The Rev. Bradn and Natasha Buerkle are ELCA missionaries in Russia. In a recent entry in his blog, “Russian Correspondent,” Bradn writes about the universal joy and enrichment that comes from summer church camp. To support the Buerkles, or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to www.ELCA.org/4missionaries.
Summer? In Siberia? Despite this region’s legendary cold and in contrast to widely held stereotypes, Siberian summers (at least here in the south) tend to be warm and pleasant. As I saw this year, it’s just the kind of weather that is needed for church camp.
I hadn’t worked at a camp in Russia since 1997, when I came to the country for the first time (through Camp Counselors Russia). Then my Russian was primitive, but that seemed to fit the atmosphere of the place where I was working — a complex near Moscow left over from Soviet days and filled with children whose parents seemed to want to get rid of them for the summer.
Although that was a good learning experience, I felt much more at home (thanks to my experience in 1995 as a counselor at Red Willow Bible Camp in North Dakota) in the camps held north of Omsk, Siberia, for children of the Western Siberian Deanery this past August. Many of the church’s active young people grew up in these camps and have gone on to be experienced and caring counselors; I felt privileged to work together with them as a member of their team.
Although I was only able to visit the young-adult camp for one evening, I had the chance to fully participate in the week-long children’s camp as one of the camp chaplains. The days were long and intense; this gave me a good opportunity to note that I’m not as young as I used to be! On the other hand, diving into all the creativity surrounding games, skits, Bible studies, worship service, etc. not only benefitted the kids, but helped me break out of the rut of thought and action that can accompany “typical” congregational ministry, even in such a non-typical place as the Lutheran church in Russia.