There's an old joke which goes something like this: What's the difference between the English and the Ukrainians? The answer: "English people leave without saying goodbye, whereas Ukrainians say goodbye without leaving!"
This week at the camp we were all Ukrainians. We knew we had to say goodbye, but the children were so amazing that it was really difficult. The "goodbyes" lasted at least half an hour. In the end, we practically had to physically remove the children from the DHM volunteers! Clinging tightly to the team, the children didn't want us to leave and it was so sad to say that we needed to say goodbye. We assured them that we'd be thinking and praying about them when we went back to the UK and that we were already looking forward to seeing them again next year!
Here are some photos from the time when we had to say our goodbyes.
Luke from London made a new friend! Rob, a student training for ministry at Spurgeon's College, says farewell And Laura from Devon, also a student at Spurgeon's College, says her goodbyes This was the youngest child at this year's summer camp. He was declared to be the sweetest by the DHM team! He answered all the questions correctly in the Bible knowledge quiz at the end of the camp. Molodyets!
At the summer camp we had the privilege of playing out key scenes from the Bible in fun and creative reenactments. As well as playing games and learning new skills, the children were also told about God's love for them. We were blessed to have such a talented and creative team, which comprised members of the UK group as well as the local Ukrainians from Vasylkivka Baptist Church. I was amazed and impressed by the rapport they established both with each other and with the children.
As I look back on the trip, I am very grateful to so many people. Several people gave sacrificially in order to ensure that we could purchase all the equipment we needed to make the camp a success. Thanks to the generous donations that we received, we were able to bless every child (all 134 of them!) with a free gift bag, full of goodies, such as cotton t-shirts, pens, pencils, toys and sweets. Most of the children who came to the camp were from extremely poor families. In many cases, the children were orphans or were living with parents suffering from various addictions. Therefore, it was a blessing for us to be able not only to give these children the gift of a few days of good fun, but also to remind them that God loves them and has a special plan for each one of them.
Moreover, we are keen to ensure that the summer camp should not just be a "one-off" event. Thanks to the camp, the children have been brought into contact with the young people from the local Baptist church, so we hope that these relationships will continue to develop and that we will be able to keep in contact with them and their parents. We also hope to be able to organise a similar camp in July 2018, so that we can see them all again next year!
Here are a few photos which give a snapshot of the camp...
As a Northumbrian I was please that even Northumberland was represented at the summer camp in Vasylkivka! Here the flag hangs proudly alongside the Ukrainain.
I couldn't believe it. In Ukraine in July the only weather-related concern that I had was that we'd have to endure several days of the usual scorching heat under the blazing sun. Instead, on this first morning of the camp, it started to pour with rain!
Not put off by the downpour, dozens of children began to arrive. By 10:00 we had a little over 90 children!
We had to improvise a bit by relocating the gazebos to offer a makeshift rain shield for the children. By lunchtime, however, the rain had cleared and we were able to run the camp according to the schedule. It was an incredible experience to see so many children radiating so much joy as they entered into the camp activities without any inhibitions.
It was a privilege to witness this spontaneous joy as the children watched creative reenactments of key gospel scenes or as they practiced speaking English with the UK group and as they learned new skills like crochet, drawing and dancing.
It was especially pleasing for me (Joshua) to witness so much joy in this place. This house, which hosted the camp, was the home in which my wife grew up. Just a few years ago, in 2013, my wife's father died tragically. He was only 53 years old. Back then, everyone was wearing black and there was much weeping and sadness.
Years earlier this house had been completely destroyed by a fire, which had nearly killed my wife's family. Even though everyone had survived, the large family was homeless in the middle of winter and had to endure several months of hardship, living in the burnt-out husk of what had been their home, as they had to rebuilt the house, brick by brick.
Therefore, to see so much joy on the faces of the children and the DHM team and to hear the loud laughter echo around the yard was very poignant.
In one of the plenary sessions, in which we mentioned the story of Zacchaeus in the tree, we asked the children if they could name people whom they'd like to see so much that they'd be prepared to climb a tree just to get a glimpse of that person. Expecting that the children would answer with the names of celebrities or footballers, instead the children all called out the names of close friends an family members ("Granny", "Granddad", "my friend Maxim", etc.).
We all went to bed that night, exhausted as usual, but deeply gratified that we were serving God by ministering to these children, most of whom were either orphans or from broken homes and dysfuncional families. They were also a great blessing to us and we learned a lot about what it really means to be great in the Kingdom of God.
Three of the DHM Camp leaders, Marika, Darina and Hayley, enjoying a delicious Ukrainian lunch
Consultation between the UK and Ukraine Leaders of the Camp
We arrived into Dnipro on the overnight train from Kyiv and after a quick breakfast in the waiting lounge at Dnipro Central Station, we boarded the eastbound train to Vasylkivka, the venue of the summer camp.
Arriving in the town after a fascinating journey on an old Soviet-style "elektrichka" train, we were given an incredibly warm welcome by our hosts from Vasylkivka Baptist Church.
We quickly set up the tents and spent some time getting to know our Ukrainian counterparts with whom we were going to organise the summer camp. After the final preparations had been made in the evening, we shared in a time of prayer and worship and a delicious meal, lovingly prepared by our wonderful hosts, Sonya, Liliya and Masha.
We went to bed feeling exhausted but exhilirated about the start of the summer camp, which had been so long in preparation and was now so imminent.
We've just arrived back from an exhilirating week at the Dnipro Hope Mission children's summer camp in Ukraine. It's been quite a remarkable week and we are returning from Ukraine with so many memories.
After flying from Heathrow to Kyiv on 11 July, we spent the evening on the central square in the Ukrainian capital. The following day we visited the spectacular Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, followed by a walk through the grounds of the Ukrainian Parliament. In the evening, we went to the central station in Kyiv, where we took an overnight train to the city of Dnipro in Eastern Ukraine.