Ah ha! As we settled into life in our new nation, it soon became obvious that a Tea Set was an essential component in the Polish culture. The warm, hospitable Poles were always prepared to serve hot tea accompanied by a tasty dessert. Even when nationwide rationing made serving a full meal challenging, hospitality still flourished with endless cups of strong, hot tea.
A Tea Set consisted of a teapot, a cream pitcher, a sugar dish, and dessert plates. The cream pitcher was rarely used, since sliced lemons, not milk, were added to the robust drink, that is, if lemons were available in the store.
Entering into the culture meant owning a Tea Set. But finding one became a challenge.
Under normal conditions one would simply go to the store and purchase a Tea Set. Normal conditions. But these were not normal conditions. In the Communist economy of the 1970's, supply and demand were at odds with each other. The entire nation was strangled by shortages. Essentials for life were scarce, and comforts I took for granted were rationed. Coffee, meat, automobiles, apartments, and toilet paper were on that list.
I knew exactly what I wanted. My heart was set on the style was known as Opole dishes, and were produced in a single factory in the entire country. These white porcelain dishes displayed a hand painted motif of bright cheerful colors. The presentation was a tribute to the folk artistry of the nation.
A favorite local teashop served on these dishes, and occasionally we saw random pieces in homes. The heavy curtain of drab enveloping all of life only served to intensify my desire to have this cheerful variety. But the possibility of owning an entire set was an outrageous goal.
“Nie ma,” there is none, was the proverbial response to an inquiry about purchase. I discovered that these hand-painted dishes were released from the factory only once a year. When news leaked that a shipment had arrived, long lines formed outside the stores to purchase them.
What to do?
“Pray about everything. Tell God your needs.” (Philippians 4:6 TLB) So, the desired Tea Set was entered as a line item on our prayer list. Life moved along. Classes, language lessons, and standing in line filled our days. All the while we consumed gallons (liters) of hot tea from the Tea Sets of others.
Fast-forward a year.
Larry and I traveled with our little girl to Poznań, a city in the far western part of the country. During a break in our clandestine meetings concerning our undercover mission, I strolled into the local Cepelia, a nationwide chain of folk art stores. I casually glanced into a roped-off corner in the back of the store, and my heart s. t. o. p. p. e. d. beating.
I stared in disbelief. What my eyes saw, what my heart desired, was being unpacked, piece by precious piece, the Tea Set, the Opole porcelain dishes. Yes! A quick survey confirmed that a complete Tea Set was in the inventory. And there was no line of humanity waiting! Unimaginable.
But hold on. Why the rope? Why was access denied? This child of capitalism was puzzled.
Conversation with the store employees yielded frustration. Nothing would be available for purchase until every dish in every box was unpacked; end of discussion. Grrrrr….
I was not fluent in Polish, but I spoke shopping, and I got the message. The state-owned store was dictatorial and determined in its procedures.
Anxiety threatened to overtake me.
Perhaps closing time would come first!
Perhaps they would be finished unpacking and sold out before I returned with cash!
Perhaps they would not be available until Monday morning when I was kilometers away in my home on the other side of the country!
Welcome to Communism.
Hastily, I turned on my heels and located Larry in the Old Town Square; hastily he made it to the bank before it closed on this Saturday afternoon; and hastily we together returned to the store. (Did I say hastily?)
Holding my breath, and trying to keep a reign on my heart, I shoved through the heavy glass and steel shop door. I stood on tiptoes and peered over the heads of the same shopkeepers and searched. Yes! There it stood. Unpacked and cleared for purchase, was our prayed-for Opole Tea Set. A miracle. Without delay, we completed the transaction, and we pushed back through the heavy glass and steel shop door, carefully carrying our Answer to Prayer.
For years our Tea Set was used with joy. When not in service, the Tea Set stood in a place of honor. After all, this was no ordinary collection. This particular Tea Set was destined to serve much more than tea; it was set apart to serve as a reminder.
Did God care about a Tea Set? Yes.
Did God care about us? Yes.
Did God care about answering our prayers? Yes.
In this process, I gained much more than a Tea Set. I gained a realization of the Good Heart of God.