Evangelistic English Language Camp in Belarus
05–13 August 2005
Even though this was my third LinGo camp in as many years, there wasn’t too much that was repetitious about it. Sure, we used basically the same programme, a lot of the same material, and had many of the same team members, but there similarities end. For a start we were on a different site, and this year had our meal facilities within the block we lived in; a real blessing as the week progressed and the weather deteriorated. Teaching space turned out to be at a premium, and for part of the week I pressed a lift lobby (the lifts not working) into service as my classroom with a standard lamp (three of the four lobby lights not working) as my main source of illumination.
There were about forty students at the camp ranging in age from final high school year up through the various stages at university (which in Belarus generally lasts five years). After assessing their ability, each was placed in one of six language levels for English and one of six (usually different) groups for reading, conversation and competitive activities. So each leader/teacher was responsible for two different groups of students during the week.
The camp got off to the usual sort of start. The programme unrolled smoothly with team-building activities, ‘ice-breaker’ games, and the first teaching and Bible reading sessions. Then on Sunday evening it started to rain. Monday gave us a brief respite, but by Tuesday it was pouring again, and did so continuously and heavily for more than two days. Never mind. ‘Outside games’ became ‘inside games’, and we coped OK. In the early hours of Tuesday morning the electricity had gone off, but was on again before most people were up. But at 7:50pm Tuesday evening the power went off again, and this time stayed off for about forty hours. And by Thursday morning we had no water either (because it needed pumping to roof tanks). When I got home I was surprised that the weather that caused our problems had not hit the UK TV news. A major storm had swept across Belarus and Russia. After it was over we went walking in the local woods to find a considerable number of trees (mainly silver birch) ripped out by the roots lying on the ground or propped up on adjacent trees.
Robin, the English team leader, had the unenviable task of deciding what to do with no power or water available. (The site management were able to provide food by having meals driven out to the site from Minsk.) So Thursday morning it was decided that if the power wasn’t back on by 3:00pm we’d have to finish the camp early and have the students on a coach and on their way home at 4:00pm. However, at around midday the electricity was restored. As different groups realised we’d been re-connected, you could hear the whoops and screams of delight echo all around the building!
Fortunately before the storm cut electricity to the site, we were able to hold a concert. The performer was Sasha Patlis, a leading member of a Belarusian gospel rock group called “New Jerusalem”. This group is well known in Belarus, having had exposure on TV and radio. The concert was held in the main dining area, so we invited a group of orphan children sharing the site with us to come and listen. The following afternoon Sasha sat in our main meeting area and held a ‘question and answer’ session with our students on the practicalities of living the Christian life. It was of course conducted in Russian, but the bit of translation I heard had a very mature feel to it. This ‘pop star’ was obviously a man who took his faith seriously.
In spite of the complications caused by the weather and the disruption to our schedule, the camp was a still a very worthwhile venture. An indoor gathering by candlelight substituted for a planned campfire in the woods became a very moving time of young Belarusian Christians speaking of their experience in coming to know Jesus. And a talent night held by candlelight showed just how talented and versatile a crowd we were.
As always after Janz Team LinGo camps, the students were asked to fill in (anonymously) an evaluation form. Since the process was in Russian I haven’t too much of a feel for what was put down! But I am told that, as in past years, the camp was very well received. One of the questions asked was about the ‘spiritual effect’ of the camp for the attendees. One young lady wrote something to the effect, “I had stopped looking at Christian things. From this camp I have started to look again”. That comment reflects the all-round purpose of these camps, which are of course, for leaders and students alike, but one step in our personal journeys through life. Our prayer is of course for all for whom the Christian gospel is currently an unknown truth, ‘looking’ will soon lead to ‘finding’.