Students and teachers at Johnstown Christian School are spreading the word of God and the English language through mission trips.
Last year, Laura Courtney, an English teacher at the school, senior Sadie Sprankle and 2011 graduate Faith Warrick traveled to Pusha Voditsa, a suburb of the city of Kiev in the Ukraine, for a two-week mission trip for One Mission Society.
It was the first trip for Sprankle, the second for Warrick and the sixth for Courtney.
Courtney learned about One Mission Society and its short-term missions arm, Men for Missions International, through a newsletter from one of her mother’s friends.
In 2006, she and her mother went on their first mission trip to the Ukraine, to help college-age students with their conversational English.
Ukrainians who wish to participate must have gained a certain level of English because there are no translators.
The Christian English Camp in Kiev is held every August to accommodate both students and teachers who must be back in class by fall.
To qualify to go, an applicant must be a Christian and a native English speaker.
“That doesn’t mean only Americans,” Courtney said. “We have Brits, South Africans and Canadians.”
Courtney usually comes back with some new Ukrainian phrases each year and hears questions from them such as “Why are candy bars named after shoes? You wear sneakers on your feet.”
She took two Johnstown Christian School alumna with her in 2010, Warrick went in 2011 and Sprankle and Warrick went in 2012.
“I heard Miss Courtney’s stories and they sounded intriguing,” Sprankle said about her decision to try international missions for the first time. “And I love English. I hope to major in English. I’ve been accepted at UPJ. I figured this was a great, practical way to get my feet wet and serve the Lord at the same time.
“At first, I was taken back and didn’t know what to do, but in three days, it was my new home. All was taken care of, and I wasn’t nervous.”
Sprankle, who is in honors classes at Johnstown Christian, likes to read all kinds of books.
“I think the teachers at JCS sparked my love for English,” Sprankle said. “I like to write, too.”
Sprankle will return to the Ukraine with Courtney this summer and plans to go on short-term mission trips to the English camp every summer she can.
If she does major in English in college, she will be able to go to the Ukraine to do the same work for the entire summer rather than for two weeks.
Courtney was pleased to see how God used Sprankle and Warrick to minister to the Ukrainians.
Both girls built strong relationships with them and were not ashamed to share the Gospel.
“Sadie was the youngest member of our team, but that didn’t hold her back at all,” Courtney said. “Although she had some nerves about traveling internationally for the first time, she overcame her trepidation and was a great addition to the team.”
Warrick also was influenced by Courtney’s stories of her mission trips.
“She said I should come, and it worked out,” Warrick said. “In our Bible class at JCS, we were praying for the Ukraine students once a week. I won’t be able to go back this year, but I definitely want to go back.
“I can see myself in camp ministry. The atmosphere there made me realize what I’d like
to do,” she said.
Warrick is in her second year of studying communications at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Her particular interest is media, especially videography for evangelism and ministry.
“This was Faith’s second year at camp, so she was able to take on extra responsibility,” Courtney said. “Her willingness to step in and help was an incredible blessing.
“I was excited to serve alongside both these girls and see God working in and through them. It’s been a joy to have our relationships with each other strengthened while deepening our relationship with Christ,” Courtney said.
At the English camp, actual classes are held once a day for less than two hours, then activities are much like a summer camp, with baseball, soccer and Ping-Pong.
“We want to make it fun and interactive,” Courtney said.
In a cultural exchange, both American and Ukrainian picnics are held so both groups can sample the other’s cuisine, and team members share an aspect of their culture and the Ukrainians share from theirs.
Evangelistic activities include singing worship songs, praying together, giving testimonies and discussing Scripture.
“The English lessons especially were an important aspect of the camp for me as I helped create and teach the material,” Courtney said.
“We introduced new vocabulary as well as gave the students the opportunity to apply what they had learned through games and activities. They especially loved improvising and using their English to act out a character,” she said.
Courtney is in her sixth year as a teacher at Johnstown Christian School.
She teaches English for grades 9-12, the Bible for seniors and eighth-grade geography.
Courtney grew up in Ohio, where she attended Christian school herself, and wanted to stay relatively close to her family when she embarked on her own teaching career.
Her interview for Johnstown Christian School was the first time she came to Johnstown.
Courtney likes to read anything but horror and loves pop culture and movies.
She said getting ready for a summer mission trip starts in February or March.
Getting a passport can take up to six weeks, and prospective workers must apply to the mission organization if it is their first time.
Courtney starts team planning by email after school is out.
One of the things that must be planned is bringing food ingredients that aren’t available in the Ukraine.
“For the American picnic, we bring ingredients for s’mores, barbecue sauce for pulled pork, corn chips and peanut butter,” Courtney said.
Fundraising for a mission trip can involve sending letters asking for donations and holding soup and bake sales.
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