Just a step away from the camp there is a hidden trail running way down into the woods. I like to take a walk there before important programs and events, or just at the end of a working day, when I feel like doing my devotionals. And oftentimes in a very special manner God reveals himself to me to the utmost. In spirit I call this place the ‘road to Emmaus.’
– Erina Efremova, Camp Crystal Director
How many of us could say similar things about the camps and retreat centers we serve? Providing opportunities for deeply moving encounters with God, with God’s people and with Creation is why we do what we do. It’s been my experience that after years and decades of these encounters, the physical space has a “spiritual residue,” becomes a “thin place” where God’s presence can be felt even by those who aren’t seeking it. The ministries we serve become sanctuaries for the people we serve in the fullest sense of the word.
So I was excited for my recent opportunity to visit Camp Crystal, which serves as sanctuary for the United Methodists of the Eurasia Conference. Members of the Eurasia conference, and United Methodist ministry partners from around the world, gathered in August to celebrate the 125th Anniversary of United Methodism in Russia. Our conference (North Georgia) has established a mission “bridge” with the Methodist seminary and churches in the Moscow area, and I was able to attend the celebration as a representative of that relationship.
Camp Crystal is located deep in the Russian state forest outside of Voronezh on the banks of the slow-moving Usmanka River. The land and buildings were once a camp for workers at a state-owned factory in nearby Voronezh. When it became available for sale in the 1990’s, donations gathered by Sunday school children of German United Methodist churches enabled its purchase by the Eurasia conference. The pride and hopes our Eurasian brothers and sisters have for their camp is as palpable as the sense of sanctuary it offers.
The camp has a capacity of 300. The main building has 120 beds on three floors with different layouts and amenities. The site also includes a variety of cottages. The dining center serves meals family-style and has a meeting room to accommodate large groups. Other breakout meeting spaces are available. Activities offered include volleyball, table tennis, swimming, and canoeing. Facilities are closed each winter.
Each summer Crystal offers a variety of camp programs. There is a youth camp whose purpose is to introduce campers to Christian discipleship; a camp for children with physical disabilities called “Camp Trinity”; an annual women’s conference, and “Tres Dias” faith renewal seminar. Volunteers from across the Conference support these programs with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.
Volunteers are important to any camp and retreat center, and the same is true at Crystal. The facilities appear to have been built in the 1950’s and, for the most part, have not yet had significant renovation. While we were there we met a team of 16 from the Baltimore-Washington Conference spending three weeks building facilities, relationships, and memories. Their conference has been sending work teams to the camp for years through a covenant agreement with the Black Soil District, which includes Crystal.
I found our Russian United Methodist brothers and sisters to be warm and welcoming, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Camp Crystal welcomes mission teams and visitors. I encourage you to get in touch with them through their page on the Eurasia Conference website: http://www.umc-eurasia.ru/en/cristalleng.
C. Russell Davis is the Associate Director of Connectional Ministries responsible for Camp and Retreat Ministries in the North Georgia Annual Conference.