Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Snapshots of our Lives...

The month of March has flown by at our house. I (Amy) can't believe it's almost April! And that means that in just a few days our lil' sis will be celebrating her birthday. That's right! Katie will be 17 in less than a week! Makes me want to break into a bittersweet rendition of "Sunrise, Sunset," but I'll spare you the agony and just take this opportunity to wish her a happy early birthday ;-). Here are a few pics of things we did in the month of March.
I had the opportunity to paint a couple of desktops for two sweet young ladies we know. I hadn't painted in a loooong time, so it was fun to try my hand at it again. Above is the first of the desktops. I'll see if I can upload a picture of the other one later. (Anyone know how to get a picture from a cell phone onto the computer?) Over Spring Break, we got to spend three days with the twins while their daycare provider was on vacation. It was so fun to see how much they have grown and learned. We spent lots of time singing with my guitar (mostly Christmas songs, as those are their favorites). Much to my delight, Kyle still likes to cuddle and rock every now and then (when he's not driving tractors through obstacle courses in the living room or climbing snow hills with Charlie :-). When he was a baby, he loved to be held and rocked and cuddled. We called him our "Snuggle Buddy." I'm so glad he hasn't totally grown out of that, yet. Both Kyle and Ella love to bake with Julie. They make all sorts of yummy goodies for us to enjoy. They feel very grown-up helping Julie pour in the ingredients and stir them up in the mixer.
Julie got some cuddle time with both kids, too! Gotta love Kyle's cheesy grin in this pic.
Katie's gym class participated in the Special Olympics Swim Meet this month. In the above picture, she's waiting at the wall to start her first event. She took first place in this one!
Here's Katie with her blue ribbon!
All in all, it's been a great month. Life is good right now. It is busy. It is full of challenges. Sometimes utter chaos. Lots of confusion. But also blessings beyond compare. In the midst of our trials, we are driven to our knees at the feet of our Savior, pleading for His will to be done through us. And there is no place I'd rather be.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

You Are More

I (Julie) love Tenth Avenue North's song 'You Are More.' Sometimes we all just need to hear that no matter what we've done, Jesus will take us back and redeem our life another time. I watched the music video again today, and it struck me a different way. The band sings in front of a chalkboard covered in labels, accusations, questions, and confessions. Throughout the song, different people are shown writing on it emotionally as they wonder if they can ever be forgiven and loved. I got to thinking, don't we all tend to look beyond people to the chalkboard they are chained to full of everything they feel like they have to carry with them? Instead of seeing the person, we see what they've done (or what we think they've done) and we treat them accordingly. The sad truth is, each and every one of us could fill our own chalkboard just fine, but we'd rather read what others have written over their heads than turn and see what we've got in our hearts. God brought to my mind 2 Corinthians 5:16: "So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view." We have a high calling. Jesus asks us to look beyond what someone has done or hasn't done to see the person for who they are, for how he thinks of them. What if we truly looked at every person we met liked Jesus looked at us as He hung on the cross? At the end of the music video, water begins flowing down the chalkboard, wiping out all the words. Not just the little words, the ones that don't seem "as bad," but the big words as well. Words in all capitals, words written in ashamed anguish, words that seemed permanent. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is talking about our ministry of reconciliation, how we are called to bring the Gospel to the people around us, to show them that they can be reconciled before God through the sacrifice of Jesus. He goes even further in verse 17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" This is a call for us to view our brothers and sisters in a new light. What if instead of focusing on the words written on their chalkboards, we took the rag and bucket offered by our Lord and lovingly, gently, wiped them off? No, we can't forgive their sins, and we can't give them a new life, but we can take the grace that God has shown us and shower it on them. Regarding no one from a worldly point of view doesn't end when they are saved. This is how we are to treat our brothers and sisters as well! Let's start cleaning some chalkboards!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Poland Part 5

