Vachartyan and Vorosmart Camps

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A cozy and quiet village outside of Budapest and near the famed Danube bend is the next stop of our English camp and outreach summer programs.  For the 8th summer in a row we have been working with Barnabas and Livia Geregly at their church in Vachartyan, Hungary in organizing a summer outreach English camp.  We are blessed to call Barnabas and Livia our dear friends.  They have been an incredible example to Stacey and I by their faith in Jesus, their devotion in marriage to one another, in raising their children, and by their dedication in sharing the Gospel with their neighbors and community.  Every summer around 50 students, ages 13-22, come for this week-long event.  Students come from 9am-4pm for English lessons, devotions and prayer, singing, games and lunch.  We love to see many familiar faces of both students and local volunteers year after year when we come to Vachartyan.  It has also been rewarding to see a number of young people who came to the camp as students who are now coming back as volunteers and helpers.  This past August two young people full of faith and love for the Lord were united in marriage after meeting in this camp four or five years ago.  What a blessing to see how God works. In both Tiszaujvaros and Vachartyan, Stacey and I are encouraged to work with local pastors who serve their communities and churches by making youth groups that we hope and pray many of the students will become a part of after the summer camp ends.  6.DSC_0565We were joined in our teaching team by David and Grace McBrier, missionaries from the nearby city of Vac, and Alexandra Krizsan, a friend and current university student.  Stacey had returned to the U.S. for the last two months of the pregnancy to await Hans’ arrival; we missed her a great deal this past summer.  I left part way through the Vachartyan camp to join her for Hans’ birth.

The last camp of the summer took place in a Hungarian village in the region of Slavonia in north eastern Croatia.  This camp is not an English camp, but rather a VBS camp.  I had to leave before the start of this camp for the birth of Hans so this camp was done without us.  We missed being there, but we were very proud of the group of university students who help us in many camps who led the camp without us.  By all accounts they did a marvelous job of leading devotions and prayer, small group discussions, games, crafts, and activities.  We are very excited to return next summer. Here is a link to more photos from these camps.  http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/vachartyan-and-vorosmart-camps-2/

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Nagybereg and Tiszaujvaros English Camps

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Camps continue into the summer.  Each camp, a new location, a new setting, and a new opportunity to help students learn English and more importantly, each camp opens a door to share the Gospel.  Following the two-week camp in Peterfalva, we moved on to a second Reformed High School here in Transcarpathia, Ukraine, in the village of Nagybereg.  This camp is one week long and, because we do not organize this camp, we only have a teaching role, it allows us a little rest after the two week Peterfalva camp.  We are thankful for this opportunity to spend a week in Nagybereg and we enjoy getting to know both the students and staff at this school.  This camp was attended by about 100 students.  We enjoyed working with the staff at the Nagybereg Reformed High School and were thankful to God for the collection of volunteer teachers who came together to put this camp on.

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David Guba with Nagybereg Students

Following the Nagybereg camp we took our volunteers (who consisted at this point of Dylan, David Guba – who had joined from Canada and helped us in three camps, and Bogi and Csilla, two local university students) to Slovakia for a one day site seeing trip to the mountains.  Our next camp was in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary.  This was our second year conducting a camp with the Tiszaujvaros Hungarian Reformed Church.  We became acquainted with the church in the winter of 2015 after our van broke down on the highway near the church.  The pastors of this congregations quickly came to our aid and put us up for the night.  We are thankful to God for the friendship we share with the pastors and members of this church.  Now for a second summer in a row we praise God that we could hold a summer English and Outreach camp on the grounds of the church.  We hope and pray that through the devotions and worship and by faithfully setting a Christ-like example to the teenage students that the Holy Spirit can use these humble efforts to encourage the seed of faith to grow and flourish.  From 9am-3pm, 20-25 students from the community attended this week-long camp for English lessons, devotions and singing, games and activities, and lunch. Here is a link to more photos from these two camps.  http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/nagybereg-and-tiszaujvaros-english-camps/

