken by Chelsea Hoskins. You can check out her blog here: https://peachywhimsy.wordpress.com/
But the photos can't show just how beautiful the Polish countryside truly is.
Upon first arriving in Poland, my teammates and I made a very important cultural discovery...
Hot dogs here, for the most part, are served in pocket buns.
I know, I know.
Some of you are probably asking, "What's the big deal? It's just a hotdog."
Some of you are probably saying, "Hot dogs are disgusting." And I would agree with you to a point. American hotdogs can be disgusting.
But Polish hot dogs (not kielbasa) ... and in a pocket bun = a magical experience.
For one, Polish hot dogs are very different from American hot dogs. Food is less processed over here. So, the hot dogs are just different. I don't know how to explain it, and I don't know how they are different. BUT they are different.
Secondly, they serve their hotdogs in pocket buns (primarily at gas stations and movie theaters). But it's a thing here.
They put the ketchup and mustard into the pocket bun first, and then they put the hotdog in. And then bon appetite!
It's a beautiful thing.
However, some cultural blunders did occur during the purchase of one such hotdog.
For one, I learned that if someone doesn't understand the word that you're saying because it's in a different language (in this case the word was "mustard"), then saying the word slower ("musssss tarrrrrd") does not mean that they will understand what you're saying.
I didn't realize that I kept repeating the word mustard slowly until Savannah told me so. We had a laugh about it later.
Luckily, a man who understood English was kind enough to tell the clerk the word for "mustard" in Polish for me. I now know that "mustard" in Polish is "musztarda". There isn't a big difference in the word, but it's enough to confuse someone. So thank you kind Sir for translating! (I'm pretty sure he had a good laugh too.)
At least ketchup here is still pronounced like ketchup.
All in all, if you ever get the chance to come to Poland, do yourself a favor and try a hot dog in a pocket bun.
I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
This past Sunday, I attended my first Polish church service at a local Christian church. It's a very small church in comparison to American churches with an average attendance of twenty. But while it's small and the service is in a language that I barely understand, Jesus shines in this small group of believers.
The worship is in Polish. The sermon is in Polish. The announcements are in Polish.
But language doesn't matter.
Jesus shines in the people.
That's what matters.
When Chelsea, Savannah, and I walked into this church for the first time, we were instantly greeted. People said hello and introduced themselves in Polish and gave us warm smiles and a lot of grace as we tried introducing ourselves in Polish. Despite the language barrier, we were warmly welcomed into this body of believers from a different part of the world.
Eventually the service started, and everyone began praising God in Polish. I could only make out a few words like dziękuję (thank you) and a few others. But I can't tell you how beautiful it was to be surrounded by people praising Jesus in another language.
Since the sermon was in Polish, I had some time to think. And I thought about something that I had never thought about before:
God speaks and understands every language.
Think about it.
God invented language. Genesis even says that He created the world by speaking it into being.
God transcends language. He transcends culture. His love and His truth are universal.
One day, every nation, tribe, people, and language will worship the Lamb, Jesus, like it says in Revelation.
One day, all believers will be praising God in heaven together and united. Language and culture will no longer be a barrier.
I was reminded of that promise this Sunday while worshipping with twenty or so believers. While Poland has very few true believers, people that believe in Jesus as the Messiah, these twenty people show God's faithfulness. That one day, EVERY nation, tribe, people, and language will worship the throne of God.
And that includes Poland.
In a previous post, I talked about some of the cultural norms of Poland. One cultural norm that is very different from in the US is the amount of silence.
Poles are very soft spoken and very quiet. When I say quiet, I mean Quiet with a capital Q.
I mean a library kind of quiet.
I can't speak for the private life of the Polish people, but when you sit on a bench on a street in the city that we're staying in, the street may have a lot of people, but it's just weirdly quiet.
In some ways it's very refreshing, but for a chatter box like me, it can also be unnerving.
My team and I are currently learning about Polish culture before we begin the work that we were called here to do. And one of the things that we are learning about is how to observe people and learn through observation. So one day, we spent an afternoon on the street in the city center just observing people. We were asked to observe things like:
It was really intriguing watching Poles and observing them. But the one thing that stood out the most was the silence.
People walking by themselves were silent.
Guys and girls walking hand in hand were silent.
Groups walking together were silent.
A father and his child were silent.
And if people were talking, it was very quiet.
In public, Poles are just a very quiet people.
Even walking into a store, (whether it was the H&M we visited, a chocolate store, or a book store) the shopkeepers or employees don't go up to consumers. They usually stay behind the counter, or they stock shelves. They might say hello, but they don't come up to shoppers and ask, "How can I help you? Do you need any help? What can I help you with? Can I get you anything?"
Our first time in a store, it was really weird not having someone come up to me and ask if I needed help. But after visiting another store, it was nice to just look around without having someone come up to me.
The thing too is that Poles are very polite and more than willing to help you if you have questions.
It's not bad. It's just different.
Anyways, stores are also very quiet here.
It takes a little getting used to, all of the silence. But what's nice is that it's perfectly acceptable to be sitting with friends and to just sit in silence. It's not awkward for them at all, which is really weird for someone like me with a silence-filler mentality.
At first all the silence felt stifling, but now it feels refreshing.
As I walked down the quiet street with my team, I realized that I was more thoughtful and discerning about what I said. In that, I had to think about my volume, if I wanted to share something that others might over-hear, and if I really needed to share anything at all. It reminded me a lot of James 1:19.
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger."
I think that silence or quietness is something that we can struggle with in the US. It often feels stifling. Think about how most people handle being by themselves. They listen to music or put on a movie because they can't handle silence. But sometimes silence or quietness is needed.
So yes, people are pretty quiet here. And I struggle with being quiet or even soft-spoken. So it's been a challenge. But I'm getting used to it.
Shalom! I'm Madi, a laughter-loving, movie-going, spontaneous-dancing, follower of Christ. Join me as I seek glimpses of God's grace in the ordinary and everyday.
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She Laughs Without Fear