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FIRST-PERSON: The improbability of Poland

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The British historian and author Norman Davies titled his epic two-volume history of Poland and its people, “God’s Playground.” In this unusual title for a thoroughly researched and serious study, Davies sought to capture something of the mystery, improbability and fate working against the odds of a free and prosperous Poland.

Consider, for instance, a nation and people whose very geographic location has placed them in the intersection of invading armies and clashing empires. Here, also, is a people whose instincts for democracy and freedom, after a medieval period in which their kings were “elected” by their noblemen, were restored after the nation was brought back into existence by the Treaty of Versailles following World War I. For well over a century, including all of the 19th and parts of the 18th and 20th centuries, Poland had not even existed as a country. Rather, it had been divided among rival empires, and yet amazingly had maintained an unrelenting drive to survive as a nation and people.

Then the very country that was invaded by the Nazi empire, amid the lack of response by their allies to protect them, weathered the horrors of the Second World War. They were ultimately given over to, at the conflict’s conclusion, “Soviet influence” by the very allies who had risen to win their freedom. In the next act, in the early 1980s, a group of shipyard, railroad and factory workers, having grown weary of the communist “paradise,” took on the Soviet empire with its military might and nuclear armaments. Armed only with a common spirit of defiance, uniform mass labor action and their largely Catholic faith — with its view of a God who they believed advocated their values, prayers, hymns, masses and homespun massive political action, and joined by the peoples of other faiths — the Poles became the point of the spear that brought down the “evil” European communist empire. With a Polish pope at the helm of the Catholic Church, John Paul II, and a former Gdansk shipyard worker named Lech Walesa as prime minister, Poland become the symbol of what the right values, determination and grit can do to make a difference.

Now fast forward to April 10, 2010. In an airplane journey to commemorate the single most devastating loss of national leadership in history — the Katyn Forest massacre of 22,000 Polish officers in 1940 — the single most devastating loss ever of a nation’s leadership in a single air crash occurs. Perhaps due to impatience, and a sense that they could win again over the odds, a plane filled with national leaders, influencers and heroes of Solidarity was brought down, very probably by pilot error. In one fell swoop, a nation lost its president, his wife, their joint chiefs of staff, other leading generals, the head of their national banking system, leading parliamentarians, and the incredibly influential list goes on.

No wonder that in the 24-plus hours after the crash, even politicians were heard to raise and ponder the question on national media, “What is God trying to tell Poland?”

Using the Bible as our authority, consequently there is one thought that ought, should and must come to every Pole’s and every thinking person’s mind in times like these: “What does eternity hold for me?” When this short and uncertain life is over — and it soon shall be — “What will happen to all that is me?” Jesus gave us the answer: “If you seek your life,” He said, “you shall lose it. But if you lose your life for my sake — you will find it!”

Our thoughts, prayers and sympathies go out to the Polish people. We pray for that nation and its stability and for those of its people who don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior. We pray that this loss will be used of God to draw them to the One whom to know is life indeed. We pray also for people everywhere, outside of Christ, that consequently the Good News will be brought to bear more dramatically on their lives. As well, may the lesson not be lost on any of us who know Jesus that what matters most is a life lost in the doing of His will — so that one day we might hear those words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
R. Philip Roberts president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., was in Poland at the time of the April 10 air crash that claimed 96 lives, many of who were Polish government, military and business leaders.

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  • R. Philip Roberts