Church Partnered Summer Camps

Summer Camps are partnered with either Christian schools in Ukraine or in partnership with Church congregations in Ukraine, Hungary, and Croatia.  We looked forward to hopefully adding a church partnered camp in Romania this coming summer as well.  These week long camps that are partnered with churches are an outreach to the people of the local community which the church serves.  We praise God for this opportunity and we thank God for these weeks spending time with hundreds of young people teaching English to them, but more importantly having an opportunity to share our faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with many young people.  Here is a look back at last summer’s four camps that took place in cooperation with churches.

I. Beregszasz – Over the last four years, a university student named Nikolett has attended our university English classes.  We have enjoyed getting to know her over the past years and have been encouraged by her strong faith and devotion to Christ.  She has attended or helped us in some of our summer English camps and has been an active participant in some of our Bible Retreat weekends.  This past year she invited us to visit her church a couple of times and after hearing about our summer English/Outreach camps, the church invited us to partner with their small Presbyterian church in Beregszasz, Ukraine for a week-long camp.  This was not a school camp, but a church camp.  Children as young as seven years old and as old as high school age from the church and local community attended from 9am-3pm for devotions, singing, English classes, and games.  God blessed this week. The church was happy and excited to have such a week of Gospel outreach and relationship building, and it was a pleasure for us to be of service to them and their local church. Follow the link below for more photos of this camp.

II. Vachartyan is an old village, near the storied Danube Bend region of Hungary.  Vachartyan and the neighboring town of Erdokertes, sister congregations led by the same pastor, Barnabas Gergely, are both bedroom communities of Budapest due to their proximity of being within 45 miles of the capital city. In Vachartyan we have been working with pastor Barnabas and his wife Livia for 10 years conducting an English outreach camp for local middle school and high school students of their church and community during the first week of July.

Water Balloon Volleyball

We are always welcomed with generous hospitality and we have enjoyed over the last decade getting to know many people in these communities.  We and our volunteers stay with host families from the both the Vachartyan and Erdokertes congregations helping us get to know many families over the past years.

We also enjoy working with David and Grace McBrier, American missionaries living in the nearby city of Vac.  They have many interesting outreach programs including a softball/baseball ministry, women’s retreats, and as Grace is an excellent cook and baker they are often hosting people at their home.  David is also a carpenter and every year David and Grace lead the students at the Vachartyan camp in a week long building/craft project with a Gospel theme.  At the end of the week all of the students have built a souvenir to take home with them.

Building Project

Another interesting side note to our Vachartyan camp is that it is the home town of our volunteer David Guba’s grandparents.  He first heard about us and the camp through a google search while researching his ancestors home village. This past year during the camp he lived with cousins who still live in Vachartyan.

We are also excited every year to work along side Orsi Gelle, a dear friend and English teacher from Vac.  Orsi’s experience teaching children and her genuine faith and friendship are such a blessing to the camp.  We are thankful each and every year to be a part of this camp in Vachartyan. Follow the link below for more pictures from the camp.

III. Tiszaujvaros is also a small city on the Eastern end of Hungary.  Tiszaujvaros has a very different history and very different settings today than Vachartyan.  Tiszaujvaros is a very new city, having been created in farm fields along the Tisza river in the 1950’s as a model communist industrial city.  Due to its history and recent creation, the city never had a church until the late 1990’s.  We have been working with the Tiszaujvaros congregation in a similar fashion for only the past three years.

We can see the LORD’s providence at work in how we came know the Church and Congregation in Tiszaujvaros.  Four years ago, on a dark February night, while traveling with a group of students, our Volkswagen van broke down near their church and their subsequent kindness, care, and aid met our unfortunate predicament.  They welcomed us that evening with such hospitality.  They had been praying for a way to start an English camp ministry and we were an answer to that prayer, stranded on the side of the highway that cold dark snowy night.

We have enjoyed partnering with Aranka and Laci and their ministry in Tiszaujvaros and like many other places, we have enjoyed meeting many people in the church community.  We are blessed to be serving these churches and their ministry to their communities through helping them organize these summer Gospel outreach/English camps.

Because these are church outreach weeks and not school camps, we follow a model of having students come from 9am until 3-4pm, returning home in the evenings.  Days are filled with alternating hours of devotions & singing, games, and creative English lessons.  Over 50 middle school and high school students attended the Vachartyan camp and around half that number came to the Tiszaujvaros camp.  We praise God for these opportunities.  We are thankful to God for the opportunity to work beside so many godly people in this community who labor intensively for the sake of the Gospel.

IV. Vorosmart – Our week-long camp in Vorosmart is unique to us.  It is not an English camp and it is our only camp to date that happens outside of the borders of Hungary or Ukraine.  Vorosmart is a small ethnic Hungarian town in north eastern Croatia.  The camp is a Bible camp in a Vacation Bible School format.  Middle school and high school students attend from 9am until 3pm for periods of devotions and singing, small group discussions, and games and crafts.

The other unique aspect of this camp for us, is that the camp is mostly led by university students that we take from Ukraine.  We help organize it and provide the logistics and we and other native English volunteers help lead the devotions and help with games, but by in large the camp is run by Hungarian university students from Ukraine.  It is truly amazing to see God at work, using these young people to reach out and share the Gospel with others.  We are always welcomed and hosted by Pastor Gyorgy Varga and the congregation.  This past year we enjoyed delicious dinners every evening made by ladies in the congregation.

God Blessed these camps this past summer and we are excited to once again plan for these camps this coming summer.  Please pray for these camps and outreach opportunities now during the planning process and this summer when they will be underway. To God be the glory!

