A missionary plunked out a hymn on an electronic keyboard in the cramped hotel conference room. Beata was the first speaker. She told us that her husband was out of work and she lives in a town where the Church just barely exists, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is her lifeline, the ray of light and hope in her darkness. Walter Whipple, our professor and the first mission president in Poland after the fall of the Iron Curtain, was the second speaker. Then, an elder gave a lesson from Preach My Gospel and church was over. Before departing, Beata and her husband, Cezary, invited the branch, consisting of four elders, Dr. Whipple, and the five of us BYU study abroad students, for dinner the following evening.
Surrounded by an old chain-link fence topped with rusty barbed wire, Beata’s townhouse was previously owned by a Jewish jeweler who died in Majdanek, the concentration camp on the edge of town. Beata’s two teenage sons greeted us with hugs and led us up the stairs to the small living room. Beata announced, “God made Walter Whipple to play the organ beautifully and God made Beata to cook beautifully.” Beata did cook beautifully. We sat around a coffee table where she dished up plates for everyone. Potatoes, broccoli, carrots, onions, kielbasa, and chicken slow-cooked with a succulent sauce, followed by a spectacular pound cake stacked with four or five layers of chocolate custard. Beata explained that the delicious dessert recipe was from the Polish region of Stary Sacz. I had told her on Sunday that I was studying Polish with the BYU study abroad program because my great-grandparents were born in villages near Stary Sacz, so she had thoughtfully baked the cake as a sweet gesture of sisterly love.
Beata spoke no English, so after dinner Dr. Whipple translated while Beata and I had a poignant conversation. She told us not to throw anything away when we were packing to leave Poland. She knew a very poor family with five children that could use anything, even partially used bottles of shampoo. I told her that she was a pioneer and that I was touched by her strength in being the only female member of the branch. I felt her loneliness on Sunday and I said I would always remember her. She began to weep as she shared that she was very happy right now because my roommate and I were in Lublin for five weeks, but that she would be very sad when we left; it was difficult having such a tiny branch where you don’t have the strength of other women to sustain you. She said, “Katarczyna, I don’t envy any of the material things you have in the United States. I don’t care about big houses or cars. The ONLY thing I envy is your big ward back in Utah.”