Monday, July 7, 2008

Camp Day 1 - Friday

- The kids were planning to be at the church ready to leave for camp at 10:30am, so Pastor Arkoti and I left at 7am to go shopping for food. We purchased some things on Wednesday, but all of the fresh things needed to be purchased today and because we have very little refrigerator space, meat will need to be purchased for one day at a time. I enjoy that men here, particularly Christian men, treat women like they are cherished. When I go shopping by myself or with other women, I am loaded down with heavy things. With men, they carry everything. I have no desire to be “treated equally” when the bag of potatoes weighs 80 pounds.

- I learned a new expression in Russian. I was told I have “meat in my head”. It is a compliment; it means I had a good idea. I never heard it before and at first I thought I misunderstood. We were in the midst of loading lots of food into the van and I thought Arkoti said I had meat on my head and I just couldn’t figure out how that could have happened. So, maybe the compliment was a little overstated, my head is not full of meat, there is still a little room for “air”

- Our camp is basically two small buildings for sleeping, a “kitchen”, three outhouses, and an open field; everything is about a ten minute walk from the river. It is really roughing it. The kids are all sleeping in tents in the field with their counselors and the other adult workers are sleeping in the buildings. I am sharing a room with five other women and we have a large set of bunk beds. The bunks are rough cut boards all laid together to form two beds, one top bunk and one bottom bunk. I am sleeping on bottom with two other women. I am so glad I came out to camp on Wednesday to help “clear” the open field – this was done with sickles, rakes, and hoes. On Wednesday, I was really concerned about everything, but the group that stayed and worked all day yesterday did an amazing job. Truly, if I had not seen camp before today, I don’t think I would appreciate how great things really look!

- Daniel, from the Christian Church was very unsure about coming to camp. We had only been here about two hours when he came and asked me if I would drive him home. Nothing had really started yet: everyone was settling in and decorating their tents. So, he was feeling bored and discouraged because the only other guy he knows at camp, Dema from the Bethel church is two years younger than him and is in a different tent and group. So, he doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t think camp will be interesting. I thought about asking Leana, the director of camp to allow them to be together, but decided to just pray about the situation. I told Daniel if he still wants to go home on Sunday, I will take him when I go to church. I sent Pastor Sasha a text message asking him to help me pray for Daniel (one of only two kids from the Christian Church at camp) and I am trusting God will work it out.

- I am working on learning names, there are several kids I know from Kid’s Club and from camp last year, but several still to learn. Today, there is a lot of free time and the transitions are a little bumpy as everything is still being “worked-out” but I am having fun just goofing around and playing with little people. It is exciting that I am sleeping at camp. Last year I came out everyday for just a couple of hours and led crafts, but this year camp is further away from home and I really wanted to have the whole camp experience. The kids think it is very cool I am staying and I am not sure that the adults know what to think about me staying – which I find to be a little funny.

- A cool answer to prayer. We had thunder and dark clouds, but rain on the first day would just be miserable. So, we prayed for no rain, and praise the Lord! No rain!

Camp Day 2 - Saturday

- I am truly praising the Lord for every word I understand and can speak in Russian. Camp is a big deal for me because no one here speaks English. Really for the first time, I am totally forced to speak Russian. God is so good to me.

- Praise the Lord, Daniel has decided camp is okay and he wants to stay!

- “Squishy face” Luda. I have one little girl whom I simply cannot remember her name. She is tiny and blond and just doesn’t look like a Luda to me. When I said that she squished her face up at me, which made me laugh and then I squished her face more and poof, she looked like a Luda. This also made her laugh. Now when I see her, I remember her name because I think she is my squishy face girl. Today she told me she wants to go home. She is pretty young, probably 8. I am praying she will stay.

