Conntecting the Dots

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!

Friday, September 7

IM missionaries – some of our favorite people!

The International Messengers conference began this morning with heartfelt praise and worship music and a message that encouraged us toward personal revival. What an amazing time – the room was filled with missionaries who share the same Lord and purpose but who come from various backgrounds and countries. There were folks from the Ukraine, Germany, Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Canada, and the U.S., to name a few.

As we mixed and mingled with various individuals throughout the day, Gene and I realized afresh that our new responsibilities have thrown us onto an ever-increasingly steep learning curve. Being effective means understanding the various projects into which these people have invested their lives, and capturing their vision and passion. It means learning to understand various cultures and why certain evangelistic efforts will or will not work within them. It means carrying our understanding back to North America and sharing it with others with the hope that they will capture the vision and passion, too, and choose to get involved here as kingdom-builders either on a short-term, long-term, or support basis for those on the frontlines.

Personally, I’m challenged by the passion I hear in the missionaries’ voices as they speak about their projects. One gal is running a horseback-riding therapy program for handicapped orphans and she needs someone with wrangler skills to come alongside her.

One couple is holding weekly evangelistic children’s clubs for at-risk kids in the government’s social service program. They’re trying to follow a scouting-type program but have no such manuals in their language. They asked us if we could find something of that nature and mail it to them. They will translate the manual into their own language. They also asked if we could find a team of helpers with scouting experience to help them run a 10-day summer camp for these kids in 2008. The Polish government is aware of their efforts and will pay the children’s way to camp because it recognizes the long term benefits of this couple’s efforts.

Some missionaries are working with kids who literally live in the sewers of Odessa, Ukraine. Others are conducting prison ministries for men and women. Some are caring for homeless women, while others are providing care for children with HIV/AIDS.

I have the highest respect for these missionaries. Some are nationals struggling with limited finances for personal living expenses. Others are North Americans who have said goodbye to family and familiarity and stepped into a foreign culture and language that means facing a daily challenge. They’re dealing with issues such as loneliness, meeting their children’s educational needs as best they can, and trying to establish relationships with nationals who sometimes regard them with suspicion or distrust. I feel so honored to come alongside and encourage them in their work.

Thursday, September 6

We spent last night with Brad’s family. What a delight to chat and share a meal in their home. After breakfast we hopped into their car and drove about an hour to the hotel where the IM conference would be held. Along the way I noticed numerous roadside shrines – mostly celebrating Mary, the mother of Jesus. I couldn’t help but think of the uncanny similarity between them and the roadside shrines in Nepal and India. Their focus is different but they’re all built to worship someone other than God.

Sad news arrived in the late afternoon. Four Christian young people, all with associations to IM, were driving to a youth conference in Romania earlier in the day. They were traveling with other vehicles headed for the same destination but had fallen behind. In their hurry to catch up, the driver lost control of the car. It crashed into a tree and exploded into flames; everyone died instantly. One of the passengers was a 20-year-old girl – the same age as my youngest daughter. Another was a youth worker – an only child to his parents. His girlfriend also died.

My heart broke when I heard the news. Four young people were ushered into heaven, leaving loved ones behind wondering why God would allow such a tragedy and crying out to Him in their pain. I can’t imagine what they’re feeling.

Wednesday, September 5

Rolling green fields dotted with farms and villages greeted us as the plane descended into Kosice (ko-SHEETS-sa). As we waited in the customs lineup we watched as a gypsy couple and their teenage daughter handed over their documents to the official behind a plexiglass window. He snapped at them. They didn’t understand his question, so he snapped at them again. And again. And again. I felt sorry for them, but the incident backed up what we’d heard in the past – that gypsies are not well-liked. The official allowed the parents to go to the baggage claim area but he ordered the girl to stay put while he processed our passports. We’re not sure why he kept her back – perhaps he was checking for the possibility of human trafficking.

Brad, one of our Canadian IM missionaries, met us at the airport. He took us to see an abandoned former college facility that IM is hoping to purchase for use as a conference center. It’s in desperate need of TLC, but it would be ideal once remodeled. On the same grounds was another building – a castle of sorts – that’s more than 200 years old and in the process of being restored for ministry use. Walking through the facility made me feel like I’d stepped back into history. I imagined grand parties held by royalty – ladies in poofy ballroom gowns, gents in their fanciest attire, feasts prepared by the servants in the kitchen downstairs. Wouldn’t it be great to see the building useable once again, especially for ministry purposes?

Tuesday, September 4

My oh my, what a day. Gene and I woke up yesterday morning facing a never-ending to-do list. We were still organizing our household after moving a few days prior, and now we had to run last-minute errands and pack for our trip. The day wore into evening, the evening rolled into nighttime, and still we hadn’t come to the end of our list. At 3 a.m. we decided that whatever tasks hadn’t been completed by then wouldn’t be completed, so we piled our suitcases into the car and headed for the airport.

The early hour meant no crowds so we easily passed through security and found a seat in the waiting area. We’d already been awake for 25 hours when our flight left at 8:20. The flight took us to Toronto, another took us to Vienna, and the last leg took us to Kosice, Slovakia.

Overseas travel sounds glamorous, but glamorous it is not. Imagine the screaming toddler behind us from Toronto to Vienna – three hours of non-stop crying until she fell asleep exhausted. Imagine reaching Vienna after being awake for about 40 hours and then searching for a place to rest during our four-hour layover. We found one waiting area with about 150 other people who looked equally exhausted. I crashed on a bench while Gene guarded our belongings. Then we switched places and he caught a short nap. At this point we felt like total aliens – we couldn’t read a word on the signs, couldn’t understand a word of anything spoken, and had no local currency to buy a snack. We’d entered another part of the world in which nothing was familiar.

Thursday, April 19

We’ve been home for a few days, busy catching up on business that fell by the wayside in our absence. Plus, we celebrated our youngest child’s 20th birthday on Tuesday!! No more teenagers….I’m getting soooo old!!

Jet lag hit me a little harder than I’d expected. I had an interview with my publisher’s publicity team on Monday afternoon to gear up for my next book (Moving From Fear to Freedom: A Woman’s Guide to Peace in Every Situation – coming in August), and oh my….I struggled to come up with intelligent answers to their questions. I know that book inside and out, but I just couldn’t think clearly enough to give them an overview in a nugget. They were very patient with me. Sigh.

But this morning I’m feeling much better; the achy fatigue is gone. And good thing. I’m flying to Manitoba shortly to do a TV taping for “It’s a New Day” and speak at a Baptist women’s conference this weekend. My bags are packed and I’m ready to go.

But first, I want to say thanks to all who followed my blog over the past few weeks and prayed for our safety and strength. Several of you emailed to assure us of your prayers, and that meant a lot. I’m still processing everything that happened, and I’m sure it will take time.

Gene put together an 8-minute Power Point presentation for me to use this weekend, and tears fill my eyes each time I watch it. It’s hard to believe that less than a week has passed since those pictures were taken, since I hugged the village kids and they giggled in response. Their lives are so very different than ours, so difficult in many ways. I never want to slip back into comfortable North American complacency, content with having my needs met and forgetting about those who struggle to survive.

A quote sits on my desk this morning. It says, “Be as great in your acts as you have been in your thoughts.” My thoughts wander back to those people we mingled with in India and Nepal and they nudge me to pray for them and to support them as I can. It would be so easy to get caught up in my busyness here again, and to let those thoughts dim over time. But this quote encourages me to act upon my thoughts. Don’t just think about praying and giving. Do it. I want to be as great in my acts toward the needy as I have been in my thoughts. As James 1:22 says, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”