Learning English and so Much More


One of our long-term volunteers recently wrote this reflection on her time spent volunteering at an English camp jointly held by St. Columba’s Scottish Mission and Kalunba. Kearstin Bailey is a Global Mission Intern from the United Church of Christ (USA) and will be with us for two years total. You can read more about her time serving in Hungary on her blog, here


As soon as I heard about the weeklong English camp that St. Columba’s Scottish Mission (my home church here in Budapest) puts on every summer, I knew I had to be a part of it. Rev. Aaron Stevens mentioned it to me months ago and I hurriedly jotted down the dates so that I could ask to serve there for the week, instead of at my usual placements. Thankfully I work for some amazing human beings here in Budapest, folks who understand the call to serve at their core and who do a fantastic job of supporting me as I strive to follow my own call during my time here. My boss at the Ecumenical Office of the RCH gave me the whole week to work at the congregation’s English camp, and it all counted as a regular workweek for me (though it was anything but!).

The week of English camp has come and gone, and I’m so thankful to have been a part of it. The whole experience was a melding of cultures, languages, life experiences, and community bonding all done within a community of faith. It is something truly magical to behold.

A few days before the camp started, a team of around a dozen people ranging in age from around seven to fifty flew in from Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. They came with open hearts, love to give, songs ready to be sung, and many many crafts planned for the children in the week ahead. These beautiful people from charlotte formed the core of the leadership for the week, as all the kids were divided into three groups based on age and then given a few adult leaders to look after them and guide them during their time at camp.

Staff from Kalunba was also on site for the English camp as some of the children who attended were clientele of theirs and didn’t speak a ton of English. These children had arrived from hostile countries to make a new life here in Hungary, some less than six months ago, and so having Kalunba staff around who knew and could communicate with them was vital. As the week started, these darling children stayed mostly with the Kalunba members that they knew well, but as the days progressed they began to step outside their comfort zones and take chances: doing crafts with an American volunteer, playing with Hungarian children, cooking with a group of expat kids. It was wonderful to see their transformation throughout the week, not just with these children, but with all of them.

Around thirty children total attended the English camp at St. Columba’s Scottish Mission, though of course that number fluctuated each day a bit. Some of the kids came from the church’s neighborhood, and one little boy came from my side of town, a half hour walk away. The youth in attendance spoke a mixture of Hungarian, English, Farsi, Arabic, and more – many of the kids spoke at least two of the languages pretty much fluently. They came from all over the world, representing countries like Hungary, the United States, Scotland, Syria, Iran, Togo, and more. The kids came from Hungarian families, mixed-marriage expat families, Roma families, and refugee families – all gathered together in community for the week.

The days with the children were spent learning about extravagant welcome through Bible stories, and especially through the use of food in the Bible – which meant that one day the kids got to taste test a whole host of foods that would have been around during Biblical and Quranic times (they were thrilled!). The mornings were filled with songs and reenactments of Bible stories, followed by small group time and crafts. Lunch came next and was catered two days by a Syrian restaurant (the kiddos went nuts – they adored it!) and three days by a local Hungarian restaurant that employs the homeless. In the afternoon we made crafts and all competed in outdoor relay games, followed by more songs and daily wrap-up time where we all shared what we liked most about the day.

Our time spent together was inspiring. Seeing these kids bond and come out of their shells by the end of the week was so beautiful to behold. As the days went on, new friendships blossomed and we all taught each other a bit of our own languages. The cross-cultural mix of people that gathered there is something that is vital to our understanding of the world and it’s something that both St. Columba’s and Kalunba help to facilitate naturally – it’s part of their very essence. I’m so thankful to be a part of both of these amazing communities, and to have been able to volunteer my time with these wonderful young people. They’ve changed my world and I hope that our week together helped change theirs.


*For the privacy of the children, their faces have been covered by adorable, smiling flowers!


Article by Kearstin Bailey