As the Vranov camp comes to a close, there are a few stories to catch up on.
On Wednesday, we took a bus after the camp day to Spis castle with the Vranov youth group (aka our camp translators). We had an English tour, then had time to wander up the tower and look around on our own. On the way back, we had a little adventure when our bus broke down! Thankfully we broke down in the town of Presov (not in the middle of nowhere or inside a tunnel), so we hopped off the bus, invaded a pizza place, and finished up eating just as a replacement bus arrived. The next morning, Pam led us in a morning devotional and reminded us to always look for God in the tiny things, so we made a list of small blessings that happened just because the bus broke down:
Today, Friday, is our last day and our closing program. As always, it’s a bittersweet time of saying goodbye to kids and translators, cleaning up classrooms, and packing up to head off to our next destination.
Now that both the Puchov and the Vranov camps are well-established (this was the 6th year for Puchov and the 4th for Vranov), we and our hosts are exploring new ways to improve our reach, effectiveness, and impact. The danger of the short-term mission trip is that missionaries will jump in, provide a great week or two of Biblical teaching, and then leave without connecting the children to the host church or ministry. Of course, we never know the lasting impact that our words or actions will have, even in just one week, but our goal is to partner with the existing church in Slovakia and help it grow. We are talking about ideas for new and additional camps, new avenues to reach disadvantaged children--especially in Roma populations--and new ways to plug in the rest of the congregation, not just the young people.
Along the same lines, we are looking at how to recruit new team members to help with these new projects! Jesus tells us that the vineyard is plentiful but the workers are few, and that is the case in nearly every ministry project, including this one. We are always looking for people committed to spreading the Gospel who are flexible, joyful in their faith, and willing to take on a little adventure in their lives.
For the Puchov and Vranov churches, their leadership, and our hosts, Miro and Dodo
For the children at the camps, that the camps have had a lasting impact on them
Safe travel for the team:
Bob, Phil, Erika, Sarah, and Pam: headed to Vienna, then home to California
Tim: headed to Vienna, then home to Washington
Amanda: headed to Vienna, then home to Texas
Pam and Mot: headed to Vienna, then for a few weeks’ tour of Europe, then EEMN camps in Estonia
David Michael: headed to Vienna, then back to Latvia for a few weeks, then EEMN camps in Estonia
John and Sheri: headed to Puchov for a few last days with Jake, then home to Washington
Chuck and Laura: headed to Poprad for a few days to visit friends, then home to California
Jake: headed to Puchov to begin a yearlong mission trip
Meet the Team: Pam & Mot; Chuck & Laura
Mot and Pam are from Washington and are here in Slovakia for the 3rd time. Mot recently retired from the nuclear power industry, and Pam is a retired teacher. Mot is teaching Group 5 and Pam is teaching Group 4.
Chuck and Laura are from California, where Chuck is the director of IT for a high school and Laura is a busy church volunteer. This is their 5th time in Slovakia, and they are co-teaching Group 8 in Vranov.
Meet the Team: Amanda, Phil, and Erika
Amanda is from Texas, where she is currently seeking a Master's in accounting. This is her 3rd time in Slovakia, and she is teaching Group 1.
Phil is from California, where he is a high school English teacher. Erika, also from California, is a university writing instructor. They have been team leaders for the Slovakia camps since 2012, and this is their 8th time in Slovakia.
Two days of our second week of camp are officially down! We have a record number of 89 students in this camp this year--and there was even more demand than that! The camp is going fantastically, with translators and teachers alike enjoying themselves immensely.
On Sunday morning we sang a few songs in church and received a warm welcome from the pastor. The previous pastor retired at the end of last summer, so this was our first introduction to the new pastor. After church, we walked down to a nice restaurant for lunch and a little surprise for Lydia, whose birthday it was. In the afternoon we set up classrooms, then went to the parsonage for dinner prepared for us by the youth group. The teachers got paired up with translators, and everyone talked over plans for the coming week.
