Mission Accomplished: Students share experiences in Poland

By BETH BUNCH,

“What I did on my spring vacation” took on a whole new meaning for one group of Lamar County students, who traveled to Poland on a mission trip with their church.

Temple Baptist in Oak Grove sent three teams out – Poland, Cambodia and the Ukraine.

Ben Beasley, youth pastor at Temple, traveled with 22 high school juniors and seniors and eight adult chaperones to Krakow, Poland, where they had an incredible week-long adventure.

According to Philip Slusher, Temple’s missions pastor, the church sends out about 13 mission teams each year to different parts of the world and to different areas in the U.S.

“Temple is a Great Commission church,” he said. “That is, we want to make disciples of Jesus Christ here in Hattiesburg and around the world.”

During the next five years, Temple’s goal is to have a gospel presence on every inhabitable continent and in all five regions of North America through church plants and ministry partnerships.

Working with a team of missionaries, Robert and Elaine Rierson, in particular, the American team went around Krakow and met with teenagers in schools and around the city.

 “It was incredible. We did a lot,” said Beasley.

The team stayed in Krakow, the only city untouched by World War II, where everything was original. Beasley and chaperone Shannon Fielder described the city as very beautiful with incredible facilities and very clean.

The team hooked up with two local Baptist churches, Third and Fourth Baptist.

“In Poland there’s a heavy Catholic influence, but there’s not an evangelical presence, hardly at all,” Beasley said. “The local missionaries there are linking arms and doing things. We came alongside and helped them on a lot of different things.”

The Temple team met with local churches in the basements of apartment buildings where the team did skits, helped with worship services and visited with church members while also encouraging others.

With missionaries they broke off into groups and traveled around the city prayer walking, praying for the city, church, government officials and others.

The team also had the opportunity to spend time in the local school system. “God opened the door for us to be able to spend some time in the schools,” Beasley said.

One team went into a local middle school, where they met students, had English conversations and cultural exchanges and played American games.

The team introduced the students to peanut butter and jelly served on small crackers.

“They inhaled it,” said Beasley. “It was really high excitement and high energy, playing games and doing other things. It was such a good visit and as I our team left, the Polish students were crying as they walked us out to the street.”

Beasley said he was impressed with how many people in Poland spoke English, noting they start learning the language at around five or six years old.

Another team went into a high school, with approval being granted the week before they arrived. Beasley said it was the equivalent of a very prestigious private school in America. “There are only two like it in Poland and kids have to test to get into it,” said Beasley. “It had a very Ivy League feel.”

Beasley’s team sat down in English classes and while there wasn’t a whole lot of evangelism taking place, he said there were a lot of cultural conversations and exchanges. They talked about American History, American movies, social media and did a presentation on the life of a teenager in Oak Grove, complete with a football game, which the Polish students found quite amazing, since they have no extracurricular activities, just academics.

He noted that the teens had a lot in common, especially the teen language, which is one thing the American students loved, sharing that common teenage bond.

Most high school students walk to school or take the tram, many from 40 minutes away. The Poles were amazed that American students have their own cars and drive to school.

One fun part of the trip was meeting pen pals. For five months leading up to the trip, the local students were pen pals with elementary-age Polish students, sixth grade and below.

“We got to go to the city that was established as a utopia by Mussolini. It was very blue collar and we were the first Christian Americans that had stepped foot in their school,” said Beasley.

Having corresponded for five months, Beasley said the students ran out into the street to meet the Americans. “They were hugging and smiling; it was like they had known them their entire life.”

At the school they sang songs, silly songs and did karaoke at one point. They even ate lunch in the cafeteria and some of the mothers had made Polish treats and snacks.

Beasley noted that many of the conversations were done through Google Translator, which was a lifesaver for his students.

 They presented the students with Bibles, presents, Nerds candy and other things they had never had. “They got our teens gifts, we played gamed and did Polish and American tongue twisters.

After getting back into the heart of Krakow, an English Club was set up at a church and many of the pen pals made the 40-minute trip to meet with their new friends once again.

But in addition to meeting with students and sharing experiences and cultures, the team took a day for some sightseeing.

They visited the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, where they walked through bunkhouses, gas chambers, prison and starvation cells.

“It was a real heavy day for our teenagers and really inundated them with the culture and history,” said Beasley. “Auschwitz really painted a portrait for our students of the history. It was very eye opening for our teens to experience World War II in a realistic way. It very real and very serious. We got to see the really brilliant beautiful side of human nature. It was very powerful and very sobering.”

They also visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which was opened in the 13th century and produced table salt continuously until 2007.

The team stayed in the Krakow Hostel in the city square, which is the largest city square in Europe. They visited a castle and had the opportunity to go into several Catholic churches, which he described as very ornate with beautiful architecture. “They were designed to reveal the glory of God,” he said.

They also partook of the Polish dining experience, pierogies, soups, and sausages, which he described as incredible. As a self-proclaimed Italian guru, Beasley noted the pasta, pizza and “the best lasagna I’ve ever had in my life.”

He said trips such as this are deemed a success by the teens if the food is good. “They let you know what is good and what isn’t. And they seemed excited.”

The exchange rate, an American dollar equaled $3.30 Polish Zloty, which meant a $30 Polish meal, was less than $10 American dollars.

The Polish culture was described as very beautiful. “The Polish people are definitely not like Americans,” said Beasley. “They are quiet on the trains and anywhere we went we were the smiles. A lot of teachers said they hadn’t seen their students smile all year long and it was a good thing.”

It was a very full trip, according to Beasley. “We had a lot of fun and the adults who made the trip loved it,” he said. “I think we may have a chance to go back next year. God did some incredible things.”