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Dylan Lundberg and Csilla Kodobocz leading devotions for students in Tiszaujvaros, Hungary

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Nagybereg Reformed High School students during afternoon free time. Nagybereg, Ukraine

Home

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How does a person define home?  This is a fundamental question with an answer that can be easy for some.  But for others, the answer is elusive, sought after and never found even after a life time of wandering and searching.  Where are you from?  This is an introduction question and probably one of the most commonly asked question around the world every day.  Is the answer to this question and the definition of home one in the same?  “Where are you from?”  is one of the most common questions we are asked.  I normally answer the question with Northern Michigan, not my birth place but where I spent my formidable years and the majority of my youth, and where my parents still live.  Stacey without hesitation answers the same question with Eastern North Carolina despite the fact that she was born and raised until age of 13 in British Columbia, Canada.  Hans, will likely have a much harder time articulating an easy answer to this question; it remains to be seen how he will respond to this simple yet fascinating question.

Where is your home?  This is a substantially more difficult question to answer and takes us back to the underlining question: How does a person define home?  Is home where you are currently living?  Is home where you are “from”?  Is home where you spend most of your time?  Is home reserved for describing your native homeland?  Is home the culture you were raised in?   Not even passports and citizenship can completely help define this, as both Stacey and Hans and millions of other around the world are dual citizens.  When asked where our home is we typically respond that we have three homes.  One in Peterfalva, Ukraine, the village in western Ukraine where we spend the majority of our time, and a place where we feel very at home.  Two, in eastern North Carolina where we spend the majority of our time while in the U.S. working and living, and where our home church is as well as many friends and family.  Three, in Michigan, the land of my birth and a place we still spend time with family and friends.

For the majority of people who we live and work with in Transcarpathia, Ukraine, this is a question for them on a much larger, serious, and darker historical scale.  Transcarpathia is a very rural cosmopolitan place.  Cosmopolitan seems to be a word mostly used to describe big cities, places like New York or London where hundreds if not thousands of different nationalities live.  But it is a word that I think perfectly describes Transcarpathia, which has been historically and/or currently populated by Hungarians, Roma, Ukrainians, Rusyns, Slovaks, Russians, Jews, Czechs, Romanians, Germans, Poles among others.  Transcarpathia, historically has been Hungarian, yet in the past 100 years it has belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Habsburg empire, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, The Soviet Union, and Ukraine.  Many nationalities ruled by many different governments has left Transcarpathia with a tragic history, and yet such a fascinatingly rich heritage and interesting history infused by so many people groups who have called these lands home.  I find that few places in Europe, if any, can match the level of intrigue that Transcarpathia possesses.

The definition of home remains a serious question for so many here in Transcarpathia.  When our Hungarian friends travel abroad they are often met with confused looks from people they encounter when they try to explain why they are “from” Ukraine but they are Hungarian.  Ever changing borders over the past century have been redrawn time and time again by which ever particular world power who for at the moment possessed the upper hand.  These fluid borders over the past century have resulted in villages of ethnic Hungarians living next to villages of Ukrainians and Rusyns living out century old traditions of their heritage.

Recent fighting and conflict in Eastern Ukraine and economic turmoil throughout Ukraine in the last years has ceased being current affairs in the mass Western media, but despite the complete failure of Western main stream media to report accurately on global affairs these events have not yet to become history.  Conflict in the east of Ukraine and economic hardships remain very realistic and raw current events.

Many people here in Transcarpathia, including many Hungarians have been leaving while more and more Ukrainians (some from eastern Ukraine) are moving in and replacing them. Even today with a relatively long stretch of continual nationhood (Ukraine has now existed for 25 years, marking the second longest tenure of any government ruling Transcarpathia in the past century) and unchanging borders, the ethnic situation of Transcarpathia continues to remain fluid and changing.  Hungarians of Transcarpathia (as well as Ukrainians) including many people we know here in Transcarpathia, Ukraine have joined a mass exodus of people who have left in the hopes of finding work and financial security in other parts of Europe. Most commonly Hungary, but they have also become factory workers in the Czech Republic, farm hands in Holland, hotel maids in England, construction workers in Germany and even some who have reached as distant lands as Canada.

