A Song From Poland
The place was new. The people were strange. The language was a barrier. But there was a song in our hearts that brought us together and kept us together. The song of witnessing for Jesus.
It was January and cold. Greg Hann and I had to make the 450-mile journey from Zakopane to Gdansk in Poland. We knew the train would be crowded, and so we arrived at the station 90 minutes ahead of schedule. Even then we could just squeeze into the hallway on the last car of the train. Fifteen hours of journey ahead, and we had nowhere to sit! But we had company: Forty others were also standing.
The Student Missionary Call Book and stories from others had pictured for us the challenge, the excitement, and the adventure of a student missionary rather well. Traveling to new places and meeting new people. Sharing Christ through teaching or preaching. Student missionaries did all of that, didn't they? And so, I made the decision to go to Poland as a student missionary and to teach English there. And besides, I wanted a break from school!
But now, standing in the train in the midst of a throng of other weary travelers, reality quickly set in: Student missionary life can bring unexpected challenge and adventure. Greg and I stood most of that night on the train; it was a horribly memorable experience. But God brought something grand out of it anyway. We were able to talk with people around us. Despite of our poor mastery of Polish, we had fun trying to communicate. Greg pulled a Polish songbook out of his backpack and we attempted to sing.
Intrigued, our new friends asked us what kind of songs these were. Within a few minutes, both of us began explaining our faith in Christ to those standing around us. The young woman I talked to spoke little English, but those near Greg knew almost none. Fortunately, one of the passengers had a Polish New Testament. And so Greg was able to give a 45-minute Bible study--in Polish---about salvation through Jesus. Five months before, we could not have spoken a single word of Polish! I firmly believe that God performed a miracle through Greg that night.
God had a surprise for me
For nine months between 1992 and 1993, I taught conversational English in Gdansk, a city perched on the Baltic Sea in northern Poland. My intentions in becoming a student missionary had been good. I wanted to serve others, witness, and have a good time. I expected to have some memorable experiences and to make a few friends. But God had a tremendous surprise in store for me. What I expected from Poland cannot begin to compare with what I actually received from my time there. God and Poland taught me anew that I can never judge anything before it happens.
The difference between reality and expectation can be staggering. In traveling to Europe, especially eastern Europe, for the first time, I had virtually no idea what to expect. At the thought of Poland, blurry black-and-white newspaper images of bread lines and bonneted women flooded my mind. I imagined that "over there" in that former Communist country, people wore grey clothes, ate grey food, and had grey smiles on their faces. Having the privilege of visiting Poland and having these misconceptions erased from my mind has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Poland is a beautiful country of beaches, mountains, forests, and fields. It has thousands of miles of peaceful country roads, as well as cities of hundreds of thousands of warm-hearted people. Poland did suffer the unpleasant effects of Communism, and it will take many years to erase them completely and to "catch up" to Western Europe, but the Poles are working valiantly (as they always have) to improve their country.
Ready for the unexpected
One of the things I remember hearing before I went to Poland was that student missionaries should be flexible and ready to deal with the unexpected. That turned out to be good advice. The first day of classes petrified me. How could I teach English when I wasn't trained to be a teacher and couldn't speak Polish? Midway through the year one of our best teachers had to return home due to health problems. We didn't have a full-time translator to assist us in our public relations with the community.
Thankfully, God always has supplies of perseverance, creativity and peace to give us upon request. Many times He assisted us in dealing with an unexpected question or problem. We were able to draw heavily upon Him to sustain us through the year. Week after week at our staff meetings with other student missionaries we shared our cares and concerns with one another and with Him.
The good experiences more than balanced out the stressful ones. The fear of teaching gave way to the challenge of becoming a better and better teacher. English Institute program activities were a highlight of the year. We had events like talent shows, scavenger hunts, field days, picnics, and trips to a local orphanage.
We wanted to fellowship with our students outside of class and give them a chance to practice their English. On Sunday evenings, we held a Bible study for any student who wished to come. God gave me some special relationships with my students. From being strangers I was afraid of, they became friends I looked forward to being with.
Making friends and sharing faith
I became a close friend of one student in particular. Anna was a medical student. She came a couple of times to the weekly Bible study and was pretty quiet, while listening attentively. One day she opened up to me, questioning why God allows suffering in the world and expressing doubts about His love for her. Meeting her troubling questions was one of the most difficult experiences I have ever faced. I had the opportunity to visit her several times to become better friends and to share my faith and story with her.
Our weekly Bible study concentrated on the life of Jesus, studying it from the Bible and The Desire of Ages. We wanted to share with our students the importance of having a personal friendship with Jesus. As a result of the study, God touched the lives of some. In particular, Diana and Gregory. At the end of the year, they told us that they had come to know Jesus as a friend. Of course, we were touched and very happy.
As English teachers we were the "authorities," able to lead our students through many of the ins and outs of conversational English. But as Bible teachers, we did not have the same advantage. No one understands God or the things of God completely. When someone asked us questions, we did not always have a ready answer. For example, I could not tell Anna how to find Christ because I did not know her well enough to map out the way. We student missionaries came to the conclusion that our role as witnesses and missionaries is to be like the sower in the parable (see Matthew 13:3-8). We are simply witnesses--people who tell what they have heard and seen and give their personal testimony. We plant seeds. It then becomes the work of the Holy Spirit to water those seeds and nurture them.
That is probably the most important thing I learned as a student missionary: one doesn't have to become officially a missionary to be a missionary. One can sing the song of Jesus anywhere, anytime.
Michael Feldbush is a junior studying geography at the University of Maryland at College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.
If you are interested in serving as a student missionary or volunteer, contact the Church Ministries/Youth Department director for your division (see address on page 2) or Elder Dick Barron, Adventist Youth Service Coordinator: 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904; U.S.A. Telephone: (301) 680-6149. Fax: (301) 680-6155.