Peterfalva & Nagydobrony English Camps

Nagydobrony – For the first time this past summer we held an English/outreach camp in the town of Nagydobrony, Ukraine at the Hungarian Reformed Boarding School in the village.  The school is one of three Hungarian Reformed boarding schools in the minority Hungarian population of the western Ukraine, the province of Transcarpathia.  Transcarpathia, part of Hungary for a thousand years, still has an active minority Hungarian population and many Protestant churches.  The English teacher at the school, Magdolna Borovszki, a Peterfalva Reformed High School graduate, is a close friend of ours who was a student and former university Bible Study attendee, dating back to my first years visiting Ukraine.  Nagydobrony is 50 miles, but a grueling nearly two-hour drive from our home village of Peterfalva, and is one of the largest Hungarian settlements in the Transcarpathia region.  We immensely enjoyed traveling there for our week-long camp filled with devotions and singing, English lessons, games and activities, and capped off with a bonfire on a beautiful early summer night.  It was wonderful to meet many new students and teachers.  This was our first camp of the summer, beginning in the end of May, and was a great start for our volunteer teachers.  The town of Nagydobrony is home to a Christian Nursing home.  Nursing homes are uncommon and a Christian nursing home is very unique.  As part of the camp we walked over every afternoon with a group of students to sing and visit the elderly residents.  The residents enjoyed it and hopefully the students did too.

An evening of Hungarian Folk Dancing.One other highlight for us was to have a folk dance evening in Nagydobrony. Some area folk dance instructors came and taught all of us different Hungarian folk dances. We are thankful to the Nagydobrony school, the teachers, and community for welcoming us and partnering with us during this English camp.

Volunteer Sarah Slager from North Carolina leads devotions.

Devotions and singing are an important part of our camps. The students seem to enjoy the singing.  Learning English and vocabulary through song for many seems to be an easier and more enjoyable way to learn English. We especially love the devotional time as it provides time and places to be able to talk to the students about faith.  It is moving to hear the volunteers share with the students, personal testimonies, favorite Bible verses, and devotions that have helped them in their faith. Sometimes volunteers use this time to share with the students about struggles in their own lives and about how they were led to Christ.  It is always our hope and prayer that these words will fall on listening ears and open hearts. Please follow the link below to see more pictures.

Peterfalva – Peterfalva, the small agrarian village in Western Ukraine we call home, was the location of our third camp of the summer.  This also marked our second camp with a Hungarian Reformed Boarding School. Around 100 students from the Peterfalva Reformed High School attend the camp.  The camp is a required part of the school curriculum.  The school year runs from September through May and the month of June is designated for language camps.  The students take part in our two-week English camp as well as a two-week Ukrainian language camp.  Despite the setting of a Christian boarding school, the camp is still an excellent opportunity to share the Gospel and the hope that is ours in Christ.  Also, it is a great opportunity to live our lives as a Christian example of what it means to follow Christ.

You may be wondering, what does a day in a boarding school camp look like?  The day is broken down into four different types of events.  Devotions & Singing, English Lessons, Service Projects, and Games & Activities.  Devotions and Singing occur every morning and evening.  We take turns as volunteers leading the devotions by sharing the Gospel, speaking about our faith, sharing a favorite Bible passage or a devotion or something that the LORD has been teaching us.  The devotions are translated into Hungarian by an English teacher or a local university student who is helping with the camp.  Every morning is filled with English Lessons from after breakfast until lunch.  Volunteers from North America prepare and conduct English lessons for the students.  The lessons are an opportunity for the students to advance in their English language abilities, which with a greater knowledge of English will help them find better jobs and opportunities later in life.  Many of the English Lessons are also centered around topics of faith and the Bible.  Afternoons are filled with Games & Activities and Service Projects.

Every student is required to take part in one Service Project throughout the course of the two-week camp.  The service projects involve spending an afternoon visiting elderly and widows in the Peterfalva community; singing, visiting, reading the Bible and praying with them.  The other opportunity is to volunteer for an afternoon at the local Roma kindergarten organizing games, songs, and a Sunday School message for these young Roma children.  One day we went to the Roma kindergarten and organized a lunch for the children.  Pastor Elemer Barta cooked the famed Hungarian goulash over an open fire and students from the Peterfalva Reformed High School, children from the Roma kindergarten and their teaches, and North American volunteers all enjoyed games, lunch, and fellowship together.

Evenings during the English Camp are filled with with many different activities for the students.  During the course of the two week camp we organize the students into activity teams.  The students choose a team name and make a poster representing their team. Throughout the two week camp the teams compete against each other in many games and activities and at the end of the camp an activity team is crowned champions and rewarded for their efforts with chocolate.  The student teams compete in Ultimate Frisbee, water games, a scavenger hunt, a trivia competition, organize skits and do many different other activities.

This camp is a busy two weeks but always richly blessed by God and a rewarding experience we are thankful for.

One exciting thing to happen this past year was one of volunteers David Guba, from Alberta, Canada brought with him an entire suitcase full of blankets, gloves, and winter hats that his mother had knitted.  David gave these items to many teachers and cooks at the school and he was also able to give them as gifts to elderly ladies of the community who the students visited in the afternoons during the camp.  Earlier this week, Stacey and I were able to visit Mariska-neni, a 92 year old woman in our village who the students visited last summer.  The blanket made by David’s mother was on her bed and she proudly retold the story of how she received it during the English camp.  We are thankful to both David who carried an entire extra suitcase and to his mother who must have given countless hours to make the blankets and hats.