- Today we went swimming in the river, which is remarkably deep. There is really no bank to the river, just big rocks you can jump off of into the water. The more shallow banks are filled with plants and there are snakes there. (we won’t go into the answer I received when I asked if the snakes just stay there in the plants are). I helped “lifeguard”. Several of the children don’t know how to swim. Which seems strange to me because they live on the sea, but the sea here is very shallow, so they play in the water, but most don’t feel comfortable if the water is over their head. So, in addition to Veta (short for Victor) and Leana, the couple we have who are supervising sports and swimming, Pastor Arkoti, and I stayed in the water for the swimming time for each of the groups. Veta supervised those who know how to swim and the non-swimmers lined up and waited for Leana, Arkoti, one of the counselors or me to hold them and help them swim in the water. How trusting they are. They don’t know us and some of them are afraid of the deep water, but they willingly come into our arms leaving the safety of the rocks. I could probably find a lesson in that kind of trust.

- Our camp area does have a well, but it is filled much like a cistern, there is no underground spring. Right now the well is not working, hopefully tomorrow – I really don’t understand all these things. Anyway, so today we had to make a water run. All the “clean” water we brought with us is gone. So, with two 40 liter drums and a 60 liter drum I drove the van with four men I just met to get water. I thought we were headed into town to buy water, but instead, we went off-road for about 10 minutes to a pipe coming out of a rock with a slow but steady stream of water. Where this water comes from – I have no idea. I was reminded of my earlier ejournal about being content with all water and I vowed to be content with this water too. So, as the tubs filled, we had lots of time to wait and visit. First, Sergey was telling me lots of history about this region of the country and how this river was Tsar Peter’s favorite place to fish. That this river is deeper than the deepest part of the Azov Sea. Then Volva who had been wandering around came up and gave me a little bouquet. Now, this bouquet did not have any flowers, but just some random plants, which seemed strange to me, but I thanked him anyway. He asked if I knew what the plants were – of course I did not. This led to an explanation of the usefulness of each of these non-flowers. It was cool.

- Tonight for dinner, I was forgotten. The children are divided into groups by age and gender and the counselors eat with their groups. After all the groups have eaten, the other random adult workers get to eat. I was playing with kids and I realized the other adults were eating. I went back to find, everyone else eating and Dema, our cook, said, “We forgot you”. Which is okay, there was still food, just no more meat. Not a big deal. Dema gave me extra candy to make up for my lack of chicken.

- Tonight in the evening service, the younger boys put on a puppet show. I love this group. They are the largest group, the loudest group, by far the most unruly – so of course, I think they are wonderful! As they were preparing, several of the little guys couldn’t help but to peak over the top of the puppet stage or around the sides to see the audience. It was completely adorable. Then in the middle of the show, one of the puppets fell onto the ground in front of the stage and just a hand was sticking up in the air. Then in a scrambling rush, Benjamin ran around the stage, picked up his puppet, put it back on his hand, ran back behind the stage, and rejoined the show. Totally hilarious!

- I think no one slept last night. Every kid I talked to today told me they only slept one or two hours – that is crazy! I think everyone went to bed earlier tonight. On my way back to the room I passed two of the teen girls on a self-appointed patrol of the tent area. I guess the boys pulled a couple of pranks last night with tooth paste and they have decided they will be sure it does not happen again. Secretly I suspect they may be planning a little revenge, but we will hope that is not the case.

Camp Day 3 - Sunday

- Today, I was given a task. Go and gather a plant for tea. Unfortunately when Leana, our camp director, asked if I knew what that plant was, Volva was there and overheard the question and answered for me “yes, she knows”. It was one of the plants he showed me yesterday. Now, if I had known there was going to be a test, I would have paid more attention to the lesson – I am sure there is a moral lesson to be learned from that statement! So off I went on my own to find this little purple flower that grows around your “legs” (just a language point: feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, really the height of this plant would have been a help, but in Russian you just say leg). Soon I found a little purple flower, but the leaves didn’t look right, but really, what do I know. Then I remembered, everything Vovla showed me had a non-flower scent. So I smelled it - not the right thing. Upon further searching, I found a different little purple flower growing right at ground level with a non-flower scent. I was so proud of my botanical skills and picked a whole bag full. I returned to discover it was the right stuff! After separating out the stems and letting the flowers and leaves dry we made tea for dinner. Sadly, I found the tea to be not very tasty, but everyone else really liked it so - Praise the Lord!

