As a busy summer recedes, I want to share a few stories from kids and counselors who attended MP camps. Space does not permit sharing all that happened, but we saw the Holy Spirit moving in many young lives across the Republic of Georgia, in Ukraine, and in our English camp in Kosovo. Thank you so much for your support in sending these kids to camps!
Three Summer Camps and Four Church Camps Supported by MP in Ukraine
“Heroes of the Faith” was our camp theme in Ukraine. Each day, a Bible “hero” spoke in Chapel, in the first person as that Bible character. One day was Moses, another day was Joseph. Each character made the Bible come alive by sharing his or her story, including their personal struggles. At the end of camp, all the heroes emphasized how their stories pointed to Christ, God’s Son–His arrival, His death, and His resurrection from the dead for all of us.
“My Mom Never Showed Up” – from Jason Bell, team leader
One of the boys in my group, named Bogdan, opened up during candle time, the time in the evening when we talk and pray together as a small group. As he shared his story, Bogdan showed pictures of his mother and explained how tough it was for him to forgive the man who killed her.
“I went to school one day,” he said, “and my mom never showed up. I never saw her again.” On her way to pick up her son from school, a truck driver plowed into her and killed her. Bogdan now lives with his uncle. His counselor, Alex, talked privately with Bogdan about the story of Joseph–about forgiveness and about the bigger picture of how God forgives us and the wrong things we do. We really worked as a team.
Another boy in our group was from Eastern Ukraine. He explained that he hadn’t been home in a long time because there was a war in his town. During the days at camp, the kids would hang on us, cling to us, and call us their second mom or second dad. The late night candle time really helped us