"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21 NIV
The theme for this year's EEMN English Bible Camps was FAITH. Specifically, the importance of having faith that God has a plan for each of us, and that His plans are always better than ours! This was evident over and over again this summer, and although Pr. David and I are no longer surprised by how God can take a seemingly impossible situation and use it to His Glory, we always delight in His good works!
Here are a few highlights from the 2017 EEMN missions season...
ALBANIA ENGLISH BIBLE CAMP
In so many ways, this was a summer of "firsts." We began our season mid-June in the small rural mountain village of Peshkopi, Albania. The village is about a 4 hour drive from the capital city of Tirana, and can only be reached by driving through a series of harrowing switchbacks, narrow roads with oncoming traffic, and no guard rails to keep vehicles from plummeting several hundred meters off the side of the mountain. Our team definitely used their fair share of Dramamine, but the views were dramatic and a reminder that we serve a God that gave us the gift of His breathtaking creation.
Upon our arrival, we learned that EEMN was the first missions organization to ever seek partnership with the local church (not just come "do our program" and then leave). This is sad because Pr. Ermal is a gifted leader with a heart for the kids of Peshkopi and surrounding villages, and the students really respond to his teaching and his friendship. In addition, EEMN Missionaries, Dan and Dawn Hall (along with their two youngest children Isaac and Elizabeth) have formed many relationships with the local people. It was fun to walk down the street with them, and it is not uncommon for a ten minute trip to the grocery store to take several hours. This is due to the social nature of Albanians. They love to stop and chat! In all, we found the people of Albania to be very friendly and incredibly gracious.
Because Albania is a culturally Muslim country, we were asked to be sensitive about sharing Jesus right away. It is important to know that children in Albania rarely receive any positive affirmation. It is a culture that relies heavily on shame in order to achieve order and control. This means that when students give an incorrect answer in school, they often hear that they are stupid and will not amount to anything. However, we found quite the contrary to be true! In our 11 years teaching English Bible Camps, these students were some of the smartest we've encountered, and they definitely had fantastic English skills. Our team really had to work hard to find ways to challenge them. For many of these kids, this was the first time they heard that they were good at something. So, even though we needed to be careful about speaking of Jesus, we were bold to show His great love in abundance!
Our theme this year was Faith - Lessons from the Life of Joseph, with day four focusing on forgiveness. This is typically the day that we present the Gospel, and because we had been able to show the Love of Jesus, they were very open to the idea that there is a God that loves them so much that He would send His son to die for their sins. There is really no adjective that can properly describe the feeling of watching these kids convey the Joy of the Lord with their voices and actions. This year we were able to host 50 kids. We have been asked to come back next summer, and hope to be able to provide two weeks of camps. So, perhaps 100 or more in 2018!?!
From Albania, we stopped briefly in Turkey to begin debriefing discussions with Paul and Lea who returned the the United States after serving in the Antalya region for over 12 years. It was a privilege to be with them for a few days as they said their goodbyes to those who will forever be in their hearts and prayers. THANK YOU Paul and Lea for your dedicated service to the Lord!
LATVIA ENGLISH BIBLE CAMP
Pr. Mark and Julia Wilhelm lead the team to Latvia, and we are so thankful for their leadership and their friendship!
For the first time in many years, Pr. David and I were able to serve on a team as teachers in the English Bible Camp, and what fun!
Angela had the joy of teaching the 8 to 9 year olds. Typically, this age group is just beginning to learn some English and the curriculum is pretty basic. So, imagine my surprise when ALL of my students spoke English really well (some of them were even fluent). I quickly realized this when, one of my students told me that learning English was "nerve wracking!" For the students that were less fluent, I had the honor of working with the daughter of EEMN "Musicianary" to Latvia, Pr. David Michael Carrillo. Liga is an amazing young woman of 15, but has the wisdom and faith of someone much older. She was a joy and a blessing!
Pr. David had the rather overwhelming responsibility of working with 16 Belorussian students and 5 Belorussian adults that were invited to attend the Bible camp at Striki school. This was another first for EEMN! Because we are unable to do Bible camps in Belarus, we hit upon the idea of bringing Belarus to Latvia. The students ranged in age from 10 to 19 with vastly different English skills. Some of these kids were Believers, but the majority were not. Most had never seen, much less read, a Bible. However, we know that this is exactly the kind of situation through which God reveals Himself, and we certainly were not disappointed. At the end of the week, we were already hearing "when we do this next year..." What a blessing!
SLOVAKIA ENGLISH BIBLE CAMP AND TEENAGE LIFE AND ADVENTURE CAMP
WOW! What an amazing time we had in Slovakia this summer.
