Illinois-based mission helps stage summer Bible camps, local churches bring hope as suffering intensifies
LOVES PARK, Ill. –- Ten-year-old Maryna kneels beside her bed and prays for the war in Ukraine to end.
For Maryna, the horrors of war have already left lifelong scars. Surgeons had to amputate her crushed leg after a shell exploded next to her home. Now she wears a prosthetic.
Any loud noise brings her panic, revealing the immense trauma she’s suffering. Hearing a sudden bang, Maryna hops into her mother’s bed and cries “I’ll never leave you, Mom.”
So Young, So Brave
“Like thousands of children across Ukraine, Maryna is suffering the long-term effects of modern warfare and its terrifying weapons,” said Michael Johnson, president of Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org). “She’s bravely dealing with huge psychological stress and life-changing injuries at such a young age.”
SGA – a Christian mission that supports local evangelical churches across the former Soviet Union – provided funds to fit Maryna with her new prosthetic limb. It’s given her a new lease on life as she learns to walk with her new leg. Her courage even attracted the attention of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who sent her a personal message on her birthday.
Her grandfather, Sergei Kostin, is one of hundreds of local pastors partnering with SGA, offering practical and spiritual support to others in his community as the war rages on. He’s overwhelmed by the aid provided by SGA’s supporters in the U.S. – including the help given to Maryna. “As you can see, a happy child has a prosthesis similar to a leg,” he said. “Thank you to everyone.”
Anxious, Stressful Time
As children like Maryna face the daily terror of war, including loss of loved ones, horrific injuries, and the destruction of their communities, local churches supported by SGA are hosting tens of thousands of vulnerable children and orphans at summer Bible camps across Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.
“Children at the camps have fun and really connect with caring local Christians, and this is so important at such an anxious and stressful time in their young lives,” said Eric Mock, SGA’s senior vice president of ministry operations. “They also hear about God who loves them and is with them when they’re afraid and hurting. This is the heart of the local churches… to share the Gospel with those who’ve never heard about Jesus, and show them there is real hope.”
This summer, local churches will host up to 75,000 children at Bible camps from eastern Europe to Siberia. SGA has been supporting local churches across this vast region for almost 90 years, during times of war and peace, including under communism.
‘I Want To Live Like That’
Pastor Andrei helps lead a summer Bible camp in Belarus, a former stronghold of communism that borders Ukraine. This summer, 97 children at the camp decided to follow Christ after hearing the Gospel message, many for the first time.
“A girl named Tanya came up and said, ‘Can I pray with you?’” Andrei said. “I asked her what exactly she wanted to pray about. She said, ‘I want to live like that, acting according to the truth.’”
“There’s so much heartache in Ukraine and across the former Soviet Union today,” said SGA’s Johnson. “Many children have been forsaken and abandoned. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is transforming the lives of thousands of children at the summer Bible camps.”
Founded in 1934, Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org) helps “forgotten” orphans, widows and families in Ukraine, Russia, the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel – caring for their physical needs and sharing the life-transforming Gospel. SGA supports an extensive grassroots network of local evangelical missionary pastors and churches in cities and rural villages across this vast region.
PHOTO CUTLINE: UKRAINE: ‘KIDS OF WAR’ FACE LIFE-CHANGING INJURIES: Ten-year-old Maryna kneels beside her bed and prays for the war in Ukraine to end. “Like thousands of children across Ukraine, Maryna is suffering the long-term effects of modern warfare,” says Michael Johnson, president of Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org).
MEDIA INTERVIEWS: To arrange an interview with SGA President Michael Johnson or SGA Senior Vice President Eric Mock, contact: Nicole Ponder, nponder@