The story of the Poland Day Camp Outreach Team began on a Sunday morning in March of 2004.
I and my family were sitting in our usual spot (front row, left side) of our church, Messiah Lutheran Church (Weldon Spring, Missouri). Our Associate Pastor, Chuck Schlie, was toward the end of his announcements for the day and our minds were slowly shifting from church to home. At that point, Pastor Schlie told the congregation that our church had been asked to help recruit people to be part of a team that would be going to Poland to teach at an English as a Foreign Language/Bible Camp for kids.
That was all I needed to hear. I had been interested in being a part of a mission trip for a while. Better still, I had always been intrigued by the countries behind the “Iron Curtain” and how they had fared since the fall of the Berlin Wall. For me, the chance to go to Poland as part of this team was perfect.
What Pastor Schlie said next, however, was the clincher. According to Pastor Schlie, the opportunity to be a part of this team was available to people as young as 14, provided that anyone under the age of 18 be accompanied by a parent or guardian. At that point, I could almost hear the gears in my oldest daughter’s head starting to turn. Katie had just turned 14 and was one of those kids who always had her eyes on the horizon looking for the next adventure. Almost before the words had left Pastor Schlie’s mouth, Katie leaned over and whispered, “You and me?”
It took a little convincing, but Katie and I eventually sold my wife on the plan and before we knew it Katie and I were on a plane headed for Krakow, Poland. When we left we really had no idea exactly what we had gotten ourselves into. We knew we were headed to a Lutheran church (known in Poland as the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession) in a town called Wisla Jawornik, which was in the mountains of southwestern Poland. We also knew that we would be teaching English and helping with games, crafts and skits. We had dutifully prepared for each of these tasks, but still did not really know what we would find when we arrived in Poland.
When we arrived in Poland we were immediately struck by the beauty of the country. We were greeted by quaint stucco houses with red tiled roofs, gardens and window boxes overflowing with flowers and fields choke-full of wheat, corn, soybeans and a myriad of other fruits and vegetables. Poland was virtually alive with color.
We were also greeted by some amazing people. From the college students who served as counselors at the camp to the campers themselves, these were some of the most earnest, hardworking, fun-loving people you could hope to meet. We especially enjoyed our nightly “bull” sessions at the end of camp each day. We and the Polish counselors would meet in the craft room after “lights out” each night and discuss the problems of the world until the wee hours of the morning.
It was during these “bull” sessions that I had the chance to get to know Andrzej Raszyk. Andrzej was about 24 years old at the time and the son of a Lutheran pastor in Jastrzebie Zdroj, Poland (about an hour to the north from Wisla Jawornik). At some point, during one of those late-night talks, Andrzej and I hatched the idea of having a Day Camp at his father’s church in Jastrzebie. The Day Camp would be similar to the camp in Wisla, except for younger kids (ages 6 to 14). Andrzej would organize the college-aged students and young adults at his father’s church to serve as counselors and I would bring people from the US to help with teaching English and organizing games, crafts and skits.
It took us two years to pull all the pieces together, but in July of 2006 we had our first Day Camp at the Lutheran church in Jastrzebie Zdroj. Since that first summer, we have worked with the Lutheran church in Jastrzebie to host a Day Camp each summer, staffed by between 15 and 20 high school/college students and attended by 100+ kids (ages 6 to 14). We have also had the pleasure of seeing the counselors from the Day Camp come together to form their own youth/young adult ministry which meets monthly from October to June each year.
In 2015, with the help Pastor Raszyk and Jadzia Rucka (the coordinator of our Day Camps in Poland), we had the privilege of beginning a relationship with the Lutheran church in Bielsko Biala, Poland. Through this relationship we worked with the leadership and young adults of that church to host a second Day Camp, which was staffed by 15+ high school students/young adults and attended by 40+ kids (ages 7 to 14). With God’s assistance, we hope to make the Day Camp in Bielsko Biala an annual event.
From its humble beginnings on a Sunday morning in 2004 to the present, our Poland Day Camp Outreach Team has had the privilege of working with hundreds of young adults, college students and high school students in organizing and hosting Day Camps. We have also had the opportunity to serve more than a thousand kids who attended these Day Camps, many of whom went on to become counselors themselves.
From a personal standpoint, I have had the joy of seeing each of my daughters learn, first hand, that the world is much smaller than they realized. I have also seen them learn that despite cultural differences people around the world have many of the same cares, concerns, struggles and joys.
As AIM's Poland Day Camp Outreach Team begins its second decade, I am humbled by the fact that we have had a 10+ year relationship with the Lutheran church in Jastrzebie Zdroj, excited to see our relationship with the Lutheran church in Bielsko Biala continue to grow and hopeful that God will gave us the opportunity to build relationships with other Lutheran churches in Poland in the future.