Volume 125, Number
Six from area celebrate an early Christmas at church in Poland
BY SARA J. PLUM
‘Tis the season for giving and for hope. It’s the time of year when, even in our mad rush to finish shopping and preparing for the holidays, we are more apt to smile and wish others a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holiday."
In the spirit of giving, 18 people got a jump start on the season and traveled to southeast Poland to give of their time and talent to a small church in Zamosc. Six of the 18 are from Benson County, two from Quebec City, Canada and 10 from various cities in Canada.
The trip was organized by Kim Backstrom of Maddock. Kim first went to Poland while a student at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. The college organized mission trips for the students to foreign countries. Her first choice was Ireland, but that trip was full. A professor suggested Poland and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since that first trip in 2001, Kim has made numerous trips to church camps in Bydgoszcz and more recently to Zamosc. A missionary friend, Pierre Jutras told her of the remodeling the Zamosc church wanted to do so they could provide more usable space for the congregation and the religion classes held each Saturday for the children. They also needed to make the church asbestos-free and fix structural issues in the 30-year-old building.
All the way home, Kim wondered how she could help the congregation fulfill their dream. Zamosc is located in the poorest area of Poland and the changes needed at the church would require manpower and money.
Her parents, Paul and Donna Backstrom listened as Kim told of the work needed to be done and the amount of money it would take. Their suggestion: talk to our congregation (Bethany Evangelical Free Church in Esmond) and see what ideas people may have.
The congregation was more than happy to help and began raising money for the project. Missionary Pierre had also been in contact with churches in his home country of Canada and soon a plan came together for a work crew to go to Zamosc. Money for the materials and trip was raised and a time line set up.
On November 20 Kim and her father, Paul were joined by Dennis Backstrom, Josh Backstrom, Roger Hill and Dean Hellesvig, all of Maddock, on a flight from Grand Forks to Minneapolis, Minn. From there they went to Amsterdam and arrived in Warsaw late afternoon on Friday, Nov. 21.
They spent the evening sightseeing, then drove to Zamosc the next day. En route to Zamosc the group made a stop at Lublin for sightseeing and toured one of the largest World War II concentration camps in Poland, Majdanek.
Built in 1941, the camp was under constant construction during the entire period of its existence. This particular construction group was not there to glean architectural ideas, however. What they saw was a dark part of the world’s history no one wants to see repeated.
Sunday, Nov. 23 the Canadian group joined the Benson County group and all took part in the worship service at the church they were there to work in. The work to be done at the church was on the third floor. It included fixing the roof beam structure, insulating the roof and walls, sheetrocking the ceiling and walls, building walls for guest rooms, installing a water heating system, building a bathroom and kitchen, installing a wood fireplace and building a stairwell. The original wood beams also needed to be washed and scrubbed as they were soaked in oil and would be quite a fire hazard.
Don Wilson, a contractor from Ontario, Canada, took on the responsibility of organizing 17 people into smaller work groups to get as much done as possible in the two weeks people were scheduled to be at Zamosc. He wrote the daily schedule on a chalkboard:
7 a.m. Breakfast
8 a.m. Work
10 a.m. Coffee break
1 p.m. Dinner
3:30 p.m. Coffee break
5:30 p.m. End of work day
The Evangelical Christian Church of Zamosc is a 21’x60′ three-story brick structure built during Russia’s occupation of Poland. Its history was not known by Kim. She said the congregation moved into the building seven years ago and has slowly been making changes.
The first floor of the church consists of the sanctuary, office, bathroom and storage. On one end of the second floor is a small dining/meeting room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The other end consists of a small apartment.
There are approximately 40 church members led by Pastor Piotrek (Peter in English). A young woman named Magda teaches religion classes on Saturdays. When the church had trouble finding a caretaker, she volunteered to take on that responsibility in exchange for living in the small apartment on the second floor.
Poland does not have separation of church and state as we do here. Magda is a government-certified teacher who was hired through a local school, but teaches only at the church. She does have a curriculum to follow and gives grades.
Not only does Magda take care of the church and teach on Saturdays, she is also in charge of the food pantry and distribution of the "shoeboxes" that come at Christmas. This year that area of Poland received 15,000 shoeboxes.
The Saturday religion classes are similar to AWANA classes held in our area, combining games and learning for school-age children. The classes have been held in the meeting room on the second floor, but will move to the larger common room on the third floor as soon as the finishing touches are put in.
The work crew enjoyed taking part in the church services and prayer meetings. They got to know the people and discovered the church ladies had one major thing in common with church ladies back home — food. They were so grateful for the work being done and Kim said they showed their appreciation with wonderful food.
In turn, Kim decided to help them prepare a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. With only one oven at the church large enough to hold a turkey, the other turkey had to be taken to a home nearby to be cooked.
Because the church is small, only three members of the work crew stayed there. The rest bunked at a campground that was a 10-minute walk from the church.
The size of the church also made getting materials to the third floor an interesting proposition. A pulley and tackle system was used for items that could fit through a third floor window. The majority of the items were carried up two flights of stairs. A total of 125 sheets of sheetrock were hauled up the stairs using a chain gang, taking about 30 seconds per sheet.
Like most construction jobs, there were things that weren’t completed in the time frame the work crew allotted themselves. But they were able to clean the roof beams and reinforce the roof, pour the floors, insulate the roof and walls, build the walls for the rooms and sheetrock the ceiling and walls. The rooms are usable and the church will find a way to get the finish work done.
In celebration, the congregation and work crew had an early Christmas in the new meeting room. It was still a close fit, but larger than what they have on the second floor.
The Benson County six began their journey home Thursday, Dec. 4. Dean and Josh had to get back right away, but Kim, Paul, Dennis and Roger stayed a few days and enjoyed more sightseeing.
