75,000 vulnerable children, orphans expected to attend Bible camps across former Soviet Union during ‘summer of suffering’
LOVES PARK, Ill. — The Ukraine war and growing desperation in hard times are driving a surge in the number of children expected to flock to Bible camps this summer across the former Soviet Union, a region once steeped in atheism.
Amid fears the Ukraine conflict could escalate at any moment, Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org) says it expects more than 800 local evangelical churches partnering with the ministry to run summer Bible camps in Ukraine, Russia and neighboring countries this year, hosting a total of 75,000 orphans and vulnerable children.
“Amid war, upheaval, hunger and growing poverty, children and their parents are desperate for hope in what otherwise could be a summer of suffering and struggle,” said SGA president Michael Johnson.
‘Amazing’ Response to Gospel
Last year, as a result of more than 700 summer Bible camps held in 10 countries, Johnson said more than 7,000 children decided to follow Christ and more than 11,000 said they wanted to start going to church — double the previous year.
In Ukraine, Bible camps took place last summer in the war zone. When attack sirens went off, children took cover until the all-clear was given.
“Many children are from non-Christian homes where poverty, hunger and alcoholism are common, and they’ve never heard the Gospel before,” Johnson said. “As they hear about Christ’s love for the first time and experience the genuine care of local Christians, the response is amazing. Thousands are receiving the Gospel, joining local churches, and being baptized.”
Rayana in Kazakhstan explained how a church summer camp changed her life. She grew up in an orphanage, feeling unwanted. At Bible camp, she discovered that God and local Christians actually loved her.
“Christian camps are different, because children change, and the truths affect their hearts,” said Rayana, who now shares God’s love with a new generation of unwanted and neglected children. “Nowadays, it’s very difficult to talk about Christ in the orphanages. At the Bible camps (we) can do much more.”
‘Hugging Hands,’ God’s Embrace
Olya also grew up in an orphanage in Kazakhstan. “Every child in orphanages receives a mental trauma,” she said. “They become insecure, withdrawn, closed off and unhappy.”
When Olya went to an SGA-supported Bible camp, she felt people cared about her for the first time in her life. Local church volunteers showed Olya that Christ “gives his love to all children who lack hugging hands.”
“Camp reminded us of one real, loving family,” she said. “Children form ideas about how to live with each other, respect each other, love each other. All this helps children to create families in the future, to care and love the way we were loved by our (camp leaders).”
Once they’ve experienced this “loving family,” children are eager to share their experience and new hope with others.
In Belarus, Pastor Alexander recalls how Danik, a seven-year-old boy at camp, left his friends playing games to tell passersby “God loves people… (and) is always there.” The young evangelist invited them all to church, and more new people came that month than ever before.
“This is a beautiful affirmation of the work God is doing in the midst of all the turmoil and war,” Johnson said.
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: ‘HUGGING HANDS,’ GOD’S EMBRACE: Amid war and turmoil, Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org) expects more than 800 local evangelical churches partnering with the Illinois-based ministry to run summer Bible camps in Ukraine, Russia and neighboring countries this year, hosting a total of 75,000 orphans and vulnerable children.