By Stan Friedman
ASBEST, RUSSIA (December 14, 2011) – Church leaders here keep sending emails to Dave Cairns, executive director of Pilgrim Pines Conference Center, asking how they might advance Christian camping, which is something of a new concept for them.
Cairns traveled to the city of 80,000 people in the southern Ural Mountains to discuss starting a full-fledged camping ministry.
Finding a common understanding what part of the process, says Cairns. Christian camping in Russia generally means going on an overnight trip to another church or renting a piece of property for a brief experience.
“When we say camp, we need to be sure we’re talking about the same thing,” says Cairns. “Our camps are all 40 to 100 years old, but this is something new for them.”
Cairns discussed issues around leadership development, how to attract people to camping, and ideas that the Russians had not yet considered such as camping for families and adults.
“I really enjoyed being able to share what God can do through camping,” Cairns says. “It’s exciting to get in on the ground level.”
One Russian woman who has sent Cairns many emails since the visit said the leaders could intellectually see the benefit of an expanded camping experience, but it still is so foreign to their understanding, says Cairns.
“They have been very appreciative to having their eyes opened,” says Cairns. “They’re looking at this through a whole new paradigm.”
Leonid Regheta, Evangelical Covenant Church missionary to Russia, notes however, “We’re not coming to impose our understanding of what camping is, but to serve as a catalyst.”
Cairns discussed sites for a potential camp; however, finding property will be difficult due to government regulations and the high cost of land. One church with property has expressed interest in using their site.
Following the meetings in Asbet, Cairns and Regheta traveled to Stockholm, Sweden, to meet with leaders of the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, which has been working with Love of Christ for three years to develop the weeklong sports camp at the city stadium. The Swedish denomination also is “speaking into” the future camp, Cairns says.
“We want to make sure our efforts are complimentary to each other and don’t hamper the other’s work,” Cairns says.
The November trip was funded with a grant received from a family foundation, Cairns says. The camp has been invited to apply for another in 2012.
The most recent visit was a follow-up trip to one Cairns and Regheta took in March. Over the summer, Russian pastor Bogdan Kholodilov visited Pilgrim Pines and several other camps. He is the children and youth pastor at Love of Christ Church.
The Love of Christ sports camp was the beneficiary of this year’s special summer offering sponsored by the Association of Covenant Church Camps. Donations to the project still can be made by sending checks made payable to the Department of World Mission, with the memo line marked “Russian camping,” and mailed to the department at 8303 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL, 60631.