There are few things in the world as uplifting as children filled with joy.
But for thousands of children in Ukraine, joy is the last emotion they are likely to feel. Instead, many experience a life dominated by fear, poverty and danger. In the conflict zones of Eastern Ukraine, children live under the constant threat of shelling and warfare. In destitute Roma camps in West Ukraine, thousands of children live in abject poverty. Here, high mortality rates mean that death is a regular visitor to families, often hanging over them like a dark cloud. In these places many children do not know where their next meal will come from.
Children like Sveta. Sveta is from a Romany village in Ukraine. Because of the poverty in her village she rarely gets three meals a day. She is also unable to go to school and is unlikely to ever get a job. As a Roma girl she also faces deep discrimination and open racism from other parts of society. Imagine how this affects her self-confidence.
For these children, it is essential that we give them a safe space. A place where they can be themselves and feel valued for who they are. Where they can rediscover what it means to be a child. And a place where they can hear about God’s love for them.
This is why we support our graduate leaders as they run summer camps for disadvantaged children across the country. Perhaps the most important aspect of these camps is that they offer children a safe space to have fun, make friends and forget their usual troubles. Committed volunteers ensure that the children are well fed with delicious and nutritious food. The volunteers also spend lots of time attending to the often substantial social and emotional needs of the children who attend.
Marina Kravchenko, who helps organise some of these camps shares: “Many of the children when they arrive are desperate for love and attention, and respond with glee when the leaders spend time with them.” These children have experienced the worst that life has to offer. But when they leave camps, for the first time in their lives many of these children believe that they are worth something; that they can make something of themselves in life.
But it’s not just about meeting physical and emotional needs. While they’re at the camps, the children also get the chance to hear about their Saviour. And we see again and again how eagerly the children receive God’s message of Hope and Redemption. Each year hundreds of children receive Christ while attending summer Bible camps run by our partner pastors and their churches.
This is especially true within the Roma communities. In this community, so blighted by poverty, we are seeing God bringing young people to Himself in great numbers. Last year 60% of the children who attended these camps became Christians. Perhaps it is because the Roma community experiences so much oppression that they receive God’s message of redemption so eagerly.
We are so excited that these children are now in the Kingdom! We pray that God will continue to bless and protect them throughout their lives.
However, there are so many more children who need to hear the gospel, and who eagerly desire an opportunity to attend these camps. It is these children that we now want to serve.
Because of this, our graduate pastors will be running 6 more camps across Ukraine this summer. You can see where in Ukraine these camps are happening in the picture above. Please pray for each of these camps: for all the details and logistics, that the children would have a wonderful time at the camps, and that God would bring all of the children who attend to himself. I’ve included a few details on each camp so you know how to pray.
Abundant Life Church will be running a summer camp for 70 orphans from three state-run orphanages in the Kiev area. Abundant Life Church has developed an excellent relationship with these orphanages over the years, and will be continuing to attend to the social and emotional needs of these children as well as bringing them the gospel.
Holy Trinity Church, Kharkiv will be holding a summer camp for 90 Roma children who have been displaced because of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. This will be held at a former Soviet pioneer camp. Some of our graduate leaders have set up churches in the conflict zone around Kharkiv. They will be able to continue to minister to the children well after the camps have finished.
Agape Church, Lubny is a church that has only recently set up in the area. Their desire is to run a summer camp for disadvantaged children from the locality, where they can hear the gospel and experience lots of games and fun.
New Covenant Church, Perechin is a church in the centre of the Roma community in the Carpathian Mountains. The Roma community here experiences great oppression from other groups in the area. As a result, they live in great poverty and most people are unemployed. Mortality rates are also very high. This camp will provide 50 children with an exciting summer camp, where they will be well fed, experience lots of fun and games and hear about God’s love for them.
Source of Faith Church, Homel, Belarus has been working with families who live in deep poverty. Sixty children will attend the camp, most of whom are from families struggling to feed and clothe their kids. This experience will provide valuable respite for the parents, but will also give the children an opportunity to extend their horizons, take part in new activities and games, be well fed and hear about God’s love.
Hosanna Church, Lviv Oblast is ministering in a community where poverty and alcoholism is rife. Many children have had very negative experiences at home. The church will be running a camp to teach the children about new possibilities, to give them excellent games and activities, and to provide them with excellent mentoring. They will also get lots of excellent food to eat!!