Poland and Fort Worth, June 19, 2022
June 19, 2022
June 19, 2022
Greetings friends and family. Happy Father’s Day! I have been home in Fort Worth for almost three weeks, and have been catching up in person with family and numerous friends, including trips to Waco to meet in person with Unbound Now leadership (and staying with music-playing friends), and to Lufkin for a majestic, inspiring memorial service for a close friend’s mom.
I have a confirmed return to Poland in mid-August for at least five weeks, perhaps longer, with stays in at least a couple of adjoining countries (until my visa-less 90 days are up), with some of that depending on how Putin’s war is proceeding. So, once I get this Update out, you will not receive another update from me until late August, and that will come from Poland.
Last Two Weeks in Poland
Though it seems ages ago, the last two weeks in Poland were very busy and productive, though varied in tasks and cities. That stint continued in Warsaw, working on lawyer follow-up aimed at getting the Unbound Now Europe non-profit foundation set up, meetings with Allison and other NGO leaders, and preparing logistics for the next team. Then to Krakow to meet the next incoming team of six. The day before the next team’s arrival I had a lovely long lunch with Alex, Sam and their six-month-old daughter Talia off of the main Krakow Old Town Square. Though it had only been about a month since I had seen Talia, she had grown a bunch and was even more alert, engaging and active. She will be driving and sneaking out of the house at 8 or 9 months, is my best guess, assuming she has started walking by the end of this month. Alex and Sam were figuring out their best opportunity for service over the coming months (returning to Kazakhstan or staying longer in Krakow being two of several strong options), and whatever they decide that corner of the world will be so much brighter.
The next day I picked up most of the new incoming team in shifts at the airport, then our first evening meal and their orientation of several days in Krakow commenced, with their first trip to the border planned for later in the week. More below about Cole, Megan, Ashley and Bella. Arriving in Krakow the next day was Noah, and the Unbound Now executive director from Houston, Kerri, along with Allison (after they had done some incredible work with a Ukrainian church, refugee center and orphanage in Warsaw setting a foundation for the team’s later work). Kerri has done incredible things for Unbound Now in Houston, not only implementing a dynamic victim recovery program but also training literally thousands of professionals (teachers, health care workers, law enforcement, etc.) in human trafficking prevention education and Unbound Now’s mission. I was privileged to watch a couple of her training sessions with the new team (and PowerPoint materials), which was some of the best teaching I have ever seen, especially since the goal was to prepare the new team to give that same training in Poland for NGOs and other groups badly needing same.
The geographic origins of this group were very diverse: Megan in D.C.; Ashley in Fort Collins, Colorado; Cole in D.C. (he took all of his annual two weeks’ vacation as an engineer with the DOD to perform his service in Poland and Ukraine); Bella in Waco; and Noah in Duke Divinity School (after strong undergraduate religious studies at Baylor). Noah has, among others, a specialization/area of concentration in the Catholic schism that resulted in the “Greek” Orthodox church, so he was a great guide to the churches and history in Poland and Ukraine back to before the Crusades. Noah’s personality (growing up in North Carolina) and spirituality made him absolutely the calmest man I have ever met, besides perhaps my friend Barry.
Megan was a very strong team leader. I never saw her in anything but an ebullient mood and most pleasant disposition; she was another dynamic worship leader. Her wisdom as a team leader was reflected in her request to yours truly to give the group a short history lesson about Poland, Ukraine and their mutual disdain for Russia! Ashley is finishing school and planning her next few years of service. One sort-of-telling story about her follows, though ironically for the story, Ashley was the bravest of this brave team, which I gathered from stories I may tell in a later Update. Bella is another quiet one, never to be under-estimated, with zingers for yours truly at just the perfect moments. Bella struggled more than anyone with jet lag, for several days, but even so her calm energy was very effective on the border. All have been across the world on other mission trips, and each had some frightening stories of foreign reactions to their groups’ work in countries that ban, and punish, anyone spreading Christianity.
