Friday, September 28, 2007

Beware, A Missionary with Blinders On

It's the little things on a foreign field that begin to eat away at your psychy. In Poland, all of your meat is bought over the counter from the butcher, so grabbing a package of meat from the freezer section is out of the question. Therefore, every two or three days we are reminded of our status in the language as we struggle to communicate what kind of meat we want and how much of it. Simple trips to the gas station feel like that long walk to the principal's office (you know, back when principal's were feared for the massive paddle they had in their office)because each time I have to communicate what kind of gas and how much to the person filling my tank. When that hurdle is crossed I walk into the station only to begin the hand signals again hoping to point out which pump is mine. We drop our kids off at school each day and choke through a few Polish words with their teacher, but if we're honest we have know idea what's going on at their school. Today our boys each came home from school with a brand new toy tractor---and we have no idea why. Did they when a contest we didn't know about? Did they find buried treasure? Worse, did they knock off a local convenience store? The only comparison I can draw to the current frustration of this language barrier is an example from my childhood. I vividly remember the day my cousin decided to educate me in the art of "Chinese water torture," he held me down and began to drip water on my forehead and, for awhile, I just laughed at him because it was only drops of water but soon enough it began to get on my nerves and it went from being "funny", to "quit it," to "screaming like a little girl" until he let me up. At first the whole language barrier was funny, then it went to "quit it," and now I often find myself "screaming like a little girl" hoping this language will let me up. Its unrelenting, unforgiving, and downright discouraging.

As you can tell, I've been holding onto this little pity party for the last few weeks. Focusing on MY feelings, My frustrations, MY discomfort. All of this "American introspection" on my part has blinded me to the grace of God in my life and the life of my family that is manifesting itself on a daily basis. It wasn't until a few days ago when confronted with this awful truth that my attitude began to change. Thank God for my family. Our children are the joys of our life. Aubrie wakes up every morning excited about eating "cocoa pebbles." When I say excited, I mean excited like "oh boy--cocoa pebbles." God help me to find joy in the little things. At almost three years of age is it obvious that God has gifted her with language acquisition. We first realized this when she was about 11 months old and we were praying at the dinner table. I closed with "In Jesus Name" and she finished with an emphatic AMEN. Ginger and I were in shock---and we are still in shock as we see her soak up the language, she knows no stranger and has no fear of making a mistake. Two vital attributes for learning a new language. We love the boys God has given us, the transition from Chicago to Poland was a lot more real for them than we had ever anticipated. I'll never forget driving back from Warsaw a few months ago, late at night, and they just opened up about how they missed "home" and missed "grandma and grandpa" and most of all how they were "nervous about going to school in Poland". I was rebuked by their courage as they choked back the tears and walked into their Polish classroom for the first time. They had a grasp of what they were up against but they walked forward. God help me to walk forward even when afraid. Their ability to see everything as a "great adventure" is an attribute I admire.

Finally, I'm so thankful for the wife God has given me. We've been married six years and I feel like I'm just beginning to realize what courage, devotion, and a heart for ministry she has. She's an "mk," grew up in Thailand and loves missions. Along with that though she has never really had a geographical place she could call home. We got married and began ministry at Bible Baptist Church in Romeoville, IL and that place became our home, some of the dearest and most dedicated Christians you will ever meet. After four years of ministry there we bought a house, our house, a home for my wife. Stability. I don't think the paint was even dry when I first approached her about Poland---yet the house was the last thing on her mind as we weighed the decision. Watching her here in Poland has been truly convicting. I know she misses our home but most of all she misses our church and yet she is so dedicated to the language, the ministry here, and most importantly our family. God help me to have that kind of dedication. She is a warrior and my lover. Wallowing in "self pity" was fun but it blinded me to the goodness of God. God's grace and goodness are amazing and its my prayer that I never overlook them again.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Language School

I thought I'd give you some details concerning our language acquisition. Before we headed to the field we asked prayer for the provision of good teachers in the town of Siedlce. We were hoping to hire teachers to personally work with Ginger and I so we could avoid the large classroom setting. The idea behind this was that a personal teacher would be able to work more on our weaknesses and move quickly over our strong areas (though those are few and far between). She would be able to focus on our pronunciation and grammar. Also, much of language requires working in groups, this has many positives but one negative is that you can sit passively in a group and let others do the work. When its just two of you in class and there is a group assignment you are forced to do it or it doesn't get done. Also, we were hoping for two teachers to alternate days and curriculum. Using two curriculums helps to cover any deficiencies in either curriculum. Our coworkers found two new and highly recommended curriculums so all we needed were teachers. Then one day Sarah Layer was talking to a neighbor who lives above them and through the coversation she found out that Monica had a master's degree in teaching English but she had not worked over the past four years while her child was young. Monica teaches us 3x a week for two hours at a time and then gives us two hours of homework each day. Our other teacher Kasia was recommended to us by one of the first acquaintances we made while in Poland. She is a English teacher at a local highschool and she teaches us 2x a week 2 hours each day with two hours of homework. We are very thankful for this answer to prayer and have found our teachers to be quite gifted also they certainly don't mind being tough on us and forcing us out of our comfort zones. I think they enjoy dishing out the homework which is always the sign of a good teacher.

One funny incident took place a few weeks ago in class. We were supposed to create sentences about meeting and talking with different people. I decided to use a sentence with Ginger and my mom and I used a verb that I thought ment "meeting or dealing with." After saying the sentence our teacher first blushed and then burst out in laughter. When she finally stopped she explained that I had just said in Polish "Ginger would like to end my mother's life." Technically the verb means "to deal with" but in the since of dealing with it "mafia style" if you know what I am saying. There are actually many more stories like that but time fails us to tell you about them all. We are having our language lessons in the building our church is renting, both of our teachers know why we are here and why we are learning Polish. Just this week Monica said to us, "I've noticed that you have Bible verses everywhere in your building, the Bible seems to be very important to you. We Catholics say the Bible is important but only the priests know what it says." I was amazed at her observations.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A New School

This past week was the first week of school for the boys. We've found it to be quite similar to pre-school in the states with a few exceptions. For one they are fed breakfast and lunch everyday and this is included in the tuition which is about $70 per month/ per child. The major difference in preparing for school here was the supplies----you must provide everything even down to the toilet paper your child/ children will use during the year. However these supplies are put in the community pile to be used at the teacher's discretion. Their teacher speaks absolutely no English, after the first day we asked her (through a translator) if the boys' were able to comprehend and follow instructions and she gave an emphatic "yes." I asked the boys the same question and they told me "we understand our teacher dad--but we just can't say what she says." It seems like their comprehension of the Polish language has come along way in the three months we've been here.

They've been begging us for a guinea pig (those of you who know our track record with pets are probably cringing) so we bought them banks and have begun to give them "jobs" so they can earn money towards a guinea pig. After the first day of school Ginger was asking them about the names of some of their classmates and they told us that "we play with our friends but we don't know their names." So as you see in the video we made a deal with them that if they could tell us a new friend's name at school that we would put some more money in their banks. They came running out of the room on the second day and said "dad, we call our teacher "Pani" and one of our friend's is named "Emilka." It's always hard to send your babies to school and it was especially tough for us this time knowing that they'd have this language hurdle to cross as well but it's thrilling to watch them work together and to see them conquer this hurdle one day at a time.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sunday Service

Here is a video of this Sunday's service. Hopefully it will give you a clearer picture of the ministry here in Siedlce, Poland. Over the next three months we will be working towards organizing as a church and establishing a membership. This is a crucial step towards the goal of seeing an indigenous church established in Siedlce.