The last 24 hours have been an emotional roller coaster for the Refresh Retreat group. Last night was a soul-quenching time of worship together at the camp. Exodus 15, ProeM’s worship band, led us in worship and Pastor Rafal from ProeM’s church in Tomaszow (the nearest city to the camp) gave a short message. It was incredibly moving to see believers from so many different cultures worshiping together in one Spirit of sincere gratitude for all the Lord has done.
At one point during the worship we paused for prayers and many of us were moved to tears as we heard the prayers of others in so many languages. It was a wonderfully sweet time together.
This morning we got everyone up early to start our three-hour bus ride to the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. The mood was very somber as we entered the first camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. This was the largest death camp built by the Nazis during their attempt to eliminate the Jews during the second World War. It’s impossible to describe the feeling one gets upon entering the camp. There is a sense of emptiness and deep, deep sadness.
One of our partners, Kazik & Dorota Barczuk, run Send Me Ministries in Warsaw, Poland. Their primary ministry is to Jewish people in Eastern Europe. When we entered the camp everyone gathered as Kazik shared stories of survivors they have met over the years. Probably the most powerful story was about his father, who himself was a survivor of Auschwitz. Kazik shared that his father fled one labor camp and hid in the woods until finally, on the brink of starvation, he came out of hiding to ask for food at a rural home. The man told him to sit down and he would give him some potatoes. But before the potatoes ever arrived he had alerted the Nazis and he was captured and imprisoned yet again. Kazik said he’s tried to bring his father back to Auschwitz, but he was not even able to enter. Even for those of us who are very far removed from the atrocities of that place, it is difficult to enter, and painful to see.
We were able to walk around Auschwitz and take a tour of the camp. Seeing the barracks, the pictures, and the actual hair of prisoners left a weight that was difficult to lift. Kazik left us with a haunting question from a survivor of the Holocaust that he and his wife are trying to introduce to Jesus. She said to him, “I do not ask myself, ‘where was God?’ during this time…I ask myself, ‘Where was everyone else? Where were the Christians?’” Being in that place makes us ask the very same question, and while it’s very difficult to see, we know that we must bear witness these events. It makes us think about the places all over the world today where this evil still exists, where men, women and children are dying and no one is saying anything.
Many of the partners at this retreat represent these places. Our friends from Rwanda are ministering in a country still in the early stages of healing from the terrible genocide that took place there in 1994. Our friends from India and The Hills minister to the persecuted church in those places. The reality is that evil will always be present in a fallen world, which is why we’re so thankful to serve a victorious, powerful, compassionate God who is the conqueror of death and the ultimate judge. He is our King who rules with justice and mercy and we are thankful to serve him together with these, humble and faithful brothers and sisters all over the world.