Monday was one of the smoothest first days of camp that we have ever had. Although everyone was tired out from the day as always, there were no issues, misunderstandings, or confusions to clear up. We enjoyed dinner together at the school, then some of us came back to the church for our annual Vranov movie night with the translators--this year, we watched Guardians of the Galaxy.
Today (Tuesday) has gone swimmingly as well. After camp, we'll be hearing a short talk from Martin, one of our translators, who has spent the last year working with a Slovak organization and teaching disadvantaged children. Afterwards we'll spend another relaxing evening out to dinner, and many of us will also appreciate an early night :)
Because our lodgings here are dormitory-style, and because the team has had a chance to bond over the last week or two, we have a relaxed feel of family. It's fun to walk down the hall and hear Lydia and Amanda laughing away in one room, Tim and Jake "Wasssup"-ing each other next to them, DMC's dulcet guitar music, and Pam, Sarah, and Maggie giggling, and see John and Sheri and Chuck and Laura chatting, then pass Pam and Mot up to visit for the wifi (their room is one story below) with Bob hanging out on the couch at the end of the hall. Thanks to Sheri, we've also added a new member to our team: "Scary Sherry," a doll that we use to terrify one another periodically.
Shots from the last days in Puchov & the first days in Vranov
Meet the Team: David Michael, Bob, and Tim
David Michael (DMC) is a "musicianary" with EEMN currently serving in Latvia. DMC led music and worship in Latvia before our Slovakia camps, and afterwards he will be continuing on to serve in the Estonia camps.
Bob is a many-year Slovakia veteran: he has attended 11 camps here since 2009! He is from California and is leading crafts at both camps.
Tim is a Disney fanatic, a fire chief in Washington, and the teacher of Group 2 at both camps.
Well, we have several days to catch up on! Wifi has been a little inconsistent, and things have been busy with the end of the first week of camp. The most important news is that on Thursday, we were joined by Wave Four of our team: Chuck and Laura arrived safely in Puchov from Vienna via Bratislava in the afternoon.
Wednesday: In the afternoon after the camp day, we took a caravan of 4 vehicles to some castle ruins about an hour away from Puchov. Those of us who felt adventurous went on a hike up to the top of the hill, while others walked around town and got ice cream. Afterwards, we all met up to enjoy dinner together with an amazing view of the surrounding hills and fields and some fantastic conversation with our Slovak friends.
Thursday evening we had an evening program at the church for parents, children, and church members. We had some of the largest attendance we’ve ever had, with many people having to stand in an adjacent room because we ran out of seats. We sang a few camp songs, watched a photo slideshow, and introduced teachers and translators. Afterwards, we enjoyed an almost-barbecue due to rain, but we were able to sneak in s’mores still at the end. All of the team enjoyed time of conversation and games.
On Friday we had a shortened camp day in order to make room for our closing program in the afternoon. Each class shared a small drama in which all the children spoke a few lines of English, and we sang songs, shared photos, and thanked translators and Americans alike. At the end of the program, we shared some goodbyes with our students and translators and headed back to our lodgings to debrief and pack up for our journey east.
This morning (Saturday) we loaded up another 4 vehicles with all 20 team members and 29 suitcases and headed off to the Puchov train station. There we parted from David, Angela, and Daniel, who are off to Bulgaria before returning to the states. We hopped on our train (ok, more like we laboriously lugged 29 suitcases onto our train) and took off for Kysak in the eastern part of Slovakia, where we were met at the station by friends from Vranov. We took a bus from Kysak to Vranov and settled into our lodgings, which are dormitory-style rooms on the top floor of the school where we’ll hold our second week of camp.
Everyone on the team is in good spirits, particularly since the weather cooled and the humidity broke during the middle of the Puchov camp. We are taking this weekend to rest up and recharge before the new camp starts. Finishing a week of camp is always bittersweet—while we were all excited to start our new adventure in Vranov, it’s always hard to say goodbye to friends new and old and all the children we’ve interacted with over the week.
That hearts in Puchov may have been touched by the camp and that seeds were planted that will continue to grow
That team members will be able to rest up and prepare for the week of camp ahead with a record number of attendees—90 children registered, PTL!