Many people in Transcarpathia and the expanse of Ukraine have joined the masses of Syrians fleeing Middle East wars, Mexicans immigrating to the U.S., and many other people around the world who are part of a current global mass of shifting populations.  They have joined those who preceded them who passed through Elis Island, New York, and those who have immigrated to Canada in the past century and a half, or many others who have traded one culture for another fleeing wars and persecution.  They now join those who struggle with the definition of the word home. Despite the shifting populations around the world we are left with the call of the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), and to love the Lord our God … and our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27).  This applies to us no matter where we live and no matter who are neighbor is.

There is a familiar phrase: Home is where the heart is.  This phrase is maybe overused, over simplified and cliché.  But many things are cliché for a reason, because there is an element of truth to it.  With a loving family, friends, and a church community home can be by one definition, where the heart is. Is home a place where you lay your head at night, or is home where your heart is, or is home a cultural identity, or is home a homeland of sort? Maybe the question of where is home or the question or the definition of home are not really meant to be answered from an earthly perspective.  As Christians, life on this earth is temporary, here today and gone tomorrow. Our lives are but a blink of an eye on the pages of history while we wait for our true home, our heavenly home with Jesus Christ.  We are citizens of heaven eagerly waiting to be united with Christ in our heavenly home.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Winter

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Years ago, while a student at Dordt College, an assignment for a history class was to watch the 1965 film, Dr. Zhivago.  For years, details of the story-line and themes of the movie were nothing but a disjointed collage of movie scenes.  The only lasting memory I had from the movie were the winter scenes portraying the Russian winter to be bitterly and relentlessly cold.  I can’t even remember what these movie scenes were about other than that the characters wore fur coats and hats, the men had frozen mustaches, and everyone looked terribly cold while traveling about in snowy and frozen landscapes.

We are often asked what winter is like in Ukraine.  Ukraine with a long and shared history with Russia leaves the impression for many that winters must be harsh and unbearable.  Winters in Ukraine in general fall short in comparison to a Russian or Siberian winter.  However, the winters here in Ukraine are still very comparable to winters in the Midwest region of the United States.  We have seen nights get down to zero Fahrenheit and below.  Daytime highs have only rarely reached the low 30’s and winds have been bitter.  We have been greeted upon our return to Ukraine with one of the colder winters they have seen in some years.  The nearby mountains are covered in snow. Snow is abundant everywhere and roads have been covered with ice and frozen ridges of snow.  Sidewalks and road edges are most treacherous of all with a solid layer of ice inches thick.  The cold weather and ice have made it difficult to get around and has certainly left us a bit more home bound than we would prefer.

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Trying to walk on the street

 

Days are short as darkness descends by 4p.m. leaving the impression that everyone hibernates in the evening.  Despite this, the winter is lovely in its own way, and a beautiful aspect of God’s creation.  While waiting for spring, we have appreciated winter and are thankful for a warm house and a hot cup of tea.

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A Different Type of Revolution

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Sometimes when crossing the border back into Ukraine after a long or short absence, the Beatles 1968 tune, “Back in the USSR” plays in my head, like a song that gets stuck, and plays like a broken record. I am not a big Beatles fan and I don’t know much about the song. I am guessing there are political dynamics and suggestive undertones in the lyrics that I would not be interested in or care to understand.  The only lyrics I can even sing is the catchy, “Back in the USSR, you don’t know how lucky you are, to be back in the USSR.” I don’t believe in luck and the USSR no longer appears on world maps, making the song obsolete or at best, a historical footnote of a bygone era. I am happy that the world has changed and that we are not back in the USSR.  The sickle and hammer back dropped in red has not flown in a quarter century.  This year will mark 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union when an independent Ukraine emerged from its ashes. A subtle and soft yellow and blue flag replaced the red that was reminiscent and symbolic of revolution and terror in the minds of many.  Ukraine, said to be the bread basket of the world fly’s colors of blue over yellow to denote a blue sky over a wheat field. I never tire of returning to Ukraine, the moment of crossing the border a calm, peaceful feeling of being at home fills me with joy.  We feel blessed to be able to live and work in Transcarpathia, Ukraine.  We are thankful to God for the opportunity to be at home in Transcarpathia, serving the Lord here.

