XVII. I am Loved

by valerie shultz

July 23, 2011

2343 hours

Today was a very emotional day.  I woke up at 0430 courtesy of one of my roommates, after having stayed up until almost midnight to get a required assignment in and to get the slide show Joanna requested done.  Then, when I needed to use the restroom, the same roommate went into the only available water closet with a cup of coffee and a book.  I knew then I was going to need an extra dose of patience to get through this day.

After breakfast we were treated to a tour of a church built by Lutherans in 1709.  It was very ornate, with gold and painted ceilings and extremely detailed décor throughout.  The Lutherans built it to prove to the Germans they could be just as rich and luxurious as they could.  Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent it being taken away and it is now a Catholic church, but still maintains its original form.  It was breathtaking, and I used the kneeler at the front to give a silent prayer of thanks for being allowed to be there.

We then took a walk to a little store where Joanna got us traditional Polish hot chocolate.  I have come to realize that in America, we merely have chocolate flavored water.  Here, they literally melt chocolate and put it in a cup.  Sugar coma?  Yes, please.  So worth it.

Sugar highs and all, we took the taxi back to camp where we did a little worship with the kids, watched the slide show, were tested on our Polish skills, presented with gifts, and presented our gifts to the staff and to the kids.  A swarm of children who Monday were afraid of hugs, showed us that our blue had rubbed off on them severely, and they couldn’t get enough hugs.  Some were crying and poor Wiktor had huge crocodile tears as he said goodbye to us.  I was able to hold back the tears.

But the one of the girls walked up to me, looked at me and said, “I love you.”  Just like that.  And I cried.  I was so touched and so blessed.  I am so grateful for these children and the work we got to do with them, and I don’t want to leave them yet.  But I know I am loved.

A few minutes later, Court and I were standing in what has become mission central at the camp, where we gather as a team and prepare, check in and out, nap, snack, goof around and whatever else happens to come of the few minutes we get free throughout the day.  She put her arm around me and said, “I love you.”  And again, my heart melted.

Inga told Carol she learned more from us in a week than she learned in three years of English instruction at her school.  And we heard several more similar stories.  Tonight, when Joanna came in to give me a hug with her new prayer shawl Carol made her, she told me this week was an incredible gift from God, because she felt accomplished and knew her mom was proud of her for all the hard work she’s done.  She told me she wanted to talk to me more and more, because she felt we’ve known each other for a long time and just met but she feels very connected to me, and her words mirrored my feelings.  Again, I felt so loved.

The rest of our day was filled with laughter, with fatigue, with anxiety, and with pride as we start to pack to begin our two day journey back home.  During the week it was hard to know how much impact we would have, and if what we were doing was going to benefit these children in any long-lasting way, but we now feel as though we have testimonies that we did matter.  Joanna said she wants to have a team come back next year, and that I am “very invited.”  I would very much love to return to this place and to Joanna and Sebastian.

Today I reflected on relationships a lot as I watched different people, and as I saw Joanna and Sebastian together and prayed I could one day find that, but also the friendships and mentorships that occurred on this trip.  Carol, Court, Karen, Wiktor and I took a walk in Szklarska Poreba today and chatted the entire way.  Wiktor talked about philosophy, about humanity, and about some of his concerns with us.

He told me wars are not wars of people, but are wars of presidents, and I thought that was incredibly insightful for a thirteen year old.  Then he confessed to me that he was very offended when Pinky the Clown blew up a black balloon and said it meant sin and was bad, because black people should not feel they are bad.  I explained to him that black was just a metaphor for sin and not skin color, and Christians know skin color does not matter, because God created us all, and I hope he understood what I was trying to tell him, but I think he did.

Court, Karen and I snuck away for a quiet dinner in a pizzeria and Karen confessed to me that her first impression of me was not good, and that when she read back to her journal entry about meeting me and not being so sure what kind of person I would be (in my defense, I’d already been traveling for around eight hours by the time her and I met in Chicago and I was very tired, but I did make a mental note to be more conscientious about first impressions), but that she quickly changed her mind and feels very comfortable with me now.  (Whew!)  She even bought a bracelet for me in the mall earlier this evening.  I am loved.

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