Summer Bible Camp
When Ira, our MMK pastor to children and orphans, welcomed over seventy five kids from the war zone to the Mission’s summer camp, she insisted that they call her by her first name. She was quite emphatic, she says. But when asked what they call her, she answers, “Well, they all call me, ‘Mum.'”
And that seems appropriate because the camp, located just outside Kyiv, and approximately 600 km. from the war zone, feels like a gathering of a large extended family on a vacation. Just like it was intended.
On the grounds of the camp, ironically named “Zmina” or “Change”, there is much laughing and a joyful spirit of fun is constantly evident. The camp's days are full of various activities and games, but perhaps most important, the Mission has established a setting where wonderful life changing experiences of filial and spiritual intimacy have been created and experienced, that, according to testimony, have imbued the kids with numerous life affirming memories that they say will never be forgotten.
“We know most of the kids here because we work with them throughout the year in the war zone," Ira continues to explain. “We know their lives and most of their stories. And we know that by providing them such a peaceful place as this camp, they will have an opportunity to feel and experience love, to know that someone cares for them, to experience what it means to be part of a family. Here they’ll know quiet and peace. They are going to have an opportunity to heal."
Most campers are adolescents and have traveled from the war affected towns of Kromatorsk, Drushivka and Turetz, places that have experienced bombing, constant artillery shelling, street fighting and occupation. Many are orphans, others from broken homes. Some have been abandoned, while others come from loving Christian homes. Nonetheless, to an individual, all are children of war. All have suffered some tragic loss, experienced psychological trauma, and have felt the effects of the deprivations of war.
Every single one does not know what it means to live in peace or without a daily threat to their lives. All continue to experience various levels of stress. As children, some as young as eight or ten when the war started, have seen terrible things that they cannot erase from their mind's eye. It is not that they want to forget; they are unable to forget, forever being forced to deal with images that can never be unseen.
The camp has been organized as a place of respite, where kids could leave the sounds and sights of war, and who, in a natural environment, can escape the stresses of war for a short period of time.
“We are providing the kids an opportunity to not only expand their biblical knowledge and spiritual experiences, but also provide a guaranteed safe place. We have organized activities that would provide the kids with a quiet place to live and an opportunity to relax and play so as to allow them to overcome their stress."
Like all kids camps throughout the world, the days are full of activity: game playing, arts and crafts, sports.
However, this camp is unique because large parts of the day are dedicated to group discussions amongst the pine trees that seem to reach towards the heavens.
Here, amongst the imposed quiet of the forest, the meanderings of a slight breeze that just staves off the increasing heat of a late morning sun, the kids gather in their group circles.
They read scripture, pray and then share their stories. They confess their fears, explain their losses, seek understanding of the traumas forced upon their young lives and about which they had no power to prevent.
As each child speaks, it is as if they are revealing the most intimate secrets of their heart. Observing from a short distance away, one does not dare interrupt the intimacy of shared revelation of their heart. Though there are perhaps 15 to 20 persons, no one seems to move, as if moving would be a form of disrespect. Everyone is engrossed in each other’s stories, patiently listening, quietly understanding what the other is saying, reliving their own experiences in their own minds and hearts. There are many tears.
However, there is no reluctance to share ones deep and personal feelings because it’s clear all have experienced and been exposed to the ugly face of war and the trauma that it induces. Everybody is given a chance to participate, and all do because, from the beginning, a sense of caring and acceptance has been created, thus validating the integrity of their experiences beyond any doubt. Because here, at the camp, the kids are safe and have nothing to fear.
The Mission has these Bible camps because of a sense of caring, having realized the importance of each child being given the opportunity, the respect and the time, to be heard and to tell their story.
The groups of kids sitting on wooden benches listening to each other, at times crying with each other, experience a type of oasis, a place of respite and safety, a place where they can relax from the stress of their life journey.
“We created a family for those children who haven’t experienced what it means to be in a family," Ira explains.
Lera from Kramatorsk, aged fourteen, already thinks and speaks like an adult. She has seen things. At age ten, she was sitting in her classroom when an artillery shell exploded outside her classroom. She saw two of her classmates killed. “I remember, you know, I’ll never forget. I still see them. I’m waiting for the day that I can enlist,” she says in a determined voice.
As she walks away slowly, it is as if she is carrying a burden on her shoulders into the center of the camp to her new family, an opportunity provided by those from far away.
Hopefully, it is to laugh and to play with her friends, so that she doesn’t have to think about the war.
Observing her, this young brave woman, who just vowed to try to stop a war so that her children wouldn’t experience what she has lived through, one can only imagine what she would be thinking and who she would be, if she hadn’t seen the things that her young child eyes had seen.
Will you join us in Prayer?
Pray that God would protect these young people as many return to their homes in the active war zone.
Pray their relationship with Jesus will grow each day.
Pray they will continue to rely on Him and Him alone, even in the midst of difficult situations.
Pray that the war in Eastern Ukraine will end soon and that peace can be restored.