Back Team welcomes local children in Zambrow, Poland to help restore Jewish cemetery
September 26th, 2012
This was Rachel McRae’s fifth time to Poland on a mission journey with Brentwood Baptist. She first started going because of her interest in European history and World War II—especially the impact it had on Jews during the Holocaust.
“Hearing Scott interview a team member in a morning worship services, after the first trip Brentwood Baptist went on, I knew I wanted to go the next year. I did and I haven’t stopped going,” Rachel said.
Each year, the team’s main focus has been working in Jewish cemeteries that have been neglected. Less than 20,000 Jews are remaining in Poland after the Holocaust, so the upkeep to cemeteries has declined. Previously, they worked in Warsaw, and this was the first year they tackled a cemetery in Zambrow.
Since the 1800s, Poles have buried their loved ones in this large cemetery. But over the years, with added neglect and disrespect, the walls are now falling down, overgrown trees and bushes have taken over, and trash, including drug paraphernalia, is scattered all over the place.
“Our goal is to be there for the next two years. This first year, we aimed to clear as much of the cemetery as possible. We uncovered many headstones that had been completely covered up for years. In the next two years, we’ll be rebuilding the cemetery wall,” Rachel said.
Partnering with the city of Zambrow, the locals have supported their work—even providing tools, equipment, and volunteers (some coming from the nearby prison). And God prepared hearts before they even arrived—opening opportunities for the team to have conversations on faith and plant seeds of the gospel.
“We found ourselves sitting in the mayor’s office on our first day of work,” she said. “He wanted to share with us about the city and learn more about our work. If that’s not an example of how God can impress upon people’s hearts about His work, I don’t know what is.”
One afternoon, halfway through their work day, Rachel noticed something in the back of the cemetery. She pulled off her work gloves and walked up the hill to check it out. As she moved closer, she realized what was happening.
“Under century-old trees were two little boys raking leaves,” she said. “Looking past them, more movement caught my eyes—more boys. Some were raking while others were picking up broken beer bottles, paper, and cans.”
One of the Polish volunteers working with the team said they’d stopped by to see if they could help.
“I ran back to the place where we were staying and grabbed the Moon Pies and Goo Goo Clusters we brought. As I handed each boy a treat, I told them, ‘Dziekuje,’ or ‘thank you.’ Their eyes went wide and smiles formed on their faces.”
As this was happening, two small brothers stood to the side, watching it all unfold. Rachel wasn’t going to leave them out. She handed the oldest one a treat, but he shook his head and told her what she assumed was, “But we haven’t been helping.”
She said, “I just smiled a little more with the treat still in my outstretched hand and told him that I wanted them to have it. They looked at each other in wonder and accepted the gift.”
A little while later, after she’d resumed her work, she looked back up the hill and saw those same two little boys, both with rakes in their hands and hard at work.
“Through our work, we sought to build restoration between Jews and Gentiles. We wanted to be agents of change in the way people see their Jewish neighbors. And we wanted to show God’s love above all else,” Rachel said.
This band of mini merry man are already leading the way in their town. According to Rachel, they were proud of the work they did. And the team hopes they’ll remember how awesome Moon Pies and Goo Goo Clusters are—as well as keep the grounds sacred until the team returns next year.
“Every time I go to Poland, I’m reminded about how big our God is,” Rachel said. “He’s a universal, world-wide God, and He loves his children no matter where they live. He’s alive and working in Poland, and I see that in new ways each year.”