Day 2 (Dvah): 18 Aug 2017 Camp on!

We woke up as the sunrise came through the window of our bunkroom, and the sounds of a crowing rooster and a barking dog outside. It had been a hot, sticky night.

Camp leaders assembled for a 7:00 a.m. meeting, including a devotional from the apparent camp pastor/teacher named Sascha. He was the same teacher who gave the gospel message at last night’s campfire. There was then a review of the day’s schedule. In the afternoon, there would be a ‘masterclass’ block, where the kids could choose from one of three classes, including our ESL session.  It became clear that the camp leaders had no specific plans or expectations of us for these sessions; we are all winging it.

Mourning the morning leaders meeting, instant coffee was critical!

Campers were given their reveille, and encouraged to join outside for a physical wake-up session of Zumba!  Basically some fun and light aerobics. A yummy breakfast followed: cream of wheat, yellow plums, and a doughnut-like pastry with jam and condensed milk to dip in. Our translators got the word out to the kitchen staff about our GF girls, and special orders of omelets appeared!

 

Another note about our three translators – Oxana, Yana, and Lyuba – we found out they were not really camp staff.  They were brought in specially to serve our team.  Oxana took a 10 hour bus ride from Warsaw to join us!  We have been trying to show our deep gratitude all day to them!

Oxana

We did get some time to connect alone as a team, separate from the campers and staff. I (Reid) led a devotional on the topic of uncertainty. I had been reminded of the stories of Abram in the Old Testament, Mary in the New Testament. In both cases, God had informed each person of His plan to take them into unfamiliar territory, into an uncertain future. The certainty in each case was God’s promise that He would be with them, that He would bless them. We took some encouragement in our current situation here at camp. We also each took time to recollect high and low moments from the previous day. A common high was our gratitude for all arriving in Ukraine safely.  Common lows were our jet lag and fatigue, and the apparent disconnect between our stationing here at summer camp and our preferred desire to see how HART’s ministry intersects with that of HtH. Hopefully this will be reconciled in the coming days.

All assembled for morning worship in the building’s chapel. There were several familiar melodies at this session and again at evening campfire – Hosanna, Mighty to Save, Cornerstone, Completely to You – all worship songs that came out of Hillsong in Australia. I (Reid) was reminded of how that influential church devotes a lot of resources to translating their music to multiple languages, to be a blessing to the global Church. It was pretty cool to be able to sing the same song with our Ukrainian friends, but in our respective languages.

We still lake it

Each of our team members was assigned to join a team of campers.  These camp teams are all named after types of candy;  Snickers, Haribo, Jelly Belly, Mojitos, Marshmallows, etc. Each team had a “teambuilding” session, where we had to solve a particular problem as a group, such as trying to get 10 people across a distance together with only 2 legs touching the ground out of the whole group.

 

It was a hot day, with a high of 32 degrees. The most inviting place on a day like that is swimming in the lake!  Most of our team took advantage of the water, a few played beach volleyball with campers, a few just rested in the shade of the nearby trees. Interestingly, the female campers were generally segregated from the male campers into two separate swimming areas.

 

Lunch was another hit, as far as camp food goes: cucumber & tomato salad, mashed potatoes, chicken skewer, and potato egg soup.  They have also served some kind of warm drink at each meal, often with a smoky taste to it. Quite unique.

 

About 25 kids came for the ESL class we facilitated. Sarah started with an exercise in simple greetings: “Hi, my name is Sarah. What is your name? Nice to meet you.”  We found out pretty quickly that most of these kids have the basics of English already from their primary schooling, as early as first grade. We transitioned to teaching them a song I (Reid) wrote for HtH last Christmas, a call-and-response song called “Fear Not”.  This seemed to keep most of the kids engaged, and we sang the song all together later that evening during the campfire time. We also tried a game involving numbers and passing a ball around a circle. Again, these kids already know their English numbers pretty solidly.  We will need to step up our game for these ESL sessions in the coming days…

 

The next activity was a wide game – a multi-team treasure hunt. There were many stations of physical challenges, deciphering clues, solving word and number puzzles, culminating in a dig for treasure in a sandy part of the camp’s grounds. The treasure seemed to be related to the 10 Commandments, and there was a treasure box containing pop and chips treats for the winners.

