Conntecting the Dots

Tuesday, September 18

Woodworking shop
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Sewing classes anyone?
Karla’s husband, Brad, took us to see their work projects. One is called Life Art and is designed to teach work skills to those needing to earn a living. There are several facets to it. First, a woodworking department teaches men to build furniture. There’s a lovely facility equipped with everything necessary to run such a course. Their first class graduated two weeks ago, and a second session will begin in mid-October. One of their students was unemployed for 10 years, living in a one-room apartment with his wife and four kids. Now he’s learned skills, is earning an income, and will stay on as a teacher! What a boost to his ego! Better yet, he’s become a believer. This facet has a major need, however – someone to take over the supervision of it. Is there someone out there with woodworking skills and a desire to use them in this setting on a long-term basis??

Next, there’s a sewing section to teach women life skills. The pilot program will begin in mid-October. This program also has a need, or rather, two: (1) money to buy irons and ironing boards – this would be an easy project for a women’s ministry group to undertake. The needed items can be purchased here, so there’s no shipping involved. Just the funds. (2) Funds to pay the instructor’s wages for this pilot program. She will earn about $7 per hour, with a total of $800 necessary. When the pilot program is complete, the government will pick up the tab for future sessions because it recognizes the value of such skills to its citizens well-being.

Then there’s Word Art. This is a language school in historical downtown Kosice. The business offers classes for 33 languages! Sometimes they’re working with professionals who have been transferred to Kosice; sometimes they’re working with refugees from war-torn countries.

Monday, September 17

Rolled into Kosice at 4:50 a.m. Karla, one of our Canadian IM missionaries, met us and took us home. Bless her heart, she told us to go to bed and wake up whenever we felt like it. We took her advice and finally got up at noon. Felt good to lie still after the 16-hours of rockin’ and rollin’ on the train.

Later in the afternoon she drove us to her family’s church. What a difference from the little Protestant churches we saw in Poland. This church is new and holds more than 500 people. It has 57 cell groups, a youth group of more than 200 kids, and it’s growing exponentially.

When we drove around the city, we saw several clusters of the familiar grey concrete apartment buildings. These clusters house between 25,000-30,000 people. If you happen to live in the middle of a cluster, you don’t see sky…only more apartments. Karla lived in one such setting many years ago, and she said she had to get outside and walk everyday so she could see the sun and keep from getting depressed. Those of us who don’t live in such a setting would never think of that.

Sunday, September 16

Catching a good night’s sleep on the train is only wishful thinking!

My hubby was asked to preach in church this morning. Bless his heart, he jumped right in with the help of a Polish translator. Talk about being stretched beyond one’s comfort zone. He challenged the congregation (maybe 50 people) to have courage to believe God for great things, and to not be afraid to say yes when He calls them to a task that’s bigger than they are because obedience will result in opportunities to experience God in new ways.

Prayer, not announcements, moved the service from one section to the next. So, after singing some praise choruses (in Polish), people stood to pray one after the other. Then they sang hymns, after which Gene preached. The pastor recapped Gene’s message, and then someone prayed again. I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, but I could hear the passion in people’s voices. And I thought about what heaven will be like – people of every race and nation praising God together around His throne. What a thrill that will be someday!

After church we caught a train headed to Slovakia. We shared a six-seater berth with a couple from Poland who chatted between themselves for the entire six-hour trip to Krakow. The train rolled mostly through farmlands. One thing that captured my attention was the brick or concrete apartments standing less than 20 feet from the tracks. How would you like to live beside tracks that carry trains to and fro all day and night? I just can’t imagine it being a quiet place, but I guess the residents get used to it. If they can’t afford their own land or residential house, they might have no other choice. I also saw many abandoned concrete buildings with windows broken or roofs destroyed. Again, I wondered what stories they could tell if they could talk.

When we arrived in Krakow, we got off the train for a two-hour layover. Thankfully an IM missionary met us there and helped us navigate that experience. She took us to a nearby mall where we could eat supper as there was no restaurant car on the train.

