Child of God

He's got the whole world in His hands!

Ladies' camp - that's me in the middle of the front row.

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)

Hello again. I hope you are keeping well and managing to cope with all the rules and regulations of the Covid regime. The weeks fly by so quickly and we are already in the third week of December – it will soon officially be winter! That said, the weather seems quite mild for the time of year, yet.

I’ve chosen the above verse because I think it is simple and straightforward. We can read the word of God in the Bible, but do we always ‘listen’ to what it says? One of the advantages of having a study Bible is that the explanatory notes always relate the word of God to our lives in these present times. Although it was written thousands of years ago, it is still relevant today, and I am frequently prompted by these notes to apply God’s word to my own life.

Back to my time in Poland, I thought I would tell you about my trip to the Ladies’ Camp, during July in my first year at the school. I have mentioned Cindy, the American missionary lady who was married to Patrick, the Head of Teaching at the school. Cindy asked me if I would be interested in taking part in the Ladies’ Camp, an annual event, which involved taking a party of Christian ladies to the countryside for a few days in July. I, along with a few other teachers from the school, would teach English for part of the day. This would be followed by various activities, both indoor and outdoor, with plenty of spiritual input.

I was delighted to be involved with this project, and met up with several of the ladies beforehand. Many of these were Polish and it was good to connect with them, but two English ladies, who lived in Southport, were also invited. They had attended previous camps, where they had been responsible for some Bible teaching.

My little class

My roomies

Good times!

There was a lot of preparation for this event, of course, and, as I prepared my lessons, I began to look forward to spending some time in a beautiful part of the country, while having fellowship with women of several nationalities. The lessons would only be taught in the mornings, and I was one of four teachers, so the work was not too arduous. We would focus on topics of interest, such as cookery, fashion and current affairs. I got Kev on board with this project, and he very kindly bought some women’s magazines in England, and emailed me several articles of potential interest.

The ‘camp’ was not held on a campsite, thank goodness! My limited experience of camping had not enthralled me, and I was relieved to learn that we would be staying in a hotel in a beautiful area a few hours’ drive away. This turned out to be a lovely place to stay, where the food was plentiful and very tasty, and the staff very friendly and welcoming. The rooms were allocated so that a native speaker would share with non-native speakers, and I found myself sharing with two Polish ladies, one of whom worked at the school.

We had a wonderful hike into the mountains one day but I had a problem with my eye during the walk. I could see a ‘spider’s web’ across one of my eyes, and was quite concerned, as I have suffered with eye problems for many years, leading to my undergoing laser surgery. Fortunately, one of the ladies on the hike was a Polish doctor and she examined my eye and expressed concern that I might have a detached retina, potentially a very serious problem. Once we got back to the hotel, she very kindly drove me to the local hospital, where I had it checked out. Fortunately, the retina was still intact but I was warned that it could deteriorate in the near future, with advice on what to look out for. Well, the Lord was certainly looking after me that day!

I was due to fly home shortly after the camp but was aware that if my retina did indeed detach, I would be unable to travel. Kev and I prayed about it and my eye did return to normal in time for me to travel home for the summer.

I have so many wonderful memories of the camp. It was a beautiful area and I had the opportunity of spending time with women who were Christians, getting to know people, and enjoying activities together. I even had a go at crafts, and I normally hate crafts! But I thought I had better show willing and quite enjoyed decorating candles. We played games, sang songs and watched a film, “God’s Not Dead”, which I was riveted to from the first minute. It’s about a Christian college student who enrols in a philosophy class taught by an atheist. The professor demands that his students sign a declaration to say that God is dead, but the student (Josh) refuses. I won’t tell you too much of the plot, in case you want to watch it, but it’s a very powerful story, and well worth seeing. It was made in 2014 and is an American film. I have since watched it twice with Kev, and he loves it too.

Our hotel

Cindy and Elaine

What next?

The camp was a huge success and I was invited to help with the following one and had agreed with alacrity but, by that time, I was married and didn’t think it was fair on Kev to go swanning off to Poland again so soon. I hadn’t expected to be married until the September after I returned from my two years in Poland but we actually wed in the February of my second year, as our circumstances had changed and, consequently, so did our plans.

We never know what life has in store for us and mine certainly hasn’t turned out the way I envisaged it but I wouldn’t change it now. I have put my faith in Jesus and believe He is looking after me and guiding me into whatever situations He thinks are best for me.

Have a blessed and peaceful weekend with your loved ones and remember you are much loved by God.

No hope, no Christ. Know hope, know Christ.

Ann❤

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Wroclaw city centre

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path”. (Psalm 119:105)

Hello again. I hope you are all keeping well and safe. It will soon be Christmas again – doesn’t it come round quickly? I am looking forward to it, although it obviously won’t be the same as last year, or any previous Christmas in my experience. It will be a lot quieter and more low-key but I am sure I will still enjoy it, anyway. For the first year ever, all my presents are bought and most have been wrapped, but this is the first year of my retirement, so it’s easy enough to find time to do it! I was always last-minute in previous years but I have no excuse now.

