Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Connection as Deep as You Desire

The end of the semester means projects and papers and late nights and no time for blogging. If you haven't noticed the two little buttons to the right, Missionary From the Prairie now has both a Facebook page and an Instagram account. Just two more ways to follow us on our journey.

Voluntourism is a big buzzword these days. In recent months I've come across numerous articles, mostly derisive, that discuss the topic of traveling (particularly abroad) to do volunteer work. Most of these articles focus on groups that go to third world countries and specifically those going to work at orphanages. They criticize the volunteers for having a "white savior complex" and claim they do damage by briefly coming into these children's lives, bonding, and leaving. Reading these has left me thinking about my own role as a short term missionary. Am I just as bad? I've decided no.

Our trips are short and while we do leave with children in tears, most of us do not leave to never again have contact with our campers. The digital age has made it easy to stay in contact even when we are half a world away, a huge difference from those going to the poorest countries in Africa. We can chat and share photos or videos over Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. We can even talk "face to face" via Skype or FaceTime. Our mentoring relationships and friendships can be as close as we choose. Even when the day comes that I am no longer going to camp I know many of these relationships will continue. Also, for many of us camp is not a one and done experience. Of the 14 Americans who will be traveling to camp this year, 10 of us are repeats. I personally will be on my fifth trip. Many of our campers and counselors each year are returnees from previous years. Short term mission trip is somewhat of a misnomer as well. The duration of the trip is short, but many of us spend weeks, months, even the better part of the whole year planning activities and lessons. Because we have so many returning campers each year, we are always looking for ways to make it new, while carrying over a few favorites from previous years. Lastly, and most importantly, I can't attest to how much impact I have on anyone else at the camp, but I do know that each year the experience does teach me something. I may be traveling with the intent of being the teacher, but I leave feeling I was really the one who was the student.

From year one to year four

Friday, April 8, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Sometimes, your students teach you. Last summer at camp we asked the kids what they would want if they could have one wish granted. Most answered as you would expect from kids. They had places they wanted to travel to, or maybe a new computer, clothing, or a puppy. One boy gave us a very different answer.

He wished for nothing. He wished for nothing because he doesn't need anything. "I have all." At his young age he could already recognize what is important. Sometimes even as adults we lose sight of that. We see only what we don't have and fail to enjoy what good things we already possess. Sometimes it takes the wisdom of a child to remind us.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Beyond the Bunny

Wesołych Świąt! Happy Easter!
(A couple days late. Oops.)

I love Easter. It's one of my favorite holidays. As a small child in southeast Missouri, Easter meant chocolate bunnies in our Easter Baskets, Easter egg hunts, new dresses, and watching the sun come up during Easter sunrise services on the church lawn on a warm spring morning.


Easter in Polish is Wielkanoc which, if you break up the word, is literally "great night." Celebrating the resurrection of Jesus makes for a pretty great day. Many Poles (and Polish Americans) take a basket of food to church to have it blessed on the Saturday before Easter. After the church service on Easter Sunday this food is shared with family. Other traditions include decorating eggs and weaving palms for decoration. The eggs, or pisanki, are made by drawing designs in molten wax and then dyeing them, producing a far more intricate egg than the solid colored ones most Americans are used to. Palm fronds from Palm Sunday are woven into various designs. In some places the palms are later returned to the church to be burned to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. That's a much more dignified path for the palms than mine normally receive. Mine usually sit forgotten in the backseat of my car baking in the sun for a few weeks before ending up in the trash. Palm weaving is tricky. Getting the right grip makes a difference and if you don't tuck a strand under the right spot, you'll get a gap. I learned this from experience, but the process was fun anyway and when they are done well, they are beautiful.

Examples of palm weaving from my craftier friends.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Words to Live By

Our team has a set of rules. We talk usually about them in the context of the trip, but they are equally applicable to everyone everywhere. Rules for mission trips (and life):

Rule #1: Trust God

God has a plan. Even when it seems like hope is lost and nothing is going right, we must remember to trust God's plan.

