Christian Camping in Russia
Editor's Note: The present article is based on 30 surveys completed by Russian church leaders in November-December 2002. Respondents were primarily pastors and youth leaders serving in churches that have organized summer camp programs. (See Sidebar: "Participating Churches.")
Christian camping is not only an effective method of evangelism for teenagers and youth, it also is a "school of life" for church members who take part. Survey participants, regardless of location, denomination, or size and age of their churches, are convinced of the importance of Christian camping, both for individual camp workers and for church members who are involved indirectly. For many young church members, camp is the first and only opportunity to discover and test their abilities. Many workers receive their calling during camp and become active in other church ministries.
Survey Questions and Responses
To the question "Do you consider Christian camp ministry important for your church?" all respondents gave positive responses, including the following comments:
Arguments used most often concerned the strengthening of relationships, the potential to develop church leaders, and the opportunity to evangelize youth and, indirectly, their parents.
In addition to recreation, camping ministry requires a huge responsibility of camp staff. Counselors typically have groups of seven to nine campers for whom they are accountable before the law. In the same way other staff members are responsible for the safety and health of program participants during various camp activities. Despite short camp sessions--in most cases ten days--staff members can see real results. Probably this is the key to the powerful impact that camp has on the development of potential leaders: nothing else forms character as effectively as a sense of responsibility and the achievement of a goal.
Responses to the question "What do you see as special about the impact that Christian camping has on youth compared to the impact of other youth programs in your church?" included the following:
The response cited most often concerned the call to ministry. A church that consists of highly motivated members is every pastor's dream. If the church pastor and the youth leader work in close cooperation with the camp director, the camp will be able to perform two functions: change the lives of campers and transform the spiritual condition of individual church members.
To the question "Does the Christian camp only influence church members who are directly involved in its operation or does it also influence the general atmosphere in the church?" the following responses were given:
Keys to the Effectiveness of Christian Camping
Robert Kobielush, president of Christian Camping International in the U.S., sees four factors that contribute to the effectiveness of Christian camping.
Viktor Artemov is director of the Resource Team of Christian Camping International in Russia.
Christian Camping International
While Christian Camping International (CCI) works in various republics of the former Soviet Union, its ministry in Russia began in 1991 with two camps. In 2002 it served 14,780 teenagers and youth in 128 camps in Russia operated by more than 505 churches representing 19 denominations. CCI has also published 25 camping manuals, songbooks, and program guides in Russian. In 2002, using these materials, CCI trained 685 leaders in its annual seminars. In addition, CCI provides instructors for a Christian camping course in the Christian Education Department of St. Petersburg Christian University.
In 2002, six new camps joined the CCI Camp Association. Given Russian economic realities this represents very significant growth because the budget of a four-week camp in most cases is larger than the annual budget of a church. In spite of the high cost, congregations continue to raise funds to underwrite summer camps.
CCI's fast growth can be explained by the fact that the idea of camping fits Russian culture so well. For persons born and raised in Russia it is a very natural and longstanding practice to send children to summer camps, which are part and parcel of the culture. In 1989 alone, 28,000 Pioneer camps in the Soviet Union hosted 15 million campers. These large numbers speak to the popularity of camping. Long before 1991, the year CCI began working in Russia, churches had been running children's camps. But these efforts primarily involved relatively short hikes or one- or two-day retreats.
It may be argued that CCI's greatest significance for Protestants in Russia derives from its interdenominational character. Representatives of various denominations and churches take part in training events unified by a common idea of Christian camping, which is the common ground for open cooperation. This atmosphere helps representatives of different denominations notice good qualities in other churches and reevaluate their attitude to those whose "thinking" is different. As a result, many students develop a positive attitude about other denominations and are ready to work interdenominationally. Also, some camps work on an interdenominational basis, inviting both staff and campers from different churches. Young people who attend such camps learn to accept other denominations. In the future it is quite possible these young people will become church leaders, preserving their openness to other denominations.
Congregations Participating in the Survey
Bethany Church, Krasnodar, approximately 3,000 members, founded in 1970. This church is nondenominational with a charismatic style of worship. It began operating a camp in 1991. Poll respondents were Pastor Sergey Nakul, 49, and Youth Minister Yuriy Semenov.
Light to the World Church, Khabarovsk, approximately 168 members, founded in 1994. This Christians of Evangelical Faith Union (Pentecostal) church began operating a camp in 1997. Poll respondent was Pastor Andrey Evstratyev, 37.
An interdenominational church, Khabarovsk, approximately 70 members, founded in 1992. This church of Baptist orientation began a camp ministry in 2000. Poll respondents were Pastor Yuriy Shostov, 62, and Camp Director Svetlana Mayboroda.
New Way Church, Nalchuk, approximately 180 members, founded in 1992. This Evangelical Christian-Baptist church, which first opened a camp in 1995, has a ministry among Muslims. Poll respondents were Pastor Pavel Pogodin, 50, and Slavik Malinovskiy, leadership training program coordinator.
Evangelical Christian Church, Ryazan, approximately 48 members, founded in 1999. Part of the Evangelical Christian Union, this church began a camp outreach in 1999. Poll respondents were Pastor Eduard Egov, 24, and Youth Ministry Coordinator Alexander Shevchenko.
Evangelical Christian Church, central Russia, approximately 350 members, founded in 1934. This Evangelical Christian Union church operated its first camp in 1995. Poll respondents were Pastor Peter Mirauchik, 54, and Mikhail Lukin, youth leader.
Viktor Artemov, "Christian Camping in Russia," East-West Church & Ministry Report 11 (Fall 2003), 8-10.
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© 2003 East-West Church and Ministry Report