This wide game had us hooped

Dinner consisted of cracked wheat, a pork meatball, and cabbage salad, along with another smoky warm fruit drink. We are amazed at how little time is spent in the dining hall by most of the campers. The food is already served on plates at the tables, there is no large group prayer before the meal, and the kids are done eating and dismiss themselves from the dining hall within 10 minutes!  Certainly some differences here between this camp and how most of our team has experienced summer camp back home.

 

Another striking difference is the availability of technology at this camp. Most of these kids seem to have smartphones, and they seem to have access to them whenever they want. It would be more typical in Alberta to have camp as a tech-free zone, to take a needed break from the screens that often dominate our daily lives. We wonder if some of these kids would be more receptive and attentive to the messages if they were not distracted by texting and playing games on their phones.

The fact that the kids even have smartphones is surprising to us.  These readily available devices give us a different impression of the level of poverty these kids experience outside of camp.

I guess there are always surprises of various types when you’re far from home.

Day 1 (Odin): 17 Aug 2017. First day in Ukraine!

First full day in Ukraine! We arrived at the airport in three separate groups, because of some complicated flight bookings and one unscheduled delay. All eight of us left Calgary on the same flight to London Heathrow, but from that point, our connecting flights varied. Tara, Reid, and Thane flew through Vienna, then to Lviv. Christina went through Munich, then Warsaw, then Lviv. Alex went through Munich, then Vienna (meeting up with Tara, Reid, Thane), then Lviv. Sarah went through Geneva, then Warsaw, then Lviv. These six arrived in Ukraine in the wee hours of the night. Kelly and Darrell were to fly through Frankfurt, then Warsaw, then Lviv. However, their flight connection was much too short in Frankfurt, and they were forced to stay in Frankfurt overnight, and arrived in Lviv by midday.

Such eager beavers

We were met at the airport by Kostya, the program director for all HART operations in eastern Europe. It was wonderful to see our friend again. You could say it was our growing relationship with him that attracted us and opened the door for us to come to Ukraine. Kostya was accompanied by his brother Oleg, who also works for HART as a driver and project manager. We learned that they are twin brothers, and their 30th birthday is coming up August 28th, just after we leave Ukraine!

Twin brothers Kostya & Oleg

Oleg has been married 10 years, and he and his wife have 3 children, ages 9, 6, and almost 3 years. His wife has been on maternity leave for nearly three years, which apparently is the local standard after every birth. Employers must keep a job available for these new mothers upon their return 3 years later! That is certainly a difference from Canada!

We caught up a few sleep hours in a former monastery turned hotel; quite modest accommodation, but sufficient. We awoke to sunshine and a forecast high of 29 degrees. Kostya and Oleg picked us up again and took us to a brunch buffet at the “Big Belly House”, a restaurant in downtown Lviv. Yummy east European fare, such as potato pancakes, egg sunnyside up atop chicken schnitzel patty, grilled veg, fruit and cheese filled crepe, apple strudel.

Strolling through downtown Lviv on the way to the ‘Big Belly House’

First impressions of the city of Lviv: it is a pretty well-developed city with a lovely, quaint old European quarter in the downtown. Modern asphalt roads in the periphery, with cobblestone streets in the old town. It will be nice to hang out there some more later in the trip! Virtually everyone is Caucasian; blacks and Asians must be a rare sight here.

After picking up Kelly and Darrell at the airport, we started off towards the first destination of our Learning & Serving Trip – a summer camp for teens near the town of Lutsk, about 200km (3 hours drive) northeast of Lviv. A couple of pit stops along the way included a supermarket stop for bottled water (apparently drinking the tap water here is not recommended), and another buffet for lunch. More Ukrainian fare here: sausage, tomato/cucumber/dill salad, beet salad, plus a range of other choices. Crazy cheap! 10 people were fed full plates for a total of 600 Hyrvina, which is about $30 CDN.

