Alexandra Makhneva is 19, a student at Kazakhstan’s National Academy of Art and a poet. Recently a friend of hers invited her to a July summer camp put on by “Pure Line,” a youth program sponsored by Lutheran Hour Ministries—Kazakhstan, and she was happy to share her impressions of the experience:
“I really like the discussions; I’ve learned and discovered a lot. I would like to do this next year too.”
Alexandra, or Sasha, as she is called, was one of 27 first-timers in a group of 38 participants.
Pure Line began as an online community in the wake of restrictions by Kazakhstan’s government on religious activity—particularly Christian religious activity. The children of Lutheran Hour Ministries—Kazakhstan’s staff and volunteers developed Pure Line to be an environment in which teens could carry on serious conversations about spiritual matters. In 2010, a number of members of the Pure Line community decided it was time to meet in person—not just over the Internet—and held the first Pure Line summer camp; 28 teens attended that inaugural event.
According to student leader Vladimir Stepanov, activities at this year’s Pure Line camp included the kind offered at most camps: hiking, rock climbing, sports relays, cooking in field conditions, skits and a talent show. But as Sasha Makhneva’s reflections suggest, the highlight was the daily discussion time.
Vladimir says, “The pastor of Christ the Savior Lutheran Church, Alexei Schastlivii, and a lay leader, Roman Christov, held evening debates by the fireplace or an outdoor fire, each lasting two to three hours.” In addition, participants who desired even more discussion time could meet with the pastor during hour-long early-morning sessions dubbed “Coffee with Alexei.” Topics, suggested by the youth themselves, ranged from loneliness and trust to forgiveness and lying to adultery and suicide.
Another student leader, Pavel Stepanov, says, “This gathering was different from previous camps since most of the people were older—the average age was about 18 years—and because the mood in the gathering was much more serious. So the topics raised in the discussions were often much deeper and more specific.”
The Pure Line camp has surprising outreach potential. Youth who attend the event are often moved to invite a friend the next year—as Sasha’s friend invited her. According to Vladimir, only seven of this year’s 38 participants attend church, and six participants were from Muslim families. Often a youth participant will ask to be referred to a local congregation.