Today marks the official point when we are over halfway done with the Puchov camp! Things have been going swimmingly. Tonight we will be visiting the teen camp (see "Slovakia/Bulgaria Teens '17" above) and sharing in food and activities with the teens and the American teen camp team. Thursday evening is a small program and barbecue for parents and kids, and Friday will be our closing program already! We will be leaving immediately after camp on Friday afternoon to travel to Vienna.
Please pray for:
- Continued energy and strength for the team as we head into our final stretch
- The teen camp team as they live and work with the teens each day
- Openness of the children to the Gospel, which most teachers will be introducing tomorrow as part of the day's theme of forgiveness
- Safe travels to Vienna on Friday
Now that we have settled in to our lodgings outside of Puchov and are looking toward beginning a second camp week, I can take a moment to give an update on how our week in Vranov went overall!
On Wednesday afternoon we took a trip to Bardejov, a small town just a few kilometers south of the Polish border. Bardejov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its medieval city center, open-air museum of folk homes and churches, and spa area with mineral water springs. Our translators joined us in walking through a little of the city, exploring the folk architecture, and enjoying dinner together. We always appreciate any opportunities we get to talk to our translators outside of camp, when we are all able to relax and get to know one another.
On Thursday evening we had a short presentation for children and parents in the church. We showed some photos from the week and introduced the Americans and Slovaks helping with the camp. Afterwards, we shared in a huge potluck of snacks, sweets, and s'mores with ingredients brought from the US.
Friday afternoon was our closing program. Each class performed a song or skit they had practiced throughout the week, and at the end, Slavo Slavik, the director of our host ministry here in Slovakia, gave a short sermon aimed at the parents in the audience. Normally the closing program is just about the kids, but this year he wanted to try something different, as many of the parents attending the program are not part of the church. The feedback from parents was very receptive, and we're grateful that while our goal was to reach the children and connect them with the church in Vranov, parents were also presented with the Gospel through the camp.
On Saturday morning, we jumped on a bus, then a train, to travel from Vranov to Povazska Bystrica. We settled into our lodgings and had dinner with the American team who will be leading the Slovak teen camp at the same time as the children's camp (be sure to click on "Slovakia/Bulgaria Teens '17" above to keep track of both camps during this week!).
Today, Sunday, we attended church in the nearby town of Solov, where Phil again delivered a sermon with Lydia's translation. After church, we enjoyed lunch in an outdoor garden area, went on a short hike, and headed to the school to set up classrooms and meet translators.
It is always strange to end one camp in one location and begin a new one the next week. In the same way that we will have mixed feelings to leave Slovakia and come home soon, we feel excited to be in a new place with new people but sad to leave those we have become close to. As part of the wrap-up of Vranov, here are some thoughts from a few team members about their first week of camp. More words from individual team members will be coming this week.
Mariah, Group 1: I learned to communicate with my little ones through English, Slovak, and hand gestures. It was really amazing to play a game with a student and think "I'm playing with this kid and we don't speak the same language, but we're still communicating."
Cameron, Group 3: Something that stuck out to me is instead of trying to cram several things into the children's mind, try to teach them one simple thing so that they can retain that information for the rest of their lives. Also, I'm always surprised by their generosity in hugs and small gifts.
Just a quick note to say that we have arrived safely for our Puchov camp! We are staying in Povazska Bystrica, a town just a few minutes away from Puchov. Tomorrow morning we will be worshipping and sharing at the church in Solov, which is nearby as well, then going to the school to meet translators and set up for the camp week!
Hello from Vranov nad Topľou! The team has been here since Saturday evening, but our wi-fi access has been minimal, so there is a lot to catch up on!
On Saturday the team traveled by train from Bratislava to Kysak, where we hopped on a bus to Vranov. On Sunday morning, we participated in a very unique worship service. Team leader Phil (with team translator Lydia) gave the sermon at church on Sunday morning, focusing on the body of Christ and the different roles each of us can play in the local, national, and international church. This topic fit nicely with the announcement of the start of camp. After the sermon, we tried something brand new: we told the congregation to imagine themselves as English Bible camp students on their very first day, and we reenacted what an opening and object lesson at a camp would be like. We were concerned that such a reenactment would fall flat and that "audience participation" would be tough to get, but the congregation was open, engaged, and responsive. Normally Slovak congregations are very reserved and straight-faced, so it was encouraging to get the enthusiastic response that we did. After the team introduced themselves, the pastor called the American team up to kneel and receive a blessing while the congregation sang, and the translators came up after us and did the same. In the 5 years we have held a camp in Vranov, this was the largest reception and notice that we have received, and based on the attention paid to the camp during the service, it is clear that the pastor is invested in the work that we're doing.
