You never get a second chance to make a first impression. — Anonymous
Poland would never need a second chance to make a first impression. For three months, I bathed in circumambient natural beauty and unparalleled human kindness.
The great dome above Warsaw continues to mystify me. There is something intensely real – even surreal – about the Polish skies. Each day began and ended lying in the bed of my 3rd-floor flat at ul. Żelazna 89, gazing out the glass patio door, transfixed by sunrise at 4 a.m. and sunset at 10 p.m.
It is widely known that creations made by human hands have existed throughout history, known as “The Seven Wonders of The World.” Another “wonder” should be added to the list: The lovely country of Poland. The natural creation of Poland is, of course, divinely inspired and made. The people of Poland have their extraordinary results beautifully displayed all over the city. Throughout their painful and promising history, Poland's people have worked wonders on this wildly exotic, Central European patch of earth. The world's seven wonders have been replaced with other “wonders” over the years, but Poland should be on the list, never to be removed.
The impetus for traveling to Poland was born out of my deep gratitude for Poland’s compassionate care for the innocent people of Ukraine. The Polish people offered authentic humanitarian relief. They opened their hands, hearts, and homes to the desperate — yet hopeful — Ukrainians. Poland graciously received three million dispossessed Ukrainians of which one-half of a million of the war-torn Ukrainians, whose lives had been upended so suddenly, insidiously, and unjustly last February 24th, were welcomed by the city of Warsaw. I will always believe that Poland made this gracious gesture because of their innate compassion. They empathize as a country because they have been in the same vulnerable place for ages. For centuries, bordering countries wanted Poland as their own. Poland is now, and always will be, a free democratic nation in its own right. Poland returned to the European map in November 1918, when it established its independence. One of the classes I teach in Warsaw is held at the Museum of Independence.
Before coming to Warsaw, my knowledge of Poland was informed mainly by the reading and research I had done regarding the atrocities inflicted upon the Poles by Nazi terrorists during the second world war. During my three-month stay, I was astounded to learn much more about Poland, particularly Warsaw.
This cultural immersion has opened my eyes to peer more deeply into the hearts and minds of those who inhabit this resilient and awe-inspiring city. I have walked up and down the city streets of Warsaw for 90 days. I have become enamored by the rich historical, cultural, artistic, educational, medical, economic, and mass transportation systems. The advancements are dramatic. Like the Phoenix, Warsaw has risen out of the ashes, ascended to the skies, and now flies like a dove set free. When I see and touch the actual fragments of the Ghetto walls and visit the Jewish Memorial sites, I reflect and pray. I am astounded by the Polish people's courage, endurance, hope, determination, and creativity. I am awe-struck and stand in constant amazement.
So, what other factors prompted me to decide to come to Warsaw? God, and God’s people. I believe it is all about “connection.” I have learned much from my Polish hosts about the power of connectivity. When the war in Ukraine broke out last February 24th, I told my family that I must do whatever I could to help the Polish people with their efforts to help the Ukrainian refugees.
Here is how it happened: I have dear friends in Denison, Texas. I was their pastor for seven years. Soon after the war began, I had lunch with a friend and member of the church I previously served. Her name is Karen Alford, and she is a longtime member of Waples Memorial United Methodist Church — a congregation now blessed to have Rev. Justin Miller as its shepherd, pastor, and spiritual guide. I told Karen of my calling, and she immediately offered to coordinate the mission, which has undoubtedly been a labor of love on her part. She is a faithful servant of God.
I spoke of my plans to my friend. I told her I feel inwardly and strongly called by God to travel to Warsaw. She talked to some mutual friends about this proposal. These friends were also members of the church I served.
Dr. Jeannine Hatt-Phelps is a pediatrician who has provided compassionate and effective care to my sons for many years. Her Pediatrics colleague, Dr. Margaret Gajda, and her husband, Krzysztof, are Polish. They live very close to Denison, Texas. “Chris” is the Acting President of the Polish Association in Texas. Chris knew of an acquaintance (Marek Traczyk) who holds the office of President of the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce. He is an influential business entrepreneur in Warsaw, an organizer of many events worldwide, and owns and operates many businesses. Chris and Marek developed the idea of asking an English-speaking American to come to Warsaw to teach free English classes to Ukrainian students. The three of us didn’t know how to explain the mystery of how this all came to be realized, so we looked to the heavens and simply said: “Providence. One step at a time. Many small miracles.” We knew we would be “In It Together!”
Marek Traczyk is a blessed man to have such a lovely family. His wife, Vlasta, is a gifted pianist, composer, and teacher. Their daughter, Victoria, is one of the most adorable, intelligent, and spirited young girls I’ve ever met! They all made me feel like family by offering kindness, love, and gracious hospitality. They even took me on road trips. Marek took me to the Mazurian Lake District. Then I enjoyed a family trip with them to stay with some of their dear friends, Irene Zenkiewicz and her husband Jerzy Zenkiewicz, Deputy Director of Information and Communication Centre, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Toruń is the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus. We then visited Marek’s hometown, the home of Frederick Chopin.
Marek’s staff is remarkable. Kasia, Managing Director of the Polish Media, taught me to slow down and fall in love with Poland, Croatia, and all living things. She is widely known in Warsaw. She arranged an event at the Museum Connection of Pope John Paul II featuring a Polynesian Dance Troupe. They invited me to dance with them. Mirek, a gifted and highly skilled photographer and videographer rescued me on many occasions with his Internet technology knowledge. Irene is an intelligent and interesting person who was always very kind to me and helped me through some difficult situations. When a close friend died during my stay, she invited me to a memorial tradition as she and the others welcomed me as a new family member.
I’ve made numerous Polish and Ukrainian friends with whom I plan to stay in contact for the rest of my life – primarily through ZOOM and Email. Still, I hope to bring my family to Warsaw and Ukraine when peace comes.
During my stay, Marek worked tirelessly to acquire a lovely apartment in the City Center. It is located on ul. Żelazna 89 in Warsaw, in the historic Ghetto District of WWII. It has been quite comfortable.
Additionally, he spent many hours finding various places for my classes to meet. I will forever be indebted to Prezes Józef Bryll (Stowarzyszenie Współpracy Polska-Wschód), located in the Teatr Capitol; Fr. Piotr Kowalczyk, Rector of the College of Higher Theology and Social Sciences; Karol Tadeusz Nawrocki of the Warsaw Museum of Warsaw Independence, and the Managerial Team of the Freedom Lounge for hosting my classes.
With my friend Chris, I met with Waldemar Biniecki, Editor-in-Chief of "Kuryer Polski" via ZOOM. He has asked me to write an account of my trip. I will also present to The Polish Association of Texas upon returning home. The event will be held in Sherman, Texas.
Finally, I am eternally grateful to those who asked me to join them for Concerts in the Park to listen to the music of Chopin; to take strolls in the many beautiful parks and historical sites, and who introduced me to Polish food – the best food I’ve ever eaten!
Images of the mysterious Polish skies, the sounds of birds, the beauty of the parks, and mostly the love, kindness, and beauty of the Polish people will forever live in my heart.
I thank my God, my patient and supportive family, Rev. Justin Miller, Sr., Pastor of Waples Memorial UMC, and my dear Waples friends, benefactors, and their family members.
Thank you, Warsaw! Thank you, Poland!
I hope and pray to see you again.