“We don’t have enough room for you. You should cancel your camp.” These were the words I heard three days before our camp in Volodarka, Ukraine was set to begin. Even though we had booked the camp eight months ahead, a camp that booked later with two hundred teens from around our region in Ukraine had priority. I remember listening to the director say these words and just praying “God, I know this camp is something You desire, Lord please make it work.” So we crammed eight to ten people in per room, moved our meal times to 9am, 2pm and 8pm to work around these other campers’ schedule. We only had two classrooms to use for half the day instead of three all day long.
Yet somehow God took a recipe for disaster and transformed it into an amazing week better than we could have ever hoped or imagined. Even with the crowded rooms and odd times, at the end of the week the mamas told us they had felt like they were in Egypt at some all inclusive resort! Mostly because our Ukrainian volunteers did such a wonderful job of caring for these kids, wheeling them up and down the ramps, taking them everywhere they needed to go, so the moms were able to sit back and relax.
This was the first year we have had the opportunity to offer a second camp in the summer. Every year I know we want to have new young campers join us for the first time, but how do you say no to older campers with disabilities who wait all year for this camp. This year offering a second camp, allowed for two amazing things. At our first camp we had some new young children who were involved for the first time. And at our second camp we had some older campers in their 20’s and 30’s who had never had an opportunity to go.
One of those campers was Yura. Yura is 32 years old, he walks on crutches with great difficulty. Every year he and his mom called our organization to ask if he could come to camp, but he was told he could not because he was too old. To see the joy that this camp brought to this young man was absolutely amazing! As Yura sat in crafts making a bracelet he began to ask one of our volunteers Alyona, “Will they take me to camp next year too?” “Will they let me come?” Alyona answered “Yes, they will let you come.” Only to be asked the same question a minute later. In the one hour craft time Yura must have asked around 40 times if he would be allowed in camp next year. Each time Alyona told him yes, he smiled and rejoiced like he heard the news for the very first time.
Yura on the right!
On our last night of camp we decided to have a big picnic outside. Pastor Kostya and I went to the city to buy plates, cups, plastic ware and everything we needed. Having the opportunity to all eat together outside before our big bonfire made our last night of camp even more special. Following the picnic we had a huge bonfire while our volunteers gave speeches about each of our kids and presenting them with awards their mothers had made for them. The moms each received a certificate from their child saying what they loved about their moms.
As always, it was a night filled with tears as the kids received their awards and prepared to say goodbye. I know now more than ever the impact our camp has on the handicapped youth of Ukraine and their families. It also had a huge impact on our Ukrainian camp volunteers, many of whom use to be campers themselves. Many of the volunteers and our campers told me they want to study the Bible even more after camp. They wanted to learn more. I was so excited by what God was doing at our camp. I have so many more stories to share, and I’m only telling you stories from one of our camps!
The Sending Place sent us a team of five; Janet, Judy, Monty, Rachelle and Cindy, to help run our first camp for the younger children. The team did such an amazing job, especially putting up with me and all the crazy Ukrainian and Russian camp songs and motions I was teaching the kids. And all the posters and teaching materials they made were used at all three camps! Thank you to Jamie at the Sending Place. I know that even weeks after the camp one of the team members told me they were still “jelly,” from missing the kids and having to say goodbye. I know the kids were touched by the love of Christ and the message that they were treasures to God.
Impact also sent us a team of three women to run our day camp at the Boy’s Orphanage in our city. They had prepared for 30 campers, that is how many the orphanage told us would be there. Yet, somehow our first day we had 45 campers! We had three different groups, and each group with an wide range of ability levels in it, we were short on crafts and materials, and yet this team was flexible and did an amazing job of making the camp special for these kids. At the very end, when we were packing up all our stuff, and the kids were saying goodbye, it was impossible to pack up and leave, because it was a never ending circle of hugs. The kids would hug all our team, and when they finished, they would go back to the first person and start over.
God really demonstrated that through Him all things are possible. God made these camps happen, and He filled every team with just the right people who were supposed to be there. I would like to thank Impact, the Sending Place, and Ascension Lutheran in Waterloo for sponsoring the VBS at the orphanage and the two VBS Camps.
Bonus videos!! Water wars plus other fun games!