A month ago I asked for your prayers as I was leaving for a mission trip to Poland and I promised to share “the rest of the story” when I returned. I believe God is still writing this story and I’m still processing why God chose to send me to Poland, as I likely will never fully understand this side of Heaven. But today the Lord brought this photo to my attention and I believe it explains a lot of the story.
Nine of us went from Edgewood Baptist Church (5 ladies and 4 men) to help a young church plant in Krakow Poland, established through the International Mission Board (IMB). Krakow is a city just 25 years post-communism and has nearly 800,000 residents. We traveled by tram from our hotel to the church, not knowing at what to expect. We observed stark apartment buildings with the occasional flower boxes and the apartment dwellers tried to bring some beauty to some otherwise colorless structures. To contrast the rows of apartment buildings there were buildings from pre-communist era that were magnificent in architecture. (As we learned the history of some of the buildings that week, it was a little awe-inspiring to touch a castle that was built 1100 years ago in the 900’s A.D.)
About a 20 minute tram ride got us to our stop and then we walked 3 or 4 blocks to the “church.” There wasn’t a church building, but rather we were escorted through a gate into a courtyard, up some steps and into the door of an apartment. We went through the kitchen area and back down steps to the “sanctuary.” It was the downstairs living area of an apartment, that was now home to “Fourth Baptist Church of Krakow Poland.” As we began to meet the team, the college students, couples and families who have left their families and lives in America to come to Poland, I felt a little like I was in part of the underground church. We were sitting in a room in a basement of an apartment with bars on the windows, and they each talked about the choices they had made to be in Poland while they shared the Gospel. I admit I was greatly sleep deprived so much of those conversations were a blur but my heart heard their stories of joyful sacrifice for the Gospel.
Our “job” for the week was to organize and conduct Vacation Bible School for children in the morning and youth camp in the afternoons for teens. We were to host it in the nearby park. The team had already passed out hundreds of flyers and we assisted with a little of that on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, handing out a flyer written in Polish hoping the person we handed it to would read it or understand enough of our English to understand.
Monday morning we welcomed a few children from the church and were so excited when some who had received a flyer came to join us. Some games, crafts, songs, snacks and the Creation story—Bible school in a park in Krakow Poland by some Americans who spoke no Polish. We were thankful for the missionaries who translated for us and we felt our morning was successful.
Monday afternoon took a different turn. We went to the park to meet up with the teens and actually engaged a few of them until the rain poured…we were drenched and we headed back to the church. The few church youth followed us back to the church for an afternoon of indoor games. Tuesday the rain continued and a few of the children made their way to the church. Wednesday we still met at the church because it was all so wet, but some of the children we met in the park joined us. And a huge crowd of children met up with our guys in the park and played ball.
One of the missionaries came to me and told me what one of the mothers had told her. “Her boys kept insisting on coming back to VBS even though it was raining. They wanted to come back around those nice people who smiled all the time. They knew something was different about these people.”
Her words haunt me. You see, as we traveled through that city, it seemed no one smiled. Few would make eye contact. We were loud, we laughed and I’m sure they wondered about those Americans who rode that tram every morning. (I wonder if they were glad when we got off at our stop!) We were different because we were Americans. But I hope that if they spent any time with us they would also know we were different because we love Jesus. Our joy isn’t short term or superficial. Our smiles were genuine because we have a reason –the King of Kings resides in our hearts.
After Bible School was finished we had a day to travel to Auschwitz. What a somber day that was. To stand on the ground where 1.1 MILLION people were killed. To walk through the buildings and see the thousands of suitcases, hairbrushes, shoes, pots and pans, and human hair shaved from the victims. To see the photos. To hear the stories. To see the absolutely horrible living conditions. To sense the feeling of devastation behind the rows of barb wire and walk into the gas chambers. Then to touch the walls where millions saw their last day on this earth.
That day, our group was certainly quiet and very respecful. We walked the path that millions before had walked, barely hanging onto life, only to have it cruelly snatched from them. It was evidence of true evil. It was a reminder that satan is so very alive and he is our enemy. There were those who survived, and many more who died.
I began to think about the forces of enemy alive today. We don’t have a Hitler with the power he wielded in the 1940’s. But we have many just like him who treat people today with just as much disregard as he did. The enemy used Hitler to destroy countless of God’s chosen people through places like Auschwitz. Today the enemy uses the tools of abortion, sex trafficking, genocide and chemical warfare to destroy people.
As those people lived in those conditions in Auschwitz, there are those who had Hope. Those who had faith that God is good, all the time God is good. As I continue to think about that day, the Lord keeps reminding me of the spark of Hope that must be fanned into flame. As I think about the little boy who wanted to be with us, because we smiled, I have to wonder if those who saw those loud Americans, saw anything else different about us.
Since returning home, the Lord has peeled back the layers in me of what He wanted me to learn. This morning it was the photo of this wheat. We were heading back to our bus as we left our tour of Auschwitz and I saw the first agriculture crop I had seen since arriving in Poland. Interesting isn’t it that in the background are some of the buildings and ruins of this death camp. I took the photo thinking I would bring it home to show Milt as I also wondered why it had not been harvested. If you zoom in close you can see big seeds of wheat just waiting to be chosen. And why is it here? Why is it alongside the parking area outside of this former death camp? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I think I know what God is saying to me.
You see, there are both Seeds to sow and a Harvest to be reaped. God sent me (and our team) to plant seeds and to cultivate. We shared the Gospel with lots of people—children and adults. We left the Gospel in printed form in the hands of many. We connected with missionary families and a small church congregation who just needed encouragement and support. We pray they are strengthened by our partnership with them. But then God walked us through the remnants of evil. And yet like the little purple flowers in this photo, there was a glimmer of hope there and the wheat reminds me that there is an abundant crop waiting for a Harvest.
After Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, He said these Words: “You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!
“You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.” (John 4:35-38)
It’s so tempting to tell God which part of the process I want to be. But I truly want to just be available, to plant, cultivate or harvest whichever He calls me to do. I don’t always know when the Harvest is ready. What if I’m so busy planting I fail to notice a crop not yet harvested. What if I miss what God calls me to do because I am so busy doing it my way?
So for today, Lord, my prayer is: “Here I am Lord, send me, but help me to be obedient to whatever that means.” Whether I am to plant, cultivate or harvest, I hear You. There is work to be done. Whether it’s Poland, Hopkinsville, North Christian County or anywhere else, count me in. I want to be part of your work. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to go. Now I am excited for the days ahead of being at home to do His work. Praise be to Him!