I was looking for a good Bible verse to start my blog with and happened upon the above. It seems so appropriate to me, as my daily Bible study inspires me to try to live as Jesus did. When I first became a Christian, I used to look on my Bible reading as a chore to be got through. A vital part of a Christian’s life is to refer to the Book of God on a daily basis, to read and learn God’s word and try to apply it to their lives. I didn’t use to enjoy it though; with sinking heart, I would dutifully open the Bible and read my allocated passage through gritted teeth, quite often not understanding what it meant. I would feel relieved that it was over for the day and I could get on with more interesting things.

For my 60th birthday, my church presented me with a study Bible. This made all the difference to my reading, as there are explanatory notes at the end of each chapter. They are interesting and relevant and help me to apply God’s word to life today. They also cross-reference to other parts of the Bible, to provide further explanation. It has taken time but I can now say that I actually enjoy reading and studying God’s word. My advice to anyone who is new to the Bible is to get yourself a good study Bible – it makes all the difference in the world. I still have my favourite parts, eg the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the New Testament will always be my favourite but I can at least make a decent stab at the rest. It’s like anything else, I suppose. The more you read it, the more you understand it and the more sense it makes. I usually ask God to help me understand His word and I believe that helps me too. There are, however, still days when I really don’t feel like opening the Bible and have to force myself but, oddly enough, I always enjoy it when I do read it. It’s just a good habit to get into. Well, I’ll get off my soap box now!

Anyway, I was telling you about my teaching post in Wroclaw, Poland. I had enjoyed my hectic induction period and it was now time to get down to work. Finally, I was expected to put my teaching theory into practice. There was so much to learn and remember. I had taught in Brighton the previous summer and this had given me a bit of confidence. I was very glad I had decided to do this as I really would have struggled, otherwise, as my last teaching experience had been in China about eight years previously.

Poland was such a culture shock to me. Being a Lancashire lass, I am naturally a very friendly person and felt snubbed when my smiles and greetings were ignored by the locals. The Polish are quite difficult to get to know but, once they accept you, they are warm-hearted and wonderful people.

My first visit to a Polish church was at the Baptist church affiliated to the school where I was teaching. Elaine and Marek took me there on my first Sunday and it was a very interesting experience. The congregation was quite large and of course the service was conducted in Polish; however, headphones were available to tune into the English interpretation, which was a blessing to me and other non-Polish speakers. All the hymns were in Polish and the words were presented on PowerPoint, similar to most churches, and I would hum along to the tunes, while studying the Polish words and trying to make sense of them. I went to a few services there and quite enjoyed it but was fortunate enough to be invited to the Wroclaw International Church by Patrick, my mentor and the Head of Teaching at the school. He and his wife attended on a regular basis and Patrick actually preached there some weeks.

The International church was held in the basement of the Baptist church, virtually next door to my apartment, so handy for when I had got up a bit late! All the services were in English and the congregation consisted of people from all over the world. Many, such as myself, were studying or working in Wroclaw, either temporarily or permanently. From the first day I attended this church, I absolutely loved it. The atmosphere was so warm and friendly and welcoming and I know it may sound corny but I felt like I’d come home. I made so many friends there and we had a rich and varied social life. I met people from Poland, Sri Lanka, USA, South America, China, Thailand, Japan – just to mention a few. After every service, we would have coffee and cake, have a good chat and really get to know each other. The tradition was for us to go for lunch together in the food court across the road; this was in Magnolia shopping centre, and the choice was tremendous, from Chinese to Mexican, from vegetarian to Big Mac. We would bag some tables and then go and choose our lunch. While I was there, I made it my mission to try every stall but there was just too much choice! The food was very cheap, and always tasty and substantial.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to give my testimony during one of the church services and equally blessed to hear several other people’s. I love my own story of how I came to meet the Lord but enjoy hearing other testimonies. All are so different. My own conversion came after a 43-year struggle with my selfish desires to live my life my own way, and one of my biggest regrets is not answering Christ’s call a lot earlier, but here I am, in the right corner at last. My husband became a Christian at the age of 13 and he has never wavered from the path. Lots of people, including me, turn to Christ after adversity – tragic circumstances, difficult struggles with addiction, crime, bereavement. Others have no doubt from the beginning but, however and whenever you get there – you’re finally there and that’s what matters.