- fun quotes from today
“quick, give me a Bible, right now!”
“Shushan, you are strange, but cool.”
“write, we want to see you write in English” then after a pause
“can you really read that?”

- tonight, I was not forgotten for dinner. As a matter of fact, I was counted several times with many reminders to Dema “Don’t forget Shushan”. It is nice to feel loved. Also during dinner, I learned I say Pastor Arkoti’s name wrong. Mostly because I said his name and Dema and Veta laughed at me and asked me to say it again. Let’s forget for a moment, this is how I have been saying his name for almost 2 years, so feeling a little dumb, everyone tried to help me pronounce his name correctly. It really is more Arkodye. After several attempts that made everyone laugh it was determined I get to call him Arkasha, which is a nickname for Arkodye that is normally reserved for small boys – just a reminder, it is good to be humble.

- During tonight’s service the older girls were supposed to lead the singing, but they stumbled over the words and stopped. The younger girls in the audience kept going. The music leader stopped and tried again, but the younger girls were louder than the older girls, so again, they stopped. Finally, the music leader, asked the audience to sit down and the older girls preformed the song for us. It was pretty funny.

- Answered prayers: one of the little boys, Keereal, maybe seven years of age shared in the evening service tonight that he was afraid of the water yesterday, but last night he prayed that God would help him and today when they went to swim he was not afraid. How sweet he was when Leana asked if anyone wanted to share about how God answers prayer and he raised his hand and boldly spoke into the microphone. How sweet his little voice was as he praised God. I pray he will always remember God hears us when we pray and we can trust him!

Camp Day 4 - Monday

- This morning I feel so much better. By 10:30 last night I was no longer able to process anything being said in Russian. After three nights of less than five hours of sleep and 3 days of hearing and speaking almost totally Russian, my brain was super tired. I totally bailed out of the staff meeting after lights out last night. I slept deeply last night, I didn’t even hear my roommates when they came in. I was up at six this morning and ready for our staff prayer and devotional time at 6:30. I am praising God for the amazing staff he has put together for this camp.

- Today there were a couple of hiccups with craft time. I am flexing. The schedule was changed last night at the meeting I skipped. So, instead of craft time starting at 11, it started at 10. So thinking I was 40 minutes early and had time to get things set up, I arrived 20 minutes late and unprepared. Also, the groups were switched. I thought I was going to have the young boy group and instead had the older girl group. They were not remarkably pleased with the simple craft, but we all had fun anyway.

- Another blessing, I realized today, I am totally ready for camp meetings when I am on HMA, I am sure nothing will come up that I am not ready to deal with after this camp experience!

- My squishy face Luda is going to stay at camp, PTL!

- The weather has been cold, so today, all of the tents were lifted up and hay was stuffed underneath. Interesting! Now all the tents look a little funny because they are up off the ground.

- Vladim and Andrey, the counselors for the younger boys are doing an amazing job! They have 15 boys age ten and younger and they seem to have the perfect balance of sternness and love and the little guys just love them. Tonight during our evening service, we were singing a version of “If you’re happy and you know it” and during one of the verses we snapped our fingers. Super sweet, after the service, I saw Vladim giving Benjamin and Oleg snapping lessons. How important Christian men are in the lives of these boys. So many of them lack any kind of male roll model.

- Today was a difficult day. The well was working, but now it is broken again. Our 60 liter drum is leaking. Leana, our director is feeling sick. Dema, our cook, went home for his fiance’s graduation. Our meeting tent was broken by the wind. No swimming because it is cold and windy and all the children are a little disgruntled about that. And poor Arkodye had to deal with everything. Praying that tomorrow will be better.

