First a few details about the day, then what is really on my heart. It is likely to be long, but if you stay with me to the end, you may just gain some of the new perspective I did tonight.
Today I had the privilege of spending a good portion of the day at the elementary school just down the road from Ostróda Camp. I think I may have had a smile on my face the whole time as I watched the children. Though their styles and customs are different, they are so very much the same as the children I see in our own elementary schools. They were fascinated by our presence and I very much enjoyed being with them. Tomorrow we (myself and three soon-to-be teachers) will return and teach three lessons in their English classes. I’ll selfishly ask for a couple of prayers about that since I still really only know about 5 words in Polish, and that’s if you count “usta!” The goal is to establish a positive relationship between the camp and the elementary school, which may lead to future possibilities of bringing the children to the camp and ultimately to Christ.
Ben spent the day working hard around the grounds – whacking weeds, mowing, burning stuff (his favorite part) and apparently doing nothing about the corpse of a bird that is lying out there. I joined in the work when I returned from the school by cleaning bathrooms and taking care of trash. The team did an amazing job today of preparing this place for tomorrow’s guests – the Holocaust survivors…. which leads me to where I really want to go.
Tonight after several inspiring testimonies were shared, Sandy talked to us a little about the study and experience she has concerning this unique group of people. I knew going into this trip, from Ben’s last encounter with the Holocaust survivors, that our sharing of the gospel would have to be subtle, cloaked really. There are many reasons for this. As I wrote in the blog introduction… they are the Chosen Ones, and we are gentiles. Many of them hold to their Jewish heritage, but walked away a lifetime ago from putting faith in a God that they feel abandoned them – allowing their families to be taken from them with such violence. In fact, as sickening as it is, much of the horror that occurred during the Holocaust was done in the name of Christianity. Many want nothing to do with God, and they certainly don’t want to be told that the Messiah came two thousand years ago and died for their sins. So, when you mention Jesus, the wall goes up and you’ve lost your chance to show God’s love. I understood this, but there was still a part of me that had a hard time because it felt like we were hiding Jesus in a sense. I heard today that they were going to replace or cover up the cross on the chapel with a sign reading “Shalom” so as not to offend the guests when they arrive. I know that it is just a symbol, but what it symbolizes is the most crucial element of all. Though I knew the reasons (and certainly trust that those making these decisions are far wiser in this matter than I), I was wrestling with the concept all the same. That light isn’t supposed to be hidden under a bushel! (whatever a “bushel” is).
But Sandy’s explanation helped me see this from a completely different perspective. I doubt I will share it as well as she did, but I’ll do my best to paraphrase her insight. She talked about Joseph in the old testament and the ways in which his story parallels the story of Jesus. I’m eager to explore those parallels more, but for now I’ll skip to the point. After his brothers sold him into slavery and he was taken to Egypt, Joseph rose to a place of great importance where he was able to provide life-saving grain for the people in the time of famine. When his brothers came to get grain, they didn’t recognize Joseph. Why? Because he looked Egyptian to them. Here’s the connection…. although Jesus is one of them, he has come to look like a gentile to the Jews. Think of the images and impressions we have of Jesus – do you see him as a Jew? They don’t recognize him as their brother and they don’t see that he is their salvation. They fear that accepting Jesus as the Messiah will make them gentiles at the sacrifice of their Jewish heritage and faith. Combine this with their history of having lived through the hatred of the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism that is still very strong in Poland (click here to read an article published last week that will show how strong the hatred still is). How can we reach them?
The bottom line is that we cannot on our own. As Sandy described, we must pray that Jesus will reveal himself to his Jewish brothers just as Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. The goal of Ostróda Camp during this week of minstry is to strip Jesus of the gentile facade the world has put upon him, so the Jews can see who he really is. There will be no crosses on display (Ben and I took off our matching cross rings as soon as we got back to our room tonight) or any other symbol or words that could serve as a barrier to them. What seemed to me as actions that obscure Jesus, may be the very things that reveal the true Jesus to his chosen people.
Pray with us that though our words and outward signs are subtle, God will shine his LOVE through us in such a way that it will soften their hearts to consider who Jesus is. Shalom means “peace” and “completeness”. The Jews use it as a greeting and a farewell. I’ve decided that when I hear it spoken or read the banner that is replacing the cross, I will take a moment to pray that this week will bring the peace and completeness that comes from knowing and accepting Jesus. When become aware of the absence of my cross ring on my finger, it will remind me to pray that nothing I do or say will keep them from seeing who Jesus really is.