Across war-torn Ukraine and the former Soviet Union, hundreds of upcoming Bible camps for children this summer are nothing short of a miracle.
Just over a generation ago, the only camps most children got to attend were communist indoctrination camps where they were taught there is no God and nothing exists beyond the physical world.
Neglect. Abuse. Abandonment. Far too many families torn apart by domestic violence and vodka-fueled outbursts.
Some of those atheist indoctrination camps – known as "pioneer camps" – were actually held on the same grounds where local church-run Bible camps will this summer share the Gospel message and God’s love with many children.
If that’s not a miracle, what is?
As many as 50,000 children will attend Bible camps this summer at 600-plus locations across the former Soviet Union, including Poland, where thousands of Ukrainian children are living as refugees. There will even be some camps in Ukraine.
These children are desperate to find real hope, something to cling to in the midst of the current chaos. They face a world that seems to be falling apart around them, and a war they cannot even begin to understand. Nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have fled their homes since the conflict began.
Across the vast region, tens of thousands of children will hear the Gospel for the first time this summer at camp and experience the care and compassion of local Christians. These efforts are being supported by American donors and Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org), a mission I lead that equips local evangelical churches on the ground.
3 little words
Every year, summer Bible camps have a life-changing impact on children who’ve been abused, abandoned and cast aside – children like Annika who grew up in an orphanage after her alcoholic parents mistreated her and left her to starve. At Bible camp, Annika learned God “wanted to heal all my pain” and give her a new life. “Three little words – ‘God loves you’ – transformed my life,” she says.
Thousands of hurting children, just like Annika, will hear those “3 little words” at Bible camps across the former Soviet Union in the coming weeks.
Last year, more than 3,300 children responded to the Gospel at camp, and nearly 3,000 of them began attending local churches near their homes. One pastor told us that his church was filled with children who brought their parents with them.
Radioactive fallout to Gospel dispersal
One of the Bible camps located near Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant – the site of the world’s worst-ever civil nuclear disaster in the 1980s – hosted children suffering from cancers and birth defects linked to the radioactive particles.
Now the turmoil in Ukraine is dispersing Gospel-charged “particles” – more Bible camps and more opportunities to spread the Gospel story.
Faithful local pastors and their congregations are pouring out God’s love on families impacted by the war, many of whom have never even set foot inside a church before. They’re feeding the hungry, turning Sunday School rooms into dormitories, and seeing children and their broken parents weep as they experience the Gospel “come alive” through the human touch of the local church.
This summer, Bible camps have the potential to cause a Gospel surge like never before, not only in Ukraine but also across Russia and other neighboring countries that have been in the shadow of darkness for too long.
Will you pray with me that the “children of atheism” and the “children of war” have the opportunity, at last, to become the “children of God”?
Michael Johnson is president of Slavic Gospel Association (www.sga.org), a mission that serves local evangelical churches across the former Soviet Union, sharing the Gospel with “forgotten” children, orphans, widows, and families.