My oh my, this was no ordinary mall. If Carol hadn’t met us, we would have stayed in the underground train station without knowing that above us lay a fancy three-storey shopping bonanza that stretched in every direction with no end. On the third floor we found a food court with everything from Kentucky Fried Chicken to Subway to middle eastern cuisine and Polish menus. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” I figure. So I enjoyed a meal of boiled potatoes and pork with a hefty side of sauerkraut. Mmmmm, good.

At 10:30 we boarded another train and set out on our overnight ride to Kosice. We’d reserved our tickets too late to get a sleeper car, so we had a six-seater berth again. Thankfully we had the berth to ourselves. In fact, we had the entire car to ourselves. Sleep was nearly impossible, though. I think we made 16 stops along the way, and several times the conductors rapped on our window and asked to see our tickets. When we crossed into Slovakia, the train stopped for about 35 minutes to allow the border guards to check for passports. “Canadian,” one commented with interest in his voice as he showed our passports to two other guards. Then he hustled off to other duties, leaving his cohorts to deal with us. Another guard marched through each car with a German Shepherd dog – sniffing for drugs, possibly. No one spoke English, and we spoke not a word of Slovakian, so we can only guess re: what was going on.

The night was a long one – especially because it was very cold in the berth. Apparently the heat is turned on from a main source only when the train authorities think it’s cold enough to warrant it. And this wasn’t a night that warranted it, in their opinion. Brrrr. I obviously didn’t bring warm enough clothes with me for this trip. If we ever have to travel this way again, I’ll pack lightweight blankets and inflatable travel pillows. Live and learn.

Saturday, September 15

Dinner party with pastors and wives.
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Removing the protein from our mushroom soup
Rather than zipping around town to meet folks and see projects involved with IM work, we stayed home and prepared for a dinner to which the city’s three Protestant pastors and their wives were invited. Marti’s kitchen is about 4 feet wide with precious little counter space so we had to juggle tasks and washing dishes to accommodate all that needed to be done. In the midst of preparing dinner, we cooked homemade soup with the mushrooms we picked yesterday. That meant first examining every mushroom for worms before tossing them (the mushrooms, not the worms) into the pot with chicken broth. The finished product was gourmet fantastic. Move over, Campbell’s!

The dinner party was fun for all. Marti served cold salads, deli meats and cheeses, and roll – a typical Polish meal – and topped the menu with lemon meringue pie and apple crisp. I learned that, when you’re sitting at the table and you want a particular food but can’t reach it, it’s more acceptable to simply stand up and reach across everyone for it rather than interrupt others who are closer but engaged in conversation. Whatever works!

Conversation flowed freely during dinner. A translator had come along for our benefit, and we enjoyed being a part of what was happening. Before long, however, the guests entered a conversation about which everyone felt passionate, and they all spoke at once. The translator threw off his English and jumped back into Polish. Gene and I must have looked like deer staring into a car’s headlights as we tried to catch a familiar word now and then. Reminded me of the ol’ days in Nepal when we couldn’t understand a word at first, and we constantly walked around feeling brain-drained. Nevertheless, the evening ended with prayer for one another’s ministry (3 Protestant pastors in a city of about 120,000). I love praying with others when they speak in their native language – God understands those prayers no matter the language in which they’re spoken, and coming before Him knits our hearts to each other.

Friday, September 14

local pastor and wife
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Lunch at the camp

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mushroom picking
Wild mushrooms and grilled Polish kielbasa – the makings for a memorable picnic in the countryside. Bill and Marti drove us to a site where a local pastor oversees summer camps for kids and teens. The pastor and his wife met us there, gave us a tour of the facility, and treated us to grilled Polish sausage – yum! Then came the desserts – pastries, chocolates, and other goodies. (Fitting into the plane seat for the trip home will be a major feat if the sweets keep coming as they have in the past week.)

We three women took a walk around the property and found wild mushrooms growing in the field. Apparently these are a valuable commodity, often sold in the open markets by those who pick them. The pastor’s wife, Danielle, showed us how to peel and cut the mushrooms (watching for wee worms inside), and we prepared them for freezing later.

