A Hand to Hold - Escape Conference
Amy Nickerson | November 2016
Out of Pain
“When I came to know Jesus, it was out of deep pain from my own life.”
Years ago, when Iwona Eifling was 15, she says she was searching for a hand. “Life is this maze of possible turns and by then, I knew that I could easily end up in the wrong place, where I wouldn’t be happy. I thought, I wish there was a hand --somebody that would take me by my hand and lead me through life to a place where I could say at the end of it that it was a well-lived life, and I was happy. But I didn’t know whose hand I should be holding.”
Coming from a broken family, while facing her own pain and questions, Iwona heard a Christian speaker quote Jeremiah 29:11 and say that God wanted to take her by her hand and lead her according to His good plan.
Now, years later, Iwona has not only grabbed onto God’s hand, but also wants to help other lost and hurting people do the same. That is the vision behind Project 29:11, a ministry through Josiah Venture Poland, serving young women dealing with life’s pain.
A couple weekends ago, Project 29:11 put on their fifth WYJŚCIE (Escape) Conference, what Iwona likes to call “emotional and spiritual first-aid.” Around 120 girls, including 40 or so national leaders volunteering at the event, gathered for three days to explore personal stories of suffering and to find ways of healing and reasons to hope, many hearing about Jesus’ love for the first time.
But Iwona says it didn’t start out like this. In 2009, the ministry began as a few leaders meeting with small groups of girls struggling with parent divorces.
A few years later, God made it clear to Iwona that it shouldn’t stop there. But Iwona had hesitations. “I felt very comfortable with the topic of divorce. I didn’t feel very comfortable with all the other messes out there! That was really at the bottom of it; I didn’t know if I was qualified.” She says it was like walking into fog and that she felt like Moses at the burning bush. God just kept telling her to walk in faith and that He had seen the misery of His people and wanted to do something about it.
The first Escape conference had 20 total attendees, 38 including the leaders. Iwona says that she learned a lot through the process. “I thought I carried a burden for the broken. But God carries it way more.”
Since then, things have grown, but pain is still a messy topic. The workshops offered on subjects like addiction, unhealthy relationships, depression, and abuse and main sessions that Iwona says are meant to “unwrap the box of pain” and help people see that it’s even worse than they think are at times difficult to hear. Small groups and personal reflection times cause plenty of tears.
No wonder Maja Kowalczuk, a full-time employee with Project 29:11 and worship leader at the conference, says the leaders need a lot of prayer for “wisdom from the heart of God because brokenness is a very delicate aspect of life. We need a lot of Jesus!”
Although fear inducing at times and definitely emotionally heavy, God has faithfully moved in the hearts of girls who have attended conferences and many have joined the team in serving others to bring hope.
One such woman is Noemi Kubas, the MC at the most recent conference, who says that the more she takes part in these events the more passionate she gets about the vision of Project 29:11. “I know God makes miracles --I’m a miracle myself. But sometimes the miracle is that this or that girl just happens to be there, at the conference. And then the Holy Spirit uses us. That’s just amazing! That we can, that I can, be used by Him and be a witness of dust turning into diamonds!”
Natalia Starkowska, the conference director, feels similarly, saying, “I’m honored by God’s grace and love, and amazed every day by His blessing.” Her dream is to help develop more Escape conferences in various locations in Poland “so these weekends of recovery from pain to hope may be more accessible for girls, because this is a weekend for every girl.”
And Maja says that what she’s seen is that “in brokenness God will glorify Himself.” She says people shouldn’t be “scared to go to the dark places and to the brokenness, because if you’re following Jesus, He will provide. We are no longer slaves of fear, we are children of God. Fear is not our bondage anymore. In Jesus we have everything.”
Through it all, Iwona explains that every single attendee, even when in “the pits of disfunction” would say they want a happy life, much like she did back when she was 15. “But many of them are blinded by the fact that they are in a maze and it’s not going to take them to a happy life if they continue to go the way they are going.” They need a hand.
Escape conferences are just one of the ways girls in Poland can be introduced to this guiding force in life. As Iwona says, “Pain is trying to scare, intimidate, and overwhelm us, but when God comes with His touch, He’s all people can think about after.”
Please join with us in praying for the many girls who just attended the Escape conference. Pray that the messages of hope and life that they heard would sink down deep into their souls and that the result would be lasting change in the midst of pain. Pray that God would continue to speak to them through follow-up activities taking place in the coming weeks. Pray also for wisdom and protection for the leaders and insight into how Project 29:11 can expand to include guys and other countries in the future.