God spoke to me in the middle of the night in January 2017 in a way I have not experienced God ‘talking’ before or since. It is difficult to put into words what happened, but then to try and do so would be to detract from the real point. I awoke the next morning knowing in my heart that God was asking me to go to Poland.
I did not hear an audible voice or experience something specific during the night. While I was aware it could simply have been something I dreamt or an idea my mind came up with, in my relationship with God I know when it is Him getting my attention. Yet though I know that God’s words always require a faith response, I still would have liked something more ‘concrete’ that I could point to or base my feelings on. But God had given me everything I needed – now it was up to me to respond to Him. So the next morning I told my wife Jackie that during the night God had directed me to go to Poland – a country I had never visited before and where I knew no one.
I still would have liked something more ‘concrete’ that I could point to or base my feelings on. But God had given me everything I needed – now it was up to me to respond to Him.
Four months later I landed in Warsaw with my brother-in-law, Paul Kiefte. Without knowing why we were going to Poland, we had decided to go for 2 weeks and booked our return date accordingly. The reason Paul was with me is another story in itself, but in summary it was him simply responding to a stirring he had in 2016 to offer to accompany me on any trips I did in the future – even though I did not have any trips organized or planned at the time.
In one way it was satisfying to actually be in Poland – the country that God had told me to visit. But now that we had arrived, we wondered why God had brought us there and what we were to do next. After checking into our hotel we went for a walk as after 20+ hours sitting in an airplane we wanted to stretch our legs and breathe some fresh air. We asked the concierge where he would suggest we go for a stroll and he gave us a map and recommended we walk towards the Old Town and see how far we got. Following his advice we enjoyed walking along the streets in the sunshine getting a feel for Warsaw.
After about 45 minutes we stopped for a much needed coffee and sat outside on a patio over-looking one of the main squares. As we enjoyed the sitting and chatting, taking in the sights and sounds of this new city, we also wondered why God had wanted to us to come to Poland. Then on one side of the square music started up and some young people in orange t-shirts started dancing – it looked like some sort of organized “flash-mob” to me. We could not understand the words to the music as it was in Polish, but Paul thought they might be a Christian group. I said I doubted it as Poland is a predominantly Catholic country and this was not the kind of activity I imagined Catholics doing.
When we had finished our coffee, we set out to return to our hotel. As we did so, we passed by this group where someone was now speaking through a microphone. Again, we could not understand what was being said as it was in Polish. We asked a young man in an orange t-shirt what was going on and, after a bit of going back and forth because of the language barrier, we found out that there was a week-long Catholic mission in the church we were now standing in front of, with meetings being held each night. He invited us along and when we replied that we could not come that night – as we were feeling a bit weary from our travels by then – he suggested we come the following evening. Without quite knowing why, we both felt we would like to take him up on his invitation, even though a Catholic Church service was probably one of the last places we would have anticipated God taking us to.
So we went along the next night and experienced our ever first Catholic Mass… and in Polish at that. Everything was foreign to us – the setting, the service, the language and the people. We did not understand most of it and, not being able to communicate with anyone around us, we felt isolated. Yet, there was something that touched us both. Not during the first part of the service or Mass itself, but following that as people sang and worshipped, we felt the Holy Spirit was there. That was not something we expected to experience in that setting and it was quite surreal. Though we felt very much like ‘strangers in a strange land’ and most of what took place we did not understand, we ended up going back each night for the remainder of that week. Why? Simply because at the end of each meeting we felt to return the following night.. and, each night, that was all we needed to know.
We did not want to do anything from our own effort or desire to see an outcome, but we did want to be sensitive to God and responsive to His will for us.
On Saturday night the week-long mission came to an end and, apart from a few brief conversations in limited English, it seemed that nothing of significance had taken place between us and any of the people. At that point we were not sure what to do next and our thoughts went to moving on to somewhere else in Poland. We were in regular contact with our family and friends and they encouraged us to rest, to wait and to make sure there was nothing else we felt to pursue there in Warsaw before we left. Looking back I am so glad they did as it caused us to stop and look at what else we could do and what, if anything, we felt about each of those possibilities. Coming up with ideas was not that difficult, knowing whether we felt to pursue them or not was not always as straightforward. But as Paul & I talked and considered them, and prayed together what we felt to do next did become clear. We did not want to do anything from our own effort or desire to see an outcome, but we did want to be sensitive to God and responsive to His will for us.
In the end we felt that God had brought us across the people in that particular Catholic Community (who had organized the Mission we had attended) and that we should pursue that further. Some online searching led to us making our way by metro to a local Catholic church where we hoped to find the regular Community mid-week meeting. Though at first it seemed we had come to a dead-end as we could not find anybody, we did eventually locate them. That, in turn, led to us having quite a lot of involvement with that Community and many people in it. We ended up feeling to extend our stay in Poland and by the time we left had been there for 5 ½ weeks.
To be and stay close to God in everything gives Him what He desires – and my only desire is that God receives what He desires.
Though I am still not sure of what that means going forward, all I do know for now is that our involvement with those people has been of God… and, actually, that is all I need to know. Looking back, it is amazing to see where that ‘chance’ encounter on our very first day in Warsaw led to, yet all God needed was us pursuing Him. To be and stay close to God in everything gives Him what He desires – and my only desire is that God receives what He desires.
Our further involvement with that Community led to Paul & I being invited to attend a weekend retreat primarily aimed at people who were coming back to the Catholic Church and committing their lives to God. One of the activities involved each person sitting somewhere by themselves in the large room where the retreat was being held. We were instructed to close our eyes and spend time with God, knowing that at some point a person would take us by the hands and lead us somewhere. They simply asked that we kept our eyes closed and allow that person to lead us. It all sounded a bit vague and mysterious for someone who always likes to know what is going on!
I have to admit that at the time, it felt like a childish party-type game to me but, as we had decided to participate in the retreat as much as we felt to, I gave myself to it. I am so glad I did as that experience has come back to me many times in the ensuing months as it does exemplify not only what we experienced in our 5+ weeks in Poland, but how I know God is asking us as His people to live everyday – totally dependent and responsive to Him and Him alone.
I have written about this because God has used many aspects of that simple exercise to highlight to me what it means to really live by faith with Him:
- Each person went to a different part of the hall; I closed my eyes and waited for someone to come to me, unaware of what other people were doing. I had to rest, wait and trust knowing that they would come to me when they decided it was the right time.
- I did not choose or see the person who came to me. I simply felt their hands take my outstretched hands. They did not speak or give me any instructions but in silence guided me with the gentle touch of their hands.
- I went in the direction and on the route the person leading me chose. They determined where we went, the pace we went and to who they were taking me. All I had to do was follow their lead.
- I kept my eyes closed (even though I was tempted to peek!) and chose not to rely on any of my senses but instead to trust the person guiding me to make sure I did not bump into anything, stumble, trip or fall.
- I was taken to the person that my guide took me to – a Catholic priest – rather than a person of my choice (I did not even realize until afterwards that there was more than one person).
In responding to God and going to Poland simply because I believed that was what He wanted me to do, I had taken the first faith step. But there were many more to follow as, together, Paul & I learnt to rest and allow God to guide us where and when He wanted simply for the privilege of being with Him. He took us to people in a particular Catholic Community and through various situations and circumstances showed me what it means and what it takes to really live by faith.
It is beyond anything I could ever have imagined, not because of what took place, but because it took place with God. I know that God has called me to live by faith and it is my privilege to fulfill His words in my life.
– Simon Kostas