Poland Ministry Trip 1986
Arrival and Challenges at first experience in Poland
That chilly night in July we arrived at the East German border going into Poland at 11:00 pm. We left there at 4:00 a.m. Even then, I guess that was considered good because you can spend as much as six hours on each side. They have now combined the Polish border with the East German border. It appears there was a large problem having our driver and the bus from Oslo, Norway, and the rest of us Americans. We had Visas allowing us into Poland. He didn’t. He was counting on being part of the group of nations that move between each other. As it turns out, I’m sure the Lord used this as the way to get us through the border. There was so much concentration on him and his lack of Visa and how much money he had to pay and so on that they virtually ignored us. Normally when you cross the Polish border, they take your luggage and strip it down totally. They want to know exactly what you are trying to bring in.
We could have brought anything in. They opened one sleeping bag and that was the extent of our search. It did take a number of hours and we never could figure out what they were doing all that time, but there were several phone calls to make. Our personal experience with telephones in Europe and Eastern Europe has been zero. So if their ability to connect was as poor as ours, that may have caused some of the delays. Once you’re through with the border, you get really excited and you think ah ha, and you move on, but in actuality – another joins the muddle. He comes up to our bus and announces he is from customs!
He’s the one that searches. We had knives with us. We took them out of the packs and put them up on the window sill so that he could see them. We were, of course, trying to be very cooperative and offer no challenges. This is their country and we were respectful. Making the knives easily visible allowed us to explain that we’re using them only to cut apples and so on. They didn’t even ask us what they were for. They totally ignored them. Zeroed in totally on the bus driver, who, by the way, not only is he from Oslo, Norway, but he’s a born-again spirit-filled Christian, and he’s studying to become a pastor. He has a Baptist background and will be pastoring a spirit-filled Baptist church. He’s a delightful man of 32 with one daughter, 2-1/2 years old. He speaks Norwegian and a little smidgen of English. No German.
So we have virtually no one on the trip that can speak fluent German. Several of us can say a few words, some better than others. I’ve been successful shopping so far; an excellent job of going out and talking to people in the stores. We were in the town Kirchheim in West Germany that we stopped at prior to crossing the border where we did a half hour of sightseeing. I took several pictures of the church and bought some meat from the meat market and batteries for my camera. On this journey and several more I found that the items offered in the shops were made in China, not Deutschland, and that was the same in Poland. The meat I aquired at the meat market was outstanding. I looked at lace to hang in the windows and found out that it was made in China also, not in Poland.
While in Poland, it is fortunate I was not the navigator. The signs are all indecipherable for me. One sign I research after i was back in the States meant Turnpike Damaged. I do not have a clue what that even means. We had fun trying to figure them out as it helped pass the time on the lengthy bus rides.
Here in Poland I found the post office when no one else in the group could find it; even though many tried. I bought stamps, post cards and more camera batteries. So far on the roads, we’ve seen mostly trucks, a few cars and an occasional cart drawn by horse. It reminds me a little of China, except there are more trucks.
We arrived in Poland, still the 15th of July. It’s early in the morning and we’re waiting around, trying to figure out where to go. We slept on the bus for two hours while we waited for it to become daylight. No one in our group speaks hardly more than yes and no in Polish; so we wanted to call the people that we were supposed to have met at the border. They weren’t there but we were of course about twelve hours late. So, we rested in a town, slept in our seats on the bus, which means sitting up, for about two and one-half hours, and then we moved on looking for a place to find some food.
We found two restaurants, neither which had any food for us. We have not found a city. We have not found any groceries. We have a van with us because the bus was too small to hold 46 people, all the sound gear, as well as our luggage, so we have a van that carries only two passengers, the driver and one passenger, and a portion of the luggage. They took off in the van, leaving us out here in the country, to research the town to find food and to find our camp. We are to be dropped off in three different camps, this one being the first. They’ve been gone over two hours. They could be lost or be in jail, anything. We don’t dare leave because if we start moving and they have become turned around, we could miss them and never find them. The information we’ve been given is very sparse. The only person that knows what is going on is Mike Meeks and he is one of the ones that is gone. That was done deliberately, because the less we know, the less we can divulge, the less trouble we can get into, and the less opportunity there is for the soviets to make it rough on the local pastors. We don’t want to divulge their names; we don’t want to get them in trouble at all. The odds of us getting in trouble here are very slim unless we just outright break the law, which we don’t intend to do; however, the odds of the pastors getting in trouble is very high and we must be very careful. A person losing a passport can result in years of torture for the pastor.
