Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Polska Part 5 - The End

The last full day of camp, my feelings were a confusing mixture of "Hallelujah!!! FINALLY!!!!" and "WHAT?! No!!! How?! Why???" It seemed like we were FINALLY figuring out how to run our English lessons and get the kids to open up. How was it almost time to leave them? 

Sports time was pretty disorganized this day, which ended up working kind of perfect in the end. We had water balloon volleyball, a craft station, and ping pong and fooseball tournaments. Ola and I were on a fooseball team together. Though we lost pretty quickly, we certainly didn't go down without a fight! Since there wasn't a lot of structure there was a lot more opportunity for really good conversation.

I wasn't quite as relaxed as I should have been. Though everyone was having tons of fun, I was getting anxious because the fooseball tournament ran about 20 minutes longer than planned, which cut into the time for the evening program, which cut into the time for the Poland's Got Talent theme night - the one I had done a lot of the planning for. The teams ended up only having about 20 minutes to come up with an act.

The evening program presented Jesus' sacrifice, what it was for, what it meant, and what it continues to mean in people's lives and throughout the world. There were some really great questions raised by some of the kids in their Polish cell groups.

While they were discussing the message, the Americans scrambled to throw together the decorations and show order for the Talent Night. In spite of all my stressing turned out perfect.

Each color teams put on an act - Red presented a chin-face skit, White had their "funny family" try and perform everyday tasks with different people's arms, and Grey and Blue had dance-offs. My beginning class prepared a little interpretive dance number, 3 girls sang Adele, one girl performed a jazz dance routine, we had a showcase of weird party tricks, and Adam, Kuba, and Marta put on an absolutely hilarious skit. The final act was pastor Daniel ripping up a piece of paper and turning it whole again to illustrate how Jesus makes us whole no matter how broken we might be.

The campers all had a pizza party, but most of us teachers were so busy we didn't get a chance to eat, so a few of us went back to the Market Square to find food at around 10pm. The first place we tried wasn't serving food that late, but there were two entertaining little boys who were absolutely mesmerized by our Asians, and even went over to our vacated table to sit in the Asian chair. Luckily, we found a pretty decent sushi place, which was kind of a surreal experience. Never thought I'd ever get sushi at 10pm in Poland...

The last day was a half day. We had final English lessons and then gathered as a group one last time to do the camp dance, announce the winning color team (RED WON!!!! YEEEEEAAAAHHH!!!!) and say our goodbyes. I knew saying goodbye would be hard, but I had no idea it would be THAT hard and come that quickly. 

It was just so incredible to see the change in these kids over the course of the week. One little girl in particular, Ola, started the camp very quiet and sullen, looking like she didn't want to be there at all, not talking to any of the other kids. She was in my beginning class, and the first couple days I didn't hear a single word out of her. But by the end, she was laughing and dancing with her friends, she spoke up in class and shared her ideas, and at the end, she came up to me, gave me her sheepish smile and hugged me for a long time. 

After cleaning, debriefing with the Polish team, and practicing worship for Sunday service, we all headed back to the hotel and waited for our Polish hosts for "Take Home an American!" Tracie and I went to Sylvia and Leszek's. Their house was on the outskirts of town, about a kilometer from the small airport across a field. Their house was so beautiful and cozy, with their mother's art everywhere and bits of everyone's personalities here and there. We ate in their big backyard with fruit and nut trees. They had a big, sweet dog named Baki who I became instant friends with, and I caught a wild frog and named him Phillippe.

The family was so sweet and welcoming and just kept bringing us more and more delicious food and sharing countless laughs. They reminded me a lot of my own family.

Fly Fest was going on that evening, so there were planes flying overhead doing tricks. We all went out onto the field to watch the F-16s, but as we were walking back, their grandmother pulled me aside with tears in her eyes and said in broken English, "I remember from when I was a little girl." In the 1940's. In Poland. My heart broke as I hugged her. It brought everything into stark reality. The Poles have a history of tragedy on such a scale that we Americans can only imagine. And yet, the people are all some of the most joyful, creative, and resilient souls I've met.

Church the next day was absolutely wonderful. Playing with Adam, Kuba, Marta, and Lydia was a pleasure and an honor, and doing it to worship God in another language was just indescribable. There were a few kids from the camp who showed up at church to say goodbye to us one more time, and I'm so glad they did.