Good health and enthusiasm for all team members
Attendance at Friday’s Puchov youth group meeting—nearly all students from the teen class (many of whom are not active participants in the youth group) attended the evening meeting at the church!
Meet the Team: Pam, Jake, and Sarah
This post's segment is focused on the three teen members of our team.
Pam is going into her senior year of high school in California. She plays tennis and does swim, and she is teaching Group 3 in both camps.
Jake is a graduated senior who will be spending the next year in Puchov as a short-term missionary to work with Miro and SEM. Jake is leading the sports rotation at both camps.
Sarah is going into her sophomore year of high school in California. She plays basketball, and she is co-teaching Group 4 at both camps.
Although these 3 are young, they have all been to Slovakia 1-2 times before, and they keep the team enthusiastic and energized :)
This year, we're teaching on HOPE in the story of David. Our theme verse is from Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We have 66 students in our children's camp (roughly grades 2-7) and another 14 in our teen camp. For the children's camp, the teachers spend 3 30-minute English sessions in the classroom with their classes teaching them vocabulary and themes from the day's story. They also play language games and other activities similar to a Vacation Bible School setting. In between class sessions, groups rotate between music, crafts, and sports and finish off the day with time to practice their drama for the closing program on Friday.
The teen camp is an experiment for this year. Last year, two team members went to an overnight camp with teens for 4 days, where they had Bible studies and devotionals, shared testimonies, went on hikes, and played paintball. This year, we decided to try something else new and are holding a smaller version of that camp during the week. On Monday they played some getting-to-know-you games and participated in opening, sports, lunch, and music with the rest of the camp. On Tuesday they left for a trip of hiking and go-carting. This camp is part of Miro's efforts to reach teens in the area, including some who attended the English Bible camps as young children and have "aged out."
Although the entire team is made up of "veterans" this year (team members who have not only taught in camps before but have taught in Slovakia specifically), each camp always brings new opportunities and new challenges. At the end of each day in debriefing, team members express the ups and downs (mostly ups) of the day in tired but enthusiastic tones, which basically sums up the feeling of working in these camps. The work is physically draining but spiritually energizing, and in the same way that athletes are told to "leave it all on the field," the team is focusing on giving their all to the kids and following whatever tugs they feel from God to talk to certain children or do certain activities.
One of the most meaningful moments thus far was our Tuesday night activity. Most of our translators joined us in the evening for a time of prayer, singing, and testimony. Three Slovaks and three Americans shared some part of their lives and their stories with the group, and the gathering was a powerful testament to the partnership brought about by these camps: brothers and sisters in Christ from different sides of the worlds coming together in trust and love to share with one another.
Meet the Team: John & Sheri
John and Sheri are from Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Washington. They have been married for almost 27 years, and have two children, one of whom is on the team with us as well. John is an insurance fraud investigator, and Sheri makes award-winning pies :) This is their second time in Slovakia, and John is teaching Group 7 and Sheri is teaching Group 6. We're grateful to have them with us!
On Sunday morning the team attended worship at the Puchov Lutheran church. Pastor David, director of EEMN, preached a sermon on the importance of flexibility in spreading the Gospel and growing the church. The team also introduced themselves and sang a song.
After church, the team (joined by several Slovaks) enjoyed a barbecue lunch in the garden area next to the church. We ate our fill of chicken, sausages, and many different salads, and we finished off the meal with a beautiful cake made for us by a member of the congregation (and mother of 2 former English Bible campers).
After our cake, we walked to get zmrzlina (ice cream) because one dessert just wasn't enough! We then walked to the school where our camp is held this week and spent some time setting up classrooms. In the evening, all of the translators came to our lodgings to meet their partner teachers and plan for the week (photo gallery below--hover over each photo for the names and group numbers).
Our next blog post will include photos and stories from our first two days of camp!