The men traveled to Auschwitz to see the Nazi death camp depicted in the movies and on television. Seeing pictures of this place just doesn’t compare to standing at the entrance and seeing what the Jews first saw.
Poland’s history was turned upside down during World War II, but the people are working to erase that dark time. The changes being made to the Evangelical Christian Church in Zamosc are part of that work. And Kim, Paul, Dennis, Josh, Roger and Dean are part of the new Polish history.
Editor’s note: Kim is working on a presentation of the trip to share with everyone who helped raise the funds for construction. It will begin with a traditional Polish supper at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 4 at Bethany Evangelical Free Church in Esmond.
Members of the work crew are, left to right, back row, missionary Pierre Jutras, "Big" John, Ernie, Luc, Josh Backstrom, "Little" John and Dennis Backstrom. Middle row: foreman Don Wilson, Barry, Bob, Roger Hill, Jacques, Paul Backstrom and Stewert. Front row: Peter, Keith, Rob, Kim Backstrom and Dean Hellesvig. Last names of most of the Canadian workers were not available.
The Evangelical Christian Church in Zamosc, Poland received a major facelift on its third floor thanks to volunteers from Benson County and Canada.
New Benson County VSO
David Daeley of Maddock is the new Benson County Veterans Service Officer. He and his wife, Kathy, have lived in Maddock since 1991. He retired from teaching social studies, phy. ed. and driver’s ed. in 2005 and has been substitute teaching and driving a school bus since then. Upon taking the VSO position, he has terminated his bus driving duties. Daeley is a Vietnam veteran, having served there in 1967-68. He and his wife have three grown children: Jeffrey, who works for the railroad out of Harvey; Michael, a truck driver; and Alicia, who works at the hospital in Harvey. Daeley will be in the Benson County Courthouse on Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The GosPALS, a male singing group from the Lake Region area, performed at Lake Country Manor in Devils Lake on December 12. They entertained residents with a collection of favorite holiday songs. Members of the group are, left to right, Dennis Lysne, Jim Beatty, Bob Nelson, Allan Overland, pianist Gloria Lysne, Mark Motis, Jim Thompson and Irving Thompson.
Leeds Dollars for Scholars
The Leeds Dollars for Scholars organization held a fund-raiser at the recent Leeds Elementary Christmas concert. Students in grades K-6 made Christmas tree decorations during their art classes with Mrs. Braun and Mrs. Kavli. These ornaments were sold at the Christmas program and proceeds went to Dollars for Scholars. Leeds Dollars for Scholars has given more than $30,000 in scholarships over the past six years. In the back row, left to right, are members of the Dollars for Scholars committee, Louise Nelsen, Karen Hausmann, JoAnne McCarty and Kaye Nelsen. In the front row with their ornaments are Dani Schwanke, Arnikka Thompson, Dalton Onerheim and Andrew Follman.
The third and fourth graders at the Leeds School studied Mexico.
Their favorite lessons dealt with the Christmas customs of our southern neighbors. The students learned about posadas and poinsettias and made Christmas ornaments. They also made their own paper mache pinata. There was lots of excitement when the pinata was broken. Keaton Nelsen tries to hit the pinata in this photo.
Callie Lawrence, Keaton Nelsen and Garrett Johnson hold the pinata.
Evan Follman, Nathan Elverud and Declan Ritterman show their poinsettia pictures. Feliz Navidad y ano prospero!
Rochelle Hansen, Arnikka Thompson and Dani Schwanke hold their Mexican God’s Eye ornaments.
Ceremony at Capitol
The North Dakota Funeral Directors Association participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the ND State Capitol in Bismarck. Stephanie G. Armstrong, owner of the Gilbertson Funeral Home in Devils Lake and president of the North Dakota Funeral Directors Association, presided at the laying of the wreath in Memorial Hall of the Capitol Building December 8. Sponsored by Wreaths Across America, the ceremony was held in every state capitol on that date at that hour. The wreaths placed represent the commitment as a united America to remember the fallen. "We also want these holiday wreaths to symbolize our honor to those who have served and are serving in the armed forces of our great nation and to their families who endure sacrifices everyday on our behalf. To our children, we want you to understand the freedoms you enjoy today have not been free but have come with a cost that someday, you may have to pay yourself. As a nation standing together, we can defeat terrorism, hatred and injustice. Thanks to our veterans, we have the freedom to do just that," said Armstrong. Others speaking at the ceremony were Gov. John Hoeven and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Jay Seibel, Beulah funeral director sang "The National Anthem."
Shell’s Christmas present
Michelle "Shell" Eyl of Maddock stands in front of the 2002 Kia that was purchased for her by someone who remains anonymous. She was instructed to come to Lake Toyota in Devils Lake, where she figured she was going to pick up an ad for the Farmers Press. Instead she was handed a key to the Kia. She has no idea who her benefactor is, but the gift was certainly timely because she was having troubles with her van. She writes a weekly column in the Farmers Press.
Oberonites gather in Phoenix
Oberonites recently attended the Phoenix Children’s Chorus (Four Choirs) Holiday Concert in Phoenix, Ariz. Dakota Knutson, granddaughter of Don and Marjorie Knutson, particapated as a member of the Concert Choir. Dakota has been with the Concert Choir as they presented concerts in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2007 and Hermisillo, Mexico in 2008. The Concert Choir will participate in concerts in Vermont and Canada in 2009 and Beijing, China in 2010. Left to right, are Howard Schmid, Shirley (Togstad) Midstokke, Helen Schmid, Carmen (Togstad) Paulson, Jean (Roberts) Olson, Dakota Knutson, Marjorie and Don Knutson and Marlys Ann (Knutson) and Floyd Boschee.