Thursday, January 14, 2010

Welcome to Włocławek

Our move from Nitra, Slovakia to Włocławek, Poland will transition us 600 kilometers north (however due to lack of infrastructure, it is a 10 hour drive or 12 hours by train).

The first written record of Włocławek appears on a Papal Bull in 1148 (we Canadians just don't understand history in the same way). Located on both sides of the Wisła River, Włocławek seems to have made it's living from industry. In 1999 it lost it's role as the administrative centre for the Włocławek Region.

Situated approximately 500 kilometers east of Berlin, Germany, Włocławek sustained damage in both World Wars. During the Nazi occupation of World War II, Włocławek was renamed Leslau and would regain it's name following the cessation of the war. Włocławek had a thriving Jewish population who owned and operated many of the local industries. Being the first place in Europe to force Jews to wear the Yellow Star of David, the Jewish population was largely deported to the Łódź Ghetto and then onward to the Chelmno Concentration Camp.

In the fall of last year we were able to spend a few days in Włocławek as we were researching and praying through our options. Entering Włocławek by car we came through a large national park. We caught our first glimpses of the town as smokestacks peeked out from above the trees. We had been told that we'll never see a post card of Włocławek, and as we broke through the treeline we understood why. Most European towns are marked by steeples, but Włocławek's smokestacks rise higher than it's steeples.

As we drove through the forest we were surprised to see prostitutes standing on the side of the road (no real highway system in Poland yet) as early as 10am. Driving past we would see tents pitched in the forest. Upon arriving we decided to walk off our 10 hour drive. It was not hard to find drug and alcohol abuse as we walked through the town square. The formerly Jewish owned buildings are literally falling apart while the EU courts decide their future. Squatters have moved in and it was not uncommon to see port-a-potties outside these structures without power or water.

We spent a solid 48 hours walking A LOT, talking to people, praying and simply soaking in the surroundings. As we drove home to Nitra a few things were clear to us:
  • there is a lot of good that can be done in Włocławek
  • there are very few English speakers and our Slovak got us further than our English (gotta love Slavic languages)
  • even though Włocławek is lacking infrastructure now (highway access, main shopping area etc.), there is change coming as the 3rd largest mall in Poland is under construction and the new highway will pass right by in 2012 - now is a great time to connect with a city in motion
  • Nitra is more cosmopolitan (relatively speaking) than industrial Włocławek, but Włocławek pays attention to details with nice parks and gardens and we could have a good life there
We are confident that this is where God thinks it is best for us to be. Home is where we are together and where God asks us to be. Włocławek, here we come!

For more information, you can visit Włocławek's webpage by clicking here.

What Comes Next

Hard to believe as it may seem, our 3 year Missions Apprenticeship officially concludes on January 29, 2010. For months we have been praying, asking you to pray, dialoguing with our bosses, fasting, journaling, obsessing, talking with friends and family and staying up late at night in order to ascertain what comes next. There was a time when we were focused on these next steps in an unhealthy way. God had to remind us (rather strongly) that He's got this under control (which is challenging for us as Type-A planners who are most comfortable while in control). Since then, we've had a deep confidence that God would let us know what we needed and when we needed to.

Over the past few months we've had a wide range of offers (including an invitation to stay in Nitra by the local leadership - which was highly affirming for us). There has been months of research and processing each offer to accompany the aforementioned praying and dialoguing. In the summer we were invited to be a part of a new project that, in all honesty, when we were first told about it we promptly laughed it off. However, the more we learned about the project, the more sense it seemed to make. Beyond being an excellent fit for both our dreams and gift mixes, we believe this is what God is asking us to do:

600 kilometers north of Nitra is a town of 120,000 people on the Wisła (Vistula) River. Włocławek, Poland is a highly industrial town whose history still impacts life today. Following the Nazi occupation in 1939, Włocławek became the first town in all of Europe to require Jews to wear the Yellow Star of David. The once thriving Jewish population, which owned a large amount of the local industry and prominent housing, was deported to the Łódź Ghetto or sent to the Chelmno Concentration Camp. To this day the buildings once owned by Jews remain unclaimed as the European courts decide their fate. Meanwhile, what should be the historic core of Włocławek, sits decaying and is occupied by squatters with no water or power, but port-a-potties. During a two day visit to Włocławek we were surprised at the visible amount of drug and alcohol use and prostitution. It is a made of brick, blue collar, hard working kind of town.

As far as we know there is little evangelical Christian presence in Włocławek. Our goal is not to create a modern version of a church in Włocławek (especially in light of the inseparable nature of being Polish and being Catholic), but rather to create a space in which to build a community based on kingdom values. To do this we have been asked to start and operate a social enterprise. More than just a community centre with drop-in programs, a social enterprise is to be a source of regeneration. We want to see art, business, learning and relationships come together to create positive change within Włocławek. Of course all of this is rooted in sharing God's love while in proximity to people who may never otherwise come into contact with genuine Christianity.