We had a quick dinner after church with Kuba and Filip's family, which was delicious as always.
That afternoon, we all drove out to this tiny community of believers in a rural village about an hour away. Kuba, Adam, and I huddled around Łukasz with our instruments and read from this tiny hymnal with old Polish hymns. Some of them were actually pretty hard, but again, it was one of those special experiences you'll never forget. After the service, Adam and I had a little jam session, some people played darts, we went for a walk down the creek, and we all roasted homemade kiełbasa over the fire. It felt like exactly what we all needed to release all the stress and emotion from the week and just enjoy being together. 

It was so hard to say goodbye. It always is. But I wouldn't have traded a second of this. I found that the more I push myself, the more people I meet from different places, cultures, and backgrounds, the more I realize we're all just people. We all want to be loved and heard and I can provide that wherever I am on the globe, whatever my function is, and that's pretty comforting.

Our last day in Poland was the hardest. I woke up that morning with Tracie frantically knocking on the hotel room door. "You know the bus leaves at 8, right? It's 8:06!!!" I had forgotten to set my alarm and both Sammie and I slept through hers. I don't think I've ever packed that fast in my life. Everyone was waiting for us downstairs. The Polish team had all come to see us off. I hugged each of them and gave a few sentiments, but we had to get on the bus.

We got stuck in a traffic jam along the way, stepped out, ate some berries and 4th of July muffins from the Hales, and then turned the bus around and drove along the median to an exit behind us, which is apparently a thing you can do in Poland...

We arrived in Wrocław, a gorgeously majestic city, very different from Piotrków! We had an awkward dinner at Pizza Hut, debriefing, and then more dinner with the rest of the JosiahVenture teams. The debriefing was good to start sorting through everything that had happened, but I still felt like it was too soon. I still couldn't believe it was over.

We had to leave for the airport at 4am the next morning, so the older and younger spectrums of our team went to get some rest after our fancy dinner. The rest of us spent the night exploring Wrocław, getting snacks, and just sitting and talking, trying to make the most of our last few hours in Poland with each other and with Adam. It was intense that night, emotionally. A lot of fears and past hurts came out, but we were each able to speak something into someone else's life that they needed to hear in that moment. These people quickly became some of the dearest friends I have ever known. I found family in each of them.

Adam rode with us to the airport. As we walked inside, we saw probably the most gorgeous sunrise I'd ever seen in my life, and I'm glad I didn't take a picture of it. There are just some things that can't be captured, the weight of things that can't be conveyed no matter how many angles you shoot from or how many words you use to describe them.

Dziękuję. Do widzenia, Polska.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Polska Part 4 - The Middle

As English Camp progressed throughout the week, it brought challenges.

The second full day in particular was hard. Logistically, we had started to figure out a lot of the bugs, but in doing so, there had been some tension among the leadership of the American and Polish teams. But we met together for prayer even before walking over for the morning meeting. When we got there, it was amazing how the Spirit filled our meeting room, independently laid the same verse on the leaders' hearts, and opened the channels of communication and understanding. One of the most amazing aspects of this trip was just seeing the immediacy of our need for prayer and staying connected to the Holy Spirit. The camp absolutely would not have worked without it. 

The day itself went smooth enough. We started with another round of English lessons, still trying to find the balance between staying true to the curriculum, but having the beginning students feel challenged and have a chance to use their English. 

Then came lunch. It was pasta. It claimed to be gluten-free. It lied.

So, I had to miss the second day of bubble balls and the team leader tournament because I was throwing up in the bathroom. It actually turned out okay though because I got most of it out of my system so the reaction wasn't as bad. 

It wasn't really the stomach pain that bothered me so much; I'm used to it, it's just something I have to deal with. More than anything, it discouraged me. The self-doubt kept creeping in, "You're broken. You're not fit for this kind of work. You're just making it harder on everyone else. You're more a burden than a help. This is why you don't travel." Meanwhile, everyone was so kind, making sure I was okay, going out and buying me tea to settle my stomach, promising to make me special food the rest of the week just to make sure it didn't happen again - and all I could feel was guilt for having them go out of their way for me, even though they were more than happy to do it. Sometimes I don't understand why I feel things the way I do. But all I can say now is that my Polish family showed me so much love and grace and I am inexpressibly thankful for it. 

