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
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