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A message fro Kent and Jan McKinnon; Former West Fargo pastor teaches

Dr. Kent McKinnon served as pastor at Grace Baptist Church in West Fargo from 1984 to 1994. He and his wife, Jan, and their three children, Kyle, Noel, and Krystal, became well known in the community. All three kids were active in Packer sports and community service projects. Jan worked as a nurse at MeritCare and enjoyed leading women's Bible study groups and coordinating church functions.

One of Kent's favorite times of the day was spent walking between their house and the church, stopping to visit with people in the neighborhood along the way, or joining in a friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. in someone's driveway. He loved to meet new people, using everyday opportunities to share his faith with everyone he met.

In 1994, the McKinnons moved to Muskegon, Mich., and Kent became pastor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Olivet Evangelical Free Church. Then in 2000, they moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to accept a position with the Central District, as church planters. It was their job to help get newly formed churches organized, training church leaders, and helping to establish a firm foundation for the church to grow. When their work was done at one church, Kent and Jan would move on to their next assignment, and help organize a church in another community.

About three years ago, Kent and Jan felt God moving them in a new direction. They were contacted by International Messengers, an interdenominational mission organization, who asked them to pray about going to Poland. God opened doors, and within seven months, they had sold their house, completed training through International Messengers, and secured financial support for the trip. The McKinnons moved to Poland in January of 2007.

Going from living in modern American homes to living in a two-room apartment with very few amenities has been a challenge for the couple. They also struggle with language barriers that make even simple day-to-day tasks difficult. Yet, their love for people of all walks of life has been a key element to the success of their ministry.

This is what they write

from Poland:

Poland has really changed in the last three years. When we visited in 2005, there were no freeways and few people had cars. They had few internet cafés. Today Poland has shifted and the E.U. has made a difference, and credit is readily available.

Borne Sulinowo is where we live. It is a unique town of only 3000, just started in 1993. No railroad runs into the town. It had been a secret military base, first for the Germans, and after WWII, the Russians. Buildings look bombed out and are being renovated. There are no individual standing homes. Most families live in Russian or German high rises, called "flats," or what we would call apartments. The apartments have only one or two rooms in total. A one-room flat has everything in one room; a kitchen, bathroom and living room. People sleep on pullout couches. Two-room flats have a separate room for a bedroom. Sidewalks and some of the roads are made from German cut stones, about 6 inches by 6 inches square. This week, we went Russian "bunker hunting" and found some bombed out bunkers and one with an underground tunnel the length of one or two football fields. It was fascinating. One always wonders what really went on in this part of the world during the war.

The Polish people are friendly and like Americans. It is amazing that we can communicate with them, knowing only a survival amount of Polish. We really like our neighbors, and they like to come for games and American desserts. We play mostly number games because word games are really difficult.

Living in Poland has really challenged us. It makes us realize how much we really had in the U.S.A. We now live in a two-room apartment. We don't feel like we are missing out. In fact, it is much easier to keep clean, with less up-keep, freeing up more time for more important things. But we do spend more time each day going to the sklep (grocery store) and cooking. Jan says that she does more cooking in her kitchen now than she ever did back in the U.S.A. When we wash clothes we don't have a dryer, so we must hang wet clothes up around the flat.

We get pretty lonely for deeper conversation. There aren't any adults who can converse in English, and only a few of the youth know English well enough to easily carry on an English conversation. We are working really hard on our Polish, but we think that maybe our minds are "too old."

When Polish people walk down the street, they don't look up or smile. At first it made us feel uncomfortable and feel rejected. It certainly is not like the North Dakota "farmer's wave" we used to get from everybody. Sadly, we think that maybe under communism, it was safer to not engage with each other.

Kent coaching basketball:

I have been coaching basketball with 14 to 17-year-olds. The boys lack fundamentals and play much like ten-year-olds, but are hungry to learn and work hard. I have had major back surgery over the years and try not to use too many aggressive physical movements. It was fun to show them the proper way to stand on defense and then to quickly shuffle my feet left or right. My mind wanted to tell my feet to move faster than I should. But I found that shooting a basketball is like learning to ride a bike; you never really loose your shooting touch. I was able to teach them H.O.R.S.E. and 21. Plus I actually played three-on-three, being careful not to guard a "Shack" type of player. I was stiff and a little sore the next day, but Ibuprofen really helped.

Where are their kids:

Kyle lives in England and is married to a British girl named Jane McNalley. They have a son named Isaac, who is almost two, and have another baby due in September. Kyle is a missionary, working with an international ministry to train youth workers throughout the United Kingdom.

Noel is married to Bo Pollard. They live in Hawaii and love to surf. Bo works in a bank and Noel is a nurse in a pediatric intensive care unit.

Krystal is married to Nathan Henson. They live in St. Paul, Minn. Krystal was a kindergarten teacher, but has just started back to school to become a nurse. Nathan is an engineer, working for Northwest Airlines-Delta.

Our children had different responses about us moving to Poland. Kyle, of course, thought living outside the U.S.A. was good, and we would be closer to them. Krystal thought it would also be an adventure. She and Nathan have thought they would like to do missions work sometime in the future. Noel, cried. I prayed she would release us, and one Sunday afternoon two months later, she called and said, "I'm proud you want to follow Jesus."

