Naturally, I bungled his name on my first try, but I think thats what broke
the ice. His name tag read Grzegorz and begged the question: Where are you
from? He seemed quite pleased that I'd asked, fairly clicking his heels as he
told me about his family in Poland.
He missed his four sisters and his two dogs, his mothers hot breakfasts and
his fathers hearty laugh. Grzegorz is 24 and an intern in the restaurant
management program at the Colorado resort where I was staying. Today he would
be my waiter.
He finished university last summer, bicycling to class, and came to America
the very next day. His first night here was only the second night hed ever
spent away from home. He shared an apartment with three other interns, all
non-Americans. No, he didnt have a girlfriend, not yet. His long-term goal is
to someday manage a restaurant. In the short term he just wants to see
OTHERS WHO SLEEP IN
Talia, 34, concierge, EgyptIll be living here in the
States for at least a year. As a Muslim, if I go to a Christian churcheven to
be with a friendI would be defying my family and denying my tradition,
everything I was raised to believe. I would be a failure. I would have given
into a culture I have been taught wants me to believe their way is better than
Antonio, 28, bellhop, SpainMy lifes going fine. I
make more money than I did in Barcelona, and I have attention from girls. I
dont need Gods help right now. I thank Maria over and over for bringing me
here. I can thank Maria in my apartment.
Ain, 40+, desk clerk, ChinaWe have a saying: the West
thinks its the best. I have been here more than 10 years. I see the Far East as
changing to be like the West. Clothes, language, music, culture. But I dont see
it changing in one way: religion. Do you wonder why? I think its because the
religion of the West is its one weak point. I dont think it will catch on in
the East. I think my people will dress and talk like the West, but they will
stay as Buddhists.
Michelle, 26, restaurant hostess, MoroccoIm too young
to be so serious. Getting religious is for when Im older. I want to party, meet
guys, have fun. My grandmother is religious.
Drew, 30+, car valet, ScotlandTheres so much to do in
the U.S., and everything is so spread out. Im not used to the distances. I cant
see wasting half of one of my days off in church.
George, 50+, groundskeeper, TrinidadI came here for
more freedom, but I would surely lose it if I believed what they teach you at
Grzegorz took my order, disappeared and then showed up to refresh my coffee,
discretely wiping the carafe with a linen napkin. His every movement was fluid
and refined. When I commented on his professionalism, he beamed and said he was
studying very hard. I am learning to serve.
The next morning I asked to be seated in Grzegorzs section. He greeted me
warmly, remembering how I like my coffee. I decided to take a risk and ask if
his name was the Polish equivalent of Gregory. Thats right, he said, adding
that he'd chosen to stay with Grzegorz for his nametag. Some interns anglicized
their names, he explained, nodding toward Michael and confiding that hes really
Mikhail from Russia.
I thought about that and, when he returned with my order, I asked him why.
For a moment he seemed flustered, but quickly caught himself. He then went into
a long explanation of how he wanted to learn here in America but only whats
good. Back home, he told me, America is seen as a place of great opportunity
but also great danger. People can change when they come here. They can lose
their footing, become immoral.
So I asked what was his moral compass. That didn't register, so I asked if
he followed a religion, did he have faith in God?
I wouldnt have been more surprised by Grzegorzs response if he'd poured
coffee on me. No! he almost shouted. I have faith in me. I am strong and will
guide myself. He busied himself with some tableware. Like old friends, we were
arguing, and he was avoiding my eyes. But his professionalism returned. When
the meal ended, he presented the bill with a courtly, It has been a pleasure,
Okay, third times a charm, I thought, showing up again the next morning.
This time Grzegorz was solicitous, telling me almost immediately that he should
not have spoken that way about your country, your home. I referred to Americas
guaranteed right to free speech and added that I notice a downward shift in
morality in this country, too. Then I said: But I also see God at work doing
You lean on God, he stated in that way nonbelievers have of making
dependence sound like a weakness. I have confidence in myself, I explained, but
I trust God to show me the way.
I told him about a time in my life when God showed me that even my strongest
abilities can be made stronger when Im serving Him. My new young friend seemed
to consider that. I think he was secretly enjoying the banter.
Grzegorz figured out he wasnt rid of me yet when I switched to decaf and
dawdled over the morning paper. Tidying up my table, he asked discreetly: I
know youre staying to talk to me. What do you want?
I surprised even myself with my question: What would it take for a guy like
you to go to church while youre here in America?
A ride, he blurted out.
Yes, I don't have a car and neither do my roommates.
So now Grzegorz was suddenly open, throwing caution to the wind, but he
needed...a ride? We explored this for a few moments, and I realized something
profound. He and the other international interns were virtually isolated near
this resort. His high ideals about not being corrupted by America and even his
bluster of protection against change were mostly a defense mechanism against
loneliness. It came down to something that practical. He didnt need an
invitation to church as much as he simply needed a ride. He needed a local
person to break the ice with him, strike up a conversation, show an interest,
hear him out and...give him a lift. Simple.
Before my visit was over, I spoke to a security man I also had befriended. A
fulltime employee and a Christian, as it turned out, he said he would make a
point to contact Grzegorz and provide him with a ride to church. I hope and
pray he did. Grzegorz has convictions and might trust the Lord if he could just
hear more about Him.
Meanwhile, I talked to other international people I met at the resort,
collecting their comments for this occasional feature I write for On Mission to
provide insight into the barriers in our culture we must overcome if we are to
reach nonbelievers with the gospel.
Carolyn Curtis is editor of On Mission.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC