In the heart of post-Christian Spain, an inspiring ministry has been steadily growing for over a decade – English camps for kids. This outreach program not only empowers children but also provides organic opportunities for missionaries to connect with the community. And is one meaningful way that Serge teams are radiating God’s love through youth ministry across Spain and around the world.
We recently sat down for a Q+A with a seasoned Serge missionary*, who was there when it all got started. They shared about how these English camps are more than just about language learning – they are a powerful reflection of the gospel in a society where interactions with Christians have been somewhat limited.
With each interaction, the camps help break down preconceived notions of Christianity, sow the seeds of trust, and open the door for deeper conversations.
Can you tell us what sparked the idea to launch an English camp in Spain?
Sure! The idea was sparked by a real need we noticed here in Spain. The country’s history of dictatorship until the mid-1970s resulted in an insular mentality towards the outside world, and learning other languages was not encouraged. Even when our family arrived in 2006, we found that a lot of folks didn’t know much English, which was pretty unusual for Europe.
While English programs existed in schools, because of the history, many teachers lacked fluency and struggled with heavy accents and frequent mistakes. We saw this gap and were inspired by a successful program in another region by a different organization.
So, our interest in the camp was twofold. Firstly, it presented a wonderful organic opportunity for outreach, particularly to Spaniards who were hesitant about engaging with a religious group.
Secondly, the camp provided a practical way to involve people from the States interested in mission trips. Their help was crucial in making the camp a reality! And the fact that volunteers could participate with little or no knowledge of Spanish made it easier for kids to learn English – creating a platform for authentic cultural exchange.
We started very small. Initially, one team member who had a background in teaching English as a second language, crafted the curriculum and everyone on the team contributed in their own way. Although it hasn’t been without challenges, we now have a pretty mature program that is making real connections.
In what ways does the English camp challenge or reshape the perceptions of Christianity among the participants?
In the communities we work with, most people have had minimal personal interactions with not genuine followers of Christ. Historical factors have led to a certain level of distrust towards the church, and the general cultural perception is that church is mainly for the elderly.
While some kids have attended Catholic school, many consider religion, in general, to be irrelevant. And as they grow older, shame-based experiences can inadvertently discourage them from believing.
However, when these kids come to our camp, they experience something entirely different.
For the first time, they are seeing believers who are fun, caring, inviting, and still professional about it. Some parents might become curious and look up information about our logo and realize it represents a church.
And slowly, through the camp, exposure to our church community, or encounters with people from different countries, they have the opportunity to see that Christianity is not limited to certain age groups and that faith is something that’s not dangerous.
Can you walk me through what the kids experience when they join the English camps? What is their typical journey like?
Before the camp, the children’s typical language learning experiences had been rather dry, mainly just filling out worksheets and taking tests. But when they come to our English camp, they step into an entirely different environment with people dressed in costumes and engaging with them.
We introduce ourselves and immediately encourage the campers to start talking, wanting to help them feel welcome, regardless of their current language level. No matter how basic their responses, even if they just say, “Hi, my name is Pedro,” we celebrate their efforts.
As with any camp, there is a natural process of gradual opening up as participants become more comfortable with each other. But what stands out in our English camp, especially in the context of a shame-based education system, is the transformation we witness.
As the week progresses, the kids become more and more eager to step up and take part in conversations in English, and by the end of the week, over half the kids are up on stage dancing, singing, and proudly showcasing what they’ve learned to their parents.
And on Thursday nights, they have the opportunity to invite the volunteers to dinner to learn about each other’s lives, interests, and cultures. We make it clear to the volunteers that this is not camp, and they can politely say what they want to say, as God leads.
What are these dinners like, and how do they add to the camp experience?
We send papers home with the participants, explaining that, if they’re interested, they can invite the volunteers to dinner for a cultural exchange with Americans. Then the families usually come to our church building to pick up two volunteers, which also gives them a chance to see the church that is associated with our camp group.
Sometimes there are cultural differences or language barriers, and you can only have a very basic conversation. Other times, people are more fluent.
The dinner experience varies widely but in any case, it’s about breaking down preconceived notions and stereotypes.