On Friday, instead of having game time, we had a "banquet"/award ceremony to end the workshop. The banquet consisted of pretzels, peanuts, candy, cookies, M & M's, and pop. :-) Veronika and I Steve and I having a camera war. Every student received a certificate saying that they had completed the English workshop. This is Gary and Sue's class. Dave and Kurt's class As part of the entertainment at the awards ceremony, the Americans read the certificates, complete with first and last names of the students. After a week of constantly having to speak and write in English, they love hearing us butcher their names. Our class Bob, Vera, and Jo's class. They did have one more student who wasn't there on Friday. Andrew and Laura's class Tim and Kim's class Sophia and I On Friday night at the church, we watched a Czech film called 'Most,' which means 'bridge.' It is a powerful story that parallels God's sacrifice of His Son. Afterward, Marek gave his testimony. I was playing UNO at a table, and some of the students asked Kim to come play. She was holding Aly, who was sleeping, so she was going to go find someone to hold her. I wasted no time volunteering! On Saturday, we had our team debriefing, then went to Smok for supper. Aly waiting for the food to come. This was by far the best nalesniki I've ever had. It had apples and peaches inside, and strawberry sauce on top. Sara was trying to teach Andrew how to use his silverware the European way. Andrew and Daniel shared a pizza. Andrew finished his half, but Daniel couldn't quite make it. After the church service on Sunday, we had a potluck with lots of yummy food. Paulina, Sara, Sophia, Iza, and I at the potluck. After the potluck, we went to our respective homes and finished packing. That afternoon, we took a bus to Warsaw and spent the night in a Courtyard by Marriott hotel across the road from the airport. We stayed there because none of the missionaries or translators came with us, and our flights left early on Monday. We didn't want to try to take public transportation at 5:00 in the morning with all our luggage and no one fluent in Polish. The hotel was absolutely gorgeous. Laura and I decided it was slightly above our social status. Jo and Aly about 5:30 Monday morning. Everyone except Sue, Dave, and I had to be at the airport at 6:00, so the three of us saw them off then went back to the hotel for a delicious continental breakfast. I had to be at the airport at 7:30, so Sue and Dave brought me over, then they left a couple hours later. It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone! I flew from Warsaw to Brussels for one night to see Marie. When I got to Brussels, Marie and I took the bus into the city. We went to the same restaurant we went to last year for waffles. Yes, there is a waffle under all those strawberries and whipped cream. We walked around Brussels for more than two hours catching up with each other. We went back to her apartment, had supper with her parents, then talked for hours more. The time went so fast, but it was so good to see her. I had to be at the airport by 8:30 Tuesday morning, and flew out at 10:30. I flew to New York, then to Minneapolis, where my dad picked me up. Then we met Andrew, who had stayed with his uncle and aunt the night before, and we drove back to Bemidji. So there you have it. I am so thankful that God gave me this opportunity. I learned a lot, loved a lot, and I hope someday I can go back. Thanks again to all of you who were praying for us. If you think of it, please continue to pray for the students and missionaries there. God is doing wonderful things in Radom!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Poland Part 4

On Wednesday, we did bag skits for our large group time. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with the bag skit, here's how it goes: each group is given a paper bag with random objects inside and a Bible passage. They then have to come up with a way to use everything in the bag, and the bag itself, to act out the Bible passage. Oh, yes, these are good. This is the passage where Jesus sends the demons out of the man into the pigs feeding on the hillside. Those two on all fours in the corner are the pigs, couldn't you tell? Our group had the story of Jesus giving the blind man his sight. It's hard to tell, but the balloon has a face drawn on it and is attached to the paper bag, and pipe cleaner arms complete our blind man. The wise and foolish builders. They used the items in their bag to make a flimsy "house" and a sturdy "house", and then Bob blew up the balloon and let the air out at the houses to blow the flimsy one over. Jesus feeds the 5,000. Jesus calms the storm. Jesus walks on water. Kim is calling for help on her pipe cleaner phone. At the church in the evenings, we played a lot of UNO. Only we didn't just play UNO. We played Speed UNO, or as some call it, Polish UNO. I don't know where the game came from, but it's fun. You play it just like UNO, except there's all these extra things added in. Like, you can't touch your cards until the dealer has turned over the beginning card in the middle, or you get extra cards. If someone plays a 9, everyone has to slap the pile and the last person to get their hand on it gets extra cards. If you have a card in your hand that is an exact match to the one just played (like someone just played a red 2 and you have a red 2), you can play it, even if it's not your turn, you just have to get it on the pile before the person whose turn it should be puts their card down. And if someone else also has that exact same card, they can put it down at the same time. This can get interesting when 4 or 5 people have draw four wilds. If you put a card down in that scenario, play then continues from you, skipping anyone between you and the person whose turn it should have been. If you play a 0, you can swap hands with any player. There are probably some other rules I'm forgetting right now, but as you can probably figure out, it gets crazy! We also played a game called Wink 'Em one night. When Sara found out how much I love potato pancakes, she asked her mom to make some for me. So when we got home from the church one night, I had the best potato pancakes for a bedtime snack. Then I had them again for breakfast the next morning! Ryan and I in class one day. Our English class. L-R: Karolina, Jola, Kasia, Paulina, Kasia, and Sara. Our Bible Study and conversation group. L-R: Kasia, Karolina, Monika, Marta, Magda, Kasia, Karolina, Agnieszka, Paulina (Sara's sister), Sara, and me. Kurt was taking the picture.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Poland Part 3

