Today was the first day of camp. I’m afraid if I try to include every moment I feel was worth preserving, my fingers may fall off, but I’m afraid not to. These kids are simply wonderful and gracious and respectful and eager to learn. All the jet-lag and fatigue and anxiety and worry is so worth the opportunity to meet these children.
We began our day at the parish house with prayer and check-in at 0730 before our van came to bring us to the camp. Four of us had to squeeze into the back seat in order to fit into whatever small European van it was. I remind myself that God is in the small things. Which is good; this van needs God as it speeds around corners up the mountain like we’re on the German autobahn. I try to forget that I don’t have a seat belt as Ethan and I take turns praying in the small back seat.
We arrived, alive, and ate breakfast with the children. A little blonde girl named Wiktoria (pronounced Victoria) requested I sit beside her. As I sat down, the girl directly across from her, who by coincidence is also named Wiktoria, starts exclaiming, “Co-cow!” over and over again. I tried to figure out what she is talking about, but I can’t. I wondered if I was the co-cow. A few minutes later Pastor Sebastian came by to deliver mugs of hot chocolate. Co-cow.
We went outside to do the daily opening as a large group. We are surrounded by mountains, the trees of the forest meeting the property line. The clouds hover at the mountain tops and everything is wildly green. Benches are arranged in a half circle and Pastor Dave and Ethan share the opening lessons. Pastor teaches the sign of the cross and Ethan plays the guitar and sings. Ethan is the favorite among several of the boys, who we’ve come to learn are from a group home in town. They don’t much let Ethan out of their sight.
Today I am designated to teach the craft module. I help Carol reiterate how special the children are, and in honor of that, we will take their picture to fill the picture frame they are about to make. While they work, one child comes up at a time to dress up and let me take their photo. They wear a random assortment of scarves and feather boas, funny animal glasses and hats, and most importantly- smiles. That makes it all worth it.
Sometime while we are waiting for our meal, Pastor Sebastian comes and sits across from me, almost knee to knee. Joanna follows and sits beside us so she can translate. He asks me questions and fires off one thought after another so I can barely keep up. I look back and forth between him and Joanna as he speaks in Polish and she puts it into words I can understand. He asks if this is my first trip to Europe and I tell him it is. He said because I came to Europe for the first time for a mission, I am like Paul and his trip to Rome. Then he talks about the Catholics in Poland, who claim to be Catholic but have religion only on their mouth and not in their hearts. I tell him, via Joanna, that this isn’t so different from many people in my country.
He goes on to talk about the homes, and explains that homes here, once they reach the age of fifty, are not allowed to be torn down and must be restored to their original form. He explains that the windows which are wood must only be replaced with wood windows, which are so much more expensive than plastic windows that few people can afford them, and the inability to replace the windows leads to more rapid deterioration of homes.
I want to listen to everything he has to tell me, and I have questions on my tongue that I hope to ask, but we are interrupted because lunch is ready to be served.
We stand for prayer. In Poland, prayers are always spoken while standing. Then lunch is served. Potato soup that we all at first mistook for beet soup because of its color, but it’s delicious and I go for a second bowl. I decide I need to learn how to make more kinds of soup at home. Then I am served a plate of potatoes, a salad resembling cole slaw, and a big chunk of dead animal. I don’t say anything but am grateful when Toni asks if she can have it. I think of my favorite booth at Serrano’s back home.
After lunch, which was preceded and ended with prayer and songs, we break back into small groups. We finish our last group and prepare for our special guest: Pinky the Clown.
Pinky was received with only a little hesitance, but the children quickly warmed up to her. I, however, did not. I was tired and wanted to sit, having been on my feet all day, trying to help where I can, talk to every child I can, absorb every moment I can, and capture every moment on camera that I feel should be. This is a moment I feel should be captured, even though I am feeling selfish and crabby and don’t want to. I’m not being gracious. At some point I say to myself, but not nearly enough to myself, that this is taking too long. Have you ever wanted to kick your own butt?
But I look at the kids. They are now laughing and smiling, and they are excited by the balloons pinky is blowing up. It makes it all worth it.
I decide I need an attitude adjustment. And this adjustment is going to come in the form of a glass full of Zywiec. Zywiec is a beer made in Poland. Jeremy let me try a drink of his the other night at Krakow, and he says he will go have one with me tonight. Later Carol says she wants to go. Yay! The beer isn’t going to help with my crabby attitude – well, indirectly it may if it helps me sleep, because it’s no secret that I’m crabby when sleepy – but the company is just what I need.
After returning to the parish house, we all walk down to the gelato place Courtney loves so much. I ask for a sample of something raspberry, and they give me a cone of it. Two zloty, please. I give it happily. The ice cream is sweet and cold, and even after freezing all day, it feels good on my throat.
We eat our gelato as we walk back to the Parish house, and then I steal Courtney to walk to the market with me. I want to grab a candy bar or a snack. I pay and am pretty sure I got lectured for not having a smaller bill on me. Courtney and I decide to walk for a couple minutes because it is so beautiful out, and there is a street we haven’t yet walked down. We go down the street and cross the creek, and then see a church and then a beautiful hotel. Then we realize we’ve gone down a few streets and aren’t extremely sure of where we are, but I see what I think is the graveyard and I know if we cross it we will end up back in the town square just north of the Parish house.
We go in, but it’s not a graveyard. It’s a weird forest with a bunch of winding paths, and each path leads into a darker forest and some end and some go on and we have no idea which one to take. We keep hoping to see a graveyard, but all we see are more trees. Courtney spies two women walking and says we should just follow them and hope they know where they are going, but I take it for joking and we go in the opposite direction.
We walk, and we walk, and we walk. Take this windy path, then take another windy path, into different areas of this weird forest. I’m looking at the sun going down and looking at the forest in every direction. Is it weird I am still hoping for the graveyard?
But we find our way out and come out on a street across from the pizzeria we ate at Sunday, and now I know my way back. Courtney and I get to the parish house and across the street, walking in the opposite direction, are the ladies who were walking in the forest. Courtney and I laugh. It was all worth it.
We go in and grab Carol because it’s time to go grab that Zywiec. Jeremy and Ethan meet us outside and we sit outside on the patio and drink and talk and laugh. We discuss our day, we discuss the children we’ve already grown to love so dearly, so discuss different religions and how they compare to Christianity. We discuss random things, and all the stress from the day and my bad mood melt away. Ethan talks about his high from the day. He was pushing one of the boys on the swing, and the boy looked at him and said, in English, “I’m happy.” It is all worth it.