Update From Warsaw, May 8, 2022
May 08, 2022
May 08, 2022
I am back in Warsaw for lawyer meetings tomorrow, debriefing further with Allison, and to attend a couple of Warsaw meetings with Unbound’s NGO partners. Most of this Update is not about the last week, but further reflections on the eight days at the Ukraine border with the Team from that trip. I start working with the next incoming Unbound team tomorrow night on a group call. And Happy Mother’s Day to you all, especially if it is bittersweet due to the loss of your mom recently. Know that their mom-spirit(s) are being channeled through the Ukrainian moms at the center of my thoughts today, who only want safety for, and the wellbeing of, their children during this awful time of war. And through the Polish moms who are setting such strong examples for their children as they help the Ukrainians in ways large and small.
At the train station we had some rare “calm” time between trains incoming from and outgoing to Ukraine, though often we were still busy helping refugees to get to trains traveling further inside Poland, or to Germany. The ticket lobby is beautifully done (re-done?), with high ceilings and vintage artwork. And like much of Poland, kept very clean, even the over-used restrooms.
In his usual fashion, Jeff was schmoozing one of the police/guards stationed at one of the hallways off of the lobby. This young man was barely 21 or 22, and he had an interesting story about the early part of the war. The only early trains coming out of Ukraine were of different gauge than the standard Polish railway gauge. This meant that when those first evacuees came into Warsaw and Krakow, there was a 2.5-3 foot gap between the train platform and the train car. Almost all of the refugees were very young, or elderly, or disabled. So the police simply carried/handed the passengers over that gap to the secure platform, one policeman handing these people over to another—3,000 to 4,000 in the span of a couple of days. His observation was this: after all of their deprivations, and thousands and thousands of miles of travel, when finished unloading trains the police found one (1) discarded used plastic water bottle. One, as he held his index finger up for emphasis. So respectful and grateful were these Ukrainians of their Polish hosts. In contrast, the policeman had also previously worked Polish futbol games, with hundreds of rowdy passenger-fans who would leave the trains and platforms and streets a bloody mess—he did not have fond things to say about that. But that policeman seemed pleased, almost honored, to be working the train station through which so many refugees were passing.
I’m sure there is Ukraine-fatigue, especially among the Poles who have done so much already, absorbing more than four million refugees. Never mind the exhaustion and devastation the Ukrainians are experiencing. But I am seeing very little sign that the Polish will not stand by Ukraine in the long run, no matter the stupid threats emanating from the Kremlin.
During another singular quiet time at the train station, I was privileged to witness a great theological discussion on one of the core issues in Christianity. Cade had been visiting with a reporter off the record, and it came out Unbound was a faith-based organization, and that he was a strong Christian. She pushed him—off the record—to explain why an all-powerful God “allows” such human suffering as we were witnessing, and “allows” men like Putin to act out in ways that are pure evil?
I’m sure Cade gave her a cautious answer. But he shortly came over to our table, and posed that very question to Erika (one of the twin translators), and to me. Quiet Erika, except when she is translating in four languages. Nice of him to throw out an easy one. I waited for Erika to go first, and I was so glad. Because in five minutes she summarized, in her own words, thoughts about this age-old dilemma as if she had read deeply of all the great theologian/scholars over the centuries. From St. Thomas Aquinas to Elie Wiesel, to C.S. Lewis and many others. When she touched on the epic human-unknown, the divine mysterious, divine suffering, human sin and then took it to God’s gift of “free will,” I was blown away. If by the end of her thoughts Erika had mentioned St. John Paul II’s “sliver of the Cross” analysis of suffering, I would not have been a bit surprised. No doubt she has listened closely whenever this issue has come up in worship. But clearly, she had also thought very deeply about this issue in light of her own experience, carrying that to the ontological. I think she comforted Cade somewhat, helping him to better grapple with this issue, and she certainly re-ignited my thinking about this core question.
I now better understood what made Erika so effective and tireless in her work with us and the refugees (3:30 am trains from Krakow, and all). Erika and her sister want to travel to Waco this August to take Discipleship classes at Antioch for 9 months, and I’m willing to bet that education is a huge two-way street! Two of you receiving these updates have agreed to host Erika and her sister, rent-free, for the nine months of this Waco study, and that made my week.
One last rumination and then I will close this Update. One cannot be crossing the Polish/Ukraine border several days in a row, and cannot be closely following the war by Putin to expand imperialistically, without thinking about the very concept of a border, a boundary between nations, between people, between religions, between philosophies, and between genders. I do mean here to wade into the more recent US debate about open borders, expanding immigration, building walls and “defending” the border; I am talking about a different sort of problem. I am talking about borders in the same conceptual sense that Gloria Anzaldúa writes about them in her great book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. While I do not agree with several of her statements, I found her tough, probing questions of great help to my thinking about borders. Her conceptualization of herself being ill-defined by borders, and therefore of neither side of any border she carefully examines, and of both sides, seems completely appropriate in thinking about the Ukrainian refugees, who are now neither of Poland nor Ukraine (even when they return to their devastated country), and of both. I am also thinking about the idea of one country with its own unique history opening arms to embrace a once-previously-hostile country’s refugees, regardless of a border on a map. My own shorthand term for this idea is “Polkraine,” though I do not mean to hint at a new man-made border (things have not gone so well over the last hundred-plus years when old guys take pen to paper to re-draw Central or Western European countries, especially if Russian, but including Wilson, Churchill and Stalin). Though Poland (and the Czech Republic) seem to have solidified a national identity after WWI.
In my reading on this issue of borders, I found this Old Testament passage on boundaries and the temporarily/permanently fatherless wholly appropriate for Mother’s Day and the Poland/Ukraine border: “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; He will take up their case against you.” Proverbs 23:10. Indeed.