We were just overwhelmed by the evidence of the rightness of the venture in the context in which it is set. The people that we met and the love that was demonstrated by all concerned was a fantastic witness to God’s love and grace.
Why did we go?
In 1967 Liz and I met at Wray Castle in the Lake District. We were both there as part of the leadership team on a Christian holiday camp for teenage boys, one of a number of camps in different parts of the UK run by an organisation now called West Runton Holidays. One thing led to another and on the 18th July 1970 we were married so this year is our 40th wedding anniversary; an occasion of thanksgiving for all that God has given us.
We discussed how we might mark the occasion and we both felt that what we wanted to do was to celebrate by giving rather than receiving since we have already been so richly blessed in so many different ways. This train of thought led us to look into what West Runton Holidays are doing in 2010 and ‘Surf Romania’ caught our eyes. (http://www.westruntonholidays.org.uk)
For many years there has been provision within the West Runton set up for older campers to receive training in making the transition between camper and fully fledged leader but it has not been totally satisfactory for a variety of reasons. Surf Romania was set up to try to achieve this objective by giving a West Runton style Christian outdoor activities holiday to children drawn from an area around Corbu near Constanta on the shore of the Black Sea.
The holiday is led by young people from the UK, who are making the transition between camper and leadership. Not only that, they commit to raising funds to cover the costs of the Romanian children to go on the camp as well as help in the purchase of equipment to be used in the centre (having already paid for their own travel and accommodation). The camp is housed in a purpose built outdoor pursuits centre. The Romanian children were not all as poor and deprived as we often hear about but they could never afford this sort of holiday without the assistance of those from the UK.
This year, for the first time, the UK team was joined by a group of Romanian young leaders who were there to learn for themselves how to run a camp. They did all that the UK team did and the week after we left they ran a camp themselves with a different group of children. In addition to the young people there were five adults who acted as Supervisors /Mentors/Instructors.
From the outset the aim of the camp has been to set standards of instruction/safety etc that are at least as good as those that would pertain to a similar activity in the UK. This is higher than is normally found in Romania but standards are improving every year. Also from Romania were two British leaders who work for a Charity in Romania called Nightingales. It was through their contacts that most of the children came to the camp. They brought with them a small group of older girls (15-17) who were HIV positive. The girls came from Cernovada, a town nearby, where they lived in sheltered accommodation provided by the charity.
And what did we do?
With the funds that had been donated the team was able to purchase 10 bikes which we took with us boxed up so on arrival at the camp the first thing that we had to do was to assemble them along with all the other equipment (sailing, windsurfing and canoeing) that had been left in store since the last time it had been used.
Meanwhile the other leaders were supervising groups doing sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking. Young Leaders from the UK instructing in basic windsurfing techniques. Each day before breakfast we had a planning meeting and after breakfast there was a bible study time for the team while the Romanian children had their own bible time. This was followed by activities either on the lake or for us on bikes going about 2.5 miles to the sea where the children had a swim and then came back via a shop selling ice creams (Magnum style and quality for about 15p!).
The bikes were excellent for those who could ride them but in some cases they were too big. The ages of the children ranged from 6-18 and some of the younger ones were very small. Fortunately there were some (not very good quality) smaller bikes that they were able to use. As a general rule the group size was 4 or 5 children with three adults. We had to do it that way because of the need to cover all eventualities e.g. punctures, children getting tired etc.
Meanwhile the other leaders were supervising groups doing sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking.
After lunch and what was euphemistically called ‘siesta’ the activities were repeated with a different group. Recreation was mainly swimming off the jetty. Although the lake was no more than 8 ft deep all users were required to use buoyancy aids at all times. Then at 3.00pm the activities were repeated with different groups of children.
In the morning before activities began at 10.00 there were separate sessions for the British team and for the Romanian speakers. The UK team were studying 1 Timothy in small groups which was really encouraging and helpful to all concerned as we took turns in leading and in that way gained experience in a way that some might not otherwise have got.
Then in the evening after supper there was a meeting for everyone (with translation). The theme this year was animals in the bible and what we can learn from them. Liz led a session based on sheep – we hear God’s voice, trust him and follow him. Diarmid used the example of Jonah and the whale to show how God can change us.
So what really spoke to us?
- The example of the young Romanian leaders in working and praying with us using a language that was not their first language; being free to pray and worship with us in a way that was a huge challenge and example to us.
- The example of God’s love in action shown by Ben and Rosie, two people from the UK working with a local charity called ‘Nightingales’ through which many of the children at the camp were contacted and came.
- Being able to worship on Sunday in the local churches.
- The singing of songs of worship by the Romanians, their enthusiasm was a joy to see and a challenge to both of us.
- The sense of unity and the lack of friction within the team
- The spiritual programme and the way that the bible was so central to what was said.
- The morning bible studies and the opportunity to study in depth together.
- The standard of the accommodation, our room was excellent.
- The food provided was excellent even if it was different!