Collaboration of Believers Gives Birth to Youth Music Camps in Russia
Music camp site is former Soviet youth camp in Vladimir Lenin’s hometown
Late last year, MIWC President Stephen Benham met up with Associate Vitaliy Bolgar in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, ready to embark on a trip that God had intricately weaved together over several decades.
As they departed the airport and entered the city of Moscow, Benham said they were “immediately met by the contrasts that are everywhere in that country.”
Moscow, the capital of the Russian Federation, boasts nearly 11 million residents, which led the pair to a 4 ½ hour car trip to travel a mere 12 miles to the home of the American missionaries where they were staying.
This pace is considered normal, a daily result of increased traffic.
Benham described the city as a busy, vibrant metropolis where the subways were always jammed, filled to the brim with people.
Yet, he said, the city is also very quiet.
People, he noted, don’t talk to each other.
The majority of the residents believe in some non-descript higher power, the dynamics of which are often rooted in their historically Orthodox culture. Mixed in are pagan traditions, elements of mysticism and strong beliefs in superstition.
Those with an active, evangelical Christian faith are small in number.
As the Russian Federation continues its evolution from its Soviet past, Benham said its socialistic atheism has been replaced by materialistic capitalism.
“Both pursuits,” he said, “are ultimately futile, leaving a vacuum that is often filled by drugs, high levels of alcoholism, depression, broken relationships and family dysfunction.”
“It is in this void that we want to plant the seeds of hope and light for the people of Russia,” Benham said.
“It is in this void that we want to plant the seeds of hope and light for the people of Russia." — Steve Benham
The home that was 12 miles, and yet 4 ½ hours away, was the home of John and Jenny Porwoll. Once Benham’s youth group leaders at his Minnesota high school, the Porwolls have called Russia home for almost 20 years now.
This long-time connection proved invaluable when interest in Russia first reached MIWC, as the Porwolls could offer their experiences with the challenges and victories of working with Russian youth. The couple helped Benham connect with other missions and missionaries of strategic value in working with Russia.
That first interest occurred back in the United States as members of the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA)'s Western District in Pennsylvania were cultivating plans, according to their web site, to "reclaim and rehabilitate a former Soviet Youth Camp into a Christian camp in Central Russia."
That camp is called Rainbow.
Malcolm Taylor of Allegheny Center Alliance Church (ACAC) in Pittsburgh, Pa., remembered Benham's work from the time more than 10 years ago when the two attended the same church. With knowledge of MIWC's work in mind, he approached Benham last year with the C&MA's Revamp the Camp project.
After several meetings with Taylor and ACAC's Rick Cotter, Benham began to see God drawing all of these pieces together.
Meanwhile, Bolgar was invited to this same region in Russia to lead 34 Ukrainian musicians on a 10 city choir tour in July 2013. With the Alliance as a connection, he met with leaders from the Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians (AMCEC), including its president, Sergei Guts.
MIWC’s youth music camp history piqued the interest of the AMCEC leaders and they expressed to Bolgar the idea of a collaborative youth music camp project, offering the Rainbow retreat center as a possible location.
God was drawing all of these pieces together.
After a night with the Porwolls, Benham and Bolgar again took to the skies and landed a short while later in the Samara province of Russia.
Surrounded by the grey and concrete that makes up the late fall landscape in Moscow, Benham was unprepared for what they would encounter when the airplane door opened to Samara's autumn wonderland. He said he was “overwhelmed by the smell of pine trees. It literally smelled like someone poured air freshener.”
“It was not unlike the Wizard of Oz,” he said.
Farmland mixed with forest as they drove from the airport to the proposed camp site near Ulyanovsk, in the Volga River region.
Over the next three days, the MIWC pair visited with local church leaders, toured the potential campgrounds and discussed opportunities to develop the camp ministry.
As Benham, Bolgar and the AMCEC leaders got to know each other, they shared various ministry activities, talked about what they might do and discussed if the Lord was indeed bringing this all together.
When they went to inspect the proposed Rainbow camp site being renovated by The Alliance, Benham said he “immediately saw it met the physical needs of the camp.”
With physical needs met, he and Bolgar spent time prepping the program, addressing staff and curriculum needs and solving various logistical issues.
At the end of the trip and after much prayer, those involved from the three organizations determined the Lord was indeed leading them to work as one.
As this group of believers was unifying in purpose, Benham could not help but be struck by the significance of the location where they were meeting.
The town of Ulyanovsk is the birthplace of Vladimir Ulyanov, better known as Vladimir Lenin, the architect of the Soviet Union. The camp where the youth music programs are proposed to take place was originally a Soviet youth camp.
Now, this camp will comfortably house children, allow them the space and resources to learn music and enable volunteers to tell them the story of the hope they have in Jesus.
In Lenin’s hometown.
In a former Soviet youth camp.
Redeemed by God through the unification of his people.
Redeemed by God through the unification of his people.
The camp is now owned by the Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians.
The camp is now being remodeled by the Revamp The Camp initiative of the Western District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance church.
The camp is now the future site of youth music camps for which Music in World Cultures will provide the programming to train musicians in biblically-sound worship.
This July 14–24, these groups hope to attract 40 children ages 8–11, from both church and non-church families to the first youth music camp.
The camp will help disciple and teach those children already in the church while providing outreach to those who have not yet been exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Funding needs are projected at $10,000 to make all of these plans a reality.
MIWC is also still looking for people, specifically in the area of children’s music, to join the camp teaching team.
If you are interested in supporting the Russia Music Camp project and can help meet the $10,000 goal, please donate now.
If you are interested in joining the volunteer teaching team, please contact MIWC immediately to learn more.