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The Fighter, the Learner, and the Young Sage

I remember the day I met Alex and Lina. It was the first day of English lessons at camp in 2018, and I was teaching the advanced level. After introductions and, since we were discussing different regions of the United States, we began our first lesson about the rich culture of New Orleans’ cuisine and music. Some of the details are hazy, but what I do remember is Alex. Despite a lower level of English than the other students, he jumped at any opportunity to speak. Sensing a gap in knowledge between Alex and the other students, I asked him after our first day, “Do you want to stay in this group?” Without hesitation, he told me, “Yes, I want to stay.” 

From the very beginning, I knew Alex was a fighter.

Lina was different. She was quiet and mostly kept to herself during our lesson. Whenever I asked her a question, she would get this frightened look on her face, which I could relate to as a Ukrainian language learner. Despite her shy demeanor, Lina’s English was actually quite good. She grasped what we were discussing and was able to express her opinions, which is not the easiest thing in your second language.

I knew Lina was a learner

English classes at camp provide a deep opportunity to take conversations beyond the daily topics like food or music. Conversations can go places that surprise you. That was the case with this special group. They were a passionate bunch and were willing to discuss everything from corruption in Ukraine, generational change and impact, Jesus, and the Bible. What I loved was the depth and sincerity with which they spoke.

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After camp ended, I stayed in touch with many of my students from that class, including Alex and Lina. We had conversations over coffee, went for walks in the city center, and had movie nights from time to time. What touched my heart was how excited they were to meet together, and how easy it was to reminisce about camp and make new memories.

The next year my local church did an English camp, and I sent Alex and Lina a camp flyer. I honestly wasn’t sure whether they would come but, to my amazement, they piled out of the vans with the others. I was so elated, grinning from ear to ear. Both of them tested to be in my group again, which delighted me. 

One of the new people in that group was Anya. Like Lina, she was quiet but not necessarily shy. She observed what was happening in the conversation and, when she spoke, she made her words count. Her words held a quiet wisdom that surprised me. Every lesson in that tiny gazebo, deep in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains was truly a gift. We laughed, debated, pitched fake products to sell, discussed where true wisdom comes from, and talked about what it means to find your true home in a relationship with God (the theme for camp that year). 

I knew Anya was our young sage

Now, let’s fast forward to March 2020. The whole world was in quarantine (or headed that direction) and I was unable to do any face-to-face ministry. I, however, reached out to some of the teenagers I knew from past camps via Zoom. I asked if they would be interested in meeting three times a week. Alex, Lina, and Anya always came, and God did something special in our conversations. We discussed dozens of topics, and God gave me the opportunity to share truth from his Word during just about every one of them. Sometimes the shoe was on the other foot and we did our conversations in Ukrainian, which was great for my language learning. Alex was (and still is) as opinionated as ever, which is a great thing. Lina and Anya have made great progress and are more confident as English speakers, and all of them are open and curious about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

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It was no accident that Alex, Lina, and Anya ended up in my English group. I’ve learned that the people God puts on our paths are gifts from him, our Good Father. I have come to understand that God is always working and he invites us to join him in his work. I believe God’s Spirit is working in the hearts of Alex, Lina, and Anya to bring them closer to his heart. It’s my privilege to be a road sign pointing the way to Jesus and his ways. 

Lastly, I believe whole-heartedly that this generation of young people in Ukraine has great potential for God’s kingdom. This is why I’m here. My prayer is that Alex, Lina, and Anya will be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16) for their peers. When I think about their future, I hope they will become strong leaders in their local church with a heart to see more and more Ukrainians find new life and true joy in Jesus. I pray and look forward to what God will do in and through the fighter, the learner, and the young sage with great expectation.



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