On Monday morning, camp started! We had 88 kids between 6-17 years old show up to camp! We began the day with a reminder that students should encourage and support one another as they all work to improve their English, then headed off to lead classes and rotations throughout the day. Most teachers were surprised by how forthcoming and open their students were, even on the first day, and our returning teachers were grateful for the children who ran up to them and remembered them from previous years. While not diminishing the importance of witnessing to different areas, these little encounters remind us again and again how important consistency and relationship-building are. Students who are returning campers already have a foundation of trust with the American teams who come, and with the translators as well. This trust allows us to skip some of the preliminaries we might otherwise have to go through and get into deeper, more meaningful conversations sooner in the week.
-Dodo, our main contact person in Vranov, has been laid up with a tweaked back since our arrival on Saturday. Please pray for healing and freedom from pain for him, and pray also for Martin, who is serving double duty as both a classroom translators and overall organizer in Dodo's stead.
-Team member Sarah has a bruised and sore foot after smashing it against a desk, and it makes walking up and down all of our flights of stairs painful. Please pray for quick healing so that injury doesn't slow her down.
-Team member Sheri continues to struggle with back pain. Please pray that collectively we can settle on a good option to help her while we are in Vranov, as she has 2 more camps to go after this one.
-As always, please pray for the children and their openness to the Gospel.
Hello from Bratislava! It's Friday evening here, and the team just got in from a day out together. We've spent the last few days getting to know one another, enjoying some tourism and sightseeing, and getting some orientation to the country and culture.
On Thursday, Phil, Erika, Mariah, Sarah, and Cameron took a bus from Bratislava to the Vienna airport, where they met up with Crystal and Sheri, who had been staying in Vienna for a couple of days, and Bob H., Bob W., and Michael, who arrived on a flight from the US that day. Everyone and everything arrived safely, so we all took a bus back to Bratislava and spent the evening out on the town, walking as much as possible to keep everyone awake. We wandered into the old town area of the city, walked along the Danube, and visited a mall to get food and any essentials that were forgotten. While we were there, a couple of Slovak friends joined us just to socialize and walk around the town with us. As always, we ended the evening with zmrzlina (ice cream!).
We spent Friday morning in team training and orientation, comparing notes on lesson plans, working with translators, and adjusting to Slovak culture. Then we took a narrated bus tour around parts of the city and up to Bratislava castle, where we received an in-person tour through the history of the area from the ancient Celts all the way through the Austro-Hungarian empire. We ate dinner as a team at a restaurant serving traditional Slovak food, and we had an early night to give us time to pack and prepare for travel.
Tomorrow we will take a train from Bratislava to Kysak in the east, then take a bus another hour to Vranov, the location of our first camp. Our translators and hosts are excited to see us, and we will be joined by David, Angela, and Jake on Sunday afternoon to make our team complete!
Please pray for:
Safe travel across the country
Continued high energy and enthusiasm as the camp week nears
Sheri's back, which has been aggravating her for a few days
Although the Slovakia English Bible Camp team has another week until its members leave from the US, and another 2 weeks until the camps begin, this first post is to tell a little about the Americans serving on our team this year. Once we arrive in Slovakia, it can be tricky to find enough time to write blog updates, and usually our days are so full that it's hard to find space to tell all the stories of the day, let alone introduce the team.
Our team this year is comprised of 13 members:
From Calvary Lutheran Church in California: Pastor Michael, Bob W., Cameron, Sarah, and Mariah, plus team leaders Phil and Erika
From Wellspring Anglican Church in California: Bob H.
From Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Washington: Crystal, Sheri, and Jake (currently serving as a missionary in Slovakia)
Representing EEMN: Pastor David, Executive Director, and Angela, Director of Development and Operations
Next Monday, July 3rd, Sheri and Crystal will be departing from Seattle, and Phil, Erika, Sarah, Mariah, and Cameron will be departing from San Francisco. On Wednesday July 5th, Michael, Bob W., and Bob H. will also depart from San Francisco, and the 10 of them will meet up in Vienna, then head to Bratislava for a few days of sightseeing, team building, and orientation. Over the weekend we will complete our team when Jake, David, and Angela join us after attending a youth festival.
We are already praying for calmness of mind and spirit as the team finishes our final preparations for teaching and travel, and we ask for your prayers for safe travel next week! In the meantime, be sure to read about the Albania camp that was held earlier in June and the Latvia camps that are happening right now!
PHIL SCHMIDT & ERIKA MECHSNER are siblings from California. When they aren't leading short-term trips to Slovakia or organizing children and youth events at their church, Calvary Lutheran, Phil is a high school English teacher and Erika is a university lecturer in composition.