Summit brings together Moldovan camps, leadersby BSCNC Communications
During the Soviet Union days camps were not usually viewed positively, as these “Pioneer” camps sought to indoctrinate children with Soviet Union beliefs and systems.
Now, years after the Union’s fall, an interest in camps – especially summer camps – is on the rise as a way to provide a fun, meaningful experience for children and youth. In particular, churches throughout the Eastern European country of Moldova are seeking to step up their camping outreach.
“Camps are a major tool they can use. The Baptist Union sees this as a very effective way to reach children and youth with the gospel,” said Jimmy Huffman.
Last month Huffman, director of Caraway Conference Center and Camp in Asheboro, N.C., organized a team of five to lead a three-day summit for camping leaders in Moldova. About 95 percent of the 100 participants were volunteers, many of whom were church leaders or young adults who coordinate their church’s camping ministry.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) began a partnership two years ago with the Baptist Union of Moldova. The BSCNC Office of Great Commission Partnerships coordinates the partnership with Moldova, which is the poorest county in Eastern Europe and has an evangelical population of less than two percent. More than 1,000 villages in Moldova are still without an evangelical presence.
The Office of Great Commission Partnerships funded the camping summit and the participants’ cost to attend.
"I am very grateful to Jimmy and his staff for leading this training. The Caraway staff wants to be a partner with and equip churches as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission," said Michael Sowers, who leads the Office of Great Commission Partnerships. "I believe the impact of this training will be the gospel impacting many villages where Jesus is not yet known."
Last year Huffman joined 10 BSCNC staff members on a mission trip to Moldova, and while there met with Baptist Union president John Miron who shared his desire for the Moldovan Christian camping community to become more effective in ministry.
A few months later, Huffman returned to Moldova and met with 20 leaders and visited six camps.
“Every person I met asked for practical training. They understood the theory of camp, and the potential for reaching children and youth, but they needed hands-on training,” Huffman said.
Huffman and the team trained leaders in how to structure a camp experience using games, team building, crafts, age-appropriate Bible studies, object lessons and environmental education, all for the purpose of teaching biblical truths. They also taught them how to plan and prepare for camp with basic camp administration principles.
“It was a wonderful experience and tremendous blessing for us to teach what we do every day to energetic, eager and committed Moldovan Christians,” Huffman said.
Huffman knew that while many principles were transferable, the training needed to look different in Moldova than in North Carolina. Many camps in Moldova are held in villages, without a specific building or camp facility.
“It needed to be Moldovan,” he said. “If we taught them everything the American way, they couldn’t have done it because of resources. We wanted to help equip them. All the training in the world wouldn’t matter if it weren’t relevant. The team worked really hard to make this ‘Moldovan training’ because resources and materials are in short supply.”
The team focused on low cost or no cost activities, and used materials readily available in Moldova.
The camping summit marked the first gathering for the Baptist camping community in Moldova. “They learned from each other, which was a really positive outcome,” Huffman said.
Jeff Kohns, Caraway associate director, said many people shared with him that the ideas they learned during the summit were ideas they heard for the first time; everything was new to them.
“The people were so receptive to what we were doing. We prayed that what we prepared would be what they needed, and it was,” he said.
The team taught the leaders how to create a camp experience that encourages relationship building and friendships.
“You want the youth to let their guard down and open up. If they see their leaders being more open, they will return that,” Huffman said.
Huffman has served at Caraway 14 years, and seven years as director. He worked at Caraway in college and never thought he would have the opportunity to work at a camp full time.
“I love the hospitality of camp,” he said. “It’s not church. But it’s a place where you can hear God’s voice.”
Huffman and the Caraway staff are available to assist North Carolina Baptist churches interested in partnering with churches in Moldova and using camps as a means of outreach. For more information, call (336) 629-2374 or email [email protected].