The team’s schedule called for two days on the border, one at the train station in Przemysl and the other in Medyka across into Ukraine. I left mid-morning with half the team, including Kerri, with Ashley, Megan and Cole picking up another rental car at the airport and following. Except they did not arrive at “the castle” (our accommodations for two days, thanks to Allison apparently reading some of my earlier Updates!) until late evening. And as dinner with the group proceeded, the reason for their late arrival became clear: on the autobahn between Krakow and Przemysl, Ashley (and her navigator who shall remain nameless—though I think he might be an engineer in D.C.) had read the highway signs of “70” with the ghostbusters red circle/diagonal red slash through same as a maximum, not minimum speed limit! That meant they barely crept along compared to traffic. Learning that story made my evening, even more so when on their return to Krakow to catch the train to Warsaw two days later, she was stopped for speeding on a regulated part of that same highway—perfect!!! That will teach her never to listen to a lawyer…
Of all the stories I could include on the team’s work on the border, please allow me to tell one on myself and Kerri at the train station, where the flow was still steady, but now mostly back into Ukraine. One of the Ukrainian refugees we encountered wanted—was determined—to get to London, and Kerri took her under her wing and spent literally an hour or more trying to help her, made more complicated by being consigned to “Google translate” to overcome the language barrier. At one point it became clear this refugee needed to get to the local refugee center, before connecting on to London a day or two later through several steps. I had no luck getting past the bus/van window for transport to the center, since the lady in the train station window insisted that no one could go to the refugee center without a ticket to their next destination (which our refugee did not have; please recall train tickets on into Poland are free for anyone having a Ukrainian passport). But Kerri refused to accept my explanation of this interaction with authority, and next spent 15 minutes schmoozing/befriending that same [train-station] window lady to the point that she herself drove our refugee to the refugee center, train ticket or not! And that is how very effective Kerri is, and sometimes we lawyers, who accept the official position, are not!
The team also put up new Unbound Now posters (warning of trafficking risks) in every business around the train station (with business owner consent), and we handed out a bunch of the new two-sided cards in the station—these now have a QR code that allows scanning to site lots of information on safe transportation, lodging, and other resources for refugees—all in Ukrainian and Polish, of course.
My last full day in Poland was spent driving directly from Przemysl to Warsaw, bypassing Krakow (and two bags of luggage I had left stored in a hotel there), and transporting some of the team to their new accommodations in Warsaw, where they would be doing a bunch of their Unbound Now work for several weeks. Fortunately, there is a service that will pick up stored bags and deliver to customs and then DHL for delivery in the U.S. Reasonable as long as not in a hurry (my last two bags arrived home almost two weeks after I did!). Kerri returned to Texas a couple of days after me, and before she left scouted one possible office for Unbound Now Europe in the former communist headquarters of Warsaw, now a Polish cultural center—irony and poetic justice all in one place! I continue to get updates every few days from the team that is still there, and they are doing strong work on what I have called the “phase 2” refugee problems related to trafficking vulnerabilities.
Why Ukrainian Refugees and Not Other Refugee Crisis?
There is one issue I have put off discussing for several updates, that I would now like to take head on, one especially timely since there has been so much in American media lately about the sick and deadly “replacement” theory. The issue is this, as worded by a “devil’s advocate”: why are you responding so viscerally to this Ukrainian humanitarian refugee crisis, George, and not earlier to other recent ones? Could it be [continues the advocate of conscience] it is easier to find yourself helpful to European refugees closer in skin color to your own, as opposed to Syrian, Nigerian, etc…? And after a lot of reflection and prayer, to this I personally, and regrettably, must plead to being perhaps somewhat guilty, though there are a few mitigating circumstances that I also would join with my plea.
