When the thank you note arrived, Mimi Kashira knew she had made the right decision by accepting 12 last-minute registrations for Christmas Camp.
The note said this: “Mimi, words can’t describe how much we love all of you. You brought so much joy to us during our Christmas Camp. Thanks for accepting us. A huge thank you to all of you who welcomed us. May God make you happy and bring you peace all days of your life. Peace on earth.”
The note was signed, “sincerely, the Saudi group”.
Mimi had just arrived at the camp in Westport, Ontario on Dec. 22 when she answered a phone call from a Saudi Arabian student who had picked up a Christmas Camp brochure that very day at the International Office at Queen’s University in Kingston. Could he come? And could he bring some friends?
Mimi said yes, never dreaming that 12 students would eventually make their way to the camp.
“This has never happened before at our camp,” says Mimi, an Inter-Varsity staff worker in Kingston, On. “Saudi students are one of the groups that it is difficult to get to know. But they left camp with a wonderful memory and a new image of ‘Christians’. I believe the seeds of the love of God that have been planted among Saudi students, and all the non-Christian students at Christmas Camp, will never go in vain. God will make them grow and bear fruit.”
Every December, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff workers, their families and dozens of volunteers spend Christmas in a unique way. They host Christmas camps across Canada for international students. This year camps were held in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Eastern and Central Ontario and Newfoundland.
More than 90 staff and volunteers helped run the camps which provided a Christmas home away from home for 228 international students.
Students came from all over the world: Russia, Pakistan, China, India, Burundi, Botswana, Brazil, Japan, Jamaica, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Morocco, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Serbia, Nigeria, Colombia, Ecuador and, at the last minute – Saudi Arabia.
Giving up a traditional Christmas with family and friends may seem like a sacrifice to most Canadians. But staff and volunteers who host Christmas camps don’t see it that way.
“We can offer students one of the best times of their lives,” says Gerry Falk, who along with his wife Shirley, work with Inter-Varsity’s international ministry in Saskatoon, SK.
“We can spend a vacation with students, having fun, playing, learning together, building trust and friendship. We can live among them for several days and mirror Christ to them in so many ways.
“Yes, Christmas camp is a ton of work, but the thought of the bus arriving at the camp, watching with delight as students skate and set puzzles and play together, to see them hold the Bible for the first time and discuss things of God, makes it all worthwhile.”
Many of the students who attend Christmas camps are not Christians. This year, belief perspectives included Muslims, Japanese Buddhists, Hindus and Chinese atheists. Christian activities at the camps, such as Bible studies and a Christmas Eve service, are optional, but often well attended.
“One of the Saudi students willingly agreed to participate in the Scripture reading of Luke 2:1-7 in Arabic,” says Mimi. “He never touched the Bible before. All 12 of the Saudi students attended, waiting patiently to see ‘what Christians do on Christmas eve.’”
Memorial University of Newfoundland staff worker Martin Mack has seen many seeds of faith sprout in the 16 years he’s been involved with Christmas Camp. “A couple from Sri Lanka has spent time in some of our homes after the camp and has expressed interest in coming to church with us.”
Post-camp connections with students bring joy to James Seibert, staff worker at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “We have some students who are now asking to join ongoing Bible discussions.”
Steve Schalm, staff worker at McGill University in Montreal, experienced the same reaction from students. “McGill students expressed how special the camp was to them and how much it surpassed their expectations. A non-believing student from McGill who came with me asked about follow-up opportunities in Montreal and wondered if he could join our scripture study in the new year.”
Says Mimi: “Many of us will never have the privilege to go to Saudi Arabia, or to Iran or Iraq to bring the Good News there. But God is gracious enough and is bringing students to us.”
Serving those students at Christmas time is a gift – for those who offer it as well as those who receive it.
“One student from China shared how she expected to be lonely and uncared for when she arrived in Canada, but was very touched that Canadian Christians would go out of their way and give up their holidays to provide this experience,” says International Student Ministry intern Philip Chadwick. “Christmas camp was a great chance to deepen relationships with international students.”
Posted: January 17, 2011