Flawed, prone to moments of passivity, and failures of prideful self-interest, we recognize that we are truly nothing without Jesus Christ.  Our very best efforts amount to nothing but absolute failure without Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.  We pray that that God can use us through the work of the Holy Spirit and through grace alone to share the message of the Gospel and to support and encourage the faith of many brothers and sisters in Christ here in the borderlands of Eastern Europe.

These lands of Eastern Europe and the Ex-Soviet bloc are no stranger to revolution; the soil is soaked red in blood from centuries of world wars, turmoil, and insurrection. However, one more revolution is needed.  Not a revolution of class struggle, power, territory gain, or uprising, but a spiritual revolution. A renewing of the heart and an inner revolution of the soul that only God through the work of the Holy Spirit can bring to these lands.  Christ’s precious blood was shed for our sins and in this, Jesus bore the punishment that was ours.  Pray that this message of hope and life in Christ will fall upon open ears and receiving hearts.  The world is changing fast, spinning out of control with much uncertainty for the future.  What a comfort it is that God is sovereign and that not a hair can fall from our head apart from the will of our Heavenly Father.  We hope and pray that the people we work among will more and more turn to God, putting their faith in Jesus Christ, and in faith accept this gift of salvation through grace alone. We hope and pray that people around the world, in these uncertain times, will realize treasures of this world are not treasures at all, but only earthly things that will rot, decay and will not last, recognizing there is no hope, no future, no comfort outside of God and His Word, which is sharper than a double edged sword, piercing our hearts.

Christmas Abroad

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We came back to Ukraine in the height of the Christmas season just in time to spend Christmas and New Years in Ukraine.  Another autumn in the U.S. quickly passed by us. We enjoyed our time back in the U.S.  Our days were filled with work and opportunities to visit family, friends, and churches and share stories about our ministry and time spent in Ukraine during the winter, spring, and summer months. We are very thankful to all of you who have provided us with work and lodging this past autumn. Your generosity towards us and our work in Ukraine is greatly appreciated. We are thankful to so many of you who have been financially generous and who have given of your time and energy to support us and allow us to serve the Lord in Eastern Europe.  We could not be here without you.  Thank you for partnering with us in this ministry!

Only once in the many years that I (Eric) have been coming to Ukraine have I had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas here.  Stacey has never been here over the holidays.  We were excited to celebrate the birth of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters here in Ukraine.  It was interesting to be here for Christmas and to experience the culture and holiday traditions around us.  We enjoyed delicious and plentiful food, as families and friends came together for Christmas, with significantly less emphasis on gifts, but possibly too much emphasis on food.

Christmas and New Years are busy times in the church.  Congregations come together for services on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the Second Day of Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and normal Sunday gatherings.  Many pastors have multiple congregations.  One pastor friend of ours, without complaint, conducted 14 church services and gave 7 different sermons in the span of 11 days.  Ukraine and Russian along with the rest of the Eastern Orthodox world recognize the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy Calendar.  Christmas is celebrated on January 7 with Christmas Eve being observed on January 6.  In Transcarpathia, historically part of Hungary but today a rural cosmopolitan area of Ukrainians, Hungarians, Russians, Romanians, Slovaks, and Roma, various Christmas traditions and customs exist side by side.

