The setting—an old Soviet waterfront family camp on the Black Sea in Ukraine—some 45 miles from Odessa. It was here that we attended our first church summer camp in Ukraine during the second week of July. This seven-day camp is an annual event for local Ukrainians. We were privileged to be a part of it. The title of this year’s summer camp was Festival ‘Confirma’ – 2020.
As new missionaries and church members in Ukraine, attending the camp seemed different to us from the times we’d attended other church camps in the U.S. First off, the event was inter-generational and inclusive. Both young and old, church members and non-church members alike, were invited to attend. There were about 30 of us in all. Secondly, the camp was educational. Everyone in attendance was encouraged to participate in the Bible, Theology and English classes. Certain regional church leaders also used the camp week as a working retreat and held specific church-related break-out sessions.
Throughout the time morning prayer was offered followed by a church service later in the day. But the greatest surprise of the week happened on Sunday. We all got to witness the Baptism of a new Christian. Lev, our young new brother in Christ was baptized at the camp, in the Black Sea.
Rev. Serge Maschewski, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (ELCU) baptized the young man. Though this was not the chief purpose of the camp, it certainly became the main event.
The Black Sea provided a stunning backdrop as we all rejoiced upon hearing the reading for the day: “Again, he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.” Mark 4:1 (ESV)
The Baptism captured the essence of Christ’s message: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.” Mark 4:3 (ESV). This message brought hope to us as missionaries; it is a calling to faith by the Holy Spirit as we witness God’s hand at work—and how could we not rejoice? “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16 (ESV).