It was the sweet summer of 1999. I was in Hungary and Ukraine teaching English at church sponsored English language camps. We’d come in for a week or so and teach English, sing some songs, visit churches, and then go to the next town. It was during this time that I wound up somewhere in a village in Ukraine. I taught English to a wide variety of students and also acting (I also taught square dancing at night but that’s a different story). At this village in Ukraine, I taught 3 classes in acting and 3 basic courses in English (That’s me in the back with the green shirt and brown time with the weird hair standing taller than most there).
It is the acting classes that stick with me most. These students were of the more advanced level of English (one even taught English as a second language). They could be in a more fluent conversation with me and could play with the language better. We stumbled through a variety of different types of acting and learning lines. I even had each class write, direct, and put on their own plays.
At the end of each lesson or attempt at acting, I would end it with “Bravo! Bravo!” These students struggled with the English language. They struggled with more than that. Many of these students had some memory of the communist rule of their country while they were younger. Some of the teachers from the village and church who were there had even stronger memories of that time. They had a limited freedom of expression, of understanding, of being able to articulate things. It was very interesting to work with.
I encouraged development. I encouraged them to work through faith issues as well. I encouraged them to think about emotions and cause/affect of situations. I encouraged them to look at the world around them and see how God had a hand in the arts, how God worked through creation, and how they too could express their faith in different ways.
Unbeknownst to me, I was doing what I now know is called faith formation. I was walking along side of them. I was helping them learn the tools to grow and understand themselves, the world around them, their faith, and how to integrate it all into life. I also soon learned that each “Bravo!” was a small encouragement to these students. Each time I cheered them one when they struggled gave them the strength to keep on keeping on even when it was tough for them.
Something else happened during that time in Ukraine while I was working with these students learning English and growing in their faith. I was growing as well and someone else was taking time to invest in my life. Each night during the English language camp, each member of my mission team (there were 8 of us, 4 Canadians and 4 from the States) would lead a time of devotions (usually translated by the headmaster of the camp). I led a couple.
We also had a missionary pastor from the States there with us. George DeVuyst. Awesome dude. I’m even friends with him on Facebook. After all these years, he’s still in Ukraine doing ministry (please pray for him and his family during this time of unrest in Ukraine). He took time to talk with me. He took time to encourage me. And one night after doing devotions with the students, he pulled me aside and asked me if I had ever thought about entering the ministry.
To be honest, I had toyed with it. I had mulled it over. In fact, one of the reasons why I was on this mission trip was because I was thinking about doing mission work over seas. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure. He made me think. He made me ponder. He made me wonder. Was this the right direction for me? Was this where I was ultimately headed?
Over the rest of my time in Ukraine and back in Hungary, I thought about it. It wasn’t until I eventually came back to the States that I truly felt that was where God was calling me.
I don’t think I’ll ever know what happened to those students this side of eternity. I pray that I’ll see them one day beyond the pearly gates. I do know that each “Bravo!” was appreciated. At the end of our time there, they sent us off with a night of appreciation. As each of us from my team came up front to receive a memento from the camp, the camp clapped. When my name was called, my students stood up, clapped their hands and shouted “Bravo! Bravo!” I knew I had made a difference. I knew that what I did during my time there meant something to them more than I’ll probably never know.
The same is true for the missionary pastor who took time to talk with me. It was years later that I connected with him on Facebook that I was able to tell him the difference he had made in my life with just a few words of encouragement. My life was changed by his words of encouragement.
Take time to encourage someone today. Take time to say in your own way “Bravo! Bravo!” You may never know just what your words might do in the life of someone else. Speak words of love, words of encouragement, words that build up. And you’ll see God at work in someone’s life.