We had a fascinating conversation over lunch, learning about their experience during the Communist days. They told us that Poland didn’t suffer the same repression that other countries such as Romania did. They talked about their church activities being watched and of having to report every gathering such as baptismal celebrations, but they were never forbidden to meet as believers. In some ways, they feel their religious rights are more restricted now than before – something I wouldn’t have imagined.

Thursday, September 13

Ania, my translator

Grace and a Polish granny

Marti and I walked through the market today – I much prefer the open markets to the modern department stores. There’s ‘way more character to the little shops, and there seems to be a personal warmth that’s missing in the mega stores. Afterwards we went to a bakery and enjoyed coffee and European treats with a gazillion calories – Marti had a chocolate yummy while I tried a tart filled with whipped cream and topped with kiwis and raspberries.

A 25-year-old Polish IM worker joined us for lunch, which is the big meal of the day. She’d just returned from her first trip to the States where she traveled to raise funds to cover her living and ministry expenses. It’s difficult for national missionaries to raise financial support here because sometimes they’re first-generation Christians and their families and acquaintances don’t understand or appreciate their faith and calling. Again, I have the utmost respect for these folks who are faithfully serving the Lord amidst challenges that might cause others to throw their hands up and walk away.

This Polish gal was my translator later in the afternoon when I spoke at a women’s meeting. The gathering was held in a one-room facility – on Sundays it holds church services and during the week it doubles as the neighborhood food bank. The meeting began at five o’clock – not a normal time for a midweek women’s event in North America but that’s what works here because people don’t like going out at night. Most of the attendees were regulars from that church, but there were several women who heard the Gospel, one possibly for the first time.

My heart warms to these women – from eight-year-old Asha who came with her mom after receiving the invitation at the food bank, to the 20-something gal who told me about her dress designing business, to the nearly toothless 65-year-old Polish grandma who showered me with numerous hugs and kisses – and I long to see them live life as fully as God intends. Each one is created in His image and beautiful in His sight. I pray that my message and response to them will bring hope and an understanding of His great love for them.

Wednesday, September 12

Gene and his translator

Today’s highlight? Well, there were two. One was driving to the city’s outskirts to see where Bill and Marti and a couple other IM staff had a ministry with women and children. When we arrived at this place (a former military barracks), we saw four concrete apartment blocks. Several walls had graffiti painted on them. A playground with swings and slides sat out back. Children ran past us, one of them pulling a puppy on a leash. Several adults walked by, but none looked happy. Their eyes seemed empty and their faces appeared strained.

The 20-year-old we’d come to visit invited us into her family’s apartment. We entered a wide doorway and found ourselves in a long, dark, concrete hall. About six white doors lined the hall – they reminded me of freezer doors. The area looked more like a food locker than an apartment hallway. When the young woman opened her door, however, we stepped into a teeny apartment that was pleasant to behold – bright white ceiling, blue and yellow tiles on the wall, and coordinated blue tiles on the kitchen cupboards. Once again we were treated to a cup of strong coffee (complete with grounds that settled to the bottom and stayed there) while discussion about the girl’s request for financial assistance was held.

When the visit ended, we walked to a nearby building that bore a sharp contrast to the apartments. Inside we found nearly a dozen children either playing games with adults or on a computer. This is a government-funded program for children in this housing development. No one over the age of 15 is allowed inside in order to provide safe refuge for children whose lives are affected by domestic abuse or alcoholism. These kids can come here anytime for help with their schoolwork, for fun and games, or for a hot meal. It’s here that weekly children’s Bible-based programs have been held in the past. Sadly, a lack of staff means they’re not happening anymore.

We walked past the dismal apartments again when we returned to our car. I couldn’t shake the feeling of darkness and hopelessness in that place. And I wondered how many children leave there to go on to live productive and healthy lives. The odds are stacked against them.

At six o’clock we had to be a local church because Gene had been asked to lead a Bible study. It was his first time speaking through a translator. A small group gathered – perhaps a dozen precious Polish folk. The prayer time that followed was sweet – one after the other, they stood and prayed on behalf of their families and city. There was scarcely a second or two between prayers – it was as though they couldn’t wait to talk with God. What a privilege to worship God with His children on this side of the world.

