Thursday, August 30, 2018

{English Camp: The Music and the Message}

My sister and I grabbed each other's hands and began to twirl around the living room, dancing and laughing hysterically. We had the bare bones of a routine choreographed, but in our teen hearts we were convinced it was phenomenal. At the approach of the chorus, our dad turned up the volume. We pulled out all the stops and kicked our legs up as high as we could, duly impressing our family:

But I would walk five hundred miles 
And I would walk five hundred more; 
Just to be the one who walks a thousand miles 
To fall down at your door.

Never would I have guessed that this song would bring tears to my eyes. But, three weeks ago, that's exactly what happened.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

By Thursday morning, we had this whole camp gig down pat. We also had the whole hostel gig down pat, which was rather ironic: it was time to leave. There was a period of three or four days where the rooms were unavailable to us, so it had been arranged that we'd stay in the homes of the JV missionaries for a time and then return to the hostel.

Thus, my Thursday morning tea took the slightest turn. "May I have it in a paper cup? To take with me?" Once again, our hostess understood, and my tea was ready to go. Along with our assorted 50 lb. bags and suitcases. By 7:20 a.m. (We were very thankful for our brawny young men who eagerly shuttled our bags down the flights of stairs and into the awaiting van.)

Once at the church, we began as usual. Our combined team shared in morning devotions, and when the campers arrived, each team member fell confidently into their various roles, whether describing a game, leading an activity, or displaying song motions.

One of the highlights of camp was the music. Music brought us all together -- and quite literally, too. Some songs were meant to draw us into the same room (we had a camp song that, when played, was our signal to gather together, which we did with much dancing a laughter). Other songs were played for all-out fun and community, such as "Lean on Me" and "I'm a Believer." Still other songs filled the void in order to enhance hilarious games like "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles."

Our camp song, "Reign Forever," was a partner song with choreography, which everyone learned. By the end of the week we had those moves down (although I never could manage to make my twirling grapevine land in the right place). We also knew who to partner with in order to achieve a successful trust fall. This was important, for obvious reasons.

But for me, it was "500 Miles" that caused a lump to form in my throat. I hadn't heard this version of the song -- "We Have This Hope," it was called -- but I sure did know the tune. As soon as Johnny started to lead us that first day, we caught each other's eye. This song had a history. Years of images flashed through my mind in an instant. I pictured dancing in the living room with my sister. I pictured the many theatrical performances we coaxed our brother into joining. (Some of which included signed contracts; we just couldn't risk his fatigue or boredom, inevitable at age 8.)

We never could have imagined that, one day, he would be standing on a stage in a country called Slovenia, strumming that recognizable beat, teaching it to a crew of students and leaders, with a heart that beat wildly for Jesus. I was proud of him. Tears filled my eyes, and I was in awe of the way God faithfully -- and often unexpectedly -- lavishes the sweetest grace upon grace.

And I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the one who walks a thousand miles
To stand firm in my Lord.

It's a riotous, fun song. (And not really a tear-jerker at all, I suppose, unless one happens to be terribly sentimental. Like some people I know.) But the message is one we hoped to introduce to the campers that week: it is worth it all to stand firm in the Lord. And it's a message I've proudly watched my brother, sister-in-law, and niece live in their home in Celje: it is worth it all to stand firm in the Lord.

Jamie and Johnny both had opportunities to share this message throughout the week. Our late afternoon program included a session in which they introduced the Bible, King David and, ultimately, King Jesus. The talks were followed by discussion groups, which were entirely conducted in Slovene, the heart language of the students.

We all came to camp with our own heart languages that week. It was an honor and privilege for Jamie and me to lead a group of young adults who learned more and more to listen to that language, to understand more and more what it means to walk a thousand miles for our Lord. Sometimes the miles are swift and beautiful, traversing lush meadows and fragrant forests. Other times those miles are dusty, uphill miles, filled with ruts and boulders. But, with our Lord, they are all good, good miles with breathtaking vistas and marvelous landscapes we never would have encountered on our own.

Thursday evening, in our various missionary homes, we had opportunity to share more of this heart language with one another. It was a blessing to be welcomed into their homes, to talk about the deep things, the things that matter. The week of English camp may have been winding down, but we knew our hearts were still on the path of life-long loving and learning. A thousand miles stretched before us, our Savior beckoning, our Savior welcoming. And we wanted to be counted among those who would walk 500 miles, and 500 more.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

{English Camp: Afternoon Games}

I sat before my black tea on Wednesday morning, delighted. Our server had arranged our meals on wooden trays, knowing exactly what we had wanted. Language may have been a slight barrier over the course of our stay, but solid communication still took place. She showed us that she understood us and valued us. Once again, I felt the beauty of being understood, of understanding.

