This article was originally published in the September 2016 edition of ITMI Monthly.
"I was very religious," says Daria Przybyla, "but at the same time as a teenager, I was suicidal and depressed.”
Daria was raised in Poland. Eighty-seven percent (World Fact Book, 2012) of Poland’s population are part of the State Church. She spent 17 years believing the only way a person can earn God’s approval is through keeping religious rules and rituals.
Reverend Timothy Keller (not to be confused with ITMI’s own Timothy Keller) says, “There are two false ways of thinking, each of which steals the power and distinctiveness of the gospel. ... The gospel opposes both ‘religion’ and ‘irreligion.’ ”
Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11) perfectly illustrates this. The younger brother - representing irreligion - rejects the Father to do whatever he pleases. The older brother - representing religion - obeys, but only for what he can get from the Father. (v.29)
While the younger brother blatantly opposes God, the religious older brother’s rebellion is less obvious. But just as the younger brother’s rebellion lands him slaving away in the pigpen, the older brother’s rebellion against the Father leaves him feeling enslaved, too.
“Religion” - or rules without relationship - crushes us because we attempt to earn God’s approval through our own efforts and obedience.
It gets us to place our hope in ...us.
Our own worthiness is no comfort because deep down, we know it isn’t enough to hope in. And if it goes on long enough, the results can be tragic.
“I would do pilgrimage to Mary - pray to Mary,” Daria continues, “it didn’t make sense. There was no purpose. There was this sadness that wasn’t even caused by anything specific. Dying was a way out. I didn’t know or think about whether I would go to heaven. I was so focused on, 'I’ve had enough, I cannot deal with this. I want out.' There was no hope. No joy. No peace. No comfort."
Bartek, who also grew up in Poland as part of the State Church, says,
“People go to church and hear a bunch of rules and what they are supposed to do to be a good person. If you make a sin, you’re not forgiven instantaneously. You have to go to confession. Then and only then, the priest decides - supposedly working with God - to forgive you. They constantly live in conviction that they are sinful but not forgiven. They don’t know they can be once and for all forgiven because that - the gospel - is heresy. But there is no guarantee about it. If you go ask people about salvation, they say, 'I don’t know,’ ‘I hope so,’ or ‘maybe.' It’s been my struggle for many years. They are never given a solution to this problem and the guilt eats them up from the inside."
The truth that Jesus takes their guilt, forgives unconditionally and pursues a relationship with them is REALLY GOOD NEWS to the many who are bearing that weighty burden.
Gaining trust long enough to share truth has been a daunting challenge for our Polish partners. People aren’t expecting hope and freedom from anything that resembles the church. Once you are outside the State Church, you are considered something of a con-artist - tricky, manipulative and to be avoided at all costs.
Several years ago, Daria, who God blessed with a beautiful, rich singing voice, attended a Gospel Music Workshop in Poznan, Poland put on by ITMI’s Gospel Joy Workshops and Evangelism.
Gospel Music Workshops attract many who would otherwise never hear the Good News.
It was there that she heard that the gospel songs she was learning were inspired by the joy people found in a relationship with Jesus. She learned what He did on the cross in pursuit of that relationship with her. She listened as people from Gospel Joy talked about having peace. She wanted that.
Daria began volunteering at the workshops. She read Ephesians. She discovered grace. She learned salvation didn't involve rituals, guilt and confession.
“When I shared my discovery with my Mom,” Daria said, “Her response was, ‘Watch out! Someone is manipulating you.’ ”
At a Gospel Joy music camp, Daria was so touched by one of the testimonies given, that she opened up to the woman who gave it, and prayed to give her life to Christ.
After that, Daria went to a Poznan Word Zone, the group meetings Gospel Joy offers anyone who is interested in finding out more about a relationship with Jesus after the workshops. Daria planned to only go a few times, but ended up staying.
When Daria told her mother she wanted to be baptized and join the evangelical church, her mother cried. "It was difficult," Daria remembered.
Now, Daria and her new husband, Bartek, are involved in almost every aspect of the Gospel Joy Workshops and Evangelism ministry, but their main role is leading one of the three Word Zone gatherings in Poznan, Poland.
Gospel Joy's Bartek and Daria.
