Wednesday, August 22, 2018

English Camp

After spending several days finishing our prep, the team from Southern California was ready to kickoff the weeklong English camp.  
The California Dreamin' Team.
All prepped and ready to go!
The camp had a total of 17 students, who were each interviewed in order to evaluate their English skills and then placed in one of three classes—beginning, intermediate, or advanced.  I (Mark) was one of the teachers of the advanced class, which consisted of seven students, ranging in age from 13 to 17, who already had impressive English speaking skills. 
The students
Each day began at 7:30 a.m., long before the students arrived, with about an hour-long group devotional, led by a different member of the team each day.  The devotional time served as an opportunity for the team to set our minds on the Lord, ask for the Holy Spirit’s enabling, and pray for each other. 

Then, after about 30 minutes of getting organized and drinking as much coffee as possible, the students arrived at 9:00 a.m.  We started each day with a group activity or game that allowed the students to get comfortable and ready to learn and interact. 

At 9:30 a.m., the student went to their respective classes, where they learned English in an informal classroom setting.  But this wasn’t your ordinary language class.  Each day’s class was centered on a particular theme—like relationships, current events, or special days—which made the learning relevant, fun, and interactive.  And rather than lecture for three hours, the teachers of each class prepared a bunch of games, activities, and exercises that allowed the students to learn new vocabulary and concepts while doing most of the talking.  Each morning ended with the students spending 20 minutes writing in a journal.  They were told to write anything about themselves, their background, their experience at the camp, or whatever else they wanted to share.  Then, a specific teacher would be assigned to read and respond (in writing) to a specific student’s journal each day.  This provided an awesome way to get to know the kids on a deeper level and ask them questions about life, God, church, and the gospel.
Class time
Responding to students' journals
At 12:30 p.m. we would break for an hour-long lunch.  This gave the team another chance to get to know the students personally, either while eating or while playing a friendly game of basketball or ping pong in the church parking lot. 

Ping Pong Fun
The littles loved riding on a tractor
during lunch!
After lunch, everyone at the camp would reconvene for a couple afternoon activities.  Naturally, this ended up being everyone’s favorite part of the day.  The students had the opportunity to do things like skits, photography, art, and baseball—all while interacting in English.  They even got to tie dye their own groovy shirts! 

Photography workshop
The team was so great including our kids--here they are
during the art activity.
Tie dye in progress
Levi and Marigold wanted to make a
tie dye shirt and "scarf" too! 
The finished products of the tie dying! 
Learning the Cupid Shuffle is essential to
American cultural learning, right?

Baseball ended up being almost everyone’s favorite part of the week.  We spent two whole afternoons playing baseball at a local park.  On the first day, we taught all of the students how to throw, catch, and hit a baseball.  Remember, these are French and German kids who have never played America’s favorite pastime before.  The kids picked up the game fast, and after just a hour of practice, we were playing a game filled with home runs, wild throws, plays at the plate, and even a couple hit batters!
Practicing throwing and catching
The park we played at was very pretty with lots of
big trees surrounding it.
Great view!
Some of the players after the game.
The team names the students chose were
 "The Leaders" and "The Running Kiwis."
Water balloon fun after the baseball game
At the end of each day, the team would gather to talk about their day, which provided the opportunity to share challenges, encouragements, and new ideas, all while getting feedback and prayer from the rest of the group.  I’m thankful I had the opportunity to serve alongside such dedicated, diligent, and fun people.

We also had the opportunity to host the entire team at our two-bedroom Airbnb apartment for dinner.  We wanted to give our fellow Southern Californians a taste of home, so we found the only Mexican market in nearby Basel, Switzerland, and loaded up on everything we needed for a legitimate fiesta.  Jenny spent the day preparing enchiladas and three pots of homemade beans that we used to make burritos.  We also had chips and salsa and guacamole.  It tasted absolutely amazing!  We also loaded up some party games through Jack Box TV that everyone was able to play through their phone.  All in all we had a great time of fellowship and I’m thankful to Jenny for making it happen.

Coming into the camp, I wondered how well we could minister to the students, particularly considering that the curriculum we used didn’t say anything about God or the Bible.  Would we even have opportunities to talk with the kids about God?  As people with a heart for missions, Jenny and I had a desire to share the gospel with the students at the camp.  So we sought to be intentional about taking every opportunity we got to share God’s love and truth with the kids.

Interestingly, on the first day of the camp, one student in the advanced class, who I will call David (not his real name), shared openly that he didn’t believe in God.  We began praying that God would soften his heart and allow him to be open to the reality that God is living and active and loves him.  I had the opportunity to read David's journal everyday and respond to what he wrote.  I asked about him, his interests, and his background, and he asked about mine.  I was able to share how I used to be a lawyer, but now I’m in seminary preparing to serve God by being a missionary in a different country.  That allowed me to ask him about his experiences at church and the reasons for his disbelief in God.  David and I ended up having a lot in common, so we connected easily and spent a lot of time together throughout the week. I got the sense from him (and many of the other students) that this was the first time they had ever been around a group of committed Christian people and, in doing so, realized for the first time that Christians are normal, fun people who have a unique love for God and other people.

Well, God answered our prayers about David.  On the last day of the camp, we played a game in the advanced class where each person drew a number out of a bag and each number corresponded to a different personal question that the student had to answer.  This allowed the students to share a lot about themselves.  At one point, David drew a number and was asked which person, past or present, he would most like to meet.  His answer was “God.”  Later, David drew another number and was asked what he is most thankful for.  His answer was “God because He created everything.”  I was blown away by his answers.  This was a guy who just a few days earlier had been open and aggressive about the fact that he didn’t believe in God's existence.  Now, he not only acknowledged God's existence, but acknowledged God as the creator of the world!  The Lord had indeed softened David’s heart.  In my last response to David in his journal, I left my contact information so that we can hopefully stay in touch and continue our dialogue.  I'm now praying that the Lord brings Christians into David's life who can continue to sow the seeds of the gospel.

Overall, we had a great time participating in the English camp.  Serving God cross-culturally is such a joy and a privilege. Through the English camp, we were able to get to know, encourage, share the gospel with, and show the love of God to the students we taught. While we were there to teach others, I can’t help but think that I was the one learning the most.  Investing in people and relationships is something that can be done abroad and at home.  And when we, as Christians, are willing to live our lives boldly, in a way that Jesus is the motivation and focus of everything we do, then we will no doubt experience and witness God’s power to change hearts and redeem lives.

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