Missionary Ben Helge prepares for the day during an LCMS International Mission English Bible Camp in the Czech Republic in July 2023. (Photo courtesy of Mark Winterstein.)

Story 5 of 6 — Spring 2024

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Office of International Mission has compiled a series of six commentaries about the experiences of short-term mission volunteers who served during an English Bible Camp in the Czech Republic in July 2023. The fifth commentary is below, and all of the stories are available in the series archives.

Crystal Potts, LCMS Short-term Mission Volunteer

This morning, the American adult team leader in Oldrichovice was under the weather and was unable to come down for breakfast, so the three teen volunteers from Orange Lutheran High School in Orange County, Calif., joined our storyteller team in the church meeting room for breakfast without him.

Contrary to any concerns we might have had that these teens would feel unsure or hesitant in the absence of their adult leader, these kids are confident and relaxed as they lead us through their typical morning routine. This church has been their home base for the last few days. They are so comfortable with their Czech team leaders at this point that they know exactly what to do and say, and they know how to initiate and maintain conversation with the local adult and young adult volunteers here in Oldrichovice.

Volunteer experiences

Cameron, Rex and Molly discuss the game plan for the day, and they go over the break-out in camp responsibilities and confirm their assignments.

They comment on the beautiful breakfast of yogurt, granola, fruit, sliced meat, cheese, bread and butter that our hosts have laid out for us, and they tell me unprompted that their time here has been a wonderful experience. (“10 out of 10 would recommend” in teen speak). They are already talking about how they hope to return next summer and what it will feel like to see how much the children with whom they are working have grown and changed.

These teens are remarkably grounded today. This is the last day of English Bible Camps in the Czech Republic for 2023, and it is bittersweet for all involved. This afternoon, the parents of the camp participants are invited to join the camp to see what their children have been working on all week and the progress that they have made. The camp will wrap up, and Americans and Czechs alike will move on to whatever is next in their summers ahead of the inevitable return to normal back-to-school and work routines.

Morning devotions

Christie, a local Czech youth volunteer, opens our day with a short devotion that she tells us is titled “Mountains.” This devotion is especially poignant as this small village of Oldrichovice sits at the true base of the Beskydy Mountains, and the views are breathtaking.

The story goes that a 3-year-old boy was looking at a beautiful mountain view when he asked his mother, “Who made the mountains?” His mother responded that she didn’t know, that “they must have just appeared here.”

The boy, unsatisfied with this answer, looked at them and came to his own conclusion. He told his mother he believed that “The devil made the mountains, but that God made the paths that lead to the top.” There was probably quite a bit lost in translation there, but, nonetheless, the sentiment was clear.

Every day there will be tall mountains before us, and God will show us a path to successfully traverse them. In our lives, it can sometimes take us a long time to attain the perspective that, even on journeys through places that seem impassible, God has already made a way for us.

Marda’s experience

This morning, I have the opportunity to visit with a local congregation member and volunteer, Marda, who was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church in Trinec but now lives and attends church here at their sister church in Oldrichovice. Marda explains to me how her family made sure that she was baptized and confirmed but, as is common here, only out of a sense of tradition. She says that her parents were actually quite surprised when she “truly became a Christian.”

“Often here,” Marda said, “for a long time we go to youth groups, Sunday School and church, but we do it without truly seeing God. We just go through the motions. It wasn’t until God showed me that through talking to Him — really having conversation with Him — that I realized what it felt like to have a true relationship. And since then I work with the children in the church in the hopes that they can not only attend church but also learn how to be present with God.”

She opens camp today with a recap of the week’s daily themes. Thus far, Jesus has freed us to forgive, to praise, to show mercy, to trust and — today — Jesus frees us to live. The story of Elijah is read in Czech and then in English, and the children are dismissed to their opening English lessons. 

A kitten wandered into the LCMS International Mission English Bible Camp in the Czech Republic in July 2023. (Photo courtesy of Mark Winterstein.)

A lesson from a kitten

A short while later, a group of children wandered back into the meeting room with a wriggling ball of grey and white fluff. They found a kitten on the playground and none of us is immune to its whimsical, whiskery charms. Adults, teens, Czechs and Americans are united in the international language of oohs-and-ahhs that truly transcends all borders. The undeniability of a baby animal is indisputable. (I’d wager that a glimpse into most Facebook histories would reveal an embarrassing number of cute kitten videos to prove my point.)

I must say, though, the kitten’s cameo today presents quite a lovely analogy for the goodness and undeniability of God’s love. The qualities that naturally draw us to all things good, true and beautiful are nowhere more obvious than in God’s love, and so it is natural that we would desire to pursue a relationship with Him if we’re only given the chance.

This is obvious in the story and experiences shared through Christie’s devotion this morning and in Marda’s explanation of her relationship with the church. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out how to smuggle this kitten home through customs.

English Bible Camps are just one type of international service opportunity. Find your opportunity to serve at servenow.lcms.org. (But please don’t bring home any kittens.)