Tuesday, September 11

Andrew and Iwona

When it takes three days to dry clothes, one must plan ahead!

It’s strange that in India and Nepal we could understand the language enough to get around and hold friendly conversations. But here, where outwardly we appear to have more in common with these people, we can’t understand a word. Here’s an example of the Polish vocabulary: “platki kukurydziane.” What do you think it means? Read the end of this entry and I’ll tell you the answer!

The day’s highlight was visiting Andrew and Iwona – a local pastor and his wife. They live in a 550-square-foot apartment with their two sons. Andrew made a special coffee for me and Marti, flavored with cinnamon and cardamom. Wow – it was strong! He poured about an inch of his brew into each mug, and we added ¾ cup of hot water to dilute it. We nibbled on rolls stuffed with mincemeat (I think that’s what it was) while learning about Andrew’s ministry, and then we enjoyed a prayer time together. I felt so humbled to be in their presence. These servants of God have an obvious heart for Him and a passion for their city. I wish I could have stayed longer – I know I could learn much from them.

Marti and I washed clothes today using the tiniest washing machine I’ve ever seen. It’s about 15 inches across. The top loading area reminds me of my bread maker at home. There’s no dryer in this apartment, however, so we hung clothes on plastic racks on the outside deck and around the house. By nighttime, nothing was dry yet so we turned on a little heater in the room where we’re sleeping and aimed it at the clothes rack. We certainly take conveniences such as clothes dryers for granted in North America.

What do you think “platki kukurydziane” means? If you guessed “corn flakes,” you’re right!

Monday, September 10

Roadside shrine – one of many

On the road again. This time, we headed for Poland by car with our other Canadian IM missionaries, Bill and Marti. Twelve hours later we arrived at their home, but enroute we enjoyed beautiful scenery – rolling hills, trees, castles, cattle and goats grazing. In cities we saw huge apartment blocks that looked like towering rectangles sometimes painted yellow and orange or bright green. Other times they were a drab grey. Apparently they’re remnants from the Communist regime. People still occupy them, but they’re insulating them with Styrofoam and painting them bright colors now.

As we drove through countryside and city, I couldn’t stop thinking about the people here and what their history has been. When I saw crumbling farm houses, I wondered what stories they could tell if they could talk. Did they hide army troops? Were their residents expelled or killed by military forces?

My grandfather was born in Russia and later defected from the Russian army by hiding in a haystack. Soldiers went looking for him and actually shoved pitchforks into the very haystack in which he was hiding. Fortunately their aim was off and he escaped. As I looked around the Polish countryside, I thought a lot about Grandpa and others like him who have lived, or died, under Communism.

I shake my head at the suffering caused by selfishness, and I’m reminded of the blessing that’s ours to live in a country that guards its citizens’ freedom.

Saturday, September 8

New friends – one from the States, one from Poland

The day’s highlight for me was speaking to the women in the morning session. Being over-busy is a common struggle to many women, and this group could relate to my message on that topic because of the additional demands on their schedules due to ministry. I encouraged them to keep their relationship with Jesus as their utmost priority – that abiding in the Vine (John 15) is what matters most, and that doing so will result in a fruitful life.

Today I discovered the answer to a question over which I’ve puzzled for nearly 25 years. When we lived in Nepal, I struggled with culture shock, illness, discouragement, isolation, and homesickness. Over the years since our return to North America, I’ve often wondered what that experience was about. What was the purpose behind our living there for three years, struggling with those issues, having no visible results for our labors, and then returning home to NA? The answer? Maybe, just maybe, it was to give me a heart that understands these missionary women and the issues they deal with on a daily basis. After I’d presented my message, several told me that it was nice to hear from someone who truly understood their situations. All I can say is, “Thank You, Lord, for so beautifully knitting Your design into Your children’s lives.”

Along a lighter note, we were served wieners for breakfast this morning. Three weenies each, with a slice of cucumber and tomato. I love these cultural differences!