This is a loooooong one…but hey, camp happened so there’s a lot to write about 🙂
Camp has come and gone and I can hardly believe it. After weeks of praying and planning and preparing, the week has passed. We have surely seen God’s hand over it all and He has outweighed our expectations, as usual. Nothing is quite like camp…the days are long but the week seems to fly by. You average about 4-5 hours of sleep per night and learn the limitations of your body like never before. It’s a beautiful thing to see that we can’t do it on our own while our bodies are surely failing us.
Our Seattle team arrived late on Friday night, and as they fought jet lag we had orientation for them all day on Saturday. We had a tour of Split which gave us and them a great cultural context and understanding of our mission field. From there, we got to talk about specific roles for our staff as well as talk through the schedule. The majority of the team had done several camps with JV in Slovenia in the past. On Sunday, we had church and it sure was packed. Double the amount of people that we normally have and we’ve got a church service! It was so, so exciting to see the Seattle team, the Bieber family and our team all together. God ended up bringing two students to camp literally last minute. Some parents signed their two sons up for camp that day at church a few hours before we were leaving. Crazy awesome!
Rachael and I hit the road right after church. We ended up leaving a few hours early to set up and get things ready before everyone arrived. However, about 45 minutes into our almost 4 hour trip, an alert to check the engine went off on Rachael’s car. Essentially her car was no longer able to accelerate and we were doubtful we would make it to camp. We prayed the whole way there and truly relied on Jesus to get us there. Somehow (seriously miraculously) we made it to camp. As soon as we hit the town and got off the highway we were nervous as the hills were great, but we made it! (insert major praise hands here) Also, another awesome update: Jure was awesome in the car and Amber ended up getting better over camp.
Each day of camp sort of blends together as the week goes on. But, generally each day began at about 6AM or so for me, with a staff meeting at 7AM. It was so amazing to hear each morning all that the Lord had done the previous day. Some kids joked that they were at fat camp because we stuck to bread, potatoes and not much meat throughout the week. When Aleksander/Otto, our cook for the week & jack-of-all-trades, allowed us to help him in the kitchen, we did. It’s not easy cooking for 45 people on your own. After a quick morning session, students headed to their first set of class. I got to sit in on one of the classes throughout the week and help with teaching and just be there to hang out with students. I loved helping them learn English as well as learn some Croatian myself! Ryan, our awesome teacher from Seattle, brought a different peanut butter and chocolate candy for us to try everyday. Most of them were not available in Croatia so it was fun for the students to try everything from a Butterfinger to peanut butter M&Ms.
After a quick break, a mid-morning snack, and some volleyball outside, we had our second session of class. Lunch, then some free-time or, for two of the days we had workshops. The photography workshop was a hit and it was so fun seeing the students soak it all up. Songwriting was also another good one. During the days when this slot was filled with free time it was fun to hang with students playing card games or just chatting. Afternoons included what we liked to call tribal warfare. Everyone was divided into either the red or blue team, shown by the bandanas or tribal paint they wore. From colored powder washed away with water balloons, to a blindfolded relay race, to kickball, ultimate frisbee, and box ball the afternoons were so fun. Camp is the best.
Being our first camp, I had no idea what to expect. I knew coming to Croatia I was helping with English camps but I had no idea what that meant or what it looked like. I hope to write a longer post soon explaining the goals and mission behind English camp with JV (it’s seriously awesome). I had an underlying expectation that something would go horribly wrong; someone would get terribly ill, everyone would get a stomach bug or it just would go to shambles. But God truly was in control (and He still would be if anything bad happened). Sure there were things that didn’t go as planned and some days we were on the last of our strength, but the Lord showed up and did what He always does.
English classes and evening discussion groups were some of my favorite times. Every night for the evening sessions, John gave a message revealing a little bit more of the gospel. Afterward, we had discussion groups. I was so, so thankful to be a part of them. My discussion group brought me to tears every night. One of the nights I will probably never forget. After John talked one night, we started discussion groups. One of the last questions was very vague “What are some of your hopes and dreams for your future?” Croatian youth are sort of forced to think about this much earlier than the average American. The high school they choose to go to basically locks in their future. So they have to know by age 13 or so what they want to do with their life.
A question holding a lot of weight and ambiguity we expected to bring a dead silence welcoming the loud noise of crickets outside the open window. But on student quickly answered, “I want to be like you and be a missionary.” Her statement was followed by two others saying the same. I held back tears as I heard the answer to my prayers. Sitting in that room in Croatia hearing a young student say what I’ve been praying for for months and what the Hinger’s and Judita and Mladen have been praying for years…there’s no way to explain it. It was unlike anything being at a camp with students who mostly all know Jesus but need to be pushed to the next step. We were at a precipice of encouraging and building up the next generation of leaders in the church in Croatia. Wow.
Late night activities were surely some things the students will remember for years to come. From America night (bobbing for apples, crazy law trivia, seed spitting, etc.), Bunko, glow in the dark capture the flag, and Hrvatska vs. Portugal (we won, and it was the coolest thing seeing the Croatians get so into the game. The Eurocup is essentially the Super Bowl for Europeans. Amber, Sarah, Rachael, Julia and I spent quite a bit of time popping popcorn for the students and they were so grateful and surprised that they each got their own bag).
On the last night, we had the Labyrinth. Essentially, the Labyrinth is an experiential maze gospel presentation with multiple stations. The first station we had set up was a gallery with photos and verses talking about God as creator. The last part of that station had Psalm 139 with a mirror where they were to look at themselves and recognize God created them. There were other stations in between leading up to the final one which presented the gospel and left them at the cross, telling them to make a decision. I was in charge of this night and so many hours of prayers, preparation and wrestling went into this. It was so much of saying yes to God and denying myself in wanting to please people but just do it all unto Him. At the end of it all, I could truly say that it was all the Lord. I couldn’t have done it by myself. It brought tears to my eyes seeing the students take it in and take so much time, seeing high school boys look at themselves in the mirror, thinking about who Jesus is, and so, so much more. I wish I had pictures from it but I was just taking it all in. I’m hoping to get some from someone else.
There were plenty of other things the Lord did throughout the week, plenty of things I wrestled through that God challenged me on, plenty to say about this awesome team I get to be a part of, and plenty to write about. But for now, dear friends, know this: God is on the move. The events and conversations and relationships being built are all evidence of His divine power and majesty.
Thank you thank you thank you for standing with me, with us, for this mission.