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.
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!
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.
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.
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.