Camp Day 5 - Tuesday

- This morning I was not needed to help with the breakfast preparations, so I joined the morning calestanics. Now these are not your normal gather around the flag pole morning stretches like you might expect at camp, but 30 minutes of serious Olympic athlete type work-out. It really did remind me of the little behind the scenes stories they always show in between Olympic events with all the little children in a circle working out. The couple who are in charge of sports and swimming are very sweet, Christian people, but Leana turned into a drip sergeant calling out “one, two, three, four, again”. Periodically, she would shout out someone’s name and tell them to work harder. Veta wandered around the group helping people to get a deeper stretch or to have the proper technique. It was really quite serious. I found it all to be comical, but I took it very seriously because I didn’t want to draw Veta or Leana’s attention to my efforts.

- Today’s craft was better; I had the younger boy group. I love them and they love me and we had a great time.

- I have had several invitations to be a guest in tents – it is really a big deal to have me over to visit. The kids have decorated their spaces and so the tents are like their little houses. When I come over, everyone who is sleeping in that tent also needs to come in. Today, seven of us crowded into a 3-4 person tent and they tried to host me. They showed me where they each sleep, their decorations and all their stuff. They offer me water and swished cookies or melted chocolate. How sweet it all is.

- One of the little boys overheard one of the older girls trying to speak in English with me. After she walked away, he came over and started quizzing me on English words. After he had said about eight words in Russian and I knew the English translation he was impressed.
He said, “I think you know all the words in English”
I said, “not all.”
He said, “but you must have studied in school a long time.” That is when I realized he did not know I was not from here. Which is amazing! So I explained to him that I am from America and we speak English there.
“Oh,” he said, “is that far away like Kiev?” I am guessing he hasn’t had a lot of geography yet.
It really is a great big world and it is so easy to get caught up in our own little part of it. Over and over I am struck by the fact that God is big enough for the entire world. He knows us all, he understands us all, and he loves us all.

- One of the other workers, Sergey, pulled me aside today to show me a picture on his phone. I thought, “Wow, that women looks remarkably like me.” It was a photo of Sergey’s wife’s sister and it was kind of cool.

- Again, I am praising the Lord for the Russian I can understand. One of the counselors for the older boys is named Allosha. Today he and I were talking and he asked me how I became a Christian. Then he shared his testimony with me. I was really struggling to understand and over and over I had to ask him to speak more slowly. In the end, I felt stupid and frustrated. It is such a special thing to hear how God has worked in someone’s life and I missed a lot of it. After our conversation it really bothered me. So I went back and found him again and asked him to forgive me but I really wanted to understand and for him to be able to share with me. I explained to him what I had understood, but where I was confused and he was so gracious to share with me again. What a wonderful connection.

- Tonight’s service was our intentional call to repentance. We had a special guest speaker, a missionary from Norway and youth from another church here in Berdyansk. We also had a school group that is backpacking around Ukraine staying overnight at the camp grounds. They did not attend our service, but they could not help but hear it. Our guest presented shared how sin keeps us from God but that through Jesus’ sacrifice we can be forgiven. And then he asked us about sin in our lives. Several of the children responded and asked to be forgiven of their sins, including two of our “difficult” teens – Praise the Lord!

Camp Day 6 - Wednesday

- This morning I had a new kind of kasha (kasha is basically like oatmeal, but there are lots of kinds made of different grains). It was quite a novelty that I had never had it before, children and adults were fascinated – I felt a little like a freak. It really tasted a lot like cream of wheat, but really sweet – of course it was prepared by Ukrainians so it probably had lots of sugar.

- Today I am tired. There is no craft because the weather is really warm so we are allowing extra swimming time. I could be swimming, but instead I am sitting and journaling. I can hear the younger boys practicing their song for service tonight. Such beautifully sweet voices, they are singing “I’m in the Lord’s Army”. It is a little different in Russian. We sing “I’m in the Lord’s army, Yes Sir!” they sing, “I am Jesus’ servant, I serve!”