I felt okay enough to lead the camp dance, and luckily I didn't have any other responsibilities for the evening program that night. After that, we had a special concert put on by Exit, another program run by JosiahVenture. The show was excellent and the kids seemed to have a lot of fun with it. I tried to power through the stomach evils, and maybe did a little too much dancing and bouncing around, but I was going to feel sick anyway, and I'm glad I had that opportunity to bond with a few of the kids.

When all the campers left, our team stayed and ate dinner. They were all talking and laughing, but I just felt drained. All I wanted was to be by myself somewhere, not have to eat anything, and get some emotion off my chest, but of course there was no way to do that. The walk back to the hotel was good though, and I was holding on to the prospect of a little break in the routine the following day. 

We spent the better part of Wednesday at a horse ranch about a 30-minute drive from the church. There was horseback riding, (very dirty) bareback pony racing, kayaking, running obstacle courses (which I ended up doing barefoot because there is ZERO tread left on my old tennis shoes), roasting kiełbasa (Polish sausage) and s'mores over a bonfire, and playing all kinds of outdoor games I'm terrible at! It was fantastic. No, really, don't read that last statement with any sarcasm LOOK AT THESE PICTURES IT WAS SO FREAKING GREAT. And exactly what I needed :) It was wonderful to just let loose, be out in nature, and connect in smaller groups with some of the kids. Zosia and Justyna were my red team team, and though we maybe weren't the best at the games that involved flying projectiles, we made up for it in team spirit, and it was absolutely wonderful getting to know their lovely, silly, brilliant personalities. I also got to spend some time with Leszek and Wojtek from my beginner class talking about Star Wars and Lord of the Rings!

Ironically enough, I had no problems with allergies that day, but Tracie's hay fever really acted up, and Grace found out she's allergic to ponies...good thing I always carry benadryl!

When we got back, all we had to do were the evening program and the theme night. The evening program went the smoothest it ever had, the worship was really tight and powerful, and Łukasz' testimony was very poignant and relatable for me and probably a lot of the kids there, too. Sammie, Skylar, and Kate also did a fantastic job with the evening talk, speaking about the birth and life of Jesus, with Sky and Kate stepping in and performing the roles of Mary, the Angel, and all the other characters. 

The theme night was Hipster and it was ridiculous and wonderful. There were hipster outfits, fake mustaches, hipster dancing, yarn beards made by committee, and shaving cream/cheeto hairdos. This was definitely a youth camp. By the end of the day, I was completely physically exhausted and everything hurt, but my heart was rejuvenated.  

The next day was back to business, and the start was again a little rough because of miscommunication and misunderstanding within the team. There were hurt feelings on both sides. On the walk over I prayed hard over the situation, and throughout the day, I really tried to be intentional about making everyone feel heard and included. It was a challenge, but we got through it by God's grace.

The first night of camp, the evening program was supposed to be followed by a theme night - baseball night - but that was one of the logistical bugs we needed to work out. The evening program took longer than we thought, so baseball night didn't happen. But Alva had poured so much work into the preparation for it, so we decided to replace afternoon sports on Thursday with baseball. We all learned the rules of the game and got to play against the other color teams. All the Poles sang their national anthem before we began, and they all stood just a little bit taller. You never really see Americans singing our national anthem with quite that level of pride. It was neat to see. Then, I sang the American national anthem to a backing track whose key was way up in the stratosphere, so that was embarrassing. Oh well. The game was fun! And everyone else ate peanuts and cracker jacks. Since we were outside, I did pretty okay allergy-wise. We also played steal-the-hat-off-Adam, which must have been pretty terrifying for him... 

Over the meals and snacks, I really felt like I was starting to form deeper connections with some of the girls and we had great talks about religion, hypocrisy in the church, what it means for God to be relational and not just conceptual, and share some of our personal experience and thoughts on life in general. These kids amazed me more and more every day.

Again, the evening program went great. We did both worship songs in Polish and I even learned a new one on the fly. I love music.

We had another insane theme night - Hawaiian. We had the same kinds of silly dancing, games, and costumes and everyone had a blast.