We spent a quiet New Year’s Eve at home.  Outside was a different matter.  In much of Europe it is customary to shoot off fireworks at the changing of the year. This tradition exists here, with the streets sounding as if they are plagued with anarchy in the height of a war zone. There seem to be no rules, laws or regulations on fireworks.  Private fireworks of all sizes, colors and shapes illuminated the night sky from all directions around us.  A number of men from around here have served the past few years on the Eastern front of Ukraine against Russia and I was curious how the explosions of fireworks in the villages affected them.  We went out into our yard and watched the display in our pajamas.  Someone was setting off fireworks behind the Hungarian Reformed church and from our vantage point it was especially nice to watch as the church and steeple were illuminated by the fireworks in the night sky.  After the lengthy multi-cultural Christmas holiday season, we were excited for the high school to finally resume classes in the middle of January, followed by the colleges and universities in the middle of February following their exam period.

The above photo was taken at a Christmas Market on Szent Istvan Square in Budapest.

Carpathian Mountain English Camp

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Carpathian Mountains July 27-29: Throughout the spring and winter months we have been invited to spend one afternoon a week teaching a conversational English class in a local university in Beregszasz, Ukraine. Beregszasz is a large city of Transcarpathia near the Hungarian border, which is home to the Rakoczi Ferenc Magyar Foiskola (Rakoczi Ferenc Hungarian College).  The head of the English faculty at the college has asked us the past three years to conduct a three day summer English Camp with students majoring in English at the college.  Many of these students we see throughout the year in weekly English classes and some of these students also make up the core of students attending our weekly Bible Study throughout the winter and spring months. We relish the opportunity to spend a few days with them in the summer at this short English camp.  Normally this camp consists of merely a few hours a day at the college in a class room.  Thanks to a grant from the Zondervan Foundation of Grand Rapids Michigan, we were able to move this camp off location to the Carpathian Mountains for three days of lectures, English lessons, hiking, and eating meals together.  It was a great opportunity to spend long days getting to know these students instead of just seeing them for a couple of hours in a class room.  We hope and pray that God can use this camp to encourage students in their faith and to lead others to faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  We thank Heather Kaemingk and Blake Gelderman for spending time with us in this camp and we would also like to thank Norm and Carol Bomer who graciously came and spent time with our university students teaching them about art and literature motivated out of a love for Christ.  Please see our gallery for pictures.  http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/2015-carpathian-mountain-english-camp/

 

Vorosmart, Croatia VBS

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Vorosmart, Croatia July 13-17. This past winter we received an invitation from a friend to travel in the summer to Croatia to work with a local pastor there in organizing a Vacation Bible School Week for children in his church congregations and communities.  We were very excited for this opportunity to have another outreach camp and our first camp in Croatia.

A piece of background history: Following defeat in World War I the country of Hungary was divided up and the majority of its territories were given to neighboring countries. In Transcarpathia, Ukraine we live in such an area. We live among Hungarians living in a region of Ukraine which used to belong to Hungary and has a large minority population of Hungarians. Other neighboring countries such as Slovakia, Romania, Serbia and Croatia also have similar communities of Hungarian minorities. Vorosmart is a small village in north eastern Croatia in the region of Slovania in the heart of the Hungarian minority communities of Croatia.

Unlike the other camps we organize, this was not an English camp, but exclusively a VBS week. We brought a team of university students from Ukraine with us and worked with two local pastors and their wives in conducting this camp.  Around 20-30 local kids and teenagers came daily for Bible lessons, skits, crafts, sports, activities, and lunch.  The theme of the week was focusing on 5 parables of Jesus and what he is teaching us in these parables.  It was very humbling for us to see how the LORD was working through this camp.  We give praise to Him alone for the work of His Spirit.  One young boy who attended the week long camp shared that he prayed for the first time for the LORD to work in his life!  We again praise God for this opportunity to share God’s grace and love with the youth of these communities.  We would like to give a special thank-you to Pastor György Varga and his wife and Agi, and Pastor Attila Kettős and his wife Eva who greatly blessed us and our team in guiding us as to how to best minister to the young people of these villages, and in partnering with us during this week long Vacation Bible School.  Also, we would like to thank Krisztina Sárközi, Boglárka Orosz, Andrea Kovács, Heather Kaemingk, and Blake Gelderman who blessed the students with their compassion, energy, time, and love for Christ. Please see pictures in our photo gallery. http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/2015-vorosmarty-vbs/