We are again thankful to God for all the volunteers from North America this past summer.  We are thankful for their willingness to come and serve and give of themselves and their time.  We are also thankful to Reformed Mission Services for helping us find volunteers.  We were also very thankful to Csilla Kodobocz, David Hidi, Zoltan Toth, Krisztina Bosckor, Eszter Kucsinka, and Kamilla Kelemen (university students) who helped as translators and classroom assistants.  We also were thankful to Irenke Kalincs, and Magdolna Borovszki the respective English teachers we worked with in Peterfalva and Nagydobrony.  We are thankful to the administrators, dorm parents, cooks, cleaning staff, and everyone else at both schools who made these weeks possible.  We appreciated the efforts of so many people to be able to organize and conduct summer camps in both Peterfalva and Nagydobrony at the Hungarian Reformed boarding schools.  Soli Deo Gloria! Follow the link below to see more pictures.

2017 Peterfalva English Camp

Catching Up

We found ourselves busier than we anticipated this spring heading into the summer months.  It was a good kind of busyness.  We are thankful for so many opportunities God has graced us with.  Opportunities to share the Gospel with many young people of Eastern Europe.  We are thankful for the opportunities that God has given us to live out our faith in gratitude for the gift of salvation He has given us through the blood of Jesus Christ.  We often dwell on the here and now of our earthly lives and spend little time looking towards our heavenly home.  I hope this year through the work of the Holy Spirit we were able to plant seeds in lives and hearts of many young people that this life is but temporary, as we look towards our glorious future of everlasting life, dwelling with and praising God.  We hope and pray that the words and deeds that were heard and observed by many young people in our English lessons and clubs, Bible Retreats, and other ministries point towards our precious hope that is in Christ alone.

The focus of these latest blogs, although belated, has been upon spring events.  In our next blogs we will give a report on our summer camps which the LORD blessed immensely.  With thankful hearts and humble praises, Soli Deo Gloria.

I never got around to posting a blog I wrote last spring about the beauty of spring in Ukraine.  I thought it was still worth posting.

Spring abounds with hope and renewal.  The changing of the season passes by, giving hope of new life and a renewed creation.  As beautiful as the winter is, what a glorious transformation to watch the snow melt and to see the wonder of life and color return after the dormant sleepy months of winter.  Life in the villages of Ukraine with the spring season come to life in buzzing activity following months of house bound winter captivity. Ukraine will never have spring time fame like the flower fields of Holland, or the cherry trees blossoming in Washington D.C. or Tokyo.  Yet, with an abundance of fruit trees joined by a variety of flowers perfectly suited for life and growth here, Transcarpathia, Ukraine, lacks nothing in beauty during the spring time months.  The snow flowers are the first to appear, often before the snow even melts away, soon followed by the Crocus covering the forest floor in a majestic sea of purple.  These early spring flowers are soon replaced by tulips, fruit tree blossoms, and many other flowers too numerous to name here.  Spring is my favorite season in Ukraine.  All of creation in every season testifies of God and proclaims His name and His handiwork.  The coming to life of creation in the spring time reminds me of God’s promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth.  What a glories day it will be to see God’s perfect creation where there will be no more pain and suffering or death, and every tear will be wiped away.

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!

Bible Retreat Weekend

The weekend of May 5-7 we traveled to the beautiful Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine with 48 young adults and university students for a weekend of Bible study, prayer, singing, fellowship, and hiking. This was the third annual weekend Bible retreat we have conducted through a grant from the Zondervan Foundation.

For much of the world, May 1 is Labor Day.  This was an important socialist holiday across Eastern Europe and the Communist bloc. May 9 is Victory Day, commemorating the end of WWII. The week and weekends that these days fall on are spring holidays from school for students and therefore, an ideal time to attract students to come for a weekend away to the mountains. The heart of spring is a lovely time to spend in God’s creation among the vibrant spring flowers and landscapes of the Carpathian Mountains. We have been encouraged by the number of students who have returned from previous years and it has also been wonderful to see new faces this year. Many of the students are young adults who we regularly see and have spent time with in English camps, English classes, and Bible studies. This weekend is a unique opportunity to reinforce and grow in our relationships with them. However, many are students we do not know, and it is an excellent occasion to meet and form new relationships with them.  We praise God for the hints of change we can see in their lives and we pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in their lives and change their hearts.

Possibly the biggest surprise for us in organizing this weekend is the diversity of those attending. Originally, when the retreat weekend was still nothing but an idea, we thought it would be attended only by Hungarian university students who are among the Hungarian minority populations of western Ukraine. God has blessed the Bible retreats the past three years in ways that we could not imagine.  One of them being the great diversity of the students.  The majority remain minority Hungarian students of Transcarpathia, Ukraine.  However, we also welcomed six Nigerian students who are in western Ukraine attending medical school, two German students volunteering in western Ukraine with a German organization, and six Ukrainian students from Kyiv brought by three Navigator missionaries.  The Navigators are a U.S. based mission organization with a ministry in Kyiv and we have been blessed to partner with the Navigators for the past three years. This year three Navigator missionaries brought a group of six young adults and joined us for the Bible retreat and served as small group leaders. This was a small foretaste of what heaven would be like with so many people from so many different cultures and walks of life joining together to praise God and study the Bible. Using English as a common language, it was remarkable to study the Bible and praise and glorify God among such a diverse group of believers.

We broke up into four small groups for the weekend and had morning and evening sessions studying the Trinity.  We studied and discussed God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  We hope and pray that the discussions and Bible studies on the three Persons of the Trinity encouraged the faith and understanding of the attendees and for those who are not Christians that it would show them who God is and why we need Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We pray that the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Gospel were faithfully proclaimed and we hope and pray that the seeds that were planted in open hearts and minds will continue to grow and flourish.

If for some the message of the Gospel and Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross was something they had never heard. We hope that this weekend was an encouragement to all and a calling to all to give their lives to Jesus Christ.

Photo Credit: Maksym Diachenko