This social enterprise will be connected to a waste-to-energy project that goes online later this year. This company takes solid municipal waste and converts it into gas used for energy and alagaes used for bio-fuel while separating recyclable materials and reducing the mass of the waste. This company will be governed by kingdom based business principles and will play a role in funding the social enterprise (we should note, that this does not impact our fundraising as we will still need to cover our costs of living and other ministry costs, such as Amber's work with EMERGE womens leadership development). Together, the company and social enterprise, will take a holistic approach to helping God's people and planet.

The Plan:
  • January 29 is the official end of our apprenticeship but we are involved with two regional conferences that will keep us involved until February
  • our last day in Slovakia will be in mid February
  • from mid February to the beginning of September we will be in Canada. This time will be used to: complete our exit interviews and transition from Apprentice to Full Missionary Status with the PAOC, debrief our apprenticeship, spend time with friends and family, connect with partners, share about what we've learned in Slovakia - we believe we grow together, eat borderline unhealthy quantities of Jr.Bacon Cheeseburgers from Wendy's, complete all of the necessary legalities of moving to Poland (quite the process)
  • in September we will be moving to Włocławek and attending the nearby Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Here they have a language course for foreign students wanting to study in Polish. University level Polish sounds like a good place to start and we will be in this program for 2 semesters.
  • while studying we will be building our understanding of Włocławek and investing in relationships. Amber will also continue her work with EMERGE as there are 3 European conferences taking place this year.
There is the summary. We look forward to sharing more about this as this adventure continues. If you've got questions - we'd love to hear them.

Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. We would not want to do it alone.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Surprise in Nové Zámky

Quick context: Nové Zámky is a town of 18,000 about 40 minutes from Nitra. The "mother church" that started Mozaika is located there. In July of last year, the Nové Zámky church won a bidding war, with a Social Services Agency, to buy the building they have rented and renovated over the past 12 years. The church was given 18 months to secure the financing and was already given permission to renovate part of the building formerly occupied by a night club.

Last month the company that was selling the building asked for the keys to the former club to be returned so they could perform restorations before the sale was complete. Last week the leader of the church was visited by the head of the Social Services Agency and the head of the company that owns the building. They informed him that they had sold the building to the Social Services Agency and the amount was paid in full on December 29, 2009. Seeing as both the Agency and the company that sold the building are owned by the government, we're guessing there was some extra cash to be used before the end of the fiscal year. The Social Services Agency intends to turn the night club, Centre for Mothers and the church into their archives.

The church's contract there is slated for another 2 years, but we are not sure what decisions the new owners may make. People in Nové Zámky have invested heavily of their time, energy and money into making that building, and the church's relationship with the surrounding community, an excellent one.

We are confident that good will come from this, right now we just want people to be encouraged and know that God's got this one.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The End of a Decade

2010 - sounds quite futuristic and yet here we are.

December was a blogless month for us - sorry about that - but still a full one. There were some great personal highlights for us as we were able to spend time with some of Amber's cousins as they visited a nearby part of Europe, connect with some Slovene friends, and gain the honourary title of "Aunty and Uncle" as good friends of ours had their first child.

Here on the homefront things were still full steam ahead. We were able to wrap-up PotichuNahlas for the semester with a Christmas party before university students took their winter break. Also, Mozaika's "I Love my City: Christmas Express" was able to further our connections and impact within Nitra. Whether it was cleaning up after city Christmas events or running kids programs, Mozaika was able to make a positive difference. Along with his friend James, Matthew was able to go and collect over 100 gifts donated by Samaritans Purse to use at Mozaika's kids programs in a community centre and a girls home. Amber also performed as part of a small ensemble on stage at the downtown Christmas market singing Christmas and worship songs. Mozaika also had a Christmas lunch and Christmas Day service (a staple tradition here in Slovakia). Matthew's scabs are still healing from cutting out the decorations for the lunch ("Merry Christmas" in 9 different languages seemed like such a good idea before all of the cutting and laminating).

Christmas also brought the unexpected for us. At 2am on December 18th our phone rang letting us know that Matthew's Nana had passed away. There was not much sleep to be had after that and we had invited almost 30 people over for a Christmas party. So we hosted our party (the last guests departed at 1am), booked a flight, packed (more like dumped things in a suitcase), showered and Amber drove Matthew to the Vienna airport to fly to Toronto on the most overpriced ticket we hope we ever purchase.

We wavered over whether we were doing the right thing, but as soon as Matthew opened the front door and hugged his Mom, he knew the right choice had been made. Nana was a huge influence on our lives, and the lives of many. Few people can say they read about their Nana while studying the history of the Pentecostal church in Bible College. In all honesty, there is still a lot of processing to be done - it was such a whirlwind trip. 4 days in Canada flew past and Matthew's only suitcase arrived the evening before he left for Slovakia. Matthew's Dad, who had been preaching in Nain, Newfoundland, was prevented from attending the funeral by bad weather, but Matthew was able to have lunch with him before he returned to Slovakia. It was the first time since our wedding that all 5 members of the family had been together in one place.

Matthew was home by 3pm on Christmas Eve and we celebrated traditional Slovak Christmas that evening with friends. We spent the remainder of the holiday season surrounded by friends. We especially love New Years Eve here as Slovaks are a firework loving people.

We can only imagine what adventures God has for all of us in 2010.