Diary of a Visit to Poland
Friday 16 June Sunday 18 June, 2000
Graham Tolley and I travelled from Heathrow to Warsaw via Paris. Connections were made even if planes were late and it was good to meet up with Elzbieta Modnicki together with a member from the Lodz Evangelical Church, who was to be our chauffeur. We arrived safely; a pity about our luggage which was to catch up with us on Sunday evening! Never have two European Missionary Fellowships representatives looked so dishevelled, however the welcome received from the Modnickis more than made up for the temporary loss of suitcases.
Lodz, our first ‘port of call’, is a city of 800,000 people, having previously numbered one million. Emigration and a higher than normal death rate have caused the population to plummet over recent years. It is in this city that Zbigniew and Elzbieta Modnicki labour in the Evangelical Church. Zbigniew and his daughter Naomi had the responsibility of showing us round on the Saturday morning. Both father and daughter exhibited a love for their city and a spiritual concern for its well-being. One was conscious of the old and new as one went through the city, old buildings in a bad state of repair, together with modern shops and pedestrianised roads.
Up until the last war one section of the town had been the Jewish Quarter, a large statue of Moses holding the commandments marks the site. Many Jews died in the Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers – today about 300 Jews live in Lodz. It was a privilege to meet with an elderly member of the church who earned from the Jewish people the title of ‘Righteous among the nations’. Her care and concern for those who suffered when the Germans invaded Poland caused her to reach out to them with the love and compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ.
On Sunday morning we were able to meet with the believers in the Lodz Evangelical Church, the congregation being made up of young and old, with a good number of young families. The service began with a call to worship, followed by the singing of hymns led by our colleague in the European Missionary Fellowship, Wieslaw Kamyszek, who is a member of the Lodz church. During the service the members were invited to lead in prayer, this was the practice in all the churches we visited. After this, both Graham and I were given the opportunity to preach, Elzbieta and Naomi being our translators. One came away from the worship with a sense of the presence of the Lord, rejoicing in the fact that the Lord was being honoured.
Wodzislaw: Sunday 18 June to Wednesday 21 June
Henryk and Daniela Karzelek called on the Sunday evening to take us to Wodzislaw, Henryk having preached at one of the evangelical churches in his capacity as President of the denomination. We were quickly made aware of the pace of this man’s life, for the mobile phone seemed to ring constantly. After a refreshing night’s sleep we were joined by our colleague Dawid Koziot who, having finished the course at Welwyn, is now labouring in Zywiec with his wife Agnieszka. Dawid was to act as our interpreter during our time in the area.
On the Monday morning we were taken into the Polish mountains, quite a sight as the majority of Poland is very flat. One of the reasons for this visit was to see the site where Christians met together in secret during times of persecution. It is interesting to note that at the time of the Reformation many in Poland turned to the Lord, embracing the truth of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, being ready to suffer for their faith. It is sad to reflect that today so few belong to the true church.
An extra meeting had been put into the church’s programme for the benefit of the EMF visitors and about thirty people attended. As in the Lodz church, the congregation was made up of all ages. This was to be a busy week for the church as they were hosting a two-day conference for the evangelical churches in the area on the Thursday and Friday. One got the impression that every week was busy, for our colleagues in Wodzislaw take every opportunity to reach out with the gospel, two mission stations being part of their responsibilities. These are situated in Racibon (25 attending) and Lablin (6 attending).
On Tuesday we travelled to Zywiec via Auschwitz, the scene of so many atrocities, estimates vary as to how many millions died, but Jews, Poles, Russians went through the gates to perish in the gas chambers, to be shot or hanged on the gallows. The guide reminded us that many of those responsible for such terrible crimes against humanity escaped to South America and elsewhere, however we know that another court awaits them from which they will not escape. As one went away from the barbed, electric wire of the camp you could not help asking the question, ‘Could it happen again?’ The sad fact is that it could, for man’s heart is still ‘desperately wicked’.
On to Zywiec where we enjoyed fellowship in the home of Dawid and Agnieszka’s grandparents, which is also where our colleagues live. Dawid’s grand-father had many stories to tell of his experiences during the last war and we could have spent longer listening to him. However, the midweek Bible study started at 6 p.m. and as Graham and I were speaking we had to make our way to the meeting. Before Dawid’s return from the School of Evangelism in England there was no midweek meeting, so it was good to hear that ten people had been attending regularly. The arrival of guests from the UK must have encouraged a few extra to attend, and a very attentive hearing was given to the preaching of God’s Word. The work is still small, but one was encouraged by the zeal of Dawid, together with his quiet confidence in the Lord.
Wioclawek: Wednesday 21 June to Tuesday 27 June
Our journey from Wodzislaw to Wioclawek took six hours and corresponded with the hottest day in Poland since 1965 – 38.5 degrees. One was sad to see young women from other Eastern European countries prostituting themselves on the sides of the main roads. Although these ladies are deported by the authorities, it isn’t long before they are back at their stations.
Wednesday is the day for the midweek meeting in the Wioclawek Evangelical Church, at which Graham spoke. After that we were settled into our respective accommodations, Graham with the Rutkowskis senior and myself with Krzysztof and Aneta. As in all the homes in which we stayed, we were well looked after, with more than adequate provision for our physical needs.
On Thursday we were able to visit the ‘nerve centre’ of Legatio which is publishing good Christian literature for the Polish market. One was impressed by the professionalism of Krzysztof and those of our EMF colleagues who co-operate with him in translation. We were able to see the new website which had been set up by two of the junior members of the Rutkowski family.
After a short break we made our way to the town centre. The day was Corpus Christi National Day in Poland and the ‘host’ was being paraded through the streets. Crowds had gathered, street masses were being held, one was made very aware of the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church. I could only liken the situation to the Republic of Ireland pre-1970.
This impression was reinforced when we made an unscheduled visit to Lichen where a huge cathedral is being erected. When completed it will rival St Peter’s in Rome. It has already become a place of pilgrimage, the present Pope being one of the pilgrims to the site. The numerous statues in the grounds, together with the honour that is been given to the ‘Polish Pope’ in some of the shrines has caused the place to be dubbed ‘Catholand’ by one Polish writer. I can but echo the words of Slawomir as we left, ‘I don’t think I’ll bring any more visitors here, it makes me so sad.’
What a contrast as we visited the small mission station at Lipno on the Thursday evening – nothing grand, a widow’s home with eight people gathered to bear the Word of God. Poor, as far as this world’s goods are concerned, but rich in that which really matters. The same could be said of the Church in Wloclawek. just over twenty years ago fifteen met together, now ninety people gathered to worship the Lord, people who know something of the grace of God in their lives, rejoicing in that salvation that only the Lord can give. What a privilege to join with them and to preach on the words of Jesus, ‘I will build my church’
All too soon it was time to return. Our overall impression of the three churches and two mission stations visited, plus the work of Legatio, was one of encouragement. They all know how to ‘plod’, and are actively seeking to reach their fellow Poles with the gospel of God’s grace. Our prayer is that God will add many more to the Kingdom as a result of their labours.
‘Vision of Europe,’ European Missionary Fellowship, 6 Codicote Road, Welwyn, AL6 9NB, with permission
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