On one of the final nights of Nazarene teen camp at the Sea of Azov, Ukraine, an unexpected drama played out on the platform that stunned the 135 teens and adults who attended. It turned out to be a very visual demonstration of God’s grace.
When the camp leader, Victor Parsegov, called the names of four or five teen boys and girls, the singled out ones sauntered to the platform, looking cocky. They knew they’d been caught breaking camp rules by smoking and drinking, said Mission Corps missionary Joseph Sumi, who was involved.
“They would come back to the dorm and we could tell they were drunk,” Sumi said. “At that service they faced it head on.”
“We were ready to send them home once they violated our roles, but Trino [Jara, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) coordinator for the Eurasia Region] suggested that we show them grace and give them another chance,” said Andriy Takhtay, who spoke at the camp and also works with NCM. “Because after all, it is all about God's undeserved grace to us that we are saved.“
These teens did not realize they were about to be involved in a preplanned demonstration to teach them about Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.
Parsegov started by telling the youth that breaking rules necessitated punishment. He pulled out a stick. The teens didn’t quaver, seeming to view their punishment as a mark of rebellion to wear proudly, Sumi said.
Suddenly, one of the teen leaders jumped up and ran to the platform. The young woman had come to the leaders beforehand with the idea for the demonstration, and she volunteered to play the role of the one taking the “punishment,” Takhtay explained.
“She said, ‘No don’t punish them! I love these guys, I don’t want them to be punished,’” Sumi recalled. “‘The others said, ‘Well, there has to be punishment.’ She said, ‘Well, let me take the punishment.’”
The guilty teens did not look so cocky anymore. They thought the situation was real. Some even asked her not to take their “beating.” The entire room fell silent as the leader repeatedly rapped the girl’s hands with a stick.
When the “punishment” was meted out, she ran from the room. Several of the girls for whom she had been “punished” ran after her. The other teens on the platform looked utterly dismayed. When the leader said they could return to their seats, they stood for a long time before moving.
Sumi said he felt the demonstration was an emotionally powerful, visual symbol for Christ’s sacrifice.
After the evening sermon, almost every teen went forward to seek prayer, with many accepting Christ. The incident opened doors during the rest of camp for leaders to share openly about the gospel and the Bible with the teens, almost 70 percent of whom had no church background, according to Parsegov.
“Summer is a dangerous time for teenagers, because the school is closed for a summer break and during the day teenagers are not taken care of. Most of the time they spend in front of TV, or computer or on the streets,” he wrote in his report on the event. “Our task was to take care of teenagers for at least seven days, provide them with alternative ways of spending time and having fun and introduce them to Jesus by sharing the Gospel. Our goal also included building bridges between Christian and un-churches teens.”
The camp leaders, who are returning with the youth to Nazarene churches across Ukraine and Moldova, plan to stay in touch with the teens and try to disciple them.
Following the teen camp, which ran from July 9-17, a children’s camp at the same grounds saw about 120 kids participate from July 19-28.
The factor that helped to attract so many unchurched youth and children to this year’s camps was the visit of two U.S. mission teams from Northwest Nazarene University and Point Loma Nazarene University earlier in the summer. Their outdoor evangelistic activities exposed numerous people to the Nazarene churches in their communities, Sumi said. Many of those youth and children then attended their respective camps.
“The way the camp was structured and the evening services, they tried to make it so that it didn’t throw Christianity right at them, they wanted to build a relationship with the kids [first],” he said.
Parsegov wrote, “It is one thing to hear the Gospel presentation from an unknown person, and it is totally different if you hear the Gospel presentation from the friend and person that you trust.”
Pray for the leaders and the youth and children, that the seeds planted at camp will not fail to bear fruit.
“Their story is not finished,” Sumi said.