This article is based on an interview with David Fiala, Project Coordinator for Central Europe with the Office of International Mission (OIM) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). David and his wife, Radka Fiala, have been serving the church as missionaries since 2005. David began as a volunteer teacher and missionary in the mission field. In 2008, he became a Network Supported Career Missionary and was placed into his role of Project Coordinator for Central Europe. He coordinates four countries, bringing in Short Term Mission Teams and supervising Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) missionaries who teach in Lutheran schools throughout the region. He serves Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia in this role. He and his wife, Radka, and their children are also very personally engaged in these events. Read David’s prayer card for more information about him and his family and to support them.
This summer six LCMS Short Term Mission Teams traveled to Poland to put on six English Bible Camps over the course of two weeks. LCMS Shot Term Mission Teams have been serving in Poland since 2009. The goal of these camps is to reach children with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the American missionaries found that God had more in store. They found that alongside proclaiming the Gospel to the children, they were also doing two other things: encouraging the local Lutheran Church and its members, as well as proclaiming the Gospel to volunteers from the communities.
Every missionary team has two days of orientation with David Fiala. David meets several teams in a geographic region where they will be serving. A native speaker offers some Polish language acquisition, and David orients the teams to the area and the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, which is the Polish Lutheran church body with whom the LCMS works. He then offers a free evening to explore the local city center such as Warsaw, Gdansk, or Krakow. Most teams now arrive on a Wednesday and have orientation with David from Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning. They then move on to their location on Friday afternoon for some preparation time with the local church. Finally, many teams that have pastors with them open the camp with a worship service on Sunday before the camp begins on Monday. This allows them to have children and parents in church services twice during their time of service, as there is also a Sunday worship service following the camp week in which the children show what they have learned by singing songs in English and reciting in English.
Camps have also been running in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary for many years. Since 2009, thirty-seven such events have taken place in Poland. English Bible Camps run during the summer, offering a chance for children in the local communities to practice their English with native speakers. Short Term Mission Teams from U.S. based congregations of the LCMS work with a local Lutheran congregation to offer these VBS like camps. Fiala says that the camps “resemble a VBS that many North American Lutherans would be familiar with, but with an element of English language instruction.” The camps run Monday through Friday in a parish, from about eight in the morning to about three o’clock in the afternoon.
Poland is about the size of New Mexico, and the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession has 134 parishes and about 165 clergy. The Lutheran church body there has about 70,000 members. Members who live in Lower Silesia (near Germany) and up near the Baltic are what are sometimes termed “Old Lutherans” and come from the same stalk as Saxon Lutherans (those who founded the LCMS) because of Germans who migrated to this area. During the Counter Reformation, they held services in the forests. The church has experienced many hardships from both the Counter Reformation and the Communist Era, yet they have remained.
The English Bible Camps use interest in the English language as an inroad to sharing the Gospel with children from the parish and the communities in which they take place. By using the Scriptures as a tool in teaching English, the proclamation of the Gospel naturally takes place. The children who are Christians receive encouragement and strengthening in their faith. The children who are not Christians, hear the Gospel for perhaps the first time. Here is a note received by one of the volunteers. This note was written by a family concerning their son’s involvement in the previous year’s camp, and why they were signing him up to return once again. This child is bilingual, so the language instruction was a good draw, but the Polish parents, writing in English, go on to say that:
The language exercises are not the major reasons why we eagerly allow him to meet you. The time he spent with you last year has given our son something far more important. The enjoyment of being Christian and an eagerness of contacting God ‘in person’ were the most valuable things our son learnt from you. Last year you taught him to praise God in his own, small boys words. You taught him to be grateful to God for every casual situation of his life. Thanks to the handicraft activities he really could feel the joy of being religious. The drawings and art object he made encouraged him to be brave enough to show the symbols of his faith in public. The fun and enjoyment of being a religious person which you have shared with our son is a most marvelous experience.
