Tony and Kornelia Schaapman
From Montreal’s Streets to Poland’s
By: Jeanette Windle with Tony Schaapman
In 2018, BCM Canada missionary Tony Schaapman traveled with his wife Kornelia to Poland to attend his mother-in-law’s funeral. Zofia Tataranian first heard the gospel from a neighbor when her daughter Kornelia was twelve. After accepting Christ, she became a powerful evangelist in a town where there were few believers. Her funeral exuded the depth of her faith and assurance of an eternity with her Savior. After the service, several locals who had attended expressed surprise to be encountering hope in the context of bereavement.
“That they should be so surprised to find hope there broke my heart.” Tony shares today. “I don’t know why this had such a profound impact on me as though God was telling me, ‘Tony, you’re heading to Poland!’ There was just one problem. My Polish was virtually non-existent.”
Tony Schaapman has headed up a street evangelism ministry in Montreal, Quebec, since 1998, training countless hundreds of young people in open-air evangelism over the last quarter-century and seeing hundreds come to Christ through his ministry (see To the Streets of Montreal with Love, BCM World, 2008).
Pastor Piotr singing with Blind Musician Daniel
While Tony met his wife in Paris when both were studying French there, Kornelia is from the Warmia Mazury province of northeast Poland, famed for its two thousand lakes but also very few churches with just .01 percent believers. Though the Protestant Reformation reached Poland centuries back, most notably through fifteenth-century Czech martyr Jon Hus and Martin Luther a century later, the Jesuit counter-reformation largely stamped out the Reformation in northern Poland. Only half of existing churches have pastors, and there is little outreach to unbelievers. Today’s youth is strongly atheist or agnostic while some also dabble in witchcraft.
The Schaapmans married in 2002, and Kornelia moved to Canada, where for almost twenty years the couple shared the gospel in both English and French. Tony also took street evangelism to France (see God is not Dead in Bourges, France, BCM World, September 2015). They traveled many times to Kornelia’s hometown of Dźwierzuty to visit family and prayed consistently for the region and great need of Christian ministry leaders there. But until his mother-in-law’s funeral, Tony had not once considered actually moving to Poland. A major motivator was that he’d struggled greatly to learn French. Polish would be even more difficult, and unlike many European nations, few people were bilingual in English.
Poland Park Youth Evangelism Outreach
Poland – TS – Street Evangelism
But Tony remained convicted that God was calling them to Poland. Kornelia had uprooted to his country. It was now time for him to move to hers. In 2019, the Schaapmans took a sabbatical in Olsztyn. Tony studied Polish, and Kornelia translated for him as he shared his faith and met with area pastors, churches, and missionaries to better understand the needs there. Caught by the Covid lockdown, they didn’t return to Canada until June 2020. With no clear sense of how to proceed, Tony continued his street evangelism ministry. His greatest concern in considering a permanent move to Poland was that the Montreal ministry would not survive. Then something wonderful happened.
Tony explains. “By the Holy Spirit’s design, the ongoing Covid pandemic created an environment in Canada whereby Christians for the first time in all my years on the street were coming out in large numbers to preach the gospel. This new and lasting wave of zeal provided us with a surplus of volunteers for the street evangelism ministry. It soon became evident the time had come to hand it over and start a new ministry elsewhere.”
In December 2021, the Schaapmans sold their home, made their goodbyes, and moved to Olsztyn. Though still learning Polish, Tony immediately began preaching in area churches with Kornelia and other English-speakers as translators. This includes a ministry to Ukrainian refugees. He also began training volunteers in street evangelism, among them Piotr, pastor of the Olsztyn church, a blind musician named Daniel, and church elders Arthur and Mateusz. Outreach comprises of sketch art evangelistic presentations in public streets along with music, testimonies, and preaching.
Tony Schaapman – Pastor Piotr Street Evangelism
This summer, the team also took a different program to the parks where young people congregate. They approached teens and some adults through a survey containing questions like the following. “What is the purpose of life? What do you think happens when you die? If God asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say? What do you think of Jesus?” If someone showed interest, they shared the good news of salvation in Christ. Most were glad to continue on the topic.
“Sadly, we didn’t meet a single person who was already a believer,” Tony says. “One did identify as Catholic and was actually reading the Bible. She asked questions to clarify her understanding of the gospel. What a joy! It shows us how great the need is and the urgency of evangelism versus just hoping unbelievers will walk into a church. That said, even younger Polish teens will interact seriously on these questions where back in North America they typically would shrug and say they have no clue.”
Even more exciting for Tony and Kornelia has been to see a complete change of heart on evangelism among those who have participated in the street and park outreaches, especially after witnessing firsthand the overwhelming lack of religious belief among the youth in a country once staunchly Catholic.
“I don’t know what to make of this,” one elder expressed. “It is not the same Poland I was raised in!”
Recognizing the enormous disconnect between the church and today’s generation has made this elder and others realize how urgent it is to get their congregation out of the pews to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to those outside. Where once there was reluctance, Tony now sees a flicker of excitement within the local Christian community to participate in street and park evangelism. His prayer is that by God’s Spirit this flicker becomes a flame.
Meanwhile, Tony’s original street evangelism ministry back in Canada continues going strong under its new leadership. And the Schaapmans have no plans to leave their new home.
“There is still so much need here,” Tony summarizes. “But it is also a time of red-hot opportunity to share the gospel. Which is why it drives me crazy I’m still not fluent in Polish! Please pray for me as I continue to learn.”
Ministry Outreach Ukrainian Refugees
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