Almost three decades old, the Zatonie campground is instrumental in transforming lives, leaders say.
They come for many reasons—but the guests come principally because of the dream of one man, Ryszard Jankowski. Thirty years ago, he was Youth and Pathfinder director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Poland. Desperate for a campground for youth and Pathfinders, Jankowski heard about a remote location deep in the forest.
On visiting the campsite, he noted, among other things, graffiti on an outbuilding facing the lake that said, “God doesn’t exist.”
Through a series of miracles, the land became the property of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and two years later, the first camp meeting was in operation on what was then a very basic site. During that camp, Jankowski found himself confronted by the very man who had scrawled that graffiti.
“I was a drug addict, and now I have become a Seventh-day Adventist. I am so sorry,” he said. “I want to do something with this writing.” He offered to help remove the graffiti and work to improve the site.
That confession moved Jankowski — and thirty years later, now serving as president for the Polish Union church region, he said he is still moved by what God is doing at a camp meeting that attracts not just 20 percent of the Polish membership but draws back many from the Polish diaspora scattered around Europe and even as far as Australia. Others watch the services online.
While it is defined as a youth camp meeting and organized by the youth ministry department of the Polish Union, the young people who used to come thirty years ago are still coming, as are their children and now their grandchildren. Over ten days they worship, attend workshops, witness in the local towns and even the prison, splash in the lake, and engage in a myriad activities that keep the church family connected.
The highlights for 2019 included a romantic, flower-strewn marriage proposal on the deck of the camp-owned yacht — a result of the couple meeting each other at camp the previous year. They plan to get married on the site at camp meeting in 2020.
Romance and marriage are not the only commitments made here, as the theme for 2019 was “w drodze,” Polish for “on the way.”
Polish Union youth director Marek Micyk said that almost half of all baptisms across Poland happen either at this site or as a result of guests coming to visit the place. “While many of these have Adventist connections, youth also see this as a safe place to bring their friends,” he said. At the 2019 meetings, 21 people made a public choice for Christ during a lakeside ceremony, and many more made commitments as the result of powerful preaching by the nightly guest speaker, Jeffrey Brown, associate director of the General Conference Ministerial Association.
“I have never seen a camp meeting like this,” Brown said. “The spirit is just wonderful, and there is no generation gap. It is a little taste of heaven.”
Sam Gungadoo from the United Kingdom would agree. He was the morning devotional speaker for the first half of camp meeting, and partly put the success of the event down to allowing millennials to be in charge.
“Every age is welcome and valued,” Gungadoo said, “but I appreciate the way that millennials were entrusted with the program — and that trust was rewarded.”
“We love that young people and children like to come here,” he said. “They enjoy the programs, they enjoy nature, and it’s so natural for them to say ‘yes’ to Jesus.”
It is an enthusiasm seen in the youth leading the children’s programs, the fun they have on talent night, the passion for charity fundraising on market day, and the significant numbers that go to off-site witnessing activities during the week.
That pays dividends in the local community, where people were at first very suspicious of this strange group of Sabbath-keepers. “We have shown that we are Christian and are open to serve the needs of this place,” Jankowski said. Now the local mayor and council welcome them to town for their witnessing and sharing activities.
Brown saw this in action as he visited the local prison along with the youth praise team. Sharing simple gospel messages through an interpreter, he saw 13 prisoners indicate that they wanted Christ in their lives.
One person at the camp, who was once himself a prisoner and found Christ in jail, now uses his skills to share Jesus with videos on YouTube. Other youth and adults are doing the same. The Friday morning devotional period focused on communicating Jesus via social media. During the program, hundreds of campers pulled out their mobile phones to dedicate them in service to the Lord.
Trans-European Division (TED) communication director Victor Hulbert, morning devotional speaker for the second part of the week, used a series of presentations to first encourage campers to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus and then to use their very lives as a living testimony to their friends and colleagues, both online and offline, as they return home to their everyday lives.
The camp ministry that began in 1991 is still generating miracles today over the various generations that make up Polish Adventism, leaders said, not just in Poland but in their worldwide diaspora.
“This is a festival of our Polish [Adventist] Church,” Miyck concluded. “A festival of mission, both on-site, in the local towns where they now want to partner with us, and back home as people leave here committed to serving God in their local, sometimes isolated communities.”
The original version of this story was posted on the Trans-European Division news site.