Greetings again from the Slovakia team! The team got up bright and early this morning to catch a 7:50 am train from Bratislava to Puchov, where we were met by Miro, a volunteer with SEM and our main host for the Puchov camp. We loaded ourselves and our 25 suitcases into two vans and headed to our lodgings outside of Puchov (photos of the lodgings and surrounding areas to follow!). After we dropped off our things, we headed out again for lunch and a small hike at Kohutka, a tourist area on the border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
On our ride back to our lodgings, we stopped off to see the summer lodgings for Jacob, a 2015 and 2016 team member who will be spending the next year in Slovakia doing mission work with SEM. More on his work in the upcoming year soon as well!
We also picked up our third wave of team members today—Pastor David (EEMN director), Angela (EEMN short-term missions coordinator), Daniel, David Michael, and Amanda finished out this week at an English camp in Latvia, then flew to Vienna, rented a car, and joined us at our lodgings this evening.
Tomorrow morning we will worship in Puchov, then have a barbecue at the church, walk around the town, and set up classrooms at the camp site in preparation for the camp week. In the evening, we’ll meet up with our interpreters for the week, and teachers will get a chance to talk with their interpreters before the camp week starts.
Everyone on the team is in good spirits but is definitely feeling the fatigue of travel--between planes, trains, buses, city trams, and cars, we've done it all! We are all hoping for a restful night's sleep tonight to energize us for the busy week ahead.
Some random moments from the trip thus far:
As the title of this post suggests, we have received the second batch of Americans to land in Slovakia! John, Sheri, Jacob, Tim, Pam, Mot, and Bob have all arrived safely in Bratislava--and so has their luggage! Everyone had a fairly uneventful trip other than the turbulence they encountered over the Atlantic, which led to the first war wound of the trip:
Once the 11 of us were reunited, we took a bus from the Vienna airport to the Bratislava bus station, where we were met, as we are every year, by Lydia's smiling face. Lydia, an employee of EVS (one of our host ministries), has served as our team translator/coordinator/mother hen since 2009, and she does an amazing job every year of keeping us all alive--sometimes despite our best efforts to the contrary!
After Lydia helped us check into the dorms, she went home and left us to our own devices. We walked around the older part of Bratislava, stopped in at a souvenir stand or two, then headed to a mall by the Danube river for some dinner and grocery shopping. We also met up with Martin, a friend from previous Puchov English camps. We headed back to the dorms for an early night so the team can catch up on some much needed sleep before we start our work here.
Tomorrow we'll spend the morning doing some team orientation and training--even though each person on our team this year has been to Slovakia at least once before, we'll take some time to review curriculum, discuss cultural considerations when working with Slovak kids, and get to know one another even better as well. Then in the afternoon, we'll take a ferry ride down the Danube to Devin castle, the first of the castles that we'll be visiting on this trip. Rather than try to summarize the history of Devin, I'll just point you to the Wikipedia article on it!
Hello all! Erika here, writing to you from our dorm lodgings in Bratislava! Phil and I, along with Sarah and Pam, arrived safely this afternoon. Our flights were uneventful, and we got to Bratislava with plenty of time to rest a little, wander around the city, eat dinner, and get back in time for a much needed early night! Tomorrow we will spend our time getting reacquainted with Bratislava and making some final preparations before the second part of the team arrives on Thursday.
7Hello family, friends, and prayer partners of the 2016 Slovakia English Bible Camp team! As team members make their final preparations--buying gifts, cramming clothes into suitcases, collecting snacks for the flight--we ask that you keep them in their prayers as they travel. Although you may not be familiar with all the names on this list, future blog posts will introduce you to each team member. In the meantime, please pray for:
Phil, Erika, Pam, and Sarah: flying from San Francisco to Vienna July 4th-5th
John, Sheri, Jacob, Tim, Pam, and Mot: flying from Seattle to Vienna July 6th-7th
Bob: flying from Sacramento to Vienna July 6th-7th
Angela: flying from Albuquerque to Vienna July 7th-8th
Amanda, David Michael, David, and Daniel: flying from Latvia to Vienna July 8th
Chuck and Laura: flying from Sacramento to Vienna July 13th-14th
Continue to check back in coming weeks for updates, photos, team member bios, and prayer requests!