Each summer, I look forward to serving the youth ministry of the Christ the Savior Church in Volgograd, Russia, by helping with their summer English Camp. Our team is very international, including English-speaking volunteers from Africa and the United States, who serve with the Russian team from local churches. For the third time, I was the coordinator for the U.S. team and helped to create the English lesson books for the camp, applying what I’ve learned through YWAM’s TESOL program.
The goal of the camp is not only to give Russian teenagers an opportunity to practice their English with native English speakers but also to introduce them to God’s love and grace, found through faith in Jesus Christ. The majority of kids coming to the camp are non-believers, while many of the teenagers serving as helpers are believers and came to faith in Christ at previous summer camps. It’s always exciting to observe them growing and maturing in Christ year after year.
This year some kids who were in the process of seeking God or showing some interest were invited to serve as translators. One young translator, named Tikhon, still believed he was a scientific atheist. The teacher he was helping, Stan, wondered how this arrangement was going to work and started to pray for him. Little did Tikhon realize God had a plan to work on his heart this summer.
It started with two of the Christian girls, Anya and Yulia, who were also helpers at the camp. They knew Tikhon was an atheist, but they were determined to challenge his thinking about God. One afternoon they sat and talked with him about Creation in the Bible, shared their testimonies and did their best to explain the gospel to him. They were so focused on their conversation with Tikhon they didn’t realize several other kids around them were also listening with rapt attention.
The next day, Tikhon found an opportunity to ask Nuper, one of the American men, if they could talk for a while. Nuper was more than happy to take some time. As they sat by the river, Tikhon shared about all the things he’d just learned about the Bible from the girls. After thinking about it all, he began to realize he was wrong about God and Creation.
“What should I do?” Tikhon asked. Nuper challenged him to put his faith in Christ through prayer, and they stopped and prayed together. “Now what should I do?” he asked. Nuper said, “Go tell someone what you have just done.” Later, Tikhon met again with Stan and told him about the decision he’d made. “He was so happy,” Stan said, “you could just see the difference in Tikhon’s face.”
This is just one example of what God did this summer through our team of volunteers. Through Stan’s prayers, Anya and Yulia’s testimonies and Nuper’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, Tikhon is now a child of God. Even the kids who listened intently as Anya and Yulia shared with Tikhon were changed by what they heard.
There was such an atmosphere of God’s love and grace at the camp! I praise God for the many other hearts that were touched by the gospel. ~ Craig Blair
Craig works with Volunteer Development at Mission Builders International. He returns yearly to Russia (where he lived and served for eight years with Campus Crusade) as a coordinator and volunteer for the English Camp.
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.