- This afternoon my friend and Russian tutor, Marina, is graduating from university and I was invited to the ceremony. So, I went to Berdyansk. It was really nice to take a shower. It was also really wonderful to share this special time with Marina and her family. As I was preparing to return to camp, the van made a funny little sigh. Praise the Lord I was only about two blocks from the Home of Hope. When I arrived, I discovered the oil leak that was recently repaired had re-broken in a big way and oil was all over the engine. So, I am stuck at home until it is repaired. I really wanted to go back to camp, but it is not a hardship to sleep in my own bed tonight. I am very hopeful the van will be fixed in the morning so I can lead crafts tomorrow at 10am. Praise God I was not out in the middle of nowhere on my way back to camp when the van broke!

- Since I had planned to be at camp, I ended up with a free evening. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I spent some time with two of the other American volunteers here, Mark and David. It was wonderful to have a conversation in English. And it was hilarious as our topics ranged from: do you believe in a literal seven day creation (I do) to if the Hulk and Superman fought who would win (Superman, of course) to if you could change the meaning of any word in the dictionary what would you change (I would change a “bad” word to meaning something happy and nice). What a blessing this evening turned out to be.

Camp Day 7 - Thursday

- With a patch on the van, I am back at camp. Craft time today was wonderful and fun.

- During Bible lesson, the younger boys made the bracelets that explain salvation. When Benjamin saw me, he rushed right over and started explaining to me, “This black bead represents sin and the red one is Jesus’ blood and the white one is being made clean.” How incredibly cool that he listened and learned what the beads meant, but even better that he responded by wanted to share it with others. I pray God will give Benjamin the boldness to continue to share Jesus with others!

- One of the little guys, Oleg, was bitten or stung by something last night and today it is infected and he has a fever. After much prayer, his temperature has come down, but because the swelling and redness of his leg we are going to take him to the hospital. Praise the Lord again for the van. Oleg doesn’t want to leave camp and keeps asking if he will be able to come back. Poor guy!

- Oleg and his family attend the Bethel church in Berdyansk and Oleg has been part of the Kid’s Club I teach. He is usually so full of energy it was difficult seeing him so lethargic. After not being able to get a hold of his mom, we were finally able to reach his dad, Volva, at work and he agreed to meet us at the hospital. When we arrived, Oleg’s shout of “Papa!” revealed he was a lot more concerned about coming to the hospital than he expressed. The hospital here was a nightmare – I won’t go into details, but truly not a place I would ever want to have to go with a real emergency. The sweet part was I got to listen to Oleg share with his papa all the wonderful things about camp. The name of his group and the chant they made up. I got to hear what he thought about the games, crafts, swimming, puppets, music, and services. Camp meant so much to him and it was great to be able to hear from him all of the wonderful things during a time when he was hurting and scared.

- Tonight I went to bed early and then sat for almost two hours talking to my bunkmate Nadia. I do so much better with one on one conversation how great it was to get to know her better.

Camp Day 8 - Friday

- Today is Benjamin’s birthday. As a special gift I have allowed him to take all the pictures he wants with my camera. All the kids, especially the younger ones love digital cameras because they want to see the picture right away. They also love taking pictures, especially Benjamin. Usually, I will let them take one picture each and then make them give the camera back. I told him he can’t take it to meals – I can’t imagine how to clean kasha from a camera.

- Today has been a difficult day. Today, feels like camp will never end and I am super tired of dealing with all the foreign things. I praise the Lord for my proficiency in Russian, but often I am not able to be understood and don’t fully understand. It can feel quite frustrating.

- Today I spent a lot of time with the girls, swimming and doing hair. Then we played a game where they would quiz me by saying a word in English and I would have to say it in Russian and then I would say a word in Russian and they would have to say it in English. I am happy to say I won. I really am thankful to be here at camp.

- Americans smile. That is something I like about us and it is something I very much enjoy doing even though it isn’t really cultural here. As I am walking along the paths here at camp, I always try to greet anyone I pass by name and smile at them. It turns out this is a contagious behavior. I had a couple of boys stop on the path as I approached, paste on giant cheesy smiles, wave a greet me. Now, I hope I don’t look quite as silly as they did, but I thought it was really nice. Allosha, one of the teen boy’s counselors, smiles and waves every time he sees me. I know my Ukrainian friends don’t always understand me, but I know they always love me.

