Stopping Before the Finish Line you Expected

We moved to Poland in September, 2010 expecting to build a community centre, demonstrate our faith by tackling civic needs, and bridging the gap (perceived and actual) between the church and the community. Three years later there is no community centre and no civic programs. Our move to Włocławek was part of a pilot project, and like any good first-attempt, there is a certain level of inherent risk. We knew this. We shared openly about it. The project now carries on without us and we still believe in it’s potential, but the delays in timing, our life situation and the needs we see coming in the future, changed our present. And so we have returned to Canada short of the finish line we anticipated.

This is not failure. When we reflect on the changes in our own character, the lessons learned, the experiences gained, and the relationships forged, we would not cash-in our time in Poland. There were some tough lugging seasons, but they are part of the package and we would not have grown and experienced the good, were it not for the bad. Truly, they’re two sides of the same coin. We realize that not obtaining what we set out to do is not failure. Every race needs a finish line, just like actions need a goal. Not crossing that line, or reaching that goal, doesn’t invalidate the race. Let us paint you a picture of what “failure” looks like in our case:

On one of Matthew’s last evenings in Poland, he went out with most of the teachers from the language school. Seated at the far end of a row of tables, he was humbled when everyone stood and sang “sto lat” (“100 years” – Poland’s go-to celebratory song for special occasions). It was followed by one of our absolute favourite Polish traditions (and one we really should incorporate into Canadian life) – wishes! You take the person by the hand, look them in the eye and share a memory, something encouraging or a wish for their future. It was intense! One of the highlights included one of the managers saying that before he believed in nothing, but now he was willing to say there is “someone”. A step on the journey. Near the end of the evening, Matthew sat back down and took a few moments to soak it all in. For our time in Poland, this is what failure looked like. We didn’t accomplish what we set out to do, but there were other wins woven through our time there.

We’re planners. We like to see things through from start to finish. The stories shared, not just at the staff party, were highly affirming for us. They were more needed than we realized – but they did leave us wishing, wanting, desiring, and sometimes desperate, to walk them through to completion. It felt like we were bowing out at a pivotal moment. For us, it’s a trust thing. We often don’t trust that others will finish things how we think they should be completed (or at all). This next season of geographical distance from our beloved Europe and the relationships we’ve built there is one where we need (please read as “lack of other options”) to trust God to see to completion what He started through us.

Now, before Ray Boltz’s “Thank You” starts playing melodramatically in the background, we (Amber and Matthew) have to remind ourselves that at best we are a small part of other people’s journeys, but the entirety of those journeys belong to God and the people walking them out. It requires big faith in a big God and we’re working on it.

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