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From Hastings to the Ukraine

By Jane Lightbourn • Staff writer

For about 20 years, Calvary Christian Church in Hastings has had an ongoing relationship with a “sister” Baptist church in Kaniv, Ukraine. The Rev. Randy Berg has been closely involved since he came to Hastings 19 years ago. In fact, when he was interviewed for the position, Berg was told the relationship between the churches not only was in place, it was very important to the Hastings congregation. He strongly embraced it.

“Initially, it was encouraged by the Minnesota Iowa Baptist Conference of which we are part,” said Berg. “There are probably 20 churches involved in the Ukraine. They wanted us to come and help start children’s day camps in the summer.”

That is exactly when Calvary Church members did every year for many years, Berg said. They would bring (or send) the supplies, including puppets, Bible lessons, art and craft items. Sometimes they would bring food such as peanut butter and pudding mixes that the people in the Ukraine are not able to buy.

“Then, for one week, we would be running the camp,” said Berg. “But we did it to eventually turn it over to them. We were building bridges with the children. Our job was to work ourselves out of job. Now they run it.”

About 80 children attended the one-week camp and that number remains consistent today.

Calvary Christian Church members also helped the Kaniv church establish churches in neighboring villages about the city. The Kaniv church has become the “sister” church to the new churches.

With the established children’s day camps in place, Calvary began another program.

“Recently, we started teenage camps, where we set up tents and  offer real camping activities, such as cooking, hiking and swimming,” said Berg. “We have a theme each day and again, the idea, we work alongside of them.”

Calvary has also helped with outreach programs, including a marriage seminar, from the Kaniv church. About 40 attended this year.

And it is working, said Berg.

“There is so much energy, they are so excited when they hear we are coming,” he said. “What is also neat is that some of the children involved in the first camps are now helping with the leading for the teenagers.”

The relationship has been beneficial for Calvary Christian Church members, said Berg.

“We can go beyond ourselves,” he said. “People are the same — we let them know we care and they matter.”

Calvary Christian Church began another similar relationship with a church in Mexico about five years ago with local church members taking trips there to help with Bible programs. Again, the approach is one of encouragement, and working together.

Last month Berg and church member Rodney Braun participated in a week-long trip to the Ukraine. Both have been to the Ukraine several times and to Mexico as well.

“It is important for me to go as a pastor,” said Berg. “The relationship we are building is worth it.”