Here I would draw a bright-line demarcation between yours truly, and Unbound Now. Unbound Now has responded strongly and pursuant to God’s calling to many of the recent refugee crisis, including Syrian, African, and others. It has offices in Mongolia and Indonesia and other foreign countries, with neither ethnic prejudice nor bias in the least. Unbound Now responds where the human trafficking problem is most acute. Anywhere in the world. And it continues to expand its scope and coverage.
As for me, comparing this refugee crisis to others of the past decade seems to be measuring suffering in a way that is somewhat callow. Recent articles put the number of currently displaced humans at 100 million worldwide, from a variety of causes. Comparing Putin to Assad is comparing one evil tyrant to another, not a game I care to play. And the Ukrainians are protagonists in a war they neither incited nor invited, against a truly craven, unprovoked invasion, with Ukraine led by a once-every-hundred-years leader against another Stalin. For our generation, this is the first European land war in our lifetime, after feeling that sort of debacle was over for a while after the end of the Cold War. Given my long study (as a college major and since) of European history, for me this made doing something mandatory. And now that I am better-educated on the scope and victims of human trafficking, I am fairly hopeful, even confident, I will be drawn to address the problem elsewhere in the future (For a great book about one of the many ways Europe badly messed up a key part of Africa, please see King Leopold’s Ghost, by Hochschild).
The worst problem of the 20th century was dealing with tyrants. Now the problem is even more acute, not less. All over the world. Since my return I have been reading more about this in the last few weeks, including books recommended by a wise friend. I briefly discuss some of these below. The fact this anti-trafficking work might be a modest way to take on tyranny has some appeal.
A Crash Course from Anne Applebaum and Tim Snyder in Polish and Ukrainian History.
For a short, more general sample of the problem with brief overviews of recent European history, I highly recommend Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy. It takes two days to read, at most. Even shorter and more concise, backed up by his earlier very strong scholarly writing on Central/Eastern Europe, I recommend Tim Snyder’s On Tyranny. Then I have circled back, following through with Applebaum’s Red Famine, Stalin’s War on Ukraine, and I am now halfway through her Iron Curtain, The Crushing of Eastern Europe, which is steeped in the WWII-and-after period of Central/Eastern European history vis-a-vis Russia (I hope to get to Applebaum’s Pulitzer-prize-winning Gulag before Summer’s end). A very insightful recent article on the Polish response to the Ukraine refugees is captured in “How Long Can This Go On?” by Caitlin Dickerson, The Atlantic, June 2022. The subheading nicely sums up the article and the problem I have been fearing most since I first touched down in Warsaw: “Poland has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war; but patience is fraying. And some are more welcome than others.”
Applebaum is married to a former high-ranking Polish government official, and combines exquisite scholarship with personal interviews and elegant writing. Allow me to share in my own clumsy paraphrasing just a few of many topic highlights from Red Famine:
- The short-lived Ukrainian revolution and national movement between 1917 and 1932-33;
- The Holodomor (coming from the Ukrainian words for hunger and extermination), the Russian starving of Ukraine (including widespread looting of grain stores) along with the murder and repression of Ukrainian intellectuals, professors, artists, writers, and anyone who ever promoted Ukrainian independence and language, between 1931 and 1934 (By the late Middle Ages Ukrainian existed as a language distinct from Polish and Russian);
- The earlier confiscation of food—especially but not exclusively grain—by Russia from Ukraine beginning in 1917;
- That Lenin and Stalin both saw Ukraine as a place to be looted to feed Moscow and other large Russian cities, and enacted programs accordingly;
- The word Ukraine translates to “border,” even though it lacks natural borders [seeearlier Update discussions about the concepts of borders] Note: Zelensky and the president of Poland recently agreed to ease border crossing restrictions, and to even consolidate border control/passport and customs checkpoints so one no longer must go through separate checkpoints going across to or coming back from Ukraine.
I could reference and quote so much more. But I will end with these words Applebaum quotes from no less than Voltaire, with me skipping the French original: “Ukraine has always aspired to be free.”
Thanks so much, George