Before he met Daria, Bartek’s story also begins in the State Church. He was in it for 23 years, but his Dad’s alcoholism gave him questions.
"How could there be a God when my dad acts like this? Maybe there’s a different way to connect with God," he thought.
Bartek’s experience with his father is a snapshot of a pandemic of alcoholism and escapism tarnishing the idea of “Father” for an entire nation.
During the communist’s rule, alcohol was one of the few easy products to get. The emotional and mental torture of falling short of religious requirements combined with economic troubles have incubated devastating results in the lives of many Polish men.
Many come home from work and head straight to their chair to watch TV and drink.
Bartek said, "I thought that was only my dad, but it is most of Polish people’s experience with dads. This feeds problems with God and His Fatherhood. Father is not a comforting figure for Polish people. Many struggle to accept the loving Father persona of God."
As a young adult, Bartek's roommate invited him to Piotr Zaremba’s K5N church. He was struck by Piotr Zaremba's preaching. It was straight from the Bible, and that was something Bartek had never seen before.
"It was mind blowing. Piotr would open the Bible and EXPLAIN it to us! That was completely new to me. After going to church 9-10 months I got [saved and] baptized," Bartek says.
"It was mind blowing. Piotr would open the Bible and EXPLAIN it to us! That was completely new to me."
Bartek's mother cried for days when she found out he planned to be baptized into an evangelical church.
Bartek has been leading the Word Zone group since 2014, and he felt God calling Him to do it full-time in 2015. He married Daria in January 2016.
Leading a Word Zone doesn’t just involve leading the gathering once a week. The couple meet with people individually throughout the week. They spend a lot of time listening and building relationships.
“People are broken and they come and they feel safe, so we make them feel welcomed. They want to share their life story with us,” Daria says.
“Daria has this amazing gift of getting people to open up,” Bartek added, “Polish people aren’t very open, so them opening up to Daria is amazing.”
Faith is a private matter in Polish culture. Giving a testimony in public can even be offensive!
Every aspect of the Word Zone meetings are tailored to make people feel comfortable and safe. But changing a lifetime of beliefs is not a quick process. “It can take 20-50 weeks of hearing the gospel before someone becomes a believer,” Bartek said with authority that comes from watching many travel the road to saving faith.
Daria added, “When they do [understand the truth], they often are angry, ‘Why hasn’t anybody told me this before?!!’ ”
Daria and Bartek spoke about the leadership of Word Zones with ease and comfort. The young couple has been well-prepared for multiplication by ITMI’s Andrew Gorski, Gospel Joy’s Director.
They’ve been trained in translating, logistics and even how to train other instructors. Andrew personally trained Bartek on leading the Word Zone group, caring for people and equipping them to lead. Bartek meets with Andrew every day, continuing to learn how to multiply disciples.
“Every step of the way they would tell us to do stuff and model it. Andrew gives a clear vision,” Bartek said.
Now Bartek and Daria provide support for other Word Zone leaders. When Gospel Joy plans a workshop in a new city, Bartek and Daria are involved with finding and training local leaders in those cities to execute the follow-up Word Zone groups.
Bartek and Daria encourage the new leaders frequently throughout the opening weeks of the group, and maintain regular contact with them.
ITMI’s Andrew and Anna Gorski are taking the impact they’ve had through Gospel Joy and training many more to make the same impact. Their impact is widening.
Jesus is using Gospel Joy to call “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” to a nation weary of carrying the heavy burden of sin without forgiveness.
Now, Gospel Joy needs our help to honor Andrew and Anna’s investment into Bartek and Daria by allowing them to put all of their energy into doing what they’ve been trained to do.
The message must go out! We don’t want any more hurting souls asking, “Why haven’t I heard this before!?” Bartek and Daria are trained, ready and willing to take it!
The young couple needs 12 supporters to commit $50/month in order to be able to serve in Gospel Joy full-time. Several have already committed to help Gospel Joy multiply disciples who will tell people they can be forgiven and free.
We’re praying seven more supporters will follow the Spirit’s leading and become part of this amazing thing God is doing in Poland.
The World Factbook: POLAND. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2016, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pl.html
About the Authors
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 4 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.