MARSHALL, Texas (7/6/10) – A group of East Texas Baptist University football players, along with head coach Mark Sartain, enjoyed a week-long stay in the Ukraine last month serving at Open Doors Christian Camp just outside Chernigov, Ukraine.
The trip was designed to allow the Tigers to help with the renovation of a camp dormitory while also providing interaction with youth at the former Soviet-era Communist youth indoctrination facility.
"It turned out better than I could even have hoped," said Sartain, whose team of five current and former Tigers helped pour concrete flooring on the third floor of the old camp dormitory. "You can plan all you want for things such as this but you never truly know what to expect. But the entire week for us in the Ukraine was a tremendous blessing."
Advancing Native Missions is the same organization that first used the Tiger team with a project in Croatia back in 2008. ETBU players and coaches were set for another overseas trip last summer but were detained at Heathrow Airport in London due to visa problems and were never allowed into England to complete the trip.
There were no such problems this trip, Sartain said, although his team spent over 30 layover hours in airports around the world, including a 12-hour stop in New York City on the return flight home. Jet lag aside, however, he said the group wouldn't have traded the experience for the world, especially with what took place in the Ukraine.
"Over 20 youth accepted Christ on the fourth night of the camp, and our guys were able to take part in that experience," Sartain said. "These kinds of experiences change your perspective on how God uses people to reach others and reminds you that He is God and what He can do. After a trip like this you become more sensitive to your own condition as well."
The work part of the Ukraine trip consisted of a construction project on the third floor of the camp dormitory. The camp is located about 45 miles outside of Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history on April 26, 1986. The old Soviet youth camp was considered heavily contaminated, and for years the Russian government tried to sell the property.
Protestant groups saw the site as potentially a Christian youth camp for orphans and disadvantaged children in the region, and churches in Ukraine with financial assistance from American churches organized a team of scientists to go to the site and conduct tests. After extensive research, it was concluded the site – despite being just minutes away from the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl – was clean of any radioactive waste.
"It was as though God swept all the radiation and contamination away," Sartain said.
The group of Ukrainian Christians was then able to purchase the property at a reduced price from the government, and has been remodeling the site ever since. Some of the progress has been painstakingly slow, with some buildings on site still largely untouched.
The ETBU team was brought in to mix and pour concrete on the new 5,000-square foot third floor of the dormitory, and despite early problems with the language barrier and a power outage, the Tigers were able to complete the work in just 3 ½ days. The team also took part in worship services at the camp at night.
"The camp is full of mostly street kids, low-income kids who have never before been witness to the Gospel," Sartain said. "We're talking about kids of ages from eight to about 17 who have never been in a church service of any kind, who certainly didn't know how to act during one. It was a little distracting and frustrating at times. But by the end of the week God had moved in a big way and we had 20 of those kids accept Christ."
"It was just a great experience for these guys and one that has affected them tremendously," Sartain added. "Some of them are already talking about finding a way to go back."
(Courtesy: ETBU Athletics Department)