It is still the 15th of July about 7:30 at night we have checked into a hotel. We are in Luben. It is a 1942 hotel, I think, it does not look as though it was damaged during any bombings but it is ancient. The elevators are old and feel unsafe. An outside door and an inside door and a button to activate using electricity. It only holds three people with luggage. I have a private room which is absolutely a Blessing from the Lord. I have a shower, I have everything. Most people do not have showers.
Interesting riding along in the bus today. We’re all so tired that we are just kind of out of it and our two leaders, Mike Meeks and Margie Waldow, have to keep pushing. They are unable to rest. They must constantly be in charge and speaking German and speaking through a lady who spoke French because she spoke German and then she spoke English so she spoke English to our person, spoke French to a friend of hers, who spoke Polish then to the Polish people trying to help us. We still have not found our camp. We, of course, were due to meet up with them last night about 11 p.m. We spent all day trying.
We waited around many hours. Then we came into the town of Boleslawiec, which is the first town once you cross from East Germany into Poland. We did some shopping, bought a few post cards, and a few stamps. Mostly I walked around looking at architecture and taking pictures. It is a fascinating city. It is very old, with a lot of restructuring going on. It is hard to tell if it is just old age damage or if it is still from the war. Certainly, some things are demolished from the war, but some of the restructuring, I think, might just be from old age. The people there were very hesitant to talk to us. They won’t smile. Rarely, occasionally someone will smile. They will not wave.
As a rule, it is a very subdued culture. They are very oppressed. They look it, they act it; borders on being depressing. Not that you personally get depressed, but you just feel so bad for these people. We were in a restaurant eating and part of the group of people that were helping with the English to French to Polish, one of the men came over say goodbye and he spoke a very little English and he said “goodbye American, I will never forget you. I remember World War II and how the Americans came in and saved us!” Of course, he’s from France and France was literally taken over by Germany. Paris was occupied totally by Germany and they were moving to take over the rest of the country and the Americans did move in and take them back. I think Paris was occupied for nearly the duration of the war. Anyway, it brought tears to my eyes. – Side note, I am editing this in 2016 to post on my travel site and it still brings me to tears. The hatred in the world is devastating. I am so proud to be an American showing our true nature with our response with love and help –– It is amazing to think how little we know about real survival. We are priviledged to live in America are truly blessed people; sadly, some do not even know it. We don’t acknowledge it. Oh, the love of Jesus is just upon us. I mean, you come to Poland or to East Germany and you know it. Even in West Germany, they are not depressed at all, but there is a difference in the spirit of the people, and I think it does something to you when war is ravished right on your own countryside
While we were stopped today waiting for the leaders to come back with information, two little boys walked by and I spoke to them; we started having a nonsense conversation. Then, one of the guys in the group came over, Eric is his name, and with dictionary in hand, Polish and American, he began trying to communicate. We found out the boy’s names. They were Otto, who was 12, and Mark, who was 13. They were on vacation from school. They lived nearby in the town that was just up the road. They understood a little English and started asking us questions, via the dictionary – where we were from and so on. A strange phenomenon is that when they saw my camera the 13-year-old was extremely frightened. They were going to run. I told them I wouldn’t take their picture. I just shook my head no and held the camera down; then they calmed down a little bit. Then while they were standing there talking to us, Mark noticed out of the corner of his eye that a military or police car was coming down the street, so he grabbed Otto and they stepped down off of the little thing they were standing on so they were down on the ground which made them shorter than us. With this clever and quick manuveur they couldn’t be seen. The little 13-year-old obviously had fear in his eyes. He was very frightened to see the police. Mark was very thin and they were very small for their age. Otto was more filled out, but very, very short. I can’t tell if that’s nutritional or just heritage.
While waiting for negotiations for the hotel for the night, we sat on the corner in the bus. One very brave young boy came right up to the bus and actually came into the bus. He tried unsuccessfully to speak with us. But, even in defeat it was clear us that he wanted gum or something. He appeared to be a little mentally challenged but was very brazen; quite contrary to the children we met earlier.
This is a bigger city. I don’t know quite how many tourists come here. We parked outside the tourist information which might account for some of it, plus they can spot Americans pretty easily. Before long, we had about 35 children all gathered around. One boy, who was older, had received a piece of gum or candy from Ron Rearick and had run off and purchased a chocolate bar and brought it back for Ron as a gift to him. That’s special.
The children Eric began speaking with at length was an older boy and his younger companion. They started having a real conversation; this boy was 15, frightened but not to the degree of the two younger ones in the area outside the town.