Confident in our ability to exchange ideas, I thought it would now be appropriate to introduce the next phase of tea perfection. I had already located the packets of raw sugar on Tuesday. One thing remained. "Do you have cream?" Her brow furrowed. I clarified, "Milk? For my tea?" Ah! Yes! She smiled and poured the daintiest little pitcher of milk for me. It looked quite charming alongside that wooden tray. I'm sure I was very loud and American when I pointed it out to the other girls, "Isn't this the darlingest creamer you ever saw?" They agreed it was and proceeded to partake of my unused portion.

In today's post I'll highlight the Afternoon Games, which were organized by our team and directed by Bethie. She did an excellent job describing the games each day. In preparation for camp, she and Jamie had taught the week's worth of games to the rest of the crew during orientation. This proved to be a very valuable sneak peek, as most of the games were new.

Bethie had the challenge of not only explaining new games to the campers, but in describing them, once again, with succinct, easy-to-translate phrases. Her translator, Iza, also did an excellent job of interpreting and communicating a variety of foreign ideas to the eager middle school students.

Monday's game was Rabbit Sticks, and it proved to be the favorite camp game. It had to be adapted somewhat in order to accommodate the layout of the church grounds, but once again, Bethie met the challenge, modified the rules, and made it work exceptionally well. (So well that we played it on multiple days.)

On Tuesday we introduced Haluta, a crazy variation of kickball. This ended up requiring multiple creative explanations, as the concept of baseball (on which the game is loosely based) was also new to the students. We were able to use a nearby field, and the kids pretty quickly picked up on the fun of the game, if not the precise rules of the game. I don't have pictures to document Haluta, as I was valiantly attempting to run the bases myself. Please accept instead this darling picture of Bethie and Nastja -- our amazing camp director -- with two of our campers.

Wednesday's temperature soared to the mid 90s, so it was a perfect day for the water war. (The day prior, Jamie and a few team members had sequestered themselves on the side yard of the church, where they filled hundreds and hundreds of water balloons.) We began water day with a (somewhat) organized, points-based game, and then unleashed the remaining water balloons for an all-out campers vs. leaders war. This, of course, was a big hit.

P.C. Urh Kolar

P.C. Urh Kolar
P.C. Urh Kolar
P.C. Urh Kolar
P.C. Urh Kolar
P.C. Urh Kolar

Thursday's activity strayed from the athletic, but it was just as fun. We headed to the nearby mall for a photo scavenger hunt.

"Team Pyramid"

"Find something foreign"

"Recreate a movie scene." 

Finally, on Friday, the kids (and leaders!) participated in a series of silly relay-type games. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.


And now, back to Wednesday. Following the water war, the kids made tie-dyed shirts as part of their theme day. We then transitioned to a nice, calm, well-chosen mid-week activity: an afternoon showing of Ferdinand. The church windows were blacked out with large garbage sacks, movie theater snacks were provided, and we all enjoyed a cool, relaxing close to the otherwise very hot and very active day. 

That evening, our Glenwood team headed to the mall in preparation for the next day's scavenger hunt. We split up, some of us to work on the hunt details, some to shop for souvenirs . . . and some to hunt down ice cream, the most important mission of all.

When we arrived back at the hostel that night, the common room was full, and folk-type music filled the air. I was intrigued. "I think there's dancing or something!" I eagerly announced to the team upstairs. It seemed only appropriate to go back downstairs, order a drink, and linger. Just in case there was dancing. One can never be too prepared.

So, a few of us sat on the patio with our orange Schweppes (a favorite among the students) and carefully observed. Not only was this dancing, this was organized dancing. The ladies all wore the same shoes, the couples all followed the same serious, measured steps. It soon dawned on us that this must have been a class. Accordingly (yet regretfully), we decided it would be best not to join them. After all, not only had we not even been invited to this class, but we'd been participating in our own camp dance all week; our feet were beginning to show decided signs of wear. But, once again, that's another story for another day. 

