I had the opportunity to travel to Poland this past July to document the work that my church, Mission Hills, is doing in that country. I had a few preconceived ideas of what an Eastern European country that was held under a communist regime for decades would look and feel like. I was totally wrong! Instead of concrete block apartments, I was greeted with colorful and historic city squares. Instead of a barren landscape, there were beautiful forests alongside fields of wheat and corn. Instead of a cold and inhospitable attitude, I was greeted with smiles and helpful people wherever I went.
I started my travels in the city of Poznan, which is located in western Poland. The Old Town part of Poznan was absolutely beautiful and almost felt like a fairytale with all of it’s colorful building and cobblestone streets. I especially enjoyed the “pink church”, formally known as Parish Church of St. Stanislaus. It was a Catholic church with an amazing artwork and beautiful architecture. I think I could have spent an entire day there just photographing all the intricate details. I also visited a large park, Citadel Park, where the Nazi’s made their last stand against the Russians in Poland. They had a small museum that I toured and I was able to see many World War II relics from the battles that happened there. I’ve read a lot about World War II over the years and it brought a lot of it to life for me.
After leaving Poznan, I traveled to Nowy Tomyśl, a small town where Mission Hills is very involved in a local church. I had the opportunity to spend the next few days photographing kids camps both at the church and in a rural forested area about an hour outside of town.
I left the kid’s camps after four days and took about a six hour train ride to southern Poland. I arrived in Kiczyce and spent the next couple days documenting high school and college kids at sports and music camps at a retreat center called H2O. It was formerly a family retreat during the communist era in Poland and was purchased and remodeled in 2011 by Josiah Venture to be used by churches and Christian ministries in Poland. Mission Hills has been very involved with H2O and all the rebuilding that has gone into it. It was great to see it in person and I even got to scrimmage for an hour or so with the Polish guys that were there for a soccer camp.
The next stop in my journey was the toughest one. I spent most of a day touring Auschwitz. It was heart wrenching to hear about and see the locations where so much evil had taken place. I toured both Auschwitz and Birkenau while I was there and both just left me speechless. It was painful to see where so many people lost their lives so needlessly. I pray that we as a world do everything we can to never let atrocities like that happen again.
I then traveled on to Krakow, a beautiful old city with a ton of amazing history. Again I was blown away by the beauty of the city center and all the great cafes and restaurants. I spent two days photographing the city and had the pleasure of going on a tour that was one of the most unique I have ever been on. I visited Wieliczka Salt Mine and was blown away by the history and the scale of it. They started mining it in the 1200s and it is the world’s largest salt mine. It has over 250 miles of tunnels and some amazing rooms. I didn’t know places like that could even exist hundreds of feet below the surface.
Overall I really enjoyed my time traveling around and getting a feel for Poland. It was great to be able to see all the work that Mission Hills is doing in the country and meeting everyone that is on the ground doing the work.
The country been through a lot in it’s history as a country, but there is no doubt that the Poland of today is much different than the Poland that endured the 20th century. It definitely feels like a country that is proud of who they are but pushing towards the future. – McCory