Our team was split between two vehicles. Sarah, Reid, and Thane rode with Kostya, while the rest drove with Oleg in the larger passenger van that also carried our luggage. For a while, Sarah and Reid practiced some Ukrainian phrases with Kostya, and heard some of Ukraine’s challenging history as a nation. Jet lag soon took over, however, and we slept most of the rest of the way to camp, occasionally rousing due to a pothole bump in the road.

We made it!

The camp is quite a developed property, much fancier than most typical summer camps in Ukraine, according to Kostya. The camp building and grounds were funded by a generous Canadian donor, who wished for the kids coming here to have a really nice place to come to. The building has two levels, a dining hall, a chapel space, and has capacity for roughly 80 campers plus staff. It is situated about 1 km walk from a lake where there is access to swimming, fishing and canoeing.

We arrived in time for supper – sausage, cucumber/tomato/cabbage salad, pasta with ketchup. Diet here might prove a challenge for the gluten-sensitive women on our team! We were introduced to three young women – Oxsana, Luba, Yana – on staff as counselors who have above average levels of English and quickly became our translators and guides to the camp. They showed us to our accommodation for the four nights we will spend here. To our surprise, our team was split up, and we were each assigned a bunk in each of the rooms with the campers and their counselors. Even newlyweds Kelly and Darrell will be spending these nights apart, it seems. Part of learning and serving!

After supper and settling into our rooms, we had a brief tour of the camp property. Some of the outdoor activities available here include a small sectioned portion of pavement for soccer and floor hockey, a pond for paddling/rowing practice and maybe fishing, equipment for rollerblading, badminton. We all assembled for evening campfire – a program of fun games, gospel teaching, testimony by one of the counselors, and some praise/worship singing. For those of you who have ever been to a Christian summer camp in Canada (e.g. like Pioneer Ranch Camp), it all has a very similar feel here, except for it is all in Ukrainian.

Before the evening program started, our team was invited to stand up front and give brief introductions of ourselves to the campers. Their response was polite and enthusiastic, particularly for those of us who attempted greeting with some of our newly learned Ukrainian phrases! The kids seemed very excited to learn that Thane is only 15 years old; many apparently thought he was more like 20!

Fired up for the Lord

Campfire went on for about 2.5 hours, and our team, still struggling with jet lag, was pretty tired and eager for bed. We ended our day with a feeling of some uncertainty about what the coming days will hold. There seems to be expectation that we will be facilitating some ESL training, as well as presenting some music while we are here. I’m not feeling particularly prepared for either. How will we find time to connect as a team, when we appear to be mixed in with the campers and the camp schedule? We will hopefully find out more in the morning!

Lovely first view of the lake

Who Are We?

We are a merry group of 9 travelers, all connected to the organization Harmony through Harmony, either as members of the choir or as close friends and family of members. For years we have had a heart for HART which has involved hosting fundraisers for their organization, meeting with HART employees who work in the1Ukraine and Moldova and continually considering invitations to come visit their operations in Ukraine. Finally, the time has come. From August 17 to August 27, we will be in Ukraine, meeting people and seeing first-hand the operations of this incredible organization.

From now until we fly out on the 15th, our schedules are tight. They are listed below (not in order of importance)

  • Raising money!
  • making awesome t-shirts with our team symbol (the national bird of Ukraine and the national animal of Canada)
  • learning how to be not terrible short-term missions-trip-ers

Please continue to pray for us, support us financially, and read this blog as it is updated regularly from now until after we are back in Canada.

Cheers

Sarah

If you would like to support us financially go to http://hart.ca/donate/ and scroll down to the bottom where it says “other HART project/ministries” and in the comment section write #31525 which indicates HtH and the amount in the next box.