MCCORDSVILLE — Meet the Americans. Try their candy.

It might sound like a light-hearted draw to summer camp, but there’s a more serious motivation at work for Latvian youths: expanding future job opportunities.

“English is a commodity that many Latvian students and adults see as a resource,” said Mitch Young, student minister at Outlook Christian Church. “One of (their) primary goals is to get jobs outside Latvia.”

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This is the third year Young has taken a group from the McCordsville church to help lead an English camp in Latvia, a European country bordering the Baltic Sea. David Roney, a Hancock County native who attended Outlook growing up, has worked in Latvia since 2011 with Josiah Venture. It’s a Christian ministry to students in central and eastern Europe. Roney works with Latvian churches and visiting volunteers to organize the ministry’s summer camps in that country.

Fifty youths from about 12 to 18 years old gathered in July at Ogre (OH-gruh), Latvia, for a weeklong faith-based English camp. There to meet them as their instructors were 10 youths and three adult leaders from Outlook.

Days featured three to four hours of English instruction in the morning, afternoons of activities and free time, and evening gatherings with music and speakers who encouraged students to ponder spiritual questions.

Lauren Pilkington, a senior at Mt. Vernon High School, taught a group of beginners with Anne McCain, a former Mt. Vernon volleyball teammate who is now a freshman at Purdue University.

Pilkington said their students, though not as far along into their English studies as the other groups, were by no means new to English.

“They actually did know most basics,” she said. “They knew more English than you would expect them to.”

Still, they were not very confident at first, she said. One exercise she and McCain did was reading song lyrics or stories, such as Dr. Seuss’ “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” They asked students to circle words unfamiliar to them. One such word was “chariot.”

Through these lessons, Pilkington saw their knowledge expand and their confidence grow.

“It was neat to see their vocabulary grow in just a couple of days,” she said. “By the end of the week they were learning a lot.

Though Cora Greiwe, a junior at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, taught intermediate students, they too were initially quiet.

“There’s a part of them that’s shy at first,” she said. “They don’t want to mess up.” When they do speak in the beginning, they apologize for their English, “even though it’s quite good,” she said.

Greiwe had made this trip once before. From last year’s camp, she learned it was better to have too many lesson plans than not enough. She also had a head start on getting to know this year’s group of students; one girl was in her group last year. Since that first trip, they had kept in touch, sharing texts through WhatsApp.

On this second trip for Greiwe, some things were the same, but others were different. During last year’s trip, she said, she and others experienced God powerfully through prayer. It was a trip that changed her, she said, and she hasn’t seen things the same since.

But it wasn’t quite like that this time. There wasn’t that same experience, though when she thought about details of the trip that could have been problems but worked out, she found a new lesson.

“I had been looking for God in the prayers (this year), but I should have been looking for God in the chaos,” she said. “He pretty much never works in the same way twice, and I think I realized that for the first time.”

Pilkington said a meaningful part of the trip for her was meeting the adult Latvian leaders. They offer follow-up with the students, beginning with a camp after-party as the mission team leaves the country, to continue building relationships.

“I was inspired by how the Latvians were prayer warriors,” she said. “Something would happen … They would just say to you, ‘Did you pray about it?’”

She said since the trip she has found it easier to connect with other cultures.

“I’ve learned to see that all people truly are different,” she said, “but we all have the same heart.”

Young hopes trips like these will make students appreciate how skills they have but might not think much about, such as speaking English, can be useful. He hopes that, realizing all they possess, they will offer it.

“Their life is not about them … whatever they have, wherever they are, that they are to be used by Christ.”

Hear more about the trip

The group that went to Latvia will share its experiences from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, at Outlook Christian Church, 6531 N. County Road 600W, McCordsville. Also speaking will be a group of Outlook youth who ministered in Tennessee this summer, helping others through tasks such as roofing and painting.

One potato, two potatoes

When student minister Mitch Young takes a group of students on an international trip, there are some cultural aspects that take getting used to, especially for first-timers.

“It always hits them like a ton of bricks,” he said. “So many different versions of cooking potatoes. You get a beet soup put in front of you.”

Cora Greiwe recalls potato pancakes, potato soup and cut-up cooked potatoes served during meals in Latvia. “They would just kind of have it as a side at every meal.”

“They love potatoes,” said Lauren Pilkington. “A lot.”

Pilkington said dill was a frequently used seasoning. She also recalls sliced tomatoes and cucumbers at every meal; she likes them, so it was nice for her to know they would always be on the table.

The Latvians were thoughtful hosts, she said, supplying white bread for their American friends even though the Latvians typically ate rye bread.

Author photo
Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at