The above picture is from my very 1st experience with Josiah Venture, in 2010. It was the last day of an English camp we had helped with. This photo is a glorious combination of our “American” team, a youth group from a town called Zilina and a variety of high school students who were invited to come to camp to practice conversational English with Americans.
The seeds of this camp started in late fall, 2009. A youth group from a church in Zilina, Slovakia decided to host this outreach to the young people in their community. They would host a camp to teach conversational English the following summer. This youth group is connected with Josiah Venture and they had hosted camps like this one in previous summers. They asked JV to find them a church in America to partner with- one that would send a team over to teach English. I got this request through a friend of mine, Josh Howard, who is a missionary with JV in Slovakia.
I led a college ministry at the time, and after some prayer, we decided to go. We got detailed information about how to prepare as a group, how to raise our support and how to teach lessons in English at a variety of levels. We worked very hard as a team to be ready to serve that following July.
In Slovakia, the youth group was also preparing. They were also given material from Josiah Venture to help them plan. They put people in charge of translation, games, lessons, decorating, parties, worship, outreach, and a variety of other things. Everyone would have a job.
In the spring, help came to Slovakia from Josiah Venture in the form of summer interns. A group of interns came to Zilina and partnered with them as they went into local schools, inviting students from all walks of life and understanding of God to come to camp. The interns also helped the youth group think through some of the areas they might be”stuck” in, and helped them communicate with us about what supplies we could bring to help with the camp.
Finally the day arrived. Our team packed our bags and flew across the ocean. We were picked up in Vienna, Austria by JV missionaries from Slovakia. We had a huge bus full of teams from the United States. They brought us to JV headquarters in Slovakia- Kompass Training Center where we had an evening introduction to the country followed by a half-day of training the following morning. After lunch, this variety of teams were sent to all corners of Slovakia to meet their youth groups.
We were driven up into the mountains to an adorable hotel along a beautiful stream. Our youth group from Zilina was there- along with a couple of interns- and we were overwhelmed by their welcome and excitement! We spent the evening and next morning together with them. We had activities and games designed to help us really get to know them and to become a team with them. We worshipped and prayed together over the coming week. The interns work hard to connect the two teams and overcome any cultural differences.
That next afternoon the students arrived! They were a little nervous, and we tested them in English to place them into appropriate classes. We played fun games to help them feel more at home and had dinner getting to know them.
The week fell into a routine for us: Up before dawn for devotions and prayer with the team, breakfast, and English lessons. The English portion of camp is critical- students need to be fluent to graduate, and the draw of having actual Americans to speak with is huge. This is why these campers chose to attend a “church” camp- to practice English with Americans. Our role was to teach the best lessons we could, and to help the campers build relationships with the youth group.
Lessons were followed by a game time called “Initiatives”. These were games with an object lesson- something to get you thinking about the topic of the day (what the evening lesson would cover). They were really fun games followed by a time of answering questions together in your small group. Our group could never understand the instructions, so we lost every time and laughed a lot!
After lunch we played sports. The Slovaks were especially interested in American football and baseball, and they had fun teaching us new games like HuTuTu… fun crazy games!!!! Plus the scenery was beautiful.
After dinner we had the evening program. It always started with fun songs and funny skits that the youth group had worked on all year.
It finished with lessons directly from scripture and testimonies. Each lesson stepped a little closer to sharing about Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. That gospel message was presented on the last night at camp. After the evening program was a fun “themed” party- like “American night” or “Sailor night”- food, music and games galore- but also a time for some serious conversations with questions about God for some of the campers.
In the middle of the week the schedule abruptly stopped and there was an “all-camp hike” day. My 1st year at camp was a rainy day, so we didn’t really get to experience this, but the hike during our 2nd year was EPIC. A 17 mile all-day scavenger hunt in the mountains. It was SO much fun. We had so many great conversations with the students in our group- because we had all day long to talk.
After the evening program on the last night, students were invited to walk a “labyrinth” which is a path set up all through the camp with stations to stop at and things to think about and process at each station. This walk reminded students of all they had learned during the week about God and at the very last station they were asked to take a rock and place it in one of several jars, indicating where they are at with the idea of having God lead their lives. If they put the rock into the jar indicating that they are interested in following God, they were invited to step aside and pray. The night ended with s’mores and a bonfire and at both of the camps I was a part of, conversations about God went into the early morning hours.
The next morning, after cleaning and packing up, EVERYONE returned to the host town of Zilina. We were taken on an enthusiastic tour of their hometown, bowling (lol) and then in the evening to an “after-camp party” where the youth group hosts everyone, and the kids invited to camp- who maybe have never set foot in a church- came. The youth group handed out a fall schedule with all kinds of fun events and invited all these new camp-friends to join them.
I kept in touch on Facebook with many of them. Not only did many of our campers stay in the youth group, but many accepted Christ and are leaders in the camp they are planning for this summer.
This is the theme… it is being printed on 6, 730 shirts that will be worn at English, Sports and Music camps all over Eastern and Central Europe this summer!
There are so many young lives being impacted by these camps in the coming months.
-The youth groups preparing to host a camp
-The campers that will be invited to camp shortly
-The interns who will be traveling over in May to help with the whole summer
-The American teams preparing to go over and serve.
As I was looking though pictures for this post, I came across this one. This was the very 1st night of our 1st trip to Slovakia, and my friend Ricky and I were trying a Slovak soda called “Kofala” for the 1st time. That trip changed Ricky’s life. He went back two more times on short term trips and once as an intern. He is raising support to become a full-time missionary now. Oh, the things we didn’t know about God’s plans when this picture was taken!
Please pray for this summer. Pray for all the different groups that will be connecting together to bring the hope of Jesus to young people. Pray for the planning and the traveling. Pray for the teaching and discipling. Pray for health and unity in each church involved.
I know this post was long, but I hope it helped you catch a vision for all that is about to launch in JV in just a month’s time! It’s so exciting to think about lives changed because of God’s great love!!!
Thank you for being a part of this with me- with us- I love that you all are along for the ride!!!