People were walking by eating a sandwich of some kind and it was around dinner time or later. We had only eaten one time that day, in fact, we ate in a restaurant that day and had scrambled eggs, sardines, tomatoes with onions on them, which is supposed to help kill the bacteria when you are eating, tea, cheese, butter and bread. We ended up paying roughly two dollars per person. It was covered out of our monies that we had already paid because it was so inexpensive. Anyway, this sandwich looked tasty. It was hard to tell what it was. I thought sometimes it was cheese, and occasionally I thought it was meat as I watched the people walk by. We asked this boy where to find it and he showed us where the place was. Several of us went up there and bought a sandwich and had that for dinner; that was all I needed. Some people went out for dinner at the restaurant; they had chicken which came with a roll, potato and again, tomatoes with onions on them. For four of them, their total bill came to 720 zloty (exchange rate was 640 zloty per dollar). The sandwich ended up being made of a just wonderful bread. It was a heavy-duty bread, obviously home baked, it was not commercially made bread, and it had cheese and mushrooms on it. That is why it was confusing when you watched people go by. The mushrooms looked very dark. It was very spicy. It was a hot kind of spice. Very good, it was not too spicy for me. Some of the people complained; but it was excellent. We are certainly not starving. The food is different, no one is sick.
We are going a long time without food; but we all bought water and juice in Germany before we left. We have been kind of living on that. It is very hot, but no one is suffering. It has been a very comfortable trip. God has blessed us through all of the uncertainties; He has been right here, keeping His grace over us.
My room is about the size of any hotel room of old, old vintage. I have a single bed that has a very shallow mattress, but was comfortable. I have a comforter, two sheets, two pillows. I have a desk, no writing paper, no wastebasket per say, there is a bucket in here with a lid on it, a kind of a shelf to put my clothes on if I choose and one chair. There is also a cupboard. The cupboard has four shelves made of veneer, it is just extremely thin. The other side has a place to hang probably ten items; there is a small shelf on the bottom. It is dirty inside the closet. I didn’t use it at all. There is an overhead cupboard above both of those also. The room is wallpapered. Mine happens to be done in yellow and white. There are no tears in it. It is kind of a poor job, but it looks as though it is over a rough wall. The windows open. I’m on the second floor, so I am three floors up. The windows open out onto the main street. It was busy most of the night. I don’t recall any real quiet time. I did sleep, certainly. I slept very well, but each time I woke up, it was always very noisy outside. I thought it was the middle of the day when I woke up one time, and it was only 5:47.
Based on what I could see when I went to bed and what I see now, I would say that maybe some of them are long-haul across Poland truckers. I can’t imagine, as my only exposure to long-haul truckers is my brother-in-law, Jim who could do the whole country in one day. But it appears the truckers slept here. I ran into a lot of men last night that were drinking. Heavy, heavy drinking. One table of men that Eric was talking to via his dictionary wanted us to go with them and get drunk. Then they wanted us to go with them and eat dinner at a very expensive restaurant. I don’t know if Eric and Dan went. I chose not to.
My room has a slight entry hall. You come into it, there is nothing in the hall, it is a little tiny, oh, it’s probably 2 1/2 by 4. There is a mirror on the wall and a couple of coat hooks. The bathroom door is there, and when you open the door, of course, you cover up the entire hallway space. The bathroom has a very, very deep tub. Plenty long for me to sit in, not lay down. It has ceramic tile around the bottom half of the whole bathroom. The top half is a plaster, probably plaster and lath. There is a mirror on the wall. The mirror has a date on it of 2/1/42. The bathroom had three squares of toilet paper of which I used two and took one home. There are huge pipes running, I can guess that from the position of it that the pipe in my bathroom is the toilet dumping area from the room above. Then there is a pipe coming in that puts water into my tank for my toilet. Those are painted bright orange. The toilet is of the type that has the tank above it and you pull the string and the water then goes down to the toilet in the bottom. The bathtub is equipped with a shower. It is the same kind I used in Germany, I remember 20 some years ago. It is a hand-held shower attached to the facet above the two nozzles and is adjustable via the same hot and cold that comes out of the bottom faucet. The soap I didn’t use. I took it home with me. It had been used before, but you can still see the name on it and it is very, very strong. The door into the bedroom area at one time had glass in it, it’s been completely broken out now and it remains open. Our rooms here in Luben, Poland cost anywhere from two to six dollars, depending on the combination of amenities.
At the border crossing between West Germany and East Germany, the toilet paper was a little softer, but it was obviously made of recycled newspaper, because occasionally you could find letters on it. The toilet paper that can be found in Poland is coarser again. The restrooms here are located only in the bars or bistro, which there are several. I have used two so far. Each time it was 5 zilotes to use the bathroom. There is no paper, there is a sink, but no paper towels and only cold water. They are, however, not gross. They have running water tanks and they are kept clean. They are old but do not smell.
