by Emily Harmon Posted Feb 17, 2021
Scaling your way to the top of a huge climbing wall. Trying out a daring flip on the bungee trampoline. Making your way up, around, and over an inflatable obstacle course. Each of these Pine Cove City activities may seem challenging at first, but every year campers and counselors face them head on, breaking down barriers that allow them to have fun and connect with others.
At Pine Cove City during summer 2019, a third grade camper named Sofika faced a different kind of challenge. But through her story, it became clear that God is bigger than our barriers and the Gospel has no limits—even when it comes to language.
Sofika was from an orphanage in Ukraine and had been spending the summer with a U.S. host family. She arrived at City knowing very little English, making communication with her counselors and other campers a challenge.
Desiring to establish a relationship with Sofika, her counselors grabbed a laptop and began using Google Translate to communicate. They typed in phrases to let Sofika know she was cared for, and discovered words to explain the activities for the day, using familiar Russian terms.
Her counselors continued to learn a few key Russian words and Sofika picked up new phrases in English, deepening their relationship one word at a time. Meagan, one of Sofika’s counselors, remembers, “Just by that small amount of communication, you could see her start to relax and open up more.”
During Bible Study that week, campers learned about the theme “Rain or Shine” where they heard stories of God’s faithfulness throughout the Bible. Sofika’s counselors printed out the Bible study passage in Russian, and could immediately sense her excitement once she realized she would be able to read the story in her native language.
Sofika’s counselors then asked program staffer Hailey “Snicker Poodle” Armstrong to sit with Sofika and help her with translation. Hailey grabbed a laptop and chose some markers and paper from Creation Station. Hailey, having never used Google Translate before, recalls, “I was so excited and nervous at the same time. I remember asking the Lord to speak through me and to not let myself get in the way of sharing the Gospel.”
Hailey began by drawing a simple picture—a tree. She used this symbol to talk about how God created the whole world, including people and all of creation. As they began talking through the story, Hailey helped Sofika translate and write down some of the key words.
“She was so excited to write down phrases in her own language,” Hailey recalls. “And whenever I would type something in English and it would come up in Russian, you could just see her face light up.”
After pausing to make sure Sofika was able to understand the drawing, Hailey explained the Gospel further. For her second picture, she drew two squares with a space in between them. On one square she wrote “God” and on the other square she wrote “man,” both in Russian. Then, in the space in between she wrote out the word “sin.”
“I told her how sin separates us from God because God is perfect and holy, and we are sinful. I told her that our sin leads to death, but that God has made a way for us to have a relationship with Him again,” Hailey explained.
Then Hailey drew a third picture, this time connecting a cross to fill in the gap between God and man. She remembers, “I drew a cross and explained how Jesus was God’s only son who He sent from heaven to die for the sins of the world so that we could have a relationship with God again.” This time, after Hailey asked Sofika if she had any questions, Sofika took the laptop into her hands and typed the words, “I didn’t think God loved me.”
Sofika began to cry as Hailey responded by typing “God loves Sofika so much.”
“I could see how God softened her heart,” Hailey remembers. “That was just a really cool moment to hear how beautiful the Gospel is upon first hearing it.”
It was undeniable that the message of God’s love had changed Sofika’s life. She had found joy in hearing that she has a Father who loves her and cares deeply for her, and her enthusiasm could not be contained.
“By the end of the week, she had learned a lot of the counselors’ names and would hug them with the biggest smile on her face!” senior counselor Meagan noted. “It was so humbling to see how the Lord can still work through us despite our differences. It had nothing to do with us, but all how the power of the Gospel can be displayed through any situation.”
Later in the week another one of Sofika’s counselors, Natalie, sat down with her and asked the question, “Do you know Jesus?” Natalie remembers how Sofika nodded her head, responding in Russian with a big smile across her face. “It was the simplest question, but when we both shared our love of our Heavenly Father, we had a sisterly bond,” Natalie shares. “And it showed me the unique community we get to be a part of in the church.”
Even though there were several challenges surrounding Sofika’s story, the Gospel of God’s love was greater.
“God is never bound by any limitations or boundaries that we put up,” Hailey shares. “Through sharing the Gospel with this camper, she got to hear that God loves her for the first time. She left knowing she is deeply loved by God who created her and wants to have a relationship with her.”
Do you have a story about life transformation at Pine Cove?