Rule #2: Be Flexible

We make plans, but sometimes those plans aren't God's plans. We have to adapt to changes around us. Sometimes we have time to carefully revise our plans, sometimes we have to do it on a moment's notice.

Rule #3: Don't Forget Rules 1 & 2

Easy to say, hard to do. When times get tough we tend to think we have to rely on ourselves to solve our problems. Trust God and be flexible enough to accept His plan.

Rule #4: Teamwork

We weren't made to go it alone. Each of us has our own individual talents. When we bring those together we can accomplish great things, but sometimes our personalities and egos get in the way. To be successful we have to put those aside and support and embrace our differences.

Rule #5: Don't Get Hurt

To serve our purpose we need to be healthy. Sometimes we push ourselves past our limits, putting ourselves at risk physically, mentally, and emotionally. Knowing when to stop and take breaks is crucial. Even God set aside a day for rest.

Friday, March 11, 2016

An Epic Reading

Last year while attending the AWP conference I found a reading from poet Tomasz Różycki. I had never heard of him before but was intrigued by the chance to hear from a Polish writer. Różycki read from his book length poem, Dwanaście stacji or Twelve Stations. Różycki read in Polish followed by an English reading by Bill Johnston who translated the work. The same was done with Mira Rosenthal for an excerpt from Colonies, a series of sonnets.

I have never been much of a poetry fan. Often the meaning is lost on me, but I loved listening to Różycki's work. Twelve Stations is more than just poetry. It is part epic poem, part narrative, and part memoir given that he drew from his own life. The story, which draws from the Polish national epic Pan Tadeusz, follows Grandson as he travels to the family's original homeland in the Ukraine to organize a family reunion. The story is humorous, the language artful, and the book hard to put down.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Salt of the Earth

In Colossians chapter 3 we are urged to do everything in the name of God and to his glory. There are few places in the world where that has been done more overtly than in the Wieliczka Salt Mines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern Poland, which ran continuously from the 13th century to the late 20th century.

The salt deposits of Wieliczka were formed during the Miocene epoch 13.6 million years ago. Rock salt in Wieliczka was discovered in the 13th century and soon after mining began. Today, as visitors move through chambers of the mine they learn how over the centuries mining methods changed in order to increase production as well as safety of the workers.

Mining has always been a dangerous occupation. Shafts may collapse, crushing or trapping miners. Explosions, floods, and disease are also among threats they face. It is no surprise that many would turn to God for protection. The faith of the miners is reflected in the artwork and chapels they created in the mines. Intricate sculptures and chandeliers made of salt adorn the chapels of St. Kinga, St. Anthony, St. John, and the Chapel of Our Lord's Resurrection. These were beacons of light in the darkness for the miners and stand today as a testament to their hard work, artistry, and faith rooted hundreds of meters below the earth's surface.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Matter of Perspective

The 1980s was an eventful decade in Poland. The Solidarity movement, martial law, and the eventual collapse of communist rule are known throughout the world, but what was the experience like for those who lived it? Two authors have written on their accounts from very different viewpoints.

Marzena Sowa was born in 1979. Her childhood in the waning days of communism was full of empty store shelves, factory strikes, martial law, uncertainty, and also hope. In her graphic memoir, Marzi, she recounts her experiences from a child's perspective allowing the reader to feel the fear and confusion of knowing something important is happening, but not always comprehending. At the same time she has universal child experiences of playing with friends, going to school, and experiencing rites of passage such as First Communion.

Journalist Thomas Swick met his Polish wife while staying in England in the 1970s. Through their courtship and eventual marriage he lived in Poland off and on (due to visas) during the last 10 years of communist rule where he worked as an English teacher. As a foreigner he has a unique take on the events he witnessed. From Swick's book, Unquiet Days, we learn not only of his experiences in Poland as a teacher, but also Polish culture and history. In his desire to learn more about the culture he went on the pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at Częstochowa. In this section of the book, he recounts his experience of the trip and the people he met along the way. Eventually Swick and his wife moved to the United States, but he still maintains a deep love of the country.