Summer activities for children have been at the heart of UCM’s ministry from the very early days. “The first youth camp was in about 1997,” Janet recalls. “There was a company in Cherkasy that Pastor Victor knew, so we visited them and they offered us some premises which in former days would have been a camp site for young communists. That place was in a dickens of a state, but we felt we could get it up together.”
With their usual energy and enthusiasm, church members from Zolotonosha helped to rehabilitate the site, cleaning the buildings, painting walls, constructing tables, and doing anything else that was needed. Without adequate cooking facilities, all the food had to be prepared in Zolotonosha and driven out in the church bus three times a day.
After the first few years at the original campground, the focus of UCM’s work was moving towards Blagodatne and other villages nearby, and so it made sense to shift the location of the camps over there. “I went to the school first of all,” remembers John, “and I asked the headmaster if it would be possible to use the premises for a camp. I told him we would like to reach out to the young people, as there were so many in the area, and I reassured him we would take great care of the buildings and grounds.” Although reluctant at first, the headmaster was eventually persuaded, and so the Holiday Bible Clubs for younger children got started; soon summer activities in various buildings and under canvas were available for hundreds of youngsters in the area.
Camps were staffed by teams of local church members alongside Christians from the UK recruited by Janet and John during their church visits. “One of the good things about that,” Janet shares, “is it gave those young Ukrainians a chance to practice their English, which they were learning at school, and also to earn a little money as interpreters for the British visitors. Some of them have gone on to do jobs which require high levels of English; their core learning came from interacting with English-speakers at those camps.”
The benefits of serving on camps worked both ways. One of those English team members over 20 years ago was Ella, now the Director of UCM UK. That early involvement in summer camps sparked a love for Ukraine that has shaped her life and career, leading her to live in Cherkasy for two years, serving in schools and churches, before returning to the UK and taking on her current role. “I came to realise that God had placed Ukraine deep in my heart,” she says, “and as I look back and see the journey that God has taken me on to get me to this place, I cannot but rejoice in seeing how He has been preparing me.”
The life-changing impact of this ministry is also seen today in many of the people we still work with in Ukraine. Yura and Vitaliy, the founders of Camp Maximum in Zolotonosha, both came to faith as young men through UCM camps, and are serving God in amazing ways as adults. John movingly recalls a visit to Vitaliy’s office one of the last times the Hendys were in Ukraine. “As we sat down, he looked at us and he said, ‘This is your ministry.’ I said, ‘No, it's not, we haven't done a thing towards Camp Maximum.’ He said, ‘You have because Yura and I both came to know the Lord through your camps.’”
Summer camps remain a highlight of the UCM calendar and we were especially thankful when they were able to go ahead in 2022, in spite of the challenges of the ongoing conflict. We are delighted that the Pastors will be organising them again this year; if you’d like to sponsor a camper or support the ministry, clink on the ‘Donate’ tab above.
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