Valerie Collins has spent much of her life trying to adapt to new places and people. During her first 10 years, she had to navigate foster care in Russia, and then adjust to a foreign culture when she was adopted by an American family.
But when Valerie arrived at Rockbridge (Young Life’s camp in Virginia) last summer with her WyldLife group from Carroll County, Md., it didn’t take long before she felt like she was at home.
She loved the Blob, couldn’t get enough of club and slowly started engaging with her leaders each night during cabin time. Those leaders, Danni Williar, Alyssa Fadden and Donna Felkner, knew Valerie from WyldLife club, where she was an energetic, friendly presence. Their prayers for her were answered when Valerie’s parents paid her way to summer camp as a birthday present.
“She loved it,” Williar said. “She just loved everything about it, all the people she got to meet. There were times we would say, ‘Where’s Valerie?’ and she would be hanging around with summer staff, or work crew, or some random campers.”
It seemed like Valerie was made for camp, but she was more reticent when it came to talking about spiritual things. She fell asleep during cabin time on the first night, Williar said, and she tended to give short answers when conversations became too personal. But when the leaders broke away with the kids during the last two days for one-on-one talks, Felkner felt clearly that the Holy Spirit allowed a breakthrough with Valerie.
“She had some head knowledge, but it became a heart connection for her at camp,” said Felkner, who has led WyldLife in Carroll County for 14 years and is known to the kids as “Mama D.” “She just didn’t realize that she could be loved.”
Valerie prayed to receive Christ that day, and with her permission the leaders shared it with her whole cabin that night. Her friends in the cabin celebrated, as did the work crew and summer staff friends who lined up and cheered when she came to the new believers’ meeting on the last day of camp. Once she embraced Christ’s love and sacrifice, her leaders gave her another gift to help her understand the foundational truths of her new faith.
“I learned a lot of things, and at the end of the summer Mama D, Alyssa and Danni, they got me a Bible, and they wrote little notes on it, and they said, ‘I hope you follow God for your whole life,’” Valerie said.
Growing up in Russia, Valerie said she heard very little about Jesus. She knew he was born on Christmas, but never had much education beyond that. Once she arrived in the States, she learned a little bit more and her parents, who attended Young Life when they were younger, jumped at the chance to plug her into WyldLife when she reached middle school.
With one year of WyldLife left, Valerie is already looking forward to Young Life. Meanwhile, her younger sister (her biological sister from Russia who was adopted with her), and her two brothers, adopted from other parts of Russia, can’t wait until they get the chance to be part of WyldLife. Now Valerie understands that she was adopted twice — once by the Collins family and once into the family of God. She is a living reminder to her leaders that cultural and language barriers are no match for the love of Christ.
Said Felkner: “To be with her, when she crossed that threshold, it was just a real, real privilege.”