Wroclaw gnome

Life in Poland

I taught four classes at the school and worked Monday to Thursday evenings. Not being a morning person, this suited me fine. I could have a lie-in before facing the day. There was an enormous amount of preparation involved in the lessons, as any teacher will know, including marking homework, setting and marking tests, not to mention all the elements involved in preparing the lessons themselves. I was lucky that I lived so close to the school and could go there to use the many resources they had. Some of my classes were for children between the ages of 11 and 14, and some were for adults. I have always preferred teaching adults, as I reason that they choose to learn English and are more motivated and well-behaved in class. This is not always the case, however, and I have battled with motivation issues on a few occasions. Sometimes, my young students would ‘play up’ in class and make it obvious that they just didn’t want to be there, as their parents had insisted on their attendance. I will admit to going back to my apartment in tears occasionally, wondering how I could manage my class better. One of my classes was renowned for being challenging and I was a relatively inexperienced teacher. I had a lot of support from colleagues, particularly Patrick, and tried to follow his advice. Sometimes, this worked; other times, not so well!

I remember one evening I had got home from a particularly arduous and challenging lesson. I was feeling very dispirited and finding that there had been a power cut didn’t help! I sat in candlelight, musing over the evening’s events and feeling sorry for myself. To make it worse, the internet was down and I couldn’t phone my lovely Kev for the moral support I had come to expect. I sat there, miserable and lonely, wondering what on earth I was doing in a foreign country, trying to teach my language to a bunch of kids who clearly couldn’t have been less interested. I remember bleating to the Lord, “Why have you sent me here? I’m not making a difference! I might as well go home”.

Well, we all have our bad days, don’t we? The power was soon restored, I could ring Kev and pour out my self-pity and frustration. I even contemplated giving it all up and coming back home. I remember Kev saying that if I really wanted to quit, he would support my decision but he did warn me that he thought I would really regret it. I slept on it and prayed about it and came to the conclusion that I should stay exactly where I was. This was only in the first couple of months and I didn’t want to be a wuss and give it up as a bad job so soon. I also reminded myself that I had prayed and asked God for this opportunity. I had asked for a teaching job in Europe, with an apartment and a salary – not thick on the ground in the Christian sector! God had duly answered my request and ticked all the boxes. How could I walk away from it? I had four classes to teach and if I quit, the school would be left with the problem of allocating my classes between the remaining teachers.

This wasn’t the only time I decided I wanted to give it up and come home. There were a few teething troubles in the first year. I had signed a two-year contract and have to say I enjoyed my second year so much better than the first. In my first year, however, I struggled with the culture, missed Kev and my family and friends, and also missed my soaps! I had been addicted to Coronation Street and Emmerdale for many years, and couldn’t really access them in Poland. I think it’s fair to say that I missed my TV as much as I missed my people but eventually I was weaned off them and don’t even watch them anymore. In fact, Kev and I have had got rid of our TV, as were fed-up of paying the licence fee when we hardly ever watched it. Oh, we still have a monitor and watch films on DVD or streamed from Amazon Prime but we are completely out of touch with what’s on TV these days.

Wroclaw market

Grub!

I also missed some of my favourite foods. Polish food is lush – they make the most amazing soups, for instance – but I struggled to get hold of my favourite staples. For example, I love malt vinegar on a lot of my food – weird, I know – and they don’t really sell it over there. However, I found an international food shop in Magnolia centre, where I spotted a bottle of malt vinegar in the window. I had to use all my powers of persuasion to get the shop assistant to remove said bottle from the shop window and sell it to me for an extortionate price – but, oh my triumph! I think I even posted it on Facebook – how sad is that? They also had a Tesco in Magnolia but it was obviously geared to Polish tastes; however, they had a small English section, from which I purchased cream crackers and Bisto! I was delighted! Marks and Spencer had a store in the city centre (subsequently, they withdrew from Poland), where I would make regular trips to buy corned beef, among other things. I used to make corned beef hash for my Polish friends and they loved it. It was a taste of home, along with the cottage pie I used to cook regularly.

Speaking of corned beef, I have a couple of quirky stories to share with you. The first one was when I was living in my apartment in Salford, prior to leaving for Brighton. I have always (along with many other people, no doubt) found corned beef tins well-nigh impossible to open, particularly with that key on the side of the tin. I invariably turn the key the wrong way and end up losing it altogether, thereby making it so much more difficult to actually get into the tin! Well, on this particular occasion, I was planning a corned beef hash for my tea but just could not get this key to turn the right way (or is it really only me?). I had very recently become a Christian and remembered that I had been told that God likes to be involved in every aspect of our lives, however trivial. “Well, here goes”, I thought. Feeling a bit foolish, I asked the Lord to help me open my tin. I was totally astonished by the immediate result. It was as if someone had placed their hand on mine (but I didn’t feel anything) and the key was whisked round at speed and the tin was suddenly opened far faster than I have ever managed! Reading this now, I cringe a bit, knowing how ludicrous it must sound but I can only assure you it’s true. I must add that this had never happened before and has never happened since.

