Holocaust Survivors’ Retreat

A Real Update

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We’ve had just over 24 hours between ending the camp for Ukrainian children and the start of a new week for Polish teens, but I’m currently caught up (I think) so I thought I’d take a few minutes to write a real update while the teens are arriving and getting settled in.  

The last two weeks have been exhausting, but wonderful.  The Holocaust Survivors were very open to having us here and we enjoyed many smiles, hugs and attempted conversations with them.  Kazik was bold with his message from the start.  Sometimes New Testament teaching is reserved for the end of the week because it can put up walls if they feel we are trying to make them abandon their Jewish faith.  But the majority of this year’s group are non-practicing Jews and were less offended by mentions of Jesus.  It is always hard to get a report of how the week affected them, but we did hear that there were some asking questions and showing interest in “our church”.  There were many expressions of how loved they felt.  If nothing else, I think that is something.

If you’ve been following our posts, you’ve seen hundreds of pictures from Ukrainian Children’s Camp.  What an incredible week!  As always, I was pretty emotional saying goodbye to them yesterday.  We had nearly 70 kids, most of whom have not been in church.  We taught lessons on the Fruit of the Spirit with a theme “New Me”, focusing on how God grows good things in our lives so we come to know who He is and can reflect who He is to others.  I was able to teach the first lesson, introducing the theme and teaching on the first “fruit”, Love through the story of Zacchaeus.  I also led crafts each day and put together the daily picture video for our evening session.  These things kept me pretty busy each day!  We were able to take them to a water park, which was something many of these kids have never had a chance to experience and had a day of giving away lots of clothes, hats, hair bows, balls, etc.  Thank you, Patsy Rockhill, for the adorable dresses I was able to give to the girls.  A couple of the counselors even fit into them and were super excited about them!  A few left-over dresses are on their way to Ukraine now to be given away in the community.

The final lesson was on gentleness and self-control.  Sandy taught that lesson and did a great job transitioning to a decision time by talking about how Jesus demonstrated those traits leading up to the crucifixion.  She encouraged every camper to take the next step in their relationship with Christ and the seats were nearly empty.  22 of those were first time decisions… day one of their “new me”.


Throughout all of this, Ben has been working on some projects around the camp with his buddy Wojciech – like building new benches for the campfire amphitheater.  We celebrated his birthday yesterday by squeezing in a pizza lunch at a restaurant in town.  Ethan has contributed his usual pine cone pickup, turned 11 (celebrated with McDonald’s), and spends time with Ben and Klara Korytkowski between sessions.  Anna helps Lydia run the snack shack and helps out with various things as needed.

One of the great things about being here is all of the incredible people we get to minister alongside. There are interns and camp staff that are here through all of it with us, but also different teams that come in to lead each week.  We were reunited with some old friends and met new ones from Savannah, GA for the week with the Holocaust Survivors, along with a few other additions from US and Poland; enjoyed a fun team from Rhode Island for the Ukrainian Children’s Camp plus the Ukrainian leaders that came with the kids; and now we are getting to know this week’s speaker from Connecticut and a group of Polish leaders.  One of the members of the Rhode Island team surprised us (and her daughters) with a decision to be baptized in the lake one night.  She had been sprinkled as a baby but had never made her own commitment through emersion. Brooke said she has been thinking and praying about it for a year and just felt the moving of God in this place to a point that she didn’t want to wait any longer.  What a great night that was!


… ok, ignore the first paragraph.   It’s been hours since I started trying to write this post!  We’ve now finished the introductory session of the teen Camp “reGeneration”.  Anna was brave enough to join me on “Team Hulk” (green) with one Polish leader and seven polish teens.  This is a smaller group with around 30 campers, but I’m hopeful that means better relationships can form.  Please join me in praying that God will move in the hearts of these teens this week.

On a personal note, we could also use some prayers in situations that make it hard to be so far from home.  Ben’s grandma passed away last week.  It was hard to not be able to be there for family or attend the funeral.  We’ve also learned that my grandma is not doing well and hospice has been called in to help with her pain.   I’m grateful we fly into Indy (instead of Chicago) in a week and I am hope I might have a chance to see her.  Prayers appreciated.

