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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.

Worship is Universal

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My apologies for not posting about yesterday’s events (I chose a nap during my best opportunity).  Yesterday we worked to prepare for the upcoming camps and visitors.  The Holocaust survivors are coming later than we originally thought, so we have some time to prepare for their arrival.  We cleaned a cabin, made welcome cards for their beds and prepared craft supplies for the children’s camps that will happen later in the summer.

Christian Church in Ostroda.

This morning, we attended the Christian church here in Ostróda.  It was a great experience to be part of worship in another language and culture.  There were many similarities (greeting time, songs, communion) but also some differences.  Although I couldn’t read the lyrics on the screen or understand the song leaders, I recognized several of the worship songs.  It was great to sing along in English as they sang in Polish and know that we are all pouring out love and praise to the same God.  I loved how between songs people just prayed as they were lead – sometimes more than one at a time.  They took the time to welcome us and to share with one another, with little concern for the clock.  Although it had the potential to be uncomfortable, it was warm and welcoming and I felt at home.

Christian Church in Ostroda

Later today we will tour the grounds.  We haven’t done that yet due to cold and rain – this morning it was 41 °F with a windchill of 37!  No one had the right clothes for that weather and there is no heat in the buildings, so we’ve been quiet chilly!  Big change from the near-90 temps we left in Indiana!  Tomorrow Ben will work to help prepare the camp for the arrival of the Holocaust survivors on Tuesday, while I go with three college interns to the local elementary school.

This evening Ben and I have the opportunity to share our testimony during the devotion time.  Please be in prayer for this.  Sometimes it is hard for me to see how my story could have any sort of impact on others, but I know that I have been changed by the testimonies of some ordinary people.  Pray that God will give us the words to glorify him through the sharing of how He has worked in our lives.

I know that the few select photos I’m sharing here aren’t enough for some of you.  If you want to see more you can watch my Facebook album develop here: Poland in Pictures.

Culture & Travel

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Ahhhh…. WiFi at last!  After three planes, 5 cities, countless buses, a lot of walking and a long bus ride… we’re finally here at Ostróda Camp.  My cultural horizons have certainly exploded in the last 48 hours.  I have seen some interesting toilets, eaten things I couldn’t identify and come to appreciate more than ever the personal space I am so accustomed to having!  We spent the first day and a half in Warsaw, where we were able to gain some cultural insight and history in preparation for our time with the Holocaust survivors.  Ben’s great interest in WWII era history had given me a great deal of background well before the trip, but standing in the actual place where the ghetto wall stood and seeing photograph after photograph of what Warsaw looked like before the war and then after it was devastated during The Uprising… well, it’s just different when you’re actually standing there.  We went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, another museum called “History of the Place”, and saw memorials and artifacts of the horror that happened on those streets.  I teared up more

than once and I can’t imagine what it is going to be like to actually sit and talk with those who lived through it.

We also had a short class introducing the Polish alphabet, which was helpful.  I mean how do you even begin to try to pronounce Kościoła, even if you happen to recognize what it means (church)?  I am horrible with languages, so I’m no where close to speaking Polish, but it helped.  Fortunate for me, there are a fair amount of people who know some basic English and there are a couple of interpreters here.  Even if I had done a crash course in Polish, it wouldn’t have gotten me far.  The Holocaust survivors are coming here from Israel, where they speak Hebrew, and most actually have Russian as their native language.  Lots of language barriers, but the Love of God will cross them all!

After settling in at the camp, we met with our leaders (Dave & Sandy Hatfield), the summer interns who will be working at the camp (college students) and the interpreters for some focus, devotion and prayer time.  We’ll begin with this in the morning as well and be ready to start serving in this amazing place.

Here’s some pictures!

memories of a tragic history
sidewalk inlay that indicates where a portion of the wall that closed in the Jewish ghetto once stood
Yeah… that’s me walking down a street in Europe. Crazy.
Ostroda Camp… our home for the next two weeks

On Our Way

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Thank you, Rockville Christian Church, for the amazing ways you have supported our trip.  It is great to belong to a missions-minded church.  You have supplied our financial needs fully and quickly, prayed over us, offered to care for our kids and home, and given us numerous words and hugs of encouragement.  The send-off prayer offered Sunday morning was a great way to leave town.

We arrived safely in Ohio yesterday and settled the kids in at Grandma’s house.  Today was filled with last-minute runs (yes, that’s plural) to Wal-Mart, taking care of some things for work, and various final details before we fly out tomorrow.  I tucked the kids in a few minutes ago.  As excited as they are to spend this time with Grandma, they are definitely a little extra clingy to mom, which makes it impossible for me to not be emotional.  I read a little extra from the bedtime book, and snuggled a bit longer with each of them.  As I was saying my final goodnight, I sang the song I’ve sung to them since the womb – The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord shine his face down on you and give you peace.  I’ve sung it to them a hundred times, but it sure did make me tear up tonight.