We stayed after all the kids had left and watched the football match, but Poland lost to Portugal and it was heartbreaking.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Polska Part 3 - The Beginning

In spite of all my apprehensions, Sunday finally arrived. We started the day off with the regular service at the church, and my first time playing an entirely Polish worship set (not to mention it was also my first time playing an entire worship set on mandolin). Not a lot of Poles have ever even heard of mandolin, being a more American folk instrument, so I think it was a lot of fun for them to see it. It was certainly fun for me!

Once the service was over, we hurriedly cleaned and prepped our classrooms, then anxiously awaited the campers. As the arrived and registered, they were taken back to an oral English exam for class placement. Once finished with that, they came out to us to play some icebreaker games. We had to keep adjusting since there were constantly new people joining us.

Large groups of new people is usually a situation I avoid. Being an introvert, I generally prefer talking to one or two people at a time, and I tend to take a long time to warm up to them and show any trace of the crazier sides of my personality. But camp is different. Especially when you're a leader at said camp. If you're going to get these students (who are probably also apprehensive about being around so many new people) excited about anything, you have to be EXCITED. I was thus flung completely out of my comfort zone, and I'm so glad for it.

Once everyone had gone through the oral exam, the color teams were established. Nancy, Filip (our tech guy, nicknamed FiFi WiFi), and I were designated Red Team leaders. We all broke off into our teams with the task of designing our team banner and coming up with our team cheer. Our team decided we would be the Awesome Red...Apples. I said, "So...just so we're clear - you guys are going to be cheering for this when we do sports and everything. You want to be cheering for the Awesome Red Apples?" In reply, a resounding "YEEEAAAAHHH!!!" Ok then! Sweet!

Our cheer:
What are we??
What color are we???
-AWESOME. RED. APPLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And we were glorious.

After that, we ran the first Evening Program. The theme of this year's camp was "Did You Get My Message?" centering around social media. The Evening Program began with ice breakers and announcements, then Tracie and I taught the first half of the camp dance to Lecrae's "Calling all the Messengers." It went pretty okay in spite of the whiteness of my dancing. But we were in Poland so...

The Evening Program is where the evangelistic element of the camp mainly comes through. After the dance, Tracie, Adam, and I led a couple worship songs in English, which was also crazy fun. They're both extremely talented people. Then, the whole thing wrapped up with Kelly's testimony and the campers were dismissed home.

It had already been a very long day, and it wasn't even a full day of camp. I wasn't sure how I was going to make it through an entire week, but I was excited. A few of us went out to dinner in Market Square in Piotrków. I accidentally ate some salmon and my throat started to swell, but I took some benadryl and I was fine. But I completely crashed when we finally got back to the hotel.

The first full day of camp was a doozy. There were still a few kinks that needed to be worked out in the staff meeting beforehand, but we got through it. After a few morning announcements, we started English classes. Peggy and I were in charge of the Beginning class, with Naomi serving as our translator. The curriculum was provided by JosiahVenture, but was a little confusing and unclear in places. Peggy had done a lot of preparation, but there were still some things that it had us doing that then didn't have an activity to go with it, and the kids seemed pretty bored. But they weren't talking. Because they weren't talking, we initially assumed that they were at a lower level than many of them were actually at. However, Naomi talked to a few of them during the break, so we adjusted the activities for the second half of class, and they opened up a lot more, we got them talking and using their English, and they seemed to be much more engaged.

After English lessons were sports! The first couple days, we had bubble balls. They're these intense inflatable balls that you crawl inside and support with your shoulders. Then you run around, get knocked over, and sweat a lot. It's crazy fun, but exhausting and it bruises your shoulders. We played football (soccer, aka REAL football), and I was actually better at it than I thought I would be!


The Evening Program ended up basically being the Tracie and Ellie show. We taught the rest of the camp dance and were supposed to lead worship, but Ron's testimony took more time than expected, which was fine because it was really powerful. Then, Tracie and I gave the evening talk, all about creation and the fall and what it meant when sin entered the world.

I gave my first sermon. In Poland. With a translator. Booyah.

I was actually really surprised at how not-nervous I was. I got a little flustered towards the end, but other than that it went really smoothly and I wasn't shaking at all!

After the campers went home, the older girls and I went out to the mall for ice cream and then McDonald's with Adam and Łukasz. It was great just hanging out and not having to talk about anything camp-related for a little bit. They're all just fantastic people, and have become some of my dearest friends.