Jun 17, 2009


Walking into the "prison" I expected little ... I expected bad behavior ... I expected to feel suspicious ... I expected to feel uncomfortable ... I expected trashy ... I expected so very little. God completely crushed my expectations within the first hour.

Last week we had our first English camp of the summer. It was in Horodok (city right outside Lviv) at a boys' prison. They call it a prison, but it's more like a social rehabilitation center for 9 to 16-year-old boys who have committed crimes ranging from theft to murder (so no stripped suits, armed guards, and bars; just a camp facility-type set up with a wall around it & guarded gate). Ben & Kristy's church (New Life) has been working with this facility for a long time, and they thought this summer we should try an English camp. As I said, I had such low expectations of the week and, honestly, was a little nervous of how it would go. I just wasn't that into it. My mind was all over the place, but I NEVER thought I'd come out feeling the way I do now. Hands down, that camp was one of the most influential camps I have ever done. I feel forever impacted by those boys.

While watching the soccer game, amazed by the skill of some of the boys, I decided to go sit by Oleg and try to start a conversation with him. Anticipating a mediocre and fruitless talk--as my Ukrainian still leaves much to be desired--I was blown away by Oleg's desire to talk to me and perseverance through the language barrier. We talked about our favorite sports, the Lviv city center, where he lived in Lviv, and how beautiful the city is. I then asked him about living in the prison. He'd only been there three months and has three years to go. I don't know why Oleg is in there...didn't think I should ask. I do know that he is one of the sweetest boys, and all I wanted to do the rest of the week was hug him and connect with him as much as I could.

I had similar talks in the days that followed. Talks with Sasha, Andre, Igor, Vitya, and others. We talked about silly stuff like movies and food, but I also got to share why I live in Ukraine and why I was there to serve them that week. I just couldn't get it. I still don't. I just couldn't figure out why they were in there. How could those boys do anything to merit being in prison! I expected punks and jerks, but God gave us polite young men who were willing to talk, listen, and participate in just about everything. Sure there were a couple guys who were the exception, but two out of 19 ain't bad! Sometimes the chaperons were more of a pain than the boys! There was something so different about these boys. Yes, they are alleged criminals, but there's more. Some seemed sad, lonely, and hard; you could see in their eyes the hard life they have already lived. Others acted as though this was the best week of their lives; a little love and kindness is all they needed. I've never seen someone get so excited about winning the Human Knot game as I saw a boy did last week. He just kept hugging me, cheering, and grinning from ear to ear.

My heart hurts just thinking about those boys. I wanted to hug them all and tell them I love them and, more importantly, that God loves them...more than any screwed up parent or relative they've ever known...more than any friend...more than anything that got them where they are. I'm not sure why being there hit me so hard...why I was so affected. Maybe it's because I was in a place where depravity, sinfulness, is so known/blatant that I just felt such urgency to love...like I only had five days before the world ended and the opportunity would be lost! Why is it so much harder to do that in "the real world"...so much harder to feel that? I want to feel that at every camp...no matter how exhausting it is and how hard it is on my heart.

I pray they felt loved. I pray they saw something special and different in us. I pray some made steps toward Christ. I pray I get to see them again. I am so thankful for those boys and the experience I had last week. I'm thankful for the reminder of why I'm here.

Here's a short video of us playing the game Mingle with the boys. I hope to put more videos up soon. Also check out the "Snapshots" for pictures. AND go to Ben & Kristy's blog for more stories and pictures.

For those who don't know the game Mingle and are a bit confused by the video, here's how it works: You run around aimlessly saying "mingle mingle mingle", then the leader calls out a number. You have to find that many people then squat down. The last group to squat (or if you don't have the right number of people) is out. It's a fun, silly game.


Geidlbots said...

I believe without a shadow of doubt that you showed the love of Christ to those boys. I'm so glad you were able to do it. Loving on the unlovables doesn't get old. It just gets better. Especially when you realize that you too were there once too...we're all beggars at Heaven's gate. Good ole Brennan Manning.

Angela said...

Hey Brittney! Thanks for leaving a link on my blog. My only updates on you have been from Will's email. (He's on your mailing list, but not me...) Anyway, great to "see" you. Looking forward to reading about what's going on there with you.

joe brooks said...

crazy camp, kinda jealous. hey and i thought you should know the back row guy in the camp dance video is getting pretty famous here in latvia haha!

Jamie Johnson said...

That is SOOO cool, Brittany. We put on an English camp for 8-12 year old in Granada this summer for the first time so I can understand more of what you do now. I just love that you went to this boys' prison and loved on them. Makes me want to cry.