Given the choice, I tend to lean into my comfort zone. That place that is safe, familiar and predictable. Where decisions are easy and infrequent. Where I know the names of the streets and the people around me. I gravitate to that place where the risks are small and security is great.
But I know that the full life that Jesus is calling me to is outside that comfort zone. He is calling me out of my independence to a place of trust. When I look back at the times of the greatest growth in my life, it is when I have dared to move out of the safe, familiar, and predictable.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and step into trusting God as I traveled with three other volunteers from Family Fest to partner with Camp Maximum in Zolotonasha, Ukraine to put on their first ever family retreat.
I was first introduced to Camp Maximum in November, when a friend invited me to meet two of their directors, Vitaly Sobko and Yura Fedoryuk. For many years, this camp has been leading powerful summer retreats for youth. They recognized that with over 70% of the kids coming from families where faith was not present, they needed to reach out to parents and families as well to have a greater impact. They wanted to learn about Family Fest Ministries and our vision for ministry.
Over the next couple months we connected several more times through email and FaceTime to share ideas and to talk about what a family camp might look like at Camp Maximum. In January, they were excited to announce that they had scheduled their first family retreat for August and asked if I would come and be the speaker. They also asked if Family Fest would be willing to bring others to help them lead the program for the kids.
As exciting as it sounded, it was calling me out of my comfort zone. How would I be able to talk to people who didn’t speak English? Would the family activities that we were being asked to lead go over well in another culture? Would I be able to find others who would also step out of their comfort zone and join me? And, since the camp was scheduled just days after our own Summer Splash family camp, would there be enough time to prepare?
At the time, I told the camp directors that I would pray about it, but in my mind I knew that I would probably decline the invitation. It was too much work. There were too many obstacles. The cost was too high. It wasn’t the right time. It was out of my comfort zone.
But I promised to pray about it, so I did. Over the next month or two, God countered my anxiety and objections with His promises. Verses from Proverbs, Joshua, and Philippians kept coming up in my devotionals. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
I was also encouraged when three other really gifted friends, Shelly Flynn, Barb Harmon, and Maria Flynn, who are all a huge part of the ministry here at Family Fest, also felt called to step into faith and out of their comfort zone.
As we prepared for the week, we had no idea what we could expect. Our biggest hope and prayer was that God would use us as He saw fit and that He would be glorified in the process. We desired not just to run a family camp, but to build new relationships and help plant the seeds of faith that would flourish and grow. We prayed that the language and cultural differences would not be a barrier.
We arrived in the town of Zolotonasha on August 18th after over twenty hours of travel and were greeted by the awesome camp staff. We quickly went to work to get everything prepared for the families who would be coming the next day. Shelly, Barb, and Maria had met several times prior to our departure to pray, discern and plan the children’s program focused on the Miracles of God. Without a good sense of the facilities, they relied on God’s wisdom to pack the right games, crafts and Bible stories to share – and of course, God did not disappoint.
My primary role was to speak to the adults about how we can build stronger families and marriages through our faith in Christ. I worried that my message might get lost in translation, but by the end of the week saw that God’s message transcends cultural and language barriers.
I also had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with the camp directors to share some insights and experiences from leading our own Summer Splash and Winter Weekend family retreats over the past twenty years. We hoped that we could help cast a vision of what ministering to families in central Ukraine might look like. It was such a joy to work alongside this wonderful, faith-filled team.
Each of us had an interpreter by our side helping to communicate with the kids and their parents. We quickly realized that these wonderful young men and women could really help us by doing the kind of job that our KCs (Kid’s Counselors) do at Family Fest camps. We first encouraged them to help us lead the songs, games and skits. Then we let them lead on their own. Working with and getting to know these interpreters was one of the greatest blessings of the week.
Another blessing was that because the camp was completely full with families, our team was hosted by different families in the community. This is where we learned how to receive. They showered us with love and went out of their way to serve us. Not only did they feed us, but they
gave up their own beds so that we might be more comfortable. After returning from a long day of camp, we were often welcomed back with a late night feast. The hospitality we were shown was absolutely amazing!
The Family Fest team saw God work in the lives of kids and adults as they played, worshiped, and talked with each other. We watched dads and moms delight in their kids. It was such a blessing to witness their transformation as they opened up to each other and to God. We realized too that we were transformed. We saw Jesus in them. We stepped out of our comfort zone and into the mission of Jesus, loving others.
We were reminded that kids are adorable wherever you go and the love that a parent has for their child is universal. And we discovered that even in a former Soviet bloc country, the silliness of Mr. Ridiculous still makes kids and adults laugh.
And now, as we reflect back, we recognize that the experience far exceeded our expectations. We learned that even though we were unsure about what we were stepping into, that God equipped us for His work. We just had to remain flexible and surrender to His plans which transcend denominations and cultures. By serving others, we learned new ways to do better ministry here.
We came to understand that by stepping out of our comfort zone, we were able to experience and accomplish far more than we imagined. And with God’s help, we hope that more families will grow stronger in Christ and will be able to develop a spiritual heritage that will impact generations to come.