There are some who would say that a good mom wouldn’t leave her children at this age for this long.  But Anna and Ethan know why we are going to Poland (read the earlier post People Need to Know), and the lesson that teaches them is incredibly valuable.  We believe that taking this mission trip is ministry to our own children as much as it is to the Holocaust survivors.  Going as a couple means that we will grow closer to each other as we grow closer to God through this mutual experience, and strengthening our marriage is a gift to our children as well.  So, we believe this is part of good parenting and spiritually guiding the young lives God has blessed us to raise.

… someone please text me a reminder of these words about 9 AM tomorrow when I’m saying goodbye to the two most precious little people in the world.  🙂


Final Preparations

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One week.  In one week we will begin this journey by traveling to Ohio where the kids will be spending some good quality time with Grandma Porter and Papa.  Two days later we’ll board a plane and begin and an adventure that is sure to impact our own hearts as much the hearts of those we are going to serve and share God’s love.  There is so much to do.  We still need to make some arrangements for mail, bills, international calling, our home, etc for the time we’ll be gone.  There are a hundred errands to run, things to purchase, documents that need attention, craft activities to plan, and books I want to read to better prepare myself for the culture we are entering.  Meals are becoming a challenge, as I am trying hard to make sure that we have little to no food left in the house that could go bad while we are gone.  Then there’s packing, for us and for the kids, for a total of 21 days.  To top it off, it is the last week of school and we both work in public education!  There is so much to do.

It is especially hard because while all those things are necessary, I don’t really care about them.  What I really want to do is just quiet myself and spend hours in prayer and God’s Word.  I want to connect with God on the sort of level that means that there can’t possibly be an opportunity to be His voice or His hands that I would miss.  When I think of two weeks in terms of being away from my kids, it seems like an eternity.  But when I think about what we are going to do – sharing the love of God with people who are missing His presence in their lives – it seems like a fleeting moment that might affect all of eternity for that person.

So please pray that if we must choose between the lengthy list of earthly tasks and time spent at the feet of God , we will choose wisely.  And if you drive by our house and the mail is overflowing, or you read in a later blog post that we failed to pack something we desperately need… forgive us.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:2

We Made It!

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Wow.  Less than a month of fund-raising and today I get to post that we’ve reached our goal!  When we receive the remaining funds that we’ve been told are on the way we will be right at the estimated total for our trip.  I love how God has taken care of this detail well before the deadline so we can focus on other things!

If you’ve read the new post “New Chances to Serve” you know that there are certainly things for us to be preparing for.  If you were planning on supporting us financially, you could still help by donating supplies or additional funds to cover the cost of these supplies, as these were not part of the expenses calculated in our goal.  We need scrapbooking stuff for the activities we will lead and the camp is in need of tennis balls, badminton birdies and a 50-ft climbing rope.  We’ll be visiting Hobby Lobby sometime soon to purchase the craft things, so Hobby Lobby gift cards would be great too.

Thank you very much to all who have given, whatever the amount – time, money, prayers or encouragement, to support this mission trip.  We are grateful.

New Chances to Serve

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In our most recent e-mail from Dave Hatfield, we learned that the camp is asking for us to bring some of our work experiences to the table. We are both very excited about using our God-given spiritual gifts for His glory in a new way – after all, that’s why He gave them to us, right?

Ben is going to be helping establish a new website for Ostroda Camp. This is something that they have needed for a while and Ben mentioned being willing to help the last time he was there in 2009. He will continue to help maintain this site after we return to the U.S. Please pray that God will lead Ben to develop a site that will expand the ministry of the camp and lead other to a relationship with Christ through it.

Three of the summer interns are working with the local public school teaching English classes to Polish children. I (Rachel) get the opportunity to spend a couple of days with them in the school, observing and helping with the lessons. Then I get to speak from my years of teaching experience to give recommendations for how Ostroda Camp can form a relationship with this school for the future. How exciting! Please pray that God will speak to me and lead me towards recommendations that will be successful from both the educational and ministry aspects. Join me in praying that God will blossom this opportunity into something that brings many Polish children to know Him.

Finally, Ben and I are going to be able to lead some activity time with the Holocaust Survivors. One activity will be a “craft” time, but we want to make sure that it isn’t just VBS crafts for adults! We are currently thinking that we want to help the campers create a sort of scrapbook journal of their return to Poland – a place where they can capture pictures and memories, receive notes from the people they’ve met and journal their thoughts as they hear and experience God in many ways. If you’d like to donate any scrapbooking supplies (paper, scissors, glue dots, stamps, embellishments, photo corners, etc) we would certainly put them to good use! Hobby Lobby gift cards would be great too. The camp is also in need of tennis balls, badminton birdies, and a 50 ft rope for rock climbing (I’m guessing this one isn’t for the Holocaust survivors camp, but you never know!) If you feel led and are able to donate any of these items, please contact us!