So off we went!

Jan laughs about adjustments to their new life in Poland:

I got a sewing machine and many of the high school girls love to make clothes. They are very creative. I haven't found a material shop, so our sewing involves mostly remodeling old clothes. It has really challenged my creativity.

My refrigerator broke, so our neighbors told us to put our food on the windowsill in the wintertime. The next morning, we woke up to find a fussy thief had taken all the good stuff and left mustard and tomato paste.

I was using my limited Polish at the store, and a lady asked me if I was going to make soup (zupa.) I was using noodles for a salad, so I said "no, salad" (in what I thought was correct Polish.) She looked at me and said "zupa" again and I said "No, salad!" She put her hands on her hips in disgust, and said "babcha!" which is "grandma." Puzzled, I asked a Polish person why she said that? They told me that I had used the word for "trying to line her up with a date."

When I go shopping for food, there are pictures on the cans for many things, and that is helpful, but cream cheese looks plain. I brought some home and when I opened it up, it had little green specs in it, but I made a cream cheese frosting and frosted my pumpkin bars for church the next day. When I opened the lid at church the next day, I thought it smelled strongly of garlic. One lady commented, "I got my sweets and vegetables all together in this." I thought it was awful, but the people liked it, and ate all the bars. I'm not sure if they were being polite, or really did like it.

We were taking Polish lessons in a neighboring town. On our way to class one day, we needed to find a bathroom, so we got out our dictionary and practiced the sentence, "Where is the bathroom?" We asked a lady, and she answered back rapidly in Polish that sounded more like "jibberish" to us, and pointed in one direction. Kent and I looked at each other and laughed. We were so proud of ourselves until we realized how much farther we must go in the process of learning Polish.

One day a man came to our door and handed us an official looking piece of paper and asked us to sign the sheet. This was very scary for us because we had no idea what he was saying or what we were signing. Often, we feel like little kids when we have to get someone to translate for us.

When something breaks, we have no idea how to get it fixed. Everything we buy is chosen carefully because we wouldn't know how to explain why we wanted to bring it back to the merchant. One morning our electricity was off. We had to go to the neighbors and ask them if it was something we did wrong, or what had happened.

We walk everywhere. We can now take up to a two-hour walk and not feel tired. We have never walked so much in all our lives, but have grown to like it, especially what is called the "Polish Walk," which is walking arm-in-arm very, very slowly. For the first nine months we didn't have a car, so we have learned how to use public transportation. The people feel that drafts are bad for their health, so in the summer time, the buses and trains get really hot, but they won't open the windows. In the Polish culture, people don't shower every day like Americans do, so the "aroma" is quite strong.

Yesterday we were going to catch the train. Kent got on the train while I went to look for ice cream. With about five minutes to spare, I stepped onto the first train and asked "Do Szczecnick?" They said "Krakow!" So I got off and boarded the second train. My phone rang and Kent said "The train is leaving, are you on?" He was on the first train. I ran after the train to try to catch it, but my backpack came unzipped and everything fell out. So there we were, Kent on the right train with no ticket or money, and me at the station. I tried to explain our dilemma to the conductor and he said a third train was leaving in 20 minutes, going the same direction to Szczecnick. I called Kent and he said he would get off his train if my train would pick him up. So I asked if my train stopped at Obriniki; they said it did. I boarded the train, and rode through two stops at neighboring towns. The third stop was Obriniki. No Kent. Evidently, they have two stops in Obriniki. Kent was standing on the platform of the second stop. I was so glad to see him. So life continues to be a challenge, but sometimes makes us chuckle.

Insight from Kent:

"I have been studying I Samuel. One of the great lessons God has been teaching me, is when Samuel was going to anoint a king to follow Saul. He went to Jessie's sons. Samuel looked at what appeared on the outside or the outward appearance of Jessie's sons, but God sees us on the inside. Only God can make sense of things in our lives. God's choices don't always make sense to us, but they are never haphazard or random. We are in Poland, and sometimes I wonder why, but God has chosen this for us. It's a grand adventure, but it also has many challenges. The only stability of it all comes from knowing that God is in charge.

We enjoyed our years in West Fargo and have wonderful memories of our time there. We think back over our years of ministry with great memories of people in the community. We were so glad that West Fargo basketball was strong, and that we were able to attend many exciting games and share in many successes with a packed gym and wildly cheering Packer fans. West Fargo was a great place to live, and a great place to raise kids. It has such a supportive community for families. The school system was excellent (Kyle "clepped" out of a whole year of college after his secondary education from West Fargo.)

Come visit us. Better yet, come do a short term mission trip teaching English to the Polish people. We would love to have students or adults from the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo area come to Poland and help us put on basketball camps. We would also love to hear from friends in West Fargo and learn about what has been happening since 1994. Our email is

Note: Kent and Jan's internship in Borne has ended. On September 1, they will be moving on to their next mission at Poznan, Poland, where they will be working with families in an English speaking church and international university students.