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

{English Camp: Workshops}

Tuesday dawned, and I awakened before the alarm went off. Filtered, golden sunlight passed through the trees in the courtyard and whispered, "Good morning!" through the slanted blinds next to my bunk. The air conditioner in the room wasn't working, so it was fairly easy to leap out of bed (I take that back -- I rather creaked), get ready for the day, and seek the cooler downstairs domain.

Our team gathered in the dining area, one by one, each gravitating to the same plush chairs we had chosen the day before. I smiled at the server and slowly said, "B-l-a-c-k tea, please." Fetching my trusty muesli and yogurt, I was delighted to see the mug appear with black tea. Unfortunately, we were rather rushed that morning, so I could only swallow down a bit. It was lovely, nonetheless, to have been understood, and to understand.

The events of Tuesday mirrored Monday to a great degree. All 17 kids returned, bright and early; they would consistently do so for the remainder of the week, not once flagging in enthusiasm (or punctuality).

One of the camp features we offered was a series of workshops. On Monday, students chose from a variety of suggested classes, and, based on their interest and our teacher availability, we decided to focus on drums, sports, art, and video. The same students attended the same workshops throughout the week. Once again, it was a joy to watch them learn and grow in confidence, both in their use of English and in their various workshop skills.

Somehow I ended up in the sports workshop. I can't quite recall how this happened, but before I knew it, I was running bases, pulling flags, and hurling a frisbee (trying to ignore that rather in-my-forties feeling that asserted itself regularly in the form of sore knees, ankles and feet . . . ).

The sports workshop was led by one of our students, Andrew. His assistants were Allie, Mike, and Iza (with Brooke, Heidi, and me popping in as we were available). Andrew did an excellent job explaining the rules of various American sports. The challenges were many, for not only were sports such as baseball and ultimate frisbee new concepts to the students, but every sentence Andrew spoke was also to be translated. Each of our student leaders learned -- and learned very well, I might proudly add -- to speak in succinct, easy-to-translate phrases. Andrew had the added challenge of helping define new American words like base, home plate, pitcher and batter to his translator, Iza. At times we resorted to more universal terms, like "safe zone" and "thrower." But no matter the phrase or term used, those kids picked up the games quickly, and we all had a blast.

(Brooke and I had to laugh when we found ourselves face-to-face on the line of scrimmage one day. "Never thought we'd be doing this together!" she laughed. I chided, "Oh, it's on, Brooke," knowing full well she could whoop me at flag football . . . or any sport under the sun, for that matter. Avery kindly documented our postgame glow.)

Hailey taught the art class, and was joined by a helper (Bethie) and two translators (Neli and Tjaša). The students enjoyed a number of painting and drawing activities. When I was catching my breath from baseball or football (sometimes I pulled the mom card and stepped out to be photographer), it was a delight to visit their class and see how much fun they were having.

Drew felt right at home in the drum workshop (with assistants/translators Doroteja and Blaž), where he creatively used one drum kit to keep six students ("student" numbers also included assistants and translators, each of whom participated in all classroom activities) engaged and learning. They, too, grew in confidence throughout the week, and by Friday, they were ready to perform in the talent show. But I'll save that for another day.

Jamie and Urh eagerly took on the video workshop. Their students learned about perspective, lighting, storytelling and more, and worked throughout the week to script and shoot a mini movie, also to be presented at the talent show. We often saw the crew wandering the church grounds, experimenting with unique camera angles and mysterious sound effects. We couldn't wait to see what they were creating.

PC: Workshop Student

P.C.: Workshop Student

I would be remiss if I didn't also tip my hat to the food workshop. While it wasn't an actual workshop, Gwynne and Avery were a dynamic duo in the kitchen, daily preparing snacks for the whole crew. These girls are birds of a feather, and their imitation of Mel and Sue is spot on. Baaaake!

We were also provided with catered lunch throughout the week, and it was quite a treat to share in traditional Slovene meals. As we experienced at The Chestnut Place, each lunch started with a light soup and was followed by a hearty dish, such as potatoes and fish or fried gnocci and salad.

Tuesday's theme was "pirate," so naturally we played pirate bunco while wearing eye patches for our late afternoon activity. Winners were showered with lots and lots of candy (see: 50 lb. suitcases as described in Camp Preparation).

And at this point in the day's journey, my mind becomes an absolute blank. I imagine we had dinner that night (my children say we ate sandwiches), and made our way back to the hostel where we prepped for the next day. It's also quite possible this was the night the girls slipped away for a gander about Celje. Because, how prosaic would it be, merely to fall asleep at the end of the day, whilst in Europe?

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