“Stover, are you sure you know what you are doing? You mean to tell me that my grandkids are going to be Pollack’s?” That was my father in law’s response (himself, a missionary in Thailand for over thirty years) to the news that we were leaving our ministry in Chicago to join a church planting team in Poland. He was joking of course, but the reaction was a common one as we prepared to head to the field. On June 12, 1987 Ronald Reagan uttered the famous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” that speech in West Berlin would drastically change the landscape of Europe forever. Following the loosening of the Soviet grip on Eastern Europe, missionaries began to pour into the former Soviet States. Initially, interest in Poland was strong, but after little results and fierce Catholic resistance, attention turned to neighboring countries. Why was it such a rough go in Poland? Why were places like Romania and Ukraine so much more open to the Gospel? I posed that very question to a national pastor here and he responded by saying that, unlike some of the other former Soviet States, the underground church was almost non-existent in Poland during communism. The Polish people’s loyalty was to the RCC, in fact, many saw Pope John Paul II (himself Polish) as an important catalyst to the ending of communism in Poland. For so many reasons, to be Polish is to be Catholic, but one has to visit the country for themselves to understand the grip that Roman Catholicism has on the Polish people. Only then will you come to realize the vindictive, controlling, and vengeful character of the RCC and its grip on the people. Of course, taking a moment to think about it, one understands the amount of power a priest can wield having heard the confessions of local leaders from the time of their childhood to the present. True, we are not talking about physical persecution, but we are talking about stifling peer pressure from friends and family for all who dare leave the church.
Twenty years later and so much has changed. In fact, I would argue that there has never been a greater need for missionaries in Poland and that the Polish people have never been more ready to hear the Gospel, than at the present. 1.) Capitalism is taking hold, and with that the realization that education will bring advancement. The 20 and 30 something’s are well educated and have learned to ask questions. Those of you who have come out of the RCC know that the church doesn’t react too kindly to questions. People are looking for answers; perhaps the Gospel might very well have the answers they need (read a touch of sarcasm). 2.) A sex abuse scandal among the priests equal or greater than what occurred in the States a few years back has many, once staunch followers, questioning the integrity of the RCC. 3.) For many Poles, Pope John Paul II was the only pope they had ever known; they worshipped him like a deity. Witnessing firsthand the political “good ole boy” process of electing a new pope disenfranchised many of the younger generation. 4.) Recent inquests have revealed that many priests were informants for the KGB under communism, thus revealing that the RCC was more interested in money and preservation than ministering to its’ “faithful constituents.”
China and the rest of the 10/40 window currently occupy most of the mission focus in the United States and rightfully so. An area containing 2/3 of the world’s population should be of utmost importance. However, in carrying out the Great Commission, let us not forget about the nearly Forty Million people living in, what I like to call, “The Below Forty Window,” as in below 40F all the time, at least it feels like it. Poland, unlike most of Europe, is very pro U.S. According to the book “A Question of Honor,” they have been our allies in every major war since the Revolutionary War. It is a country that has survived the atrocities of Hitler and the weight of the Iron Curtain only to be damned by RCC dogma. Our response to this people group has been meager at best, a handful of missionaries have come in the twenty years the field has been open, resulting in a .03% Protestant population*. Christ’s words in John 4 ring true of Poland, “the harvest is truly plenteous, but the laborers are few.” Join me in praying that the “Lord of the Harvest” would send more laborers.
*CIA World Factbook