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Teaching English for God

By Lisa Byerly. Photos by Lisa Tuck.

large assembly

Morning assembly music was led by Timo Bobula, an exchange student who lived with Candi and Matthew Brown last year.

The work that goes into planning Christian English Camp in Ruzomberok, Slovakia, pays off the minute a hundred kids flood into the gym. Even without understanding what they were saying, we knew they were excited to be at camp and to see the gym decorated like Egypt, the theme for this year. The Bible stories for each day focused on Joseph and how God gives hope, abilities, wisdom, forgiveness, and family. Each morning in assembly, we sang Christian songs in English. The excitement of the kids singing them is contagious: If we were lacking energy, the kids gave it back during the morning gathering.

Slovakia mission team leaders

Teaching team (left to right): Rosie Smith, originally from Northern Ireland and now ESOL teacher in Glasgow, Scotland; Lisa Byerly; Amanda Meyer from Minneapolis, MN now living in Slovakia for a year and working with the gypsy population; Mitchum Brock, originally from Australia, now working at the Glasgow City Mission; Leonie Schwinn, from Germany, was exchange student last year in Richmond and participated in some of the youth programs at FBC.

Only two team members, Lisa Tuck and I, were from Richmond this year. Others came from all over the world – Scotland, England, Germany and included Americans living in Slovakia and Slovaks living in the United States.

How is teaching English a mission trip? Consider the ways teaching English is a valuable gift to those we work with. The English teacher from Ruzomberok recognizes the difference from one year to the next in her students who attend the camp. She said English Camp helps them become more confident in speaking English. Many Slovakian students want to attend college in England or in the U.S. and need to speak English to have that opportunity. English is widely used in the business world in Europe; knowing it opens many employment doors. When teaching English is done to glorify God it becomes a mission for God.

Slovakia mission girls

Children arrive for the morning assembly.

The camp is hosted by a small Baptist church in Ruzomberok, the only one in town. The Catholic Church is the predominant denomination, and Baptist churches are not always understood. The principal of the school where the camp is held has become an ambassador of sorts for the church and was even inspired to learn English himself. As a result of English Camp and the relationships built through it, this Baptist church is now an integral part of the community.

English camp has evolved over the years, but one thing remains the same – it continues to build great relationships, with the adults (this year from all around the world), with the helpers, and especially with the kids. Many adults, who did not speak much if any English 10 years ago, now speak English very well. Helpers are beginning to share with each other their thoughts on God and the Bible. Most of the kids come back to English Camp each year and eventually become helpers. It is so exciting to see the evolution and impact of Christian English Camp.


Lisa Byerly

Lisa Byerly

Lisa is married to Lee, and they have a 19 month old daughter, Rachel. Lisa works at Fort Lee as a logistician. At FBC she serves on the Member Equipping Team and is a member of the Travelers Sunday school class. In her free time she enjoys traveling, photography, playing golf, and watching college football and basketball.

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Philip Delano and Erin Cumbia.

By Jeannie Dortch.

In many ways, the summer of 2010 in Ružomberok, Slovakia reads like a fairy tale for college students Philip Delano, a senior at William and Mary, and Erin Cumbia, a sophomore at Liberty University. 

Like Hansel and Gretel, Philip and Erin tentatively left home, uncertain of what to expect from their eight weeks abroad or of their competence to meet the challenges that would lie ahead. They clung to their trust in the Lord and His promises to guide them, tucking flexibility into a side pocket for extra measure.

Erin lived with Pastor Egor Conka and his wife in a flat above the Ružomberok Baptist Church, while Philip roomed with and shadowed 29-year-old Graham Leeder, a British missionary from New Castle. As they traveled to different areas of Slovakia to conduct English camps for seven to 15 year olds, Erin taught crafts and vocabulary lessons. Philip played American football and Frisbee with the students, but he also developed action packed English lessons for the daily Bible themes studied at camp: Accepted, Protected, Saved, Forgiven, and Living.

Both agreed that learning English was the vehicle used to pique the interest of the youths, but the Christian impact was made through building strong relationships and friendships with their colleagues and with the children whom they mentored.

The breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel dropped to mark their trail back home were quickly devoured by the woodland birds, but the breadcrumbs of Jesus’ love that Erin and Philip dropped nourished the many children they encountered. Even now, many of Erin and Philip’s protégés have followed their trail through the heart of Eastern Europe all the way back to Richmond via Facebook and email.

Erin and Philip noticed that Slovakians have less disposable income than Americans do, fewer distractions, and less need to rush from here to there. This lifestyle assured them of more time for conversation and real bonding – “slow down” being the take home message for both of these dedicated interns. “The whole experience gave me a clear perspective on what really matters,” commented Philip. Erin added, “Rather than just going to church, these people lived church in their everyday lives.”

When asked what advice they would give to would-be missionaries, Philip continued, “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are willing to allow God to use you. Showing Christ’s love through actions is the key.”

Erin followed up by saying, “Taking an interest in the people by learning about their culture and traditions and immersing yourself in their everyday lives shows that you care for them.”

Philip and Erin (fourth and fifth from left) with Slovakian friends.

Hansel and Gretel returned home with pearls and precious stones in their pockets, saving their family from poverty. Erin and Philip became rich with pockets full of experiences that led to new friendships in Christ, others to nurture, memories to last a lifetime, and a willingness to be used again and again for the glory of God. A storybook ending with happily ever afters all around!

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