Too Busy To Blog

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I know it’s been almost a week since my last update, but there has just been no time to blog.  Since our trip to the concentration camp we have…

  • said goodbye to the team from Savannah, GA
  • finished the time with the Holocaust Survivors and said goodbye to our new friends from Israel
  • “flipped the camp” (aka lots of cleaning, preparing beds, etc.)
  • welcomed a new team from Rhode Island
  • planning and preparations for Ukrainian Children’s Camp
  • welcomed 80 kids and leaders
  • finished two very full days of camp


Our title of this camp is “New Me” – The Fruit of the Spirit with a garden theme  I (Rachel) was privileged to teach the very first lesson, in which I introduced the theme and taught the first characteristic – LOVE.   I made the kids recite the day’s memory verse (“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19), and they had to express love by giving me a hug, in order to leave the chapel for canteen.  It might have been partially a selfish ploy to get a hug from every single one of these precious kids, but I’m not ashamed to admit it!  😉

One of my roles is to put together a picture video for the evening session, so even if I don’t have time to write much, I’ll at least share those.  You’ll be able to see all the great things going on and pray over this week with us!

Remembering Grace

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Reblog from embracing-grace.org

Remembering our dear Grace, who would be turning 13 this year.

During our morning devotions today, our friend Jeff shared some words from Tony Evans about trials.  It seemed very fitting for this day.

Trails can come from a number of directions. Sometimes God sends you a trial to teach you a specific lesson. At other times, it comes simply because you live in a sin-cursed world, and the curse rubs off on you. So you become the victim of a crime or accident or illness that crashes into your life. Sometimes trials are the result of your own sin. You yield to a temptation that leads to a set of circumstances that are tough to deal with. And don’t forget that the enemy can attack you with trials for the purpose of bringing about your spiritual defeat. So my concern is not so much the source of your trials, but what you do when they show up. How you respond to cataclysmic circumstances has a lot to do with what shape you’re in when you come out on the other side. (emphasis mine) The good news is, you’re not out there alone, because no matter what the source of your trial is, God has the situation well in hand. He can work out His purposes.

When you are going through a tragedy, you can either choose to run from God or towards Him.  My whole life, I had been taught to trust God even when I don’t understand – that He is loving and good, always.  So when tragedy struck our family and we lost our little Grace, I ran to Him.  And that has made all the difference.  I don’t know why we had to go through it, and I’m not sure it even matters, but I know beyond a doubt that God has brought good from it.

We are spending this week with Holocaust Survivors in Poland – people who have seen tragedy, hatred, and trials on a scale most of us can’t even begin to imagine.  They may have spent years running from God as a result.  Our purpose here is to show them the transforming power of turning around and running to Him instead.

Great Beginnings

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The Holocaust Survivors arrived from Israel yesterday and we have gotten off to a great start together. Each year has been different, but this group seems to be particularly receptive to our being here with them. I was able to get to know Natalie, who is a physician and a psychologist. I helped her with her bags when they first arrived and then got to talk with her further later in the evening. She said that her training has helped her to discern between genuine and forced expressions of love, and she felt true love and warmth when I hugged her. It is her first time here and she wasn’t sure what to expect, but now is glad she came and is looking forward to the week. Thank you, God, for pouring Your love out through me and allowing me to be your messenger.  I pray that hug will open her heart to receive so much more.

I was also able to meet Paula, who was helping Natalie and I communicate. She has an amazing testimony, which I got a preview of, but I will save that story for another post as I think she will be able to share it more fully later in the week.

Before bed, Kazik (our friend who lives in Warsaw and is a Christian-Jewish pastor teaching during this camp) met with the American team to talk about our plans for the week. He gave us a simple, but profound focus…

“Answer the question they aren’t asking.”
This is our mission.

This morning, Kazik asked each of them to introduce themselves and say a few words. There were many comments of how welcome they felt when they arrived. I made note of a few of the comments…

“We have been through all the hells there are, but now it is good.”

“It’s hard to believe that people would be so nice and warm to us.”

“I would just like there to be peace everywhere, and I am reminded that there can be peace when I am here. “

The Jewish Ghetto building in Ostróda.

He primed the week with a small story of a situation when there were many women behind him, but among them he could recognize one voice – Dorota. How could he identify her voice among so many? Because he has been listening to that voice for 40 years of marriage, in a close relationship. How can we hear the voice of God? A thought for all of us to ponder.

We visited Ostróda with them this afternoon and then met for our evening session where Kazik shared his story of becoming a Christian and then, later in life, learning that he was a Jew. Often, there is little mention of Jesus in the early days of this camp. Many are very closed to teaching that Jesus is the Messiah, and would put up a wall immediately if they felt they had been brought here to be converted.  Nevertheless, Kazik has been bold with his message right from the start this year.

