By Emily Holladay
For more than 20 years, you’ve heard stories of the many ways Passport, Inc. has shaped young lives through youth and children’s summer camps. Middle and high school students spend a week each summer at Passport, working in neighborhoods across the United States to bring hope and healing to some of the most marginalized and neglected people.
College and seminary students gain new tools for leadership and ministry serving on Passport camp staffs and children from third through sixth grade learn how to live out their faith in a “world without borders.”
But what you may not have heard is the monumental impact that these children, youth, college and seminary students have on the work of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel around the world. Since the first summer of camp in 1993, Passport has sought to educate students on the vital work of missionaries across the globe and empower them to join their transformative ministries through financial partnership.
“Passport has taken up an offering every summer and every session of camp since our beginning summer in 1993,” said David Burroughs, president and co-founder of Passport. “To date, Passport youth and children’s campers have given more than $875,000 to global mission causes — the vast majority to CBF projects and to CBF partner organizations.
“We have discovered that, when challenged with a specific need somewhere in the world, teenagers will respond and are generous givers.”
Each summer, Passport campers learn about a different country where field personnel are on the ground serving communities to meet basic needs and transform lives. Through videos shown each night of worship, students learn about people around the globe who are living daily with little hope or knowledge of God’s love. Campers are then invited to respond with compassion by giving to the offering taken up on the last night of camp. Many church groups will even find a way to connect with the field personnel or country after camp, forming deep partnerships, because of the exposure they received at Passport.
In 2013, Passport highlighted and raised money for the work of Gennady and Mina Podgaisky, CBF field personnel in Ukraine. Campers learned about the 24,000 children who are subjugated to the streets of Ukraine without family, food or shelter. They came to know the Podgaiskys as people who bring love and comfort to the children, offering them a warm bed, food and an education through the Village of Hope foster care center that the Podgaiskys helped to start.
At PASSPORTkids!, the children were able to explore Ukraine through simulated missions activities and a weekly party known as the Night Market. These experiences were designed to help expose the campers to life as a child in Ukraine and develop a deeper sense of understanding for the way other children grow up.
“This past summer, the children experienced an activity called ‘Life on the Streets’ that simulated (in a safe and monitored environment) what a child living on the streets in Kiev might encounter on an average day, from scrounging for money to buy food to finding access to heating pipes to stay warm in the cold winter months,” Burroughs explained. “This gives them a head and heart understanding of the work of our CBF field personnel like the Podgaiskys, and results in sustained support and interest from our churches.”
Some of the children also had the unique experience of learning about Ukraine from Ana Maria (age 13), Bogdan (age 16) and Mark (age 15) Podgaisky, Gennady and Mina’s children who are growing up in Ukraine. During the second session of PASSPORTkids!, the Podgaisky family joined the Passport staff as guest missionaries. The Podgaisky children worked directly with the campers, leading camper’s choice activities and participating in the nightly parties, while Mina and Gennady interacted more directly with the adults and shared a little bit of their story each night during worship.
“It was amazing seeing the staff learn about the culture that surrounds me and then teach it to the kids,” said Ana Maria Podgaiskaya. “They took everything they knew about Ukraine and just started teaching it to the campers. But I think what affected me most was seeing how much hard work the staff put into really capturing the culture of Ukraine.”
By the end of the summer, the 5,500 children and youth who attended camp felt so deeply connected with the Podgaiskys and their ministry that they raised a total of $52,481.82 for Village of Hope. The Podgaiskys were able to use these funds immediately to make improvements to the foster care center’s facilities.
“Thanks to the funds that Passport camps raised, we were able to build steps in the Lighthouse and divide the building, constructing and furnishing a new kitchen as well,” the Podgaiskys shared. “This allowed us to prepare a new place for the newest foster family in the Village of Hope.”
But, the campers’ relationship with the Podgaiskys did not stop at camp. The students continued to keep in touch with Ana Maria, Bogdan and Mark through Instagram and Facebook, so when political unrest broke out in Ukraine, Passport campers were able to pray with and for the Podgaiskys in concrete ways.
“As a member of Passport’s administrative team, I am awed by the providence of God displayed as hundreds of CBF/Passport churches are able to pray right now for the children and Ukraine in specific and in tangible ways after learning this past summer about the
life-saving work of Mina and Gennady,” Burroughs said. “As tensions rise in the region, we know this impacts the most vulnerable first, and so our campers are joining a chorus of prayer support for those in Kiev and around Ukraine. We are proud to know the Podgaiskys and to support their work through CBF Global Missions.”
Passport’s partnership with the Fellowship and CBF field personnel has instilled a deep passion in generations of children and youth for supporting mission efforts on a global scale. The tangible connections that they provide between campers and field personnel create bonds that are not easily broken, and ensure that global missions continue to be a priority for generations to come.
“Passport has been and continues to be a wonderful partner with CBF Global Missions,” noted Grace Powell Freeman, CBF director of Global Missions operations. “They not only partner in strong financial ways, they also teach campers about field personnel and pray for field personnel regularly. That is real partnership.”