The second occasion was when I had recently moved into my apartment in Poland and again fancied a pot of corned beef hash (well, each to their own) but, again, I struggled to open it. Remembering my previous experience, I again called upon the Lord’s help but it wasn’t forthcoming this time. After fighting with the tin for several minutes, I threw it into the bin in a sulk and wondered what I could have instead. A couple of minutes later there was a knock at the door and my friend, Elaine stood there. I was quite surprised as she didn’t usually turn up unannounced but she was ‘in the area’ and had just decided to call on the off-chance of seeing me. I was very relieved to see her and, much to her bemusement, asked her if she was any good at opening corned beef tins. She said she would have a go and so I fished said tin out of the bin (no, it hadn’t been opened, so no worry about germs!) and quite easily achieved what I had struggled to do. I relayed my story to her and decided that the Lord had sent her specially to help me. From that day, she became the Corned Beef Fairy to me!

You might be wondering why I am including such anecdotes in my blog. Well, it is to show you that being a Christian is not all about being serious and devout and devoted, although that side is important. But you don’t have to lose your sense of humour and I firmly believe God has a sense of humour, too; after all, He created me! 😀

I did get a real taste for Polish food, though, including perogi, the dumplings they eat on a regular basis. Elaine used to invite me for meals occasionally, and I would enjoy her wonderful cooking. As I said earlier, I loved the Polish soups, including beetroot soup. The first time I tried it was at a staff lunch at the school and I was horrified when invited to try it. I am now a lifelong convert.

Wishing you all a lovely, peaceful and safe weekend. Ann ❤

No Christ, no hope - Know Christ, know hope!

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Wroclaw Cathedral

Wroclaw river bank

4 December

"And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15)

I was going to tell you about my time in Poland but got side-tracked with my devotionals. Anyway, I set off for my adventure in Wroclaw on Thursday, 1 September 2015. The weather here was dreadful – torrential rain and wind – but I had been warned that summer was still very much in evidence in Poland, and so had packed plenty of summer clothes. Kev took me to the airport for my early morning flight. I said my goodbyes to him and his 6 year-old son, Josh, and boarded the plane with mixed emotions. I was eager to start my adventures overseas but sad to say goodbye to Kev, as we had only just discovered each other. I knew we wouldn’t be able to meet up until the Christmas break, which was almost four months away. Fortunately, he had lent me an iPad, which enabled us to keep in contact; in fact, I don’t know how we would have managed without it.

I don’t remember much about the flight but I do remember landing in Wroclaw to a beautiful, warm and sunny day. I immediately began looking round for Marek and Elaine, my future employer and his wife, who had made arrangements to meet me at the airport. It was quite crowded but I eventually spotted them. I didn’t know what Elaine looked like but I did recognise Marek from the Skype interview held back in March. We greeted each other and they took me to my new home, about 20 minutes’ drive away.

I was very pleased with my apartment. I was fortunate enough to have it all to myself, even though it had two bedrooms. It was basic but clean and spacious and, best of all, it had a decent sized balcony, which I was to enjoy very much over the next two years. Elaine had bought new bedding and made efforts to ensure it was welcoming and ready for me and I knew I would be happy there. They left me to unpack and settle in, before returning to take me to see the school where I would be teaching. Luckily, this was only a couple of minutes’ walk from my apartment and I really appreciated this in the depths of winter.

I was given a tour of my new workplace and introduced to my future colleagues. I was the only native English teacher at that time. There was a lady from Ukraine and a gentleman from the USA, who was actually Director of Teaching, and became my mentor, as well as a very good friend. His wife was responsible for recruitment, and it was to Cindy that I sent my initial application. They were a wonderful couple and gave me lots of support during my time at the school. All the other teachers were Polish, including Marek, the Director of the school, but his wife, Elaine, is English.

Everything was new and exciting, as I tried to get used to this strange environment, with a language I couldn’t possibly hope to master! My surroundings certainly didn’t disappoint but, unfortunately, I was taken ill within a few days of arriving and had to spend some time indoors, taking various medications for my flu-like symptoms. Elaine was a rock at this time; she took me under her wing, made me soup, fetched medicines for me and generally behaved like the angel she was and still is. She became my best friend in Poland and we are still good friends, and email and Skype regularly.

I was not expected to begin teaching until about three weeks after I arrived, and this gave me time to acclimatise myself to my new surroundings. I underwent extensive training for my teaching, and got to know my colleagues a little. All the staff at the school, including admin staff, were taken out on a glorious day in mid-September. We had a trip on the river, a meal at a Korean restaurant and a walk through the Japanese gardens in the city centre. Wroclaw is a beautiful place and I fell in love with it and have managed to return since I came back to England. Once the Covid restrictions are relaxed, I am looking forward to visiting again.

Have a blessed and safe weekend. Stay well and remember the Lord loves you.

Ann ❤