- Tonight we had a campfire with the older groups and talked about relationships. Each kid shared about what they look for in guys or girls and we talked about what things are really important and how to behave in a relationship. Then Veta and Leana shared their testimonies and how God brought them together. It was a really wonderful time.

Camp Day 9 Saturday

- This morning many of the adults are dressed as and acting like campers. One camper from each group has been appointed counselor and the adults are acting out all the problem behaviors – it is very funny! Andrey, one of the counselors for the younger boys, is making Maxim, his “new” counselor crazy. All he has been talking about is food. Andrey says, “I am hungry” and “I want to eat”. After listing all the things he wants to eat: sausage, cheese, fish, he began to say over and over again, “now, now, I want to eat now.” Finally, in exasperation, Maxim sat down and said, “me too!” Poor kid, but really quite funny.

- It is adorable when little people correct my grammar. Its like “is this what you are trying to say?” I love it.

- Today, there was an obstacle course full of difficult situations. As the groups went through, the adults would try to help them to make good decisions. At one point, the younger boys were trapped in a net and every solution they suggested was rejected. Finally, one of the little boys said, “let’s pray.” Everyone agreed it was a sound idea. Another boy said “okay, the Lord’s Prayer” (which they had been learning during their Bible lesson) “No, no,” came the response of another boy, “let’s just pray a normal prayer”. Who knew the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t a normal prayer? This funniest part was the gasp and shocked expression from their counselor Andrey, I couldn’t help laughing out loud. I can only imagine what they will talk about in their quiet time before bed tonight.

Camp Day 10 - Sunday

- It is funny to me how fascinated the kids all are by my Bible. In the morning the staff has quiet time and prayer together. I always bring my Bible. And everyday, I have had kids want to look at it and ask me questions about it. There are two main questions; Can I/Do I read my Bible and is my Bible the same as the Russian or Ukrainian Bibles? If I do nothing else, I think my presence here helps the kids to see that God is bigger than what they see and what they know. The God who loves them in Ukraine is the same as the God who loves people in America. And the truth of His word is the same for all people.

- The phrase I will always remember in Russian “it’s not fair”. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that and every time I am reminded that kids are kids!

- Language. The adults have been trying to curb the use of some not so nice slang. There are a couple of words that are not really “bad” words, but they aren’t really nice either – kind of the equivalent of “shoot” and “darn” in English. When adults hear children say these words, they subtract behavior points. I never subtract points, I just act shocked and surprised and the child apologizes and then I make them promise not to say it anymore. Now, I do not say these words in Russian, but the words themselves make me want to laugh because of the translations. One “bad” word is “pancake” and one of the phrases is “Christmas tree sticks”.

- Today is the last day of camp. It is funny to me. I was talking to Luda, who wanted to go home earlier in the week, and she told me she doesn’t want to go home tomorrow and that she is going to cry if we make her. Praise the Lord for working in her heart and helping her to love camp. Luda is one of the campers who made a first time commitment to Jesus during camp. I am praying God will continue to work in her life and she will grow to know him better and trust him more.

- Tonight I had my first foray into public speaking. In front of everyone, with a microphone, speaking in Russian. To be honest, I felt remarkably uncomfortable, but praise the Lord I was able to do it. And I know that even though I could hear the grammatical errors, everyone understood me and they loved me anyway.

Camp Day 11 - Monday

- Today has been chaos. Clean up, packing, making breakfast, and driving two trips from camp with the van packed full of kids. Camp is officially over. Looking back, I am both glad it is finished and sorry to see it end. I am exhausted and sure it will take me a week to recover, but God has been remarkably good and has truly blessed this camp!

- On a more personnel note, God has been really working in my heart. He has used some of the “hardships” of camp to show me areas in my life where I think a little too highly of myself. God has been working in my heart to help me to be more humble before Him. Something I didn’t recognize before, I have some cultural issues that make me a little proud and just some selfishness that I did not realize was a problem. God is so good to me and I am so thankful to have been able to come to camp and serve him here.