My summer in Croatia
Daniel Brooks, second-year Moorlands College campus-based student
When you think of mission, what springs to mind? Is it a tribal un-developed village in Africa, or perhaps rather an urban slum in Guatemala? How about Croatia?
The country of Croatia perhaps isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a deprived area of the world that desperately needs aid. However, whilst it may appear to be on the surface to be doing just fine, it really is in need. The need that I am talking about however is spiritual need. Croatia, like the rest of the world, is desperately longing for something or someone that will fulfil, give hope, offer acceptance and deep unending love. The God of Christianity is the God we serve, and not only does He hand over those things to us through His will, He blesses us with so much more, His son Jesus Christ.
I am excited sitting here writing, as it means I get to share about this summer with all of you (obviously) fascinated readers. It brings me deep pleasure knowing that what happened this summer can be enjoyed and be challenging to more than just me.
On 9 June, I embarked on what was to be the most compelling season of my life so far. In Western Croatia, there is a stunning region named Gorski Kotar. It’s a beautiful area of forests, mountains and rivers; at the end of which is the DPB House, which is partnered with Scripture Union and SEND International. The house is led by an American couple, Steve and Jenny Meeker, who created and now run a program called Leadership Lab International (LLI). The program was created for 18–28 year olds to grow in their leadership skills.
Before the summer camps for the young people began, we went through a process of four weeks of training. We learnt Applied Bible study methods with Michael Brent and went through the book of Romans (our book for all camp Bible studies). It was a real privilege, with the quality of learning being absolutely outstanding. We gained a deeper understanding of Romans and were practically equipped to teach Bible to young people.
All of this was especially useful considering the equipping that Moorlands College provided last year. Moorlands College complemented LLI perfectly, and the training received at Moorlands was the best bridge for working effectively at LLI. As a result, LLI has provided an even better bridge into my second year and most certainly for future ministry.
“On 9 June, I embarked on what was to be the most compelling season of my life so far.”
Additionally, lectures on outdoor adventure leadership proved to be vital to our leadership growth. We were given the opportunity to be selected and be trained by experts in either rock climbing, archery (my sport) or canoeing. These sports were then the ones we taught to young people within camps.
Further teaching included leadership training, delving into cross cultural communication, covenant community, team development and more. Finally, a huge feature was our module on spiritual formation, getting to know God through fasting, prayer, worship, relationship and the Bible.
It was not only was it a privilege to serve on this Christ-centred team, but it was also a shock; we came together in such solidarity.
And so, after our training, the camps began!
I really fell in love with the camps the most. I started meeting with the kids at Missionary Kids Camp 1 (MK Camp) and I realised how much I enjoy youth work and how huge my passion is to see young people transformed for the Gospel. Through both the two MK camps, International Camp and English Camp, I got to meet a huge number of young people and exceptional leaders. I am still blown away with how I was transformed and how God transformed the young people.
We would usually have devotional time, breakfast, lead a Bible study and our sport, have lunch, lead some form of game, eat dinner, lead worship, share testimonies and then finish with all sorts of activities in the evening. Each day usually started around 6:30am and finished around 11pm. For those of you thinking it could be easy… you’re wrong!
Here are a few stories which were clear highlights of the summer, and blessedly I have been given permission to share them by the individuals involved.
Martin came to our International Camp. His mother told us that Martin never comes out of his room, constantly plays computer games and doesn’t go and see his friends. She said, “We are not Christians but I just wanted Martin to do something this summer, we have never done anything like this.” Now, through the week of sports, Bible study and all the rest, Martin seemed to eagerly listen to what I was teaching through the week. One day after a talk on salvation in the evening, I found Martin outside by the bonfire sitting on a rock praying. My heart leapt when I saw that. When he had finished, I spoke with him and he conveyed how much he connected with the talk. Next morning in the Bible study, I asked him to pray, and he paused for about 10 seconds before finally saying he would do it. The next day, Martin volunteered to pray. Now, remember this is a non-Christian guy who had never been to anything like this. It soon reached the end of the week and his mum came to pick him up. Her face lit up when she saw Martin and I saw an expression of confusion on her face as he came closer. We told her about the week and she was just shocked at how Martin had changed. She then proceeded to say to me something I will never forget: “Croatians mean things when they say them. If you are ever in Croatia again, I want you to come stay with us, have our food and our drink and teach Martin more about God.”
“One day after a talk on salvation in the evening, I found Martin outside by the bonfire sitting on a rock praying. My heart leapt when I saw that.”
At MK Camp 1 I got the honour and privilege of meeting a guy called Sidney. Through the week of getting to know Sid, we both quickly realised how similar we were and spent time sharing testimony and chatting about life together. It became apparent that mentoring Sid was a real option and so that happened at the end of the week. I soon found out that Sid’s brother, Bradie, was going to be at MK Camp 2. Sid told me a lot about him so I was ready for what made Bradie laugh and what his nicknames were. When he arrived, we instantly connected and it became a hilarious week because of Bradie and his other friends. After both MK Camps had finished, I got the amazing honour of being invited to spend Christmas with Bradie, Sid and their family because of the connection with the two guys.
