One of the many benefits to international travel and my travel to Poland is to observe what is different than the United States. Sometimes it’s small things like not having ice water, seeing the first floor of the elevator marked as zero, or the two-button toilet system. Some differences are greater like encountering a 1300-year-old church built into a castle in Krakow. This structure is a reminder of the power of the historic church. It also makes the idea of separation of church and state feel like a fresh innovation!
There is one aspect of Poland I could not quite understand in just 10 days. It is their value of homogeneity. It appears that Poland wants all of its citizens to be the same. Poland has a zero-immigration policy, the strictest of all the nations in European Union. On the surface and legally, diversity does not seem to be a value or goal they embraced. That is, until the war in Ukraine broke out.
Ukraine is on the southwest border of Poland. It used to be a part of Poland (the partitioning of Poland is a history lesson in geo-politics and how countries become the booty of war). Their common past is one of the reasons Ukraine have been received and welcomed. Since war broke out with Russia in February 2022, 13.8 million Ukrainians have entered Poland. That is over 36% of the entire population. It would be like the United States allowing 120 million immigrants! And the influence of Ukrainians in Poland is being felt across the nation.
These Ukrainians are bringing new foods, different products to the Polish market, a spike in new small businesses, and Ukrainian art and culture. By welcoming Ukrainians, Poland is realizing that different can be good! As one person said to me, “We are coming to see that we can learn new things and that we don’t know it all!”
Diversity is a gift we have in the United States. Becoming a diverse society may be desired, but it doesn’t come easily or automatically. My prayer is that our presbytery continues to encourage and promote diversity in our congregations and leadership, and that we have an open table of fellowship where all are welcome.
Rev. Craig M. Howard