Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reflections on English Camp 2011(#8!)

English Camp has always been more than just about teaching English. It's about building relationships across barriers. This happens so quickly in this cross cultural experience, because all are invited to live in that free space of acting outside of your comfort zone. I like to call this "active humility", because you have to be confident in looking ridiculous in front of 150 people. Once you get over the embarrassment or really the fear of doing something difficult, you feel like you can do almost anything. In that zone of discomfort, where you are speaking a new language or experiencing a new culture, you discover new things about yourself and about other people. Throughout the week the kids are invited to do crazy energizers, play funny games and interact with different generations all on a common ground. Sure there is still a teacher--student relationship, but everything is turned upside down from their normal classroom routine.

The students are invited to be creative and many of those who are still school age act as teachers. The volunteers which help us with the classes and serve as team leaders are mostly between the ages of 16 and 25. So, this is a huge opportunity for them to lead the kids as well as an opportunity to work on their own translation and teaching skills. Friendships develop among volunteers as well as among kids and Americans as we step out and do things we might not necessarily do on a regular basis.

This is what I love about camp and mountain top experiences. You take a chance and do things you've always wanted to do, but maybe don't have the chance or guts to do in your normal life. The funny thing is, the more you do it, the more you find that you have more gifts and guts than you knew you did in the first place.

And this was what I felt like made this camp one of the best English Camps ever. Not only did we all accept the challenge to do new things and develop new and old friendships, but we all seemed to grow together in a deeper way. This year some of our veteran volunteers became the leaders and they planned and lead the program. I walked with them through a lot of the planning, and I was so proud to see them follow through with everything they dreamed and planned out. If you haven't read the last post, go ahead and read what one of them felt about their progress in learning and stepping forward with the camp.

One of their ideas was to have each class make a short film in English by the end of the week. This was a huge commitment/gamble and it turned out to be a huge success! Each group had to work together as a team in order to come up with an idea, write the script and star in their own film in four class periods! At the end of the week we showed the films, and they were all so proud of their accomplishments. But, most of all, it was a wonderful memory of their courage to do something out of the ordinary and trust their own gifts as well as the gifts of their teammates.

I think this was also what we felt as leaders during the camp. All of the American and Czech volunteers had to trust their own gifts as well as the gifts of their teammates. It wasn't Americans bringing an English Camp to the Czech Republic. It was Americans and Czechs working together to provide an invitation for the kids to experience life in a new way and learn to trust one another as we all worked toward a common goal. I saw many of my students(and even myself) grow as human beings throughout the week. I know this growth happens every year, but this one seemed to be different as many of us carried new roles and responsibilities. I even feel like we had more discussions about faith, mission and life, as the volunteers(made up of half church members and half non-church members) made decisions about what to teach and how to teach it.

This time last year, I could never have imagined how the camp could exist with a new pastor who didn't speak English, no committed Americans to plan the program of the camp, and the feeling of many veterans which felt like the mission of our camps had come to an end. Instead, it has come through to a new phase and new direction. The new pastor is actually a great match to this congregation. He is energetic and has a commitment to bring new life to the traditions of the ECCB denomination. He came to faith while in youth group and his story resonates with a lot of the youth from our program--a kid from a non-church family finding himself adopted into a new family and making a difference in the world. With his creativity and energy, he seemed to fit naturally into the camp, and his English grew leaps and bounds in a very short time. He speaks perfect German, so I'm sure English comes to him easily through the connections of those languages. He is already committed and willing to help plan for a camp next summer.

And that's where it gets even crazier to me. Every year we have left as if there would not be a camp the next year, but this year seemed to set the stage for more camps in the future. Everyone seemed to be on board for another one next summer--planning team included. So, while this is exciting, there still need to be a lot of things ironed out before any commitments can be made. A Czech team needs to commit to preparing the program, the church needs to commit to hosting the camp and an American team needs to commit to coming. Many have given hopeful commitments, but we will know the team players as our lives unfold in the coming months.

One thing is clear: These relationships will continue to grow in the future. Whether the camp continues as an American English Camp delivered by Czechs or whether we all find ourselves working together once again, we will continue to grow because of the camp throughout our lives.

As I look toward the future, I'm so glad that we have these films to watch and remind ourselves that no dream is too extreme if you dare to share your gifts with others. It makes me thankful that God created us with specific gifts which empower our community to do the impossible. I don't think God is done with us yet. And I'm definitely thankful for that too!

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