Vachartyan, Hungary English Camp

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Vachartyan, Hungary July 4-11: The summer of 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of English/outreach camps in this small town nestled into hills along the Danube River 30 miles northeast of Budapest.  This was the seventh consecutive year we were able to partner with Pastor Barnabas Ferenc Gergely and his wife Livia in organizing and ministering to local youth in their communities.  Barnabas has been using these camps to witness to the youth of his church congregations and the surrounding communities.  We praise God that we have seen the continued development of faith in many young people who have come back year after year for this camp, and others who have met Barnabas and Livia and become part of their local youth group.  This camp is primarily an Evangelical outreach camp and secondly an English camp.

Attending students come by foot, car, and train to Vachartyan daily from 9am-4pm taking part in three conversational English classes, as well as three different periods of devotions and singing interspersed with lunch and time for games, activities and fellowship.  In this camp, like all of our camps, English lessons are all focused on conversational English, incorporating role plays, games, songs, Bible and faith into the lessons.  Barnabas and the English camp volunteer teachers take turns every day leading devotions, giving testimonies, and sharing the Gospel with the students. As in all of our camps we are thankful to be able to share our faith and build relationships with the young people from this community this past summer.

A record number of students came this year, numbering over 50.  It has been great to see familiar faces and many of the same students come year after year.  We hope and pray that we may have been a Christ-like example witnessing and sharing the Gospel with these young people. We pray for listening ears and open hearts and again look forward to meeting these young people this coming summer. While we are only able to spend one week of the year with most of these students, we are encouraged by the faith and efforts of the local pastors we partner with who are leading churches and youth groups and working with many of these students throughout the year.  A special thanks Pastor Ferenc Barnabas Gergely and his wife Livia, Orsi Gelle, and David and Grace McBrier for partnering is this camp to make it possible.  We also thank, Heather Kaemingk, Wiebke Bartells, Boglarka Orosz, Andrea Kovacs, and Krisztina Sarkozi who all traveled with us to help teach, translate, do devotions, and organize games and singing. Please see pictures of the camp on our photo gallery. http://iccdabroad.org/photo-galleries/2015-vachartyan-hungary-english-camp/

 

 

Summer 2016 Opportunities to Volunteer: English and Outreach Camps in Ukraine, Hungary, and Croatia

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Every summer we organize a series of English camps in Ukraine, Hungary, and Croatia.  This year’s camp dates run May-July.  Below are brief descriptions of our camps.  Please visit the English camp link on the homepage for more information on these camps we are working on organizing for the summer of 2016.  Feel free to contact us through this website or by email at ehoekse@hotmail.com

We partner with two local Hungarian Reformed high schools  in organizing summer English camps occurring in the month of June. These camp is located in western Ukraine in a villages called Peterfalva and Nagybereg .

Also during the month of June we are planning an English and outreach camp in Hungary located in the city of Tiszaujvaros.

During the first week of July we partner with a Hungarian Reformed Pastor, Ferenc Barnabás Gergely and his wife Lívia, to organize an English camp as a means for outreach to local youth. This camp is located in Vachartyan, Hungary, a small village outside of Budapest.

Also in July we hope to travel to Vorosmart, Croatia for a VBS week with local youth in this small village located in north eastern Croatia.

Please ask for more details and check back as plans and information develop.

We are looking for native English speakers who are post high school, in good health and . .  .

1. Seek to live in obedience to Christ; daily acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior

2. Are creative, imaginative, flexible, adventurous, and possessing a sense of humor

3. Anticipate experiencing a new culture and all of the amazing facets that entails: language, food, traditions . . .

If you are interested, please refer to English Camp Info on the Home Page for more information about these camps and other opportunities.