Under the faithful and well-oiled leadership of brother and sister team leaders, Phil Schmidt and Erika Mechsher, Pr. David and I were again able to serve as team members and teachers. This was our first time in Vranov where we were blessed to spend time with our dear sister in Christ, Lydia Melusova. Lydia is a busy woman, who in addition to her full time job with EVS Ministries, coordinates lodging, food, transportation and excursions for the teams. We could not do what we do without her, and we are so grateful for her heart for the Lord and the people of Slovakia! We even had a chance to visit the summer cottage of her parents and enjoy some Kofola (a Slovak soft drink that is kind of a cross between coke and root beer) together.
After the camp in Vranov, we met up with the rest of the team for our first ever Life and Adventure camp for teenagers. This camp was initially the brain-child of our Slovak partner in ministry, Miro Mudrak, who felt that many of the Bible camp students had "aged out" of our traditional VBS style model. Then, last fall, he surprised us by telling us that he had invited a group of Germans to join us. Initially, the Americans weren't quite sure how the Germans were going to fit into our idea of a teenage Bible camp, nor were the Germans sure how the Americans were going to fit into their idea of a teenage Bible camp (this came out during the debriefing at the end of the week). However, we all quickly discovered that when you put a group of Believers together, language barriers, cultures and customs don't matter. When Children of God are all focused on Him and His will, the Word of God is the only language that we need. Pr. David and I have honestly never had more fun, nor been more exhausted (might have had something to do with the 25 kilometer hike) than we were at the end of the week. To God be the Glory!
BULGARIA LIFE AND ADVENTURE CAMP (AND GREECE TOO)
This will forever be known as the camp that almost didn't happen. Otherwise known as the camp that God always knew would happen, but in His own way and in His own timing.
After a quick excursion into Greece (just over the Bulgarian border) to visit the Biblical site of Philippi and the baptismal site of Lydia (read Acts 16), the EEMN Teenage Life and Adventure Camp team arrived in Bulgaria fully prepared for "take two, light." Meaning, the same curriculum, but over three days instead of five. So, you can imagine our surprise when we were told "what you've planned won't work." Due to lack of proper promotion, on the Bulgarian end, the twenty or so teenagers that we were told would be attending the camp, never materialized. Instead, we were told that we would be ministering to adults that were coming expecting English as a second language (ESL) classes!?! After calling the team together and spending time in prayer, we decided to re-tool and move ahead. Our camp consisted of (amongst other things): a Hindu couple struggling with spirituality, a brand new believer struggling with the alcoholism and the aftermath of divorce, an 18 year old girl dating a 35 year old man (both were in attendance), and several couples from our partner church in Sophia. Oh, and one teenager. During the course of the camp, we presented real life topics and the opportunity to either engage in an ESL session or a discussion session. To our surprise, most participants elected the discussion session. Needless to say, Pr. David, Pr. David Michael and the team were exhausted, but at the end of our time together, we all agreed that it might have been the BEST CAMP OF THE SUMMER.
This was some much needed down time for us. Admittedly, we spent the first afternoon...no not shopping...SLEEPING in our rental apartment with the air-conditioning going full blast!
The second day was spent walking around Milan looking at the incredible sites and eating amazing food, and yes, our final day in Milan we visited the Duomo and the archeological site underneath where we discovered St. Augustine had been baptized. This was fun for us because our grandson is his namesake. Additionally, and definitely one of the most incredible things we've ever done, we visited the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. What is that you ask? Only the church where Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper. Just WOW!
ESTONIA ENGLISH BIBLE CAMP
And last, but certainly not least, we stopped in Estonia to support and observe this unique camp. English Bible Camps in Estonia are different because they are generally held in the evenings and they cater mostly to adults rather than children.
We were SO blessed by our time with this team and their leaders, Pr. Bob and Patti Nordvall. If any of you have ever met this precious couple, you will know that our time together was prayerful and joyful. Pr. Bob and Patti incorporate a lot of time for prayer and team lead devotions into the daily schedule, and we really enjoyed watching how God is working through these faithful servants. This really came to light after meeting with the partnering church leaders. The partnering pastor and lay leaders agreed that there was not enough commitment to the camps from their congregation and elected to suspend the EEMN language camp, on the island of Saaremaa in Estonia, for a year while they looked for people to coordinate for the 2019 season. We were saddened by this, but because EEMN feels strongly that our relationships must be a true partnership, we agreed that this was the best course of action. Imagine our surprise, when three days later (that's not lost on us), Pr. Bob and Patti were contacted by those same leaders announcing that they had four people from the congregation step up to coordinate for the 2018 season!
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO SUPPORTED THE 2017 EEMN MISSIONS SEASON THROUGH FINANCIAL GIFTS AND PRAYER. A SPECIAL THANK YOU FOR OUR TEAM LEADERS AND TEAM MEMBERS WHO WERE WILLING TO STEP OUT IN FAITH TO SHARE THE LOVE OF CHRIST WITH THE PEOPLE OF ALBANIA, LATVIA, SLOVAKIA AND ESTONIA!