In addition to impacting the children with the word of God, the LCMS Short Term Mission Team members found a surprising reality: They were also impacting the local Polish volunteers from the communities! Of the local Polish volunteers who work alongside the LCMS Short Term Teams, about 50-70% come from the local church and about 30-50% come from the community, mainly because they want to practice their own language skills with native speakers. The American mission team members have repeatedly commented that while they knew they would be sharing the Gospel with the children, they were surprised and delighted to find that some of the closest contact they had in sharing the Gospel was with the Polish volunteers. As God sends forth his word through these teams and the local churches, he scatters his seed recklessly and abundantly beyond what even the team had imagined!
The teams bring supplies and materials with them as well that the local church or community may not otherwise be able to find. This allows children from the community and the church to experience life-enriching activities during their summer holiday from school. During the camps, David Fiala received this note from the Polish pastor’s wife in Slupsk:
I know the camp is not over yet, we’re almost done with the second day, but I would like to THANK YOU for sending here such a wonderful group of warm, professional and passionate people!!! They’re doing such an excellent job here that I am deeply moved, each one of them. The kids love all the activities and don’t want to go home. Thank you also for all the beautiful supplies, materials, ideas and your prayers. Our God is an awesome God!
The running of the camps themselves is an act of mercy — a service to both the local church and the local community. Done in close contact with the 1-2 worship services offered during the time the Short Term Team is there, these acts of mercy proclaim the Gospel in the lives of those who attend the camps.
The camps are put on in conjunction with the Center for Mission and Evangelism (CME) of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession. The CME works closely with Fiala in planning, coordinating, and implementing these English Bible Camps. Working together and sharing in the proclamation of the Gospel allows the LCMS and CME to impact more lives with the love of Christ than either one could do alone.
Additionally, one of the other major impacts from the camps is the encouragement the local congregation receives from having the American Short Term Team come to them. Often, they would not be able to put on such an event on their own, so they feel built up by the fact that their fellow Lutheran Christians care enough to travel all the way to Poland to help them reach out in their communities. The American and Polish Christians find mutual encouragement and building up in their interactions with one another. The American teams are also overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of the local congregation, their hosts. They often are taken on evening outings to see local sites of import and historical significance and fed lavish meals. The relationships are often lasting. One congregation from Illinois has now returned to the same location four years in a row, always growing their relationship with the local church.
The camps may run just one week, but the ripple effects of the camps, their activities, and the proclamation of the Gospel are lasting and wide-spread. For the local congregation, the camp gives them an entrance into the community so that they may continue to reach out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When it is possible to repeat the event the following year, there are even more participants. Being able to continue in places that have already had a camp allows for more growth and word of mouth. Many of the places begin signing children up for the following summer almost right away because the demand is so high. Here Ilona, a Pastor’s wife in Chorzów, Poland, writes to the volunteers who visited them about ongoing effects from the camp, and to ask them to return again:
One mum told me that her daughters started to pray for the first time! I know that some kids have a picture of the Mission Group from last year and they still pray for them! We also send some newsletters to parents about events in our parish and they are coming sometimes! So they are involved! Last Christmas we met one of the family during our service in our church! It was really nice to meet them and talk to them.
For the American volunteers, Fiala says that the experience, “empowers the teams to do ministry in the States…many become more active in their church or school (many volunteers are Lutheran school teachers).” As for those local volunteers and the children in the camps, the Word of God enters their lives and the Lord promises that it will not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:11). As they go their way, God’s Word will work in them and reap a harvest.
Every year, Fiala receives 20 requests from local Polish congregations for Short Term teams, but he cannot fill them all. Talk with your Pastor and other leaders in your church about putting together a team for 2014 or beyond. The goal is to be able to meet at least 20 requests from Poland in future years. Fiala visits every location first and prepares the way for the Short Term Team, working with the mission arm of the Polish Lutheran church, the Center for Mission and Evangelism. You can contact David Fiala by email at email@example.com for more information about serving in Poland as a Short Term Team.
- Learn more about Short Term Teams.
- Contact David Fiala at firstname.lastname@example.org if you or your congregation are interested in serving.
- Read more about past summer English Bible Camps in the region.
- Watch a video about past camps in Poland.
- Check back at this blog over the coming weeks for a new video about this year’s camps.