Breaking barriers: International camp counselors share Christ’s word

Published 3:47 pm Friday, July 7, 2023

The word of Christ knows no barriers as camp counselors from different parts of the world help share His message of faith and love to the United States.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Suffolk is one of their recent stops. The church hosted counselors Michael Agredo from Colombia, Halil Altay, Ercan Cimenli from Turkey, Vanda Harnos, Sevval Konukseven, Alicja Mrugas of Poland and Jerrard Taylor. The seven are part of Camp Chanco’s cultural exchange program. Collaborating with Camp America, an organization providing these cultural exchange programs around the world, Chanco on the James’ Director of Programs Will “Hutch” Hutchisson explained the process of connecting with the counselors and how the program works.

“After an extensive interview process, we selected 10 individuals to join our camp staff for the summer. The program provides them a chance to visit the United States and be a part of a camp community that fosters personal, professional and spiritual growth,” Hutchisson said. “Over eight weeks, they have the opportunity to instill Camp Chanco’s values in campers throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. Additionally, they are able to visit different parts of Southern Virginia, such as Suffolk, as well as do more extensive travel toward the end of the summer.”


Email newsletter signup

Agredo shared what it is like visiting the U.S. for the first time. 

Despite being nervous, he said he made a new friend on the plane who also helped him at the Atlanta, Georgia airport.

“Thanks to him, my first food in the states was free so I received hospitality from the first day,” Agredo said.

On his trip to Suffolk, Agredo said St. Paul Episcopal Church offered the group hospitality during their day off when they didn’t have a place to go. 

“Showing hospitality to others is very nice.,” he said. “I am glad that I received hospitality since the beginning of my trip and also with the people that I met here in Virginia. They were really nice and lovely with us.”

Mrugas and Cimenli each said they enjoyed their visit with St. Paul’s. Cimenli then shared more on his mission in the states.

“I came here to support children in their development,” Cimenli said. “During my visit to Suffolk during this period, I tried to get to know the American people and understand their Christianity.” 

Cimenli explained the importance of the connection between the church and the camp in creating positive experiences. 

“They play an important role in the development of Christian children,” he said. “In this way, employees and church members have a separate important bond.”

However, no matter where one is from, no country is immune to the various issues of the world. Thanks to unity and positivity, many obstacles of the world can be overcome. 

Hutchinsson said Camp Chanco’s international staff plays an important part in making the summer camp function.

“The ways in which these individuals connect with our campers creates a unique opportunity for campers to not only learn more about themselves, but also cultures around the world. The beauty of the Camp America program lies in the legacy and impact that is left behind once camp ends,” he said. “It shows us that the friendship, love, and spirit experienced at Camp Chanco is not bound within the 125 acres that our land sits on, but rather throughout the many different countries and cultures that we welcome to our staff summer after summer. We are incredibly grateful to facilitate such an opportunity that brings in such charismatic and caring staff members.”

Mrugas said the positive interactions with St. Paul’s church members helped her feel at ease during the journey.

“Thanks to these people I felt like home and each of them made me feel special and important,” she said.

Cimenli said this experience allowed him to better understand his Christian friends who came to Turkey. 

“It was very different. It was my first time in such a large religious and cultural community,” he reflected.

Agredo noted the importance of doing good for others in a world full of strife.

“The best that we can do with the different problems in our countries is try to at least help someone if we can and try to make a difference showing to the people that the world is still full of opportunities and good people,” he said.