A group from First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church in St. Louis Park made a 1,038-mile journey through Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi to Mississippi College.
Led by Alexsey and Alina Shopoval, the visitors experienced a week at a camp at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, two years ago.
This time, they drove farther south to the Magnolia State.
“We hope the fire we have now will grow,” said Veronica Melhichuk, 20, at the Mississippi College cafeteria. “The people are very nice – very welcoming. We love the Southern accents.”
Some members of the Minnesota delegation speak in a Ukrainian accent, and a number of the travelers are the sons and daughters of parents who fled their country in the 1990s.
Born in Kazakhstan, 31-year-old Alexsey Shopoval related at age 7 to Russia and at age 15 moved again to Minnesota.
As a teenager, Alexsey experienced culture shock coming to the United States.
“I lost friends and there was the language barrier,” he said.
But he said he has discovered his bearings in the Upper Midwest and plans to begin nursing school at a community college later this year.
Leaders at Mississippi College, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, hosted the visitors for a five-day camp that combined worship services with quiet time for Bible study, sports and short mission trips in the Jackson, Mississippi, metropolitan area.
First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2015 and continues to be led by members speaking the Ukrainian language.