There was also an amazing guy called Ely who, through one of the other camps, was constantly questioning Christianity. I remember one day he asked me to help him with a serious question he had. We both went over to a table-tennis table and started chatting about God. He described how he desired a deeper relationship with God, and kept asking how he went about doing that. It was absolutely incredible how God was working in that guy’s life.
God used us as leaders so mightily and wonderfully for His purposes even though we are so incapable without Him. Transformation happened in my life which was a blessing enough, and then to be able to witness and partake in transformation of young people’s lives as well, simply put, blew my mind.
One of the great parts of living at DPB was the community that was built. For those of you who have experienced good community before (whether in a Christian setting or not, whether at Moorlands College or wherever it might be) you know that it can be a double-edged sword of blessings and pains. I don’t overstate when I say this, but I can recall only a couple of minor disagreements over the whole summer, which sounds impossible, but I am being entirely honest. The community we got to build with each of us students, with staff, mentors, the young people and their parents was pure joy. I really have never experienced anything like it.
Slovenia SEND conference
A very special lady named Sherri, one of our Camp Directors for MK Camp, approached me one day and asked if I was free between two particular dates in August to help lead youth work at a conference in Slovenia, Lake Bled, for SEND International. In this summer, I had planned one free week to travel in between the end of LLI and the heading onto my final camp at Sirač. Funnily enough, the date she suggested was in that free week!
There was many things that rushed through my mind at that point, and she said to go and pray about it. Eventually I came back to her, and started pointing out I wouldn’t have enough money, I’d be too tired, and questioned how I’d sort lifts to Slovenia and back. She quickly stopped me and solved all those problems in about five minutes and it ended up going ahead!
“I wouldn’t have enough money, I’d be too tired, and questioned how I’d sort lifts to Slovenia and back. She quickly stopped me and solved all those problems in about five minutes”
The conference itself lasted four days. My role was to help a lady called Teena (an absolute legend) with MK care for the week whilst the adults had their conference. Ironically, and hilariously, I knew most of the group from MK camps earlier in the summer so I got to cement those relationships further. It truly was a blessed few days which I was honoured more than I have ever been in my life. I did the clicker for the worship, a small menial task, but got an applause for it from about 100 missionaries at the end of the conference. At the last dinner time asked for the one Englishman (me) in the room to come up and they gave me a gift bag to thank me for serving at the conference. My favourite part was being able to speak to missionaries at breakfast, lunch and dinner and get insight on mission from every angle possible—it was incredible.
Camp Sirač 2017
To finish up the epic summer, it had to end where it all began five years ago for me, in Sirač for my seventh visit. The Baptist Church in the village has been partnered with my home church The Forge for almost 20 years, and have run a kids camp for all that time every year. After arriving back from Slovenia, I came to Sirač and it was safe to say, it was the most successful camp we have had in the last five years at least. We saw as many as 35 kids or more each day for five days of camp which is amazing considering that the camp is run in a fairly small village. God did some very special things, and those who came over were an incredible testimony to the community of who God is.
It’s safe to say that this summer was both everything I expected and also everything I wasn’t expecting! I have described it to most people like it has been three years worth of growth and change compacted into three months. Leadership Lab International, Slovenia SEND Conference and Camp Sirač have been three outstanding opportunities that God was so awesome to offer me this summer. The moments and memories I have I will treasure forever, and will build on. I somehow received multiple offers for different future options in Croatia and elsewhere as a result of LLI. If you would join me in praying for that future wherever that may be, I would be forever indebted to you.
Opportunities for you
Now, it’s great that you managed to make your way through all of these ramblings of mine, but what is the significance of all of this to you? In early February 2018, Steve Meeker, the leader of Leadership Lab International and DPB House, will be coming to England and also visiting Moorlands College for two days. In this time, Steve will be available for any questions on the topic of joining LLI for a season just as I did this summer, or alternatively for a Block Placement in third year. For now, be praying, and considering if you want to seek calling in areas such as mission, leadership, youth work, outdoor ministry or camp ministry overseas.
If you have any queries about anything related to this, please come speak with me or visit the LLI website. Mission Croatia this summer has allowed me to discover my calling and be a part of something far greater than me—the mighty and unbelievable works of God’s hands.
Thank you to the LLI students: Sung Kyung, Klajvert, Emma, Siret, Rachel, Burdeen and Megan.
A ridiculously large amount of gratitude has to go to the staff and volunteers who made this summer one to always cherish and remember: Marijana, Steve, Jenny, Tamara, Nate, Mia, Jonathan, Alison, Randy, Katie, Ash, Marissa, Uriah, Anja, Mitch, Sherri, Susan, David and more.
MK Campers, International Campers, English Campers, the biggest thanks to you, you know who you are.