Roma Outreach

On the outskirts of most towns and cities live the Roma.  Roma are not Hungarian or Ukrainian, but rather originally natives of India who immigrated in the middle ages to Europe.  Living in impoverished camps and mud brick homes, the vast majority of Roma have never or rarely been to school and are illiterate.  The local church has begun a number of kindergartens and afternoon school learning centers for Roma children in an attempt to bring the gospel to these people, as well as to educate them by teaching them to read and write.  Typical kindergarten activities and games are also conducted and it is also an opportunity for the children to eat a hot lunch.  We partner with one of these kindergartens every Tuesday afternoon through winter and spring months by bringing high school students from the Peterfalva Reformed High School to organize an afternoon program of a Bible story and lesson, singing and prayer, crafts, writing exercises, and games.  We believe that this a great opportunity for students from the high school to show the love of Christ to a less fortunate people of their own communities.  We hope and pray that it will also aid in removing the racial barrier that divides and separates the Roma from their Ukrainian and Hungarian neighbors.  It is a valuable opportunity for the young Roma children to learn about God and the Bible as well as to practice and learn necessary life skills such as reading and writing and table manners. 

Our second major program involving Roma this past year was an after school program in the city of Beregszasz.  Local university students partnered with us in this endeavor.  The university students go on a weekly basis to conduct an after school program centered around beginner English lessons and a devotion.  The after school program was well attended and we were proud of the diligence and effort the university students gave on behalf of children who attended showing them the love of Christ. 

Involvement in the Roma community came in different ways this past year.  A local pastor by the name of Elemer helps to run the local Roma kindergarten.  He regularly drives up and down the streets of the village picking up children in the camp and taking them to the kindergarten.  Many of these children probably would not attend if it was not for the ride he offered to take them.  Driving from one camp to another he must also pass by the local state school.  Allowing him to take older children to school as he passes by to collect younger children for the kindergarten.  Many of the older children like their younger siblings would not attend if not for someone making an effort to go and get them.  Pastor Elemer’s van broke down for a couple of week stretch this past spring.  He asked me to cover for him with our old yellow Volkswagen van.  It was an interesting and eye opening experience for me to see his involvement in the Roma community and to transport van loads of children back and forth to school and kindergarten.

One late spring night Elemer organized a special outreach evening with a guest speaker in the Roma congregation.  Over one hundred people came and packed the small building.  Lasting long into the night, upon nights end I was asked to transport mothers, infant babies and small children back to the camp to save them a two mile walk in the dark. Once again I felt blessed that God has opened these small windows into the life of the Roma.   


A Beautiful Song

Stacey and I have a love for singing.  I can’t claim to make a beautiful sound, but I do have a deep and sincere love for singing.  My roommates at Dordt College would often give me a hard time for my not so beautiful singing voice, little did they know I would some years later get a Chinese fortune cookie with the little paper inside saying that one day someone would enjoy my singing.   Hopefully this “fortune” has come true.  Stacey on the other hand can make a joyful sound and she leads us every Sunday night in an English Hymn sing at the Peterfalva Reformed High School.  Laci, a guitar playing teacher and dorm parent, faithfully comes to play the guitar for us every week. We have a faithful core of students who come every week to sing with us, to both practice their English and for a love of singing.  Some weeks we have up to 25 students who come for the event.  Our little English choir was invited last year to perform at an evangelizing week being organized by a local Reformed youth group at a local college in nearby Beregszasz.  We were again invited back this year and once again enjoyed going with our English choir to perform three songs during this church event.  May our “joyful noise” be to the glory and praise of God alone!

English Clubs and Classes

Through the winter and spring months this past year we have been thankful to be involved in many different English clubs and classes.  Two of the English clubs and one class are held in the nearby city of Beregszasz.  One afternoon/evening a week we spent in the city teaching a university class at the local Rakoczi Ferenc Hungarian College and holding a children’s English club and an evening English club for teenagers and adults.  The children’s club is focused more on English learning using games, crafts, and activities.  The adult club is focused on a weekly topic that we discuss.  The college class is also centered around a weekly topic of the English language or American culture.  It was a rewarding experience to get to know so many people through these weekly meetings.  The classes gave us an opportunity to invite the students to other events.  Many of the university students would later accept our invitation and join us in the late spring for a Bible retreat weekend in the mountains.

We also enjoyed teaching English in our home village of Peterfalva.  We conducted English classes at the local Hungarian Reformed boarding school on a weekly basis.  Most classes took place at the school learning about English through a variety of ways and methods.  Classes often involved games, songs, and activities.

One particular English class the Stacey and I reflected fondly on was one afternoon, when students came to our house to learn about American style pancakes and maple syrup.  Pancakes are different in Europe.  They are not the thick fluffy pancakes that dot the breakfast tables and cafes across North America.  On the contrary, a European pancake is thin, cooked without a rising agent and is then rolled into a burrito shape with its delicious ingredients inside.  In Hungarian cuisine pancakes are filled with chocolate, jams, or a type of local cheese curds.  However, I have had similar pancakes in the Netherlands that were variety and could be filled with cheese and ham. Most people in Eastern Europe have never seen or tasted North American style pancakes covered in such a delicacy as maple syrup.  We had brought a small bottle of maple syrup with us which we shared with the students and taught them about where the syrup comes from and how it is harvested.  Stacey crushed up chocolate bars and showed the students how to make pancakes.  Chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup was enjoyed by all. 

This past spring Stacey also began to organize an adult English club out of our home for our neighbors.  Not just young students, but also many middle-aged people are interested in learning English.  On a trip to the pharmacy one day, Stacey was approached by a local pharmacist about starting an English club in the village that could meet on a weekly basis.  A dedicated group of neighbors came throughout the spring for evening English lessons from Stacey and it was a very good way to get in closer contact with our neighbors.