The families see our volunteers as just regular people who know how to have fun and are relatable. It’s just a part of building rapport, which establishes trust, which is really, really important for us. Especially to ever get to the point of having conversations of significance.
How do you see the English camp creating positive experiences or changing perceptions about religion for the kids who attend?
One touching example is Leia, a very sweet special needs girl who has been a cherished part of our camp for several years. We take really personal care of her, and her parents have told us how much she feels genuinely loved here. Every year, she looks forward to coming back.
We have also had a young man with special needs who has found a real connection with one of our long-term team members, and recently, he was able to share about the Lord with him and that’s been like the highlight of his whole year.
Another story that comes to mind is about a family we met on a bus because they heard us speaking English. The parents were not believers, but they started attending church events, and then, their kids joined the camp to feel more connected to the community. And just this past year, the dad was baptized on Easter. So that was such an incredible moment to witness.
Again, I think there is something about the fact that we are offering something that benefits the community that doesn’t directly benefit us. And it’s not religious.
For this community and its history, that builds a lot of trust. Even though our materials make our affiliation with a church community obvious, we are creating a safe and welcoming space where children can feel loved and accepted for who they are.
And I really think it’s because of the love of the volunteers, who, out of their own time and resources have come to love on these kids. They’re super motivated to make sure these kids have a fantastic time and learn something meaningful.
As a volunteer who might come over, what would you want them to know about this experience?
That we can’t do it without them! We’re not just trying to find something to keep you busy; you actually play a crucial role in making this camp happen.
But it can also be both exhilarating and demanding. When volunteers arrive, we provide orientation right away, including language learning modules to help them acclimate to the local culture. After exploring a few historical places, we jump into long days of camp activities.
We welcome volunteers of all backgrounds, from non-believers exploring faith to those eager to witness God’s work. Before the camp, we do a survey where we ask what they’d like to do while asking them to stay open-minded.
Sometimes, we put them in roles that really stretch them. Like teaching or emceeing, and they’re like, “I don’t know if I can do this?” but we’ve seen God meet them there, and they love it and want to come back next year and do it again!
Most of all, it’s incredibly valuable to have volunteers who are willing to let loose, be goofy, and have fun! In Spanish society, there’s often social pressure to conform. But as believers, we find our value in God’s love, not from others’ approval.
When our volunteers embrace this freedom, the kids just adore them, and it frees them up, too. And that’s such a beautiful way of living out the gospel for these kids.
Last Question: What do you think is the impact of the camp on your team’s long-term work in the community?
One of the most important aspects of the English camp is how it helps break down barriers to the gospel.
Through the camp, we’re able to show a different side of Christianity, transforming the way that people in this culture view believers. They can see them as trustworthy and caring individuals who are willing to be present with them, just wherever they are.
Many kids who attend the camp might have had zero personal interactions with genuine believers before, so this experience is eye-opening for them.
Over the years, we’ve seen kids who attended the camp grow into teenagers, and some of them have even come to our church. We’ve had parents attend parenting and marriage seminars. We have long-term attendees as a direct result of the camp.
And, yeah, it doesn’t always result in long-term conversions. We’ve had some people come to our church for a while and then go back out.
Sometimes the camp is just the first step in a longer journey of faith exploration for these kids and their families.
For those who support our team financially or through prayers, we want them to know that their investment in the camp goes beyond just one week of activities. As these young kids grow, they’ll carry these positive experiences with them, which will help them be more receptive to future invitations or interactions with believers.
The impact might not always be visible right away, but it is part of a bigger picture of God’s work in our city and in these children’s lives.
While this English camp was started by one Serge team in one region of Spain, it’s just one meaningful way that Serge teams are radiating God’s love through youth ministry across Spain and around the world. We’re so grateful for the support and prayers of everyone who has been a part of it.
If you’re looking to step into this adventure and share God’s love in a joyful and fun way, we’d be thrilled to have you explore short-term trips for next summer, or you can support Serge’s ministries like this with a gift today.
*Names and specific locations have been omitted from this story to protect the sensitive nature of the team’s work and the privacy of the communities involved.