There is no sink in my room, and in the rooms without showers, there is a sink in the actual bedroom part of the room, because there are no bathrooms. Where there is no shower, there is no toilet either. There are a lot of flies around here, which for American’s is a little uncomfortable eating. There are lots of other bugs. I have gotten bit several times. I am constantly shooing bugs away. I may use some bug repellant today.
So far, we are sleeping every other night. So, if the pattern holds, tonight is the night that we won’t sleep, so I am trying to pack accordingly. God is so unbelievably good. I packed nine of those minute maid cardboard juices in my pack and I have wondered occasionally if they were still safe. Last night was the first night I have been able to open my pack and it had been four days, and so I opened it and one of the grape juices had been squashed so much that the top lid had unfolded to allow for the juice to go somewhere when it was so smashed, but it did not break. Praise God!! That would have covered my entire clothing and ruined everything.
Right now, I am still in Luben. I am watching soccer being played. They don’t look any different from our guys except the language. The only difference I see is that they play off the field. If it goes into the grass, they play out there. It doesn’t seem to matter where it goes. They continue to play it. Well, I just saw some sunbathers. It doesn’t look too atypical from the U.S. It is a little different, the parks are strewn with kites and what used to be the tennis court is abandoned, with all the wires down, and no net. There are two people playing tennis though, despite the lack of net. It looks like some of the abandoned courts in the U.S. I am near downtown. This could be a depressed area. I have no way of knowing that.
At the park, everything seems to be weeds and the grass just grows at whatever height it wants to grow. I have not seen any mowed or manicured grass. I see no method for watering. Even in the fields, there was very little irrigation. However, all these pipes laying around could be the beginnings of an irrigation system. that’s my guess. I’ve seen several dogs. They are not on a leash. They seem to be pretty obedient to their masters. Frequently they are with women. Always a medium size dog. I don’t recognize the breeds. It appears to be a little bit of poodle cross in some of them.
The windows continue to fascinate me. The bars holding the glass make the shape of a cross in a very pronounced way; they are painted white. It was interesting that windows are the same in East Germany also. I wonder if the East German’s know the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ. Hallelujah. God continues to provide.
Miracles are happening around us all the time. The most recent one was the room that we stayed in the night before last. This is Thursday, the 17th of July. We arrived in the town of Luben and were searching for a hotel room or a camp. The tourist office had a hotel room. We found out later that the hotel had been booked with 48 people who had canceled just prior to us getting there; the Lord just provided and opened the way. Olga, our bus driver from Oslo, Norway, visa expired yesterday so several people, like Ron Rearick, and the pastor here Silblisky, went to the border taking the bus and then a car to follow in case they were unable to resolve the visa. The border guard interpreted the visa that Olga had one more day to try to get an extension or some other solution. So the Lord took care of that. They were back before dinner. They could have been gone two days, easily. The border is only a few miles from here, but as I shared earlier, the eastern block people move in official business very, very slowly.
I met a lady yesterday who looked to be in her 70s or 80s and two of the gals on our team, Gail and Jackie, had asked her if she knew Jesus and her face had just lit up. She knew some English words and was very open. They had asked her if she knew Jesus and what He had done on the cross; she invited us to come to her house which was about 16 blocks down the road. She wanted us to eat with her. She was so excited to see us.
Another miracle was at the hotel. I had packed everything and was out at the bus and we were drinking orange juice and sort of just hanging around and I realized I didn’t have my appliance in my mouth and so I thought well I had better put it in. I don’t like to go more than about a half hour or maybe an hour without it. I went to look for it and couldn’t find it. Realizing I didn’t have it, I went back in, retrieved my key from the desk clerk, who spoke only German and Polish, and went up to my room and began looking for it. I could not find it and I went out in the hall and got the lady that does the cleaning and asked her to come into my room. I pointed to my eye and then to the table and tried to make a little gadget and tried to ask if she had seen something laying there. At first she thought I was talking about the crack in the top of the table and told me it was okay, that I hadn’t done it, and that she knew about it. I told her that wasn’t what I meant and tried it again. She finally realized that I was looking for something and began to look with me. We looked everywhere and she decided she wanted to take the bed apart to look. Well, I had already done that, but I went over there with her anyway and looked. Then she got down on her hands and knees and looked under the bed, so did I, and there it was. It was under the bed. How it got there, I have no idea. Thank you Father God!
Thank You for visiting. If you have comments, please leave them for me below. I love comments.
Please Click here to continue reading about my journey in Poland.