Here is a story from our recent Challenger publication.
Every summer, BIEM sponsors Christian camps in Eastern Europe. This year, your donations helped the Baptist church in Lutsk, Ukraine, to try a first: a camp for kids with disabilities. Due to the unique needs of each child, families wanting to send a special-needs camper also sent one parent. BIEM missionary Valia Yankovska shares her impressions:
I constantly thank God that I can have a role in the lives of young people through ministry in the church. Once again, with the help of the whole BIEM team, we’ve been able to hold an evangelistic
camp, this time for special-needs children and their parents. We prepared diligently, and we were concerned, because this was a first for us.
We held the camp 25 miles from Lutsk. We stayed in a two-story building with rooms for four, six, or eight people. On the first floor we held Bible studies and craft time. We ran the games outside and in the large hall where we had Bible lessons for adults.
We had two puppet shows. One of those presentations was written and performed by mothers of the kids, and that was interesting. At the end, someone needed to summarize the show’s meaning and tie it to the Bible lesson, which Ludmila did. Later she told how hard her heart was beating, but then how “easy it was on her soul” when she’d finished She’s only recently begun to read the Bible. For her, praying before meals was new. She found the Bible to be a wise and interesting book; indeed it holds answers for all her questions. She asked how people can fully obey the Lord and also pursue their own plans and personal life? We spent a lot of time in conversation.
Of course, leaders were busy with the children. To our surprise, all the children were obedient. I’m amazed by their openness, their smiles, and friendliness. Age-wise, some are no longer children, but mentally they are young. Our No. 1 rule is to talk to them normally, without pity, as if to ordinary kids.
These special-needs children were so active in games. They read the Bible aloud, they sang, and they performed all exercises during morning calisthenics. This was exhilarating and instructional for all the children. They tried their hardest, even though it didn’t always work out.
One boy, Victor, always ran to games and calisthenics. Some exercises were hard for him, but he asked his mom to help. His mother, Tanya, was delighted with her son’s camp experience. In camp, he opened up and laughed and was cheerful. At home he was reserved, grumpy, and fearful. How surprised she was when he joined in relay races and even knew how to be a good loser. She cried from joy that you revealed secret sides of her son, and that her boy felt what it’s like to be a needed part of a team, to be like everyone else. When there was a call to repentance, this boy lowered his head and prayed. His mom prayed, too.
Andrei, 15, had a reputation of hurting people. Other kids feared being in the same room with him, even when his mother stood beside him. On the first day, he learned the difference between a winner and a loser, and he tried with all his might to be among the winners. One time he lost at a game. He cried like a little child. But later he realized such things happen and that the first step toward victory is to be victorious over one’s self. He began to obey his mother and leaders. He enjoyed helping and encouraging littler ones. By camp’s end, he was a “kind and gentle bear.”
Some children misbehaved, and they deserved punishment. But Maksim (a leader) volunteered to take the punishment in their place, so he was swatted with stinging nettles. Afterward Maksim explained that Jesus died on the cross for you and for me to take our guilt on Himself so that we can have eternal life with God in Heaven. Andrei absorbed this lesson, and he prayed for forgiveness and salvation. His mother, Elena, works at a school. She has no spare time for training her son. Now, at the end of camp, she seriously wants to fellowship with us. She has seen God at work in her family, and that only He can help her cope with her son.
Luba and her granddaughter Inna, 16, had never been in a camp. (After Luba’s daughter gave birth to a disfigured daughter, the daughter’s husband left them. Luba’s daughter cried for a long while; then she gave Inna to her mother before she, too, departed to start a new life without the disabled daughter.) Luba has raised and schooled her granddaughter at home. Luba told how it hurts that Inna has no friends. When Inna was an infant, it hurt to take her outside. Everyone stared, and children laughed at Inna. Physically, she’s 16, but her mental age is half that, so she has no friends.
Luba said, “When we were invited to church, I was afraid to go. But then I saw and felt the friendliness, understanding, and support. Inna really looks forward to church. At home, she repeats the lessons to her grandfather. And I received Jesus into my heart as my Savior. I’m thankful to those who have given me the chance to be in this camp with my granddaughter. I want to read the Bible, to study it, and wish for my granddaughter to receive salvation, too. It’s sad for me to think about Grandfather and I passing away and Inna having no one to live with. After all, no one needs an ill child, and the retirement home probably wouldn’t accept her. But for now we live in God’s joy, and I ask for the Lord’s mercy concerning the salvation of Grandpa and my granddaughter.”
Inna reads the Bible, and in this way she uplifts herself. It’s a little hard to understand her words, but she reads confidently. In camp she read verses to all of us — and she was happy.
Thank you, friends of BIEM, for caring and for giving to make many, many camps possible. Your love is touching lives for Christ!