Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2006
The “White Eagle” is Poland’s oldest national symbol dating back over 1,000 years; it also graces the national coat of arms. Legend has it that Lech, an early founder and Slavic tribe leader chose the symbol after watching the majestic bird circle and nest in a large oak tree. He declared to his people that they too would make their “nest” in the same region and embrace the White Eagle as their symbol. And so it followed that the White Eagle was adopted by subsequent ruling Kings, forbidden later by the conquering Russians, Prussians, and Austrians and forced underground during WWII by Nazi and Russian occupants.
It wasn’t until 1989 with the rise of the Solidarity Movement and the collapse of Communism that the proper White Eagle emblem was fully restored and now proudly displayed. The unifying symbol has long been a reminder of freedom, especially during times of oppression. To this day, the eagle has endured and, as the Polish National Anthem proclaims, “Poland has not yet perished!”
“Life on Wings” is a historical sermon given by Ern Baxter. In it he said:
“Like the eagle, we are built to soar on the currents and know the secret of the wind.” “The eagle must go higher than any other bird. We are built for high places.” “An eagle doesn’t flap up. An eagle is built for better things. ‘You shall mount up with wings…. Not flap up, but mount up.” “There the eagle stands on a rock, batting his eyes, waiting. But as that eagle poises on the rock, he is waiting for something. He is waiting for the right breeze to come.”
In this article, I want to share with you about Poland and our recent mission trip there. I believe there is a breeze coming in Poland and there are eagles ready to mount up.
Today, Poland stands in contrast to much of Western Europe. For starters, Poland has maintained a very limited immigration population. Ninety-five percent of those inside the country are Polish. Poland has not undergone the recent demographic shift brought on by immigration noted in certain western European nations, and has not had to bear the societal strains that can go along with it like, for instance, The Netherlands has.
Some of this has been due to the developed West’s greater job opportunities and lax attitude toward immigration. While Poland has not had to worry so much about who is coming in across the border, there has been concern over the thirteen million Poles who have immigrated elsewhere, leaving the homeland often in search of work.
So what market advantage might Poland have? Consider the following excerpts taken from a Washington Post article entitled Europe’s Capitalism Curtain by Steven Pearlstein: “A curtain has descended across Europe. On one side are hope, optimism, freedom and prospects for a better life. On the other side, fear, pessimism, suffocating government regulations, and a sense that the best times are in the past. This is not the same “iron curtain” famously described by Winston Churchill at the outset of the struggle against communism. But it is a psychological barrier demarking the part of Europe that is embracing global capitalism, and the one that wishes desperately that it would go away. This time, however, it is the East that is likely to prevail.”
“The secret isn’t just lower wages. It’s also the attitude of workers who take pride and are willing to do what is necessary to succeed, even if it means outsourcing parts of production or working on weekends or altering vacation schedules–things that would almost certainly trigger months of acrimony and negotiation in western Europe.”
“It’s not the dream of riches that animates the people of Wroclaw so much as the determination to work hard, sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed, and change what needs to be changed in order to close the gap with the West. It is that pride and determination, says Wroclaw’s mayor, Rafal Dutkiewicz, that explain why they are such a threat to the “leisure-time society” that exists in much of western Europe.”
Recent investors in Poland such as Hitachi, Proctor and Gamble, Bridgestone, Accenture, and Microsoft must also agree. Had these depositors been considering a move toward western Europe instead, surely the recent labor protests in France and the western European demonstrations for “job security” would have made them think again.
Poland’s last 15 years have seen a huge shift into market privatization, but closing the gap on the West will take awhile. Though it has become a European Union member, the World Bank estimates it may need 30 years to catch up with the other EU nations. Of course, that would depend on whether or not other EU nations will maintain certain growth levels. As of late, Poland has been turning in 4-6% growth rates, and real estate prices are on the rise; however, unemployment has been markedly high at 19%.
Look for Poland’s unemployment to reduce as it positions itself as a “go to” country for service industry outsourcing and gains strength in exporting machinery and transportation equipment. Also look for more investment from the United States as goodwill toward Poland grows.
Furthering the point of the East/West European contrast, of Poland’s 39 million residents, 95% claim Catholic allegiance; approximately 60-75% of these attend mass regularly. Western Europe, on the other hand, is hard pressed to find a country with 10% regular church attendance. Perhaps with Protestant Germany to the West and Orthodox Russia to the East, Poland was more inclined toward Catholicism. Most certainly, the popularity of Pope John Paul II, who grew up just outside of Krakow, further bolstered the Catholic Church’s position in Poland.
Our friend Rev. Ron Gray, who has led previous trips to Poland and who frequently ministers abroad, headed up our eleven member team. Once on the ground, we divided into 3 smaller teams. Yes, this was a “mission” trip, but not in the “traditional” sense: two of our three teams were there to share on biblical business principles, while the third was focused on education. The churches where my team shared used the opportunity as an outreach in the community for those who were interested or in the process of starting their own business.
Because of Poland’s recent Communist past, being a Christian and a business owner can seem like conflicting ideas. Our desire was to encourage them to step out, share some of our experiences, and try and answer questions they might have. After a few days there, I came to see those who were starting businesses as pioneers because they did not have the advantage of learning from someone who had “been there”. I also realized that these pioneers would someday become mentors.
How I got to Poland is a story that goes back before my time. During the Cold War and the days of the Iron Curtain, our longtime friend Goos Vedder was traveling to communist controlled countries, ministering and delivering Bibles. Much fruit has come from those days. Today Goos is a father in the Lord to many in Eastern Europe and in particular to those pastors I met with in Poland. Let me introduce you to two of them.
Leshek lives in Strzelce Opolskie. For sixteen years, before the church began, one elderly man in the town faithfully prayed that a church would come. Today, Leshek’s small but enthusiastic church is the answer to that prayer.
Leshek has a true pastor’s heart and particularly a burden for men. While staying there in Strzelce, besides speaking at his church, Leshek scheduled us to visit two other churches in neighboring cities. One was in the large city of Wroclaw and the other was a church where Leshek knew the pastor, and the congregation needed encouragement. Late at night, when we would conclude our time together, he would go home to study. He was continuing his education. “I am always asking my congregation to stretch themselves and grow, I must do the same,” he said. I enjoyed my time with Leshek so much that I have forgiven him for getting me to eat bull stomach soup!
After staying in Strzelce, we took a train to Torun and visited with Jacek’s church.
I met Jacek two previous times, once in the home of Brother Goos where we celebrated American Thanksgiving over an Indian meal. We had already become fast friends. Torun is a beautiful city. It was preserved during the war and is now a college town. Jacek’s church is young and reaches out to many college students. Jacek has a powerful testimony of God touching and saving him. He is hungry for leadership training materials and has translated and distributed many CSM materials into Polish.
Besides pastoring, Jacek owns his own import/export and cosmetics businesses and employs a sales force complete with company vehicles. Jacek believes in making room for leadership in the church and is actively raising up leaders.
Both Leshek and Jacek are in their early-to-mid 30s. They, along with pastor Sygmunt in Sczezcin, are close friends. I was impressed by their unity and the way they honored each other when they spoke of one another. They are the fruit of many years of sowing, and they are now bearing fruit themselves. These men are eagles. They understand the wind currents and are mounting up. They are not scared to reach out in new in and different ways because they want to fly higher. Please remember them in your prayers, and, as Brother Ern said, “Nest high!”
JONATHAN SIMPSON is a frequent contributing writer to CSM’s Marketplace Exchange.