Tattoos present him with witnessing opportunities

LUBIN, Poland (BP)--Drab, high-rise block apartments cut a dirty, jagged line against the gray sky. Two rough-looking young men walk in the buildings' shadows. Unsmiling, they nod to friends smoking and drinking alcohol outside a small grocery store.

The two duck inconspicuously into an out-of-place, single-story building. Once inside, their hard exteriors melt as warm golden hues, soft red lights and pulsating techno music provide a hip –- yet safe –- environment for Polish youth. They flash huge smiles and bound over to greet their American friend, Rich Ellis, making coffee behind the counter.

"Are we still on for pickle soup and Bible study Monday night?" they ask. Ellis, an International Mission Board journeyman missionary, answers with a smile so big even his dark beard and mustache can't hide it. Just a few months ago, no one was interested in coming to the coffeehouse, let alone learning anything about the Bible. Now, Coffeehouse Logos is packed on most weekends.

Technically, business isn't "booming" -- most of the youth never order coffee and snacks from the menu -– but that doesn't matter. What does matter to the small Polish Baptist church sponsoring the coffeehouse is that people are exposed to the love of Jesus Christ.

Ellis partners with the church in reaching the surrounding neighborhood for Christ. The Kentucky native serves coffee, cleans toilets, teaches English classes, plays ping-pong and foosball, and teaches the Bible. His willingness to do anything endears him not only to the church, but to the neighborhood as well. He doesn't know a stranger. He chats with anyone just as if he were back in his hometown, Warsaw, Ky.

Something about this young missionary captivates people.

Is it the piercing in his lower lip? Perhaps it's the tattoos adorning both arms. No, these help him blend in with the rough neighborhood. More likely, it's the love that emanates from this journeyman. Young people flock to him because he cares. Whether it's roughhousing, playing games or sharing American goodies out of a care package from home, Ellis shows his love by investing in lives.

"There's not much around here to do but sit outside, smoke and get drunk. The kids we work with are rough, but we've seen some changes in the last year," Ellis says. "One way to reach these kids is by building relationships and trust. You do this by hanging out."

PICKLE SOUP AND BIBLE STUDY

Four guys barely fit in Ellis's small kitchen at his house, despite their slight build. A big tub of dill pickles sits in the middle of the table. Someone fishes out a pickle and grates it for the soup. Another peels potatoes as a third prepares the carrots. The fourth tells an animated story in between text messaging his girlfriend.

"When we started Monday nights, none of us knew how to cook," one of the guys says, holding a knife awkwardly over the clutter on the cutting board that's supposed to end up as a traditional Polish meal. "Look at us now!"

"Yeah, look at our mess," Ellis jokes back, wrist deep in pickle juice. "Seriously though, nothing beats a hot bowl of pickle soup on a cold night."

Pickle soup night started with a few guys coming to Ellis's house on the night the coffeehouse is closed. The group started with just a few guys, but now even girls join the Monday night ritual.

Ellis says the close quarters in the kitchen provide opportunities for the Polish youth and young adults to ask questions about God. Monday night regulars seem to be searching for a deeper Bible study than what is offered Thursday night at the coffeehouse. Not one of the regulars is a believer, but all claim to be Christians, having grown up in a predominantly Catholic country.

Nearly 78 percent of Polish people claim to be Roman Catholic. The Protestant population numbers around 0.4 percent, according to Operation World. Ellis explains that in the past, Baptists and other Protestants were considered to be sectarian, or a cult. A change in thought is slowly taking place as those willing to take a stand share their faith in Jesus Christ –- like Ellis.

ME? A MISSIONARY?

"If you had told me a few years ago that I'd be a missionary, I would have thought you were crazy," Ellis says, shaking his head in disbelief. There are some days he still doesn't believe it.

With his tattoos and piercings, this former drummer in a heavy-metal band looks the part. Ellis quickly learned his tattoos provide a witnessing opportunity on the heavy-metal scene. All tattoos have meaning, so people who have tattoos ask each other about them. On a volunteer mission trip to Poland a few years ago, Ellis found the same was true in Europe. Pointing to Ellis's leg, a schoolboy asked what John 3:16 meant.

"When I found out I was going to Poland for two years, I decided to get a tat (tattoo) in Polish because I knew they would ask about it," Ellis says. One arm displays an artistic rendition of "One Truth" in English. The other arm says the same in Polish.

Every day someone at the coffeehouse stops Ellis to look at his tattoos and ask him questions. Even strangers on the street stop him to ask about his Polish tattoo. Today, a young boy brings a group of his friends to view his tattoos. He grabs Ellis's sleeve, pulls it up and points out the Polish writing. Rich smiles and encourages the boy to share with his friends the meaning behind it.

"God uses my tattoos to help witness," the journeyman says. It provides an opening and a chance to share about Christ.

"God uses everything unique about us to tell His story."

Glancing around the packed coffeehouse, he adds, "I can't believe they call this work! I get to hang out all night with friends and try to talk about God. I love it!"


Note: A journeyman missionary is a single college graduate between ages 21 and 30 serving two years with the International Mission Board. For more information about the Journeyman program, go to going.imb.org/journeyman.asp.

Prayer requests:

1. Pray for the Polish young people who visit the coffeehouse. Pray that they realize their need for a relationship with Christ.

2. Pray for more workers. "We need more people to come," Ellis says. "There are also other places that need workers, just like here. People need to learn about having a relationship with Jesus Christ."

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