LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- During the month of July, four Covenant student-athletes and one assistant coach partnered with Josiah Venture for a two week mission trip to Poland. Volleyball athletes Hannah Harris, Chloe Storm, and Lindsey Stephens were joined by women's tennis' Mackenzie Jones and volleyball assistant coach Kristy Newman.
Below are reflections on the trip from each of the four students about what they did and how it impacted them.
A few weeks ago we had the amazing opportunity to travel to Poland for a mission trip. I think I can speak for everyone when I say it was an incredible time of growth. We partnered with some interns and a local church in Bydgosczc, Poland. We helped run a camp there which focused on English, but also included sports and games in the afternoon. Throughout the week, we were able to help them with volleyball. Many of the kids told us that they used to hate volleyball because in their school no one teaches them how to play. However, they said after we taught them the basics they thought it was a ton of fun and loved it!
Something God taught me through this trip was His sovereignty. During the week I was waiting to see someone come to know Christ. I would always look around during worship to try and see which campers seemed to be getting into it and which ones looked like they thought they were too cool. There was one specific camper there who was the person I least expected to come to know Christ. He was this huge 18-year old who, to be honest, actually really scared me when we played sports with him. I saw him fall asleep during some of the evening talks and he just did not show any interest in Christianity. On Thursday night of the camp, however, we had something called the labyrinth. It was basically a bunch of stations that the campers would go through alone which tried to explain God's love to them. When he got to the end of the labyrinth, he just sat down and started sobbing. Someone from the church was able to talk to him and he accepted Christ as his Savior! It was so incredible to witness, but at the same time I felt so convicted. I felt like God was saying, "who are you to say who I will save and who I won't? I am sovereign. I change even the hardest of hearts." Praise God for His sovereignty and His work in Poland! I loved getting to know the beautiful people of Poland and I hope they learned as much from us as we did from them.
Before I left for Poland, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I'd be in a different country where they spoke a different language and, as an American, I would stand out. I'd be able to teach volleyball to the students and it would all go smoothly. I was in for quite the surprise as God had very different plans for me and my team. Right off the bat, I missed my flight and showed up to training late. Our team became suspicious when no one seemed to know who we were or what our purpose was in the camp we thought that we were running. We didn't even get to run a volleyball camp because there was no volleyball camp. The first few days were rough as Mackenzie and Hannah taught English and Lindsey and I stood around waiting for the volleyball portion.
But then we realized something incredible. God was in control. He KNEW that we wouldn't be coaching volleyball, that I would miss my flight, that the interns we were working with needed our help whether our teams knew it or not. He opened my eyes to the bizarre idea that I am not in control: that I really have no control over my life because He is the one watching over me and directing my steps so long as I am willing to put one foot in front of the other and just walk.
Although the trip was tough from start to finish, I came away with an overall amazing view of the two weeks. I made a strong connection with a little girl who could speak about the same amount of English as I could Polish (virtually none). I was able to become the camp photographer due to the encouragement of one of the interns. She encouraged my team and me in the times that we were struggling the most. Overall, it was an eye-opening experience that I would not change if I could despite all of the struggles that we had to overcome.
We spent the first few days of the trip in Poznan doing training with the mission agency, Josiah Venture. During training we learned about the ministry philosophy of Josiah Venture, Polish culture, and sharing the Gospel. Polish culture has been deeply influenced by communism, which means that Poles are taught not to step up as leaders, but to blend in with everyone else to maintain equality. Josiah Venture seeks to encourage members of the small local churches to step up as leaders. Our goal was not just to minister to people about Christ, but to make disciples who would follow Christ despite their culture, and in turn, make more disciples of their fellow Poles. I really appreciated this approach to missions, but I was even more excited to see the impact it had on the Poles that we worked with. Several of the members of the local church helped run the camp and led daily small group discussions. It was really great to see them take ownership of their groups and invest in the campers. One of the most encouraging parts of the trip was seeing how much the Polish Christians care for the salvation of their fellow Poles.
Polish youth are taught English starting in first grade. They are under a lot of pressure to learn English well because it opens up job opportunities when they graduate. Many of the campers' parents sent them to our camp just because they wanted their kids to interact with native English speakers. The kids were drawn to us because we were Americans which made it easier to get to know them and share the Gospel with them.
After our training in Poznan we traveled two hours by train to Bydgoszcz, which is a city of 358,000 in central-northern Poland. We had a few days to prepare for the camp, which was hosted by the local evangelical church. We also got to spend an evening in downtown touring the city. Bydgoszcz is a canal city with many beautiful old buildings and bridges along the river. On Sunday we got to attend the Polish church. I really enjoyed worshipping with believers from another culture, although I didn't get a lot out of the sermon (which was all in Polish, of course)! The camp began that afternoon and went through the following Saturday. Each day we had English classes in the morning, games in the afternoon (which included volleyball), and a program in the evening. Other highlights included a trip to a huge park and an American theme night.
God is working in Poland. While He certainly used our team to further His Kingdom, God's work in Poland did not stop when we came back home. God is using the Polish believers to share His love and truth in their own country. This was challenging to me as I came back to the U.S. However, my mission hasn't changed, even if my mission field has. We are still called to make disciples and encourage our fellow believers in their faith, even if we aren't on a "mission trip" or in a foreign country. Our trip to Poland was a challenge to me to continue to follow Christ's missional calling for my life at college this fall.
Although I am an English major, I had never really considered teaching, so I didn't know what to expect going into camp. Being an English major, I co-taught the advanced class with another intern. The curriculum was easy to navigate and revolved around photography, relating to the camp theme. I thought it was interesting how the curriculum took a twenty-first century interest like photography and merged it with English lessons to capture the attention of the students.
In total, we taught two hours of English in the morning- a one hour and fifteen minute session and then a forty-five minute session. We had five students for the week. Each student received a handbook and would start each day by answering a series of questions in English to help get them thinking in English for the day. Although they were a bit on the shyer side, one girl named Alicja engaged with us very well and proved herself to be an insightful and thoughtful student. As the days progressed, the students rapidly warmed up to us, and as their comfort increased, so did their speaking. Considering we were teaching conversational English, we didn't focus on much grammar or spelling (since that's what is stressed in their schools), but instead asked thought-provoking questions and taught lessons based on talking and dialogue. For example, we taught them new photography terminology and then had them identify such vocabulary in pictures we showed in class. We'd ask them to explain why they valued photography and then asked what they thought about the moods and themes portrayed in the pictures. We worked through song lyrics and a poem, breaking down stanzas and asking the students their thoughts about certain metaphors and imagery.
Overall, I was inspired and impressed by how motivated the Polish students were to improve their English. They truly value this second language and are willing to be corrected in order to speak effectively and properly. Their eagerness to learn demonstrated how genuinely interested they were in the material and in successfully speaking with us Americans.
Throughout camp, God used the language barrier to remind me how my actions should parallel my beliefs and convictions. Many students spoke English, yet one of the campers I frequently interacted with hardly spoke any English. Our normal verbal exchanges consisted of "Hello!" accompanied by a wave. Often, we resorted to hand gestures and showing each other pictures of our families and dogs on our phones. At times, we would use a translator to communicate more effectively. Interactions like these showed me how God can work just as powerfully through a kind smile as He can through the verbal proclamation of the gospel. At times, I was discouraged not being able to talk more freely with this camper; however, God continued to remind me we are responsible for our behavior and speech, but He is the One who works out salvation as He wills. Our job is to share the gospel and then trust in the sovereignty of God, knowing He is the "author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).
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