Each summer for the past four years, I’ve participated in a summer English camp near Volgograd, Russia, sponsored by members of various location churches. These past two years, I’ve led the team of American volunteers, who come to help with the conversational English lessons at camp and share their lives and love for God with the kids. This year, following my completion of a TESOL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at YWAM Montana, I took on the task of creating the lesson plan for this summer camp.
Each year the kids have become more and more receptive to the message of the gospel as we have built relationship with them. The camp organizers felt like this year the kids were ready to go deeper, and God did amazing things in their lives.
I met Yarik (short for Yaroslov) on the first day of camp. He was going to be in my lesson group, but when I spoke to him in English, he replied, “I only know German!” I wondered if he was going to be hard to crack, but as soon as he figured out I could speak Russian, he warmed right up.
One of our daily activities at camp after our group lessons are over is having one-on-one time with one or two of the kids for an hour. I knew Yarik came from a Christian family, but I didn’t know anything about his own walk with God. I figured he would be a good kid from my group to start with.
Most of our conversation was in Russian, as he knew very little English with which to practice. We talked about our hobbies, sports we liked and other general topics. Finally, I asked Yarik if both of his parents went to church. As he began to tell me about his parents and family, tears streamed down his face, but still he continued to share. His dad used to be a pastor, but his mom had walked away from her faith. He was so afraid for her and felt helpless to do anything. He was trying to be a good Christian and a good son, but it was so hard.
I could not imagine that already, on the first day, one of the kids from my group was opening up so deeply. He obviously was desperate for God to do something in his life. I felt God wanted me to encourage him with the story of the prodigal son. I told him not to worry so much for his mom. God still loved her even though she had walked away. He was waiting and longing for her to come back, but she was still his daughter and that would never change. We prayed together for her, and I also prayed for Yarik to find strength and rest in God’s love for him.
Later in the week, a special evening was set aside to highlight the gospel message with the kids at camp. It was called a ceremony of light. The atmosphere was charged by the presence of the Holy Spirit, who was touching everybody that night. Yarik was sitting next to me and very emotional as he thought about his sin and how God, in his love, sent his Son to pay for our sins so we could have a relationship with God.
At the end of the ceremony, we were encouraged to go around and say to our friends words of encouragement, care and love. After several minutes, Yarik approached me and gave me a big embrace, crying and not letting go. He said how, on that night, he finally understood just how much God loved him. It was a big moment for him in his walk with God, and a night he will never forget.
In this camp of 61 kids, we saw 6 decisions of faith in Christ, 3 kids who repented of sins and renewed their faith, 5 more kids who grew in their faith and 14 kids who were touched by the gospel and got more interested in the Christian faith. In addition to that, two boys, Misha and Vitya, who came from an orphanage the churches work with, experienced a tremendous change in their lives. They had been addicted to alcohol and were known as “bad boys.” Since the camp, they have repented of the things they were doing and have become members of the local church. They both desire to get baptized and want to serve other orphans in the orphanage where they live. Praise God for the work in the lives of these kids at camp, and pray for the ongoing ministry in their lives by the local church and youth groups they are now connected with.
So enjoyed reading your testimony and all that you shared about the camp. Wow! Our God is amazing! You handled Yarik’s problem so kindly, and God held him so carefully and blessed him. Thank you for reaching out in Russia. My family lived in Ukraine for almost 15 years, we’ve been back a year now, but we so miss those we left. We enjoyed working two summers teaching English in a special needs camp. Oi! such a huge blessing for us to love such precious people… I know you understand. Anyway… God is blessed by all your time and love and effort… don’t stop.
With love to you and praise to God for your team… Michele Lind
Excellent! God bless you for the work you are doing in Russia. My name is Felix Mendez. Me and my wife are the leaders in YWAM Pereira. I am Cuban and my wife is Colombian. As YWAM Pereira, we have adopted Russia as one of the focus countries. We pray for Russia and we are praying and planning to send an outreach team to that country in the future. We are part of the YWAM Colombian project “To Russia with Love.” The testimony of Yarik and what God has done among so many kids during the summer camp impacted me. Thank you for sharing it. God bless you!