(See camp video at the end of this post)
In Russian, the nouns “sprout” and “escape” sound the same (ПОБЕГ), so “Jailbreak” was a suitable theme for the LINGO English camp in Belarus. Everyone seeks to escape from the prison of problems, sins and bad life circumstances. In order to do that, we need to allow God to plant a seed in our hearts and let the seed sprout. The jailbreak idea that opened the camp transformed during the week into the idea of God creating new life in the hearts of campers.
“The idea for the camp is that there is the only One who is able to give freedom,” said Irena Stepnova, TeachBeyond member. “We don’t need to run off. We just need to give a place to Jesus in our heart and life.”
At the beginning of the camp, everyone was given a seed to plant in a pot. The campers did not know the purpose of this, but were told that it was important. At the end of the camp, when the seeds had sprouted, there was a sermon about repentance that included the parable of the sower from Matthew 13.
“It was a good illustration about how, when we give our heart to God, a seed is planted and His words and life grow in us,” Irena said. “Many campers said this idea stuck with them.”
Some campers came only to learn English, but others also wanted to learn about the Bible and Jesus. Of the 43 campers, 26 were not followers of Christ. Many heard God’s message of salvation and read the Bible for the first time. There were many discussions about it, Irena reported.
Belarus is a predominately Orthodox Catholic country; the second largest number of people have no religious belief. Protestants make up less than 2 percent of the population and in the opinion of many, the Protestant church is a cult. So it was a challenge for some people to come to a camp that is associated with Protestants, Irena explained.
“We respected their opinions, gave chances to talk, tried to be sincere and genuine, shared our experience living with God and prayed for them,” she said.
During and after the camp, Irena heard many testimonies of God’s work.
One girl said, “I came to the camp and observed Christians. They are normal! However, they also are not normal. They have a light inside of them that shines despite difficult circumstances!’’ This unbelieving girl saw God’s light in the Christian campers and staff.
A Belarusian English teacher said, “I was afraid to go to a Christian camp because I don’t believe in God. But I saw how respectful and patient they were with me. I want to read the Bible, understand Christians, and have peace in my heart.”
Many people over 30 years old attended this camp. A 45-year-old businessman arrived in an expensive car with his wife. The camp facilities are very simple, so they had to stay in separate cabins. He argued in all the Bible studies and it seemed he could not agree with biblical truth. We expected him to leave before the end of the camp. But in the end he said, “I am 45 and I did not expect to see something new in my life. I saw normal people who could be happy and joyful without alcohol!”
At the end of the week, some people repented and joined Bible study groups, some wanted to be baptized, some girls wanted to attend a women’s group that starts in September. On the Sunday after the camp ended, almost all of the campers attended our church service. People who attended the camp in previous years came to the church service, too. They know we are the place where they are always welcome.
Even the staff of the facility we rented said, “We waited for your camp the whole year. Every year we notice a miracle; how strangers became one family for a week. We see many camps but yours is exceptional!”
There were 43 campers: 26 were not followers of Christ, 10 were followers, and seven seldom visit a church or just started to attend one. There were 20 volunteer camp staff on the Belorussian team, including five leaders and translators and a pastor. The Canadian team of 10 mostly came from the First Alliance Church in Calgary, Alberta.
Irena said she wanted to praise God because He is so good, great, powerful, and faithful. She also thanks TeachBeyond, the Canadian team, and everybody who supported, prayed, and invested time and energy for this project.