It’s going to be a great week.

Young At Heart

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Yesterday was our big Olympic Games with the Survivors.  They are SOOO cute kicking soccer balls and tossing eggs.  They smile and laugh, but when it comes to the score things get very serious!  I was in charge of music, so we began with the Olympic theme, complete with torch-bearing and a parade of teams.  We later found out one of them actually carried the real Olympic torch in the 1980 games!  The events were accompanied by the Rocky, Eye of the Tiger and other sports themes.  Fun times.




Today is cool and rainy, so we did crafts this morning.  The Savannah team put together some great activities and they seemed to really enjoy them.  Some of them are real artists, producing masterpieces worthy of a much better canvas than the paper plates we gave them!

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All of this is just good time to connect and get to know each other.  We pray that through these interactions, these people who have known so much hate will feel nothing but joy and love.


Our Jewish Friends

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The Holocaust Survivors arrived Monday evening, and we’ve been busy. Maxim shared with the US team that several people who have come to this retreat before have talked about it continuously since, and have been eager to return.  He said one man still has pages and pages of notes he took while he was here and he still gets them out frequently.  Andrzej asked me if I had brought journals for them like I did a few years ago when I was in charge of crafts for this week.  I hadn’t, so when we went into Ostróda for some shopping and ice cream, I managed to find some inexpensive journals in a bookstore.  I hope they will use them to write their thoughts and memories about their time here in Poland, but I also hope it serves as a gift that tells them that we are so glad to be with them this week.  Oksana showed me how the Russian so I could inscribe them with “Ostróda 2017 – Love, Rachel & Ben”.   ♥

One familiar friend shared his story last night.  Today we traveled with them to the beautiful cities of Gdańsk and Sopot on the Baltic sea. They decided not to visit the concentration camp at Stutthoff this year.

There is so much more to tell that I cannot post online, but we look forward to sharing with anyone who is interested when we get back. For now, just keep praying for all of our friends!

This just never gets old.  Love Gdańsk.


Come Alive

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I love watching as a new team of short-term workers comes together.  The first team we get to work with this year is made up of people from Georgia, Missouri, and Wisconsin.  Some of them we’ve partnered with before and some we are getting to know, but God never fails to bring together a unique mixture of gifts and personalities to fulfill His mission.

This morning we worshiped together at the Christian Church in Ostróda, divided up tasks for tomorrow’s work day, spent some time resting and relaxing, celebrated birthdays and then met for a time of prayer and worship to prepare our hearts for the week ahead.


George Bajenski was able to join us and he gave a nice devotion for us including some history of the camp, the Jewish people, and Poland.  Before leading us in singing Come Alive (Lauren Daigle), Deb read a writing from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and current president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.  He relates the Jewish people following the Holocaust to Ezekiel standing before the valley of dry bones.  I thought it was worth sharing, as are the lyrics of the song – one I love but sang from a different perspective tonight.   This will be my prayer as we spend this next week with the Holocaust Survivors.


“Come Alive (Dry Bones)”
Lauren Daigle

Through the eyes of men it seems
There’s so much we have lost
As we look down the road
Where all the prodigals have walked
One by one
The enemy has whispered lies
And led them off as slavesBut we know that you are God
Yours is the victory
We know there is more to come
That we may not yet see
So with the faith you’ve given us
We’ll step into the valley unafraid, yeah

As we call out to dry bones
Come alive, come alive
We call out to dead hearts
Come alive, come alive
Up out of the ashes
Let us see an army rise
We call out to dry bones, come alive

God of endless mercy
God of unrelenting love
Rescue every daughter
Bring us back the wayward son
And By your spirit breathe upon them
Show the world that you alone can save
You alone can save

As we call out to dry bones
Come alive, come alive
We call out to dead hearts
Come alive, come alive
Up out of the ashes
Let us see an army rise
We call out to dry bones come alive

So breathe, oh breath of God
Now breathe, oh breath of God
Breathe, oh breath of God
Now breathe

Breathe, oh breath of God
Now breathe, oh breath of God
Breathe, oh breath of God, now breathe

As we call out to dry bones
Come alive, come alive
We call out to dead hearts
Come alive, come alive
Up out of the ashes
Let us see an army rise
We call out to dry bones come alive, yeah
We call out to dry bones, come alive

Oh come alive