From church planting to children’s camps: Misha’s story

After a week my family (Misha’s wife Anya and their two children) were able to go to Romania, and they stayed there until August 2022. Then some old friends of mine from the States invited them to Pennsylvania, which I thought would be much better for them, in a place I knew and with people I knew, so they went there.

My extended family also scattered: my mum and my sister with her husband and two children went to Germany, and my mother-in-law to Poland. Other people from church also decided to go to Poland; everyone just left. I helped drive them to the border, and then I came home and sat in my apartment and I was thinking, ‘What next?’ Because I was just by myself at that point.

Then I saw a post on Facebook from my good friend Vitaly (Sobko, Executive Director of Camp Maximum) about the evacuations they were doing, so I volunteered to help. At the beginning I was driving minibuses and doing lots of evacuations. Then I organized something like a call centre: I was collecting lists of people wanting to evacuate, and connecting with drivers telling them where to pick people up and where to take them; I was on the phone all the time. At that point Camp Maximum was like a hub between east and west where people could come and stay for up to five days, have a shower, get food, clothes and medical supplies, before moving on. We also had a food programme, where we took about 20,000 food boxes to the east and other regions affected by war.

But then the number of people fleeing began slowing down, and we realized there were many temporarily displaced children. As children’s camps are our strength, that’s what we were built for, we decided to put together a programme. That summer (in 2022), we had five camps in Ukraine and two in Italy for Ukrainian refugees.

Misha Vakhtomin, Managing Director and Pastor at Camp Maximum, holds a degree in theology with youth specialization from Kiev Theological Seminary, and for several years led youth groups and taught others how to do youth ministry.  Then he returned to his hometown of Uman in central Ukraine with plans to plant a church, but through unfolding global events, God unexpectedly led him in a very different direction.

“When I moved back to Uman, we had a team with the vision to build a new church and we began the process. But then there was Covid, which was quite destructive to our work, and then there was the invasion, which stopped everything completely.

The day the war started, there was a direct missile hit to the military base in Uman, which caused a fire. The missiles stored there were exploding and flying everywhere, so we were woken up at 5 a.m. hearing the explosions.

As Uman is the centre point of the main highways between Kiev and Odessa, I thought the Russians would definitely try to get those cities and meet in the centre in Uman, to cut off one side of the country. So along with others in our church, we decided to move out to the next village, to wait there and see what to do next.

Since then we have continued to run camps for children and teenagers, and we have also added programmes for war widows and their children; for veterans of the war; and for military families on active duty.

Many of the children who come to our camps are not from Christian backgrounds, so they are experiencing a Christian environment for the first time. This is our unique opportunity to share the gospel with them. I see some different behaviours and attitudes in children and youth since the war started. There are emotional swings, where they can quickly go from super happy to super sad. And the other thing I see is that they seem so mature, you can see in their eyes that they know the realities of life - it seems like this war took away their childhood.

What I like to see when the kids are here is their smiles, in everything they do. They get so excited with our extreme activities and team building activities and sports, and I just love to see the joy they get from being here. When they say that Camp Maximum is a special place for them, it's good to hear.”

We praise God for the way Vitaly, Misha and the team continue to lead Camp Maximum from strength to strength, having recently added a prosthetics lab and a football camp for female amputees to their list of ministries. In June they also facilitated the first ever camp for Wise Carpenter, another partner of ours; we pray this was a life-changing experience for all who attended.

Ukraine Christian Ministries Registered Charity No 1061221