Before I get to pictures, I want to take a little time and explain the English workshop. An English workshop doesn't seem like a "normal" mission trip thing to do. But it's a surprisingly effective way to reach the students in Poland. Think about it. Poland is not recovering from a hurricane, tsunami, or other natural disaster. They are making great strides in recovering from decades of communism. The high school demographic in general is not suffering from hunger or poverty. So how do you reach them? That's something that the missionaries we work with think about all the time. And that's where the English workshop comes in. High school students in Poland have much more need to learn English than American students have need to learn a foreign language. Most of their English teachers are British or Polish themselves, so the chance to speak with, listen to, and learn from Americans is a rare opportunity. The workshop provides an open door to connect with students that may otherwise never come in contact with the missionaries. They can then follow up with the students to keep showing them the light of Christ long after the short term team leaves. So even though there aren't many physical needs that we can meet to show these high school students the love of Christ, God uses something as simple as our ability to speak English to meet their spiritual needs. It is truly a special ministry. During the workshop, the team would arrive at the school around 8:00 to pray, have devotions together, and plan for the day. The students came at 9:45, and Pastor Tytus started the day by giving a short message. He spoke in Polish and was translated into English, providing the students with an opportunity to hear their language translated by someone who is fluent in both. After Pastor was done, we had English reading time. I co-led a reading and conversation group with Kurt Kula. During our reading time, we read a short (usually 10-20 verses) passage, then discussed it. This time served a dual purpose, as we used the passage to teach English vocabulary and had the students work on translation. The other purpose, of course, was to expose the students to the truth of God's Word, which some of them had never heard taught before, at least not in personal, relational terms. After reading time, we had English class. I co-taught with Ryan, and we had level 5 out of 6, which means that our students were very advanced, some at a translator level. Challenging our students kept us constantly on our toes! Conversation time came next, and this is just what it sounds like it is. We talked about whatever they wanted to talk about, sometimes going back to what we had discussed in reading time that morning. To end the workshop day, we played large group games, sang worship songs, and listened to a testimony given by an American team member until 3:30. After the workshop was done, the team walked to the ministry center for lunch/supper, then to the church for the evening. All the students from the workshop were invited to come hang out with the American team. Sometime between 8:00 and 9:30, the students would leave, and we would all go home to get some rest and start again the next day. On Tuesday, we planned an up close and personal game. Everyone was given a coffee stir-stick and divided into three teams. The person at the front of the line was given a lifesaver and the team had to get the lifesaver all the way to the end with the stir-sticks in their mouths, without using their hands or dropping the lifesaver. The above picture is John Mark Kula and Kasia. Jola and Kasia I had told Rebecca Kula that she could take pictures with my camera. I think this one of Tim is a classic. After the lifesaver game, we gave kept everyone in their teams and gave them each a straw and three Q-tips. They had to put the Q-tip in the end of their straw and blow it at the target: Yes, that is Andrew under there. And he did volunteer, I just want you to know. The game actually didn't work that great because the tape wasn't sticky enough and the cotton on the Q-tips was wound too tightly, but everyone was too busy laughing to notice. After everyone had blown their Q-tips, Kurt dared Andrew 10 zloty to walk around the block with the tape on his head. You know he had to do it. So he went around the block, greeting everyone he passed, with half of the students trailing behind him. They are probably still talking about it on the streets of Radom. It looked pretty painful to see him taking the tape off. The worst was that when Bob and Vera wrapped his head, they accidentally put the first couple pieces on upside down. Monika and Zaneta Kasia and Joanna Patrycja. It is amazing to see the individuals that God brings to the camp. Sometimes students come because one of their friends has told them how fun it is. Sometimes they come because they won't pass up any opportunity to learn English with Americans. Sometimes they come because they hear our presentations in the schools, and even though we can't share the Gospel in there, they see something in our lives that they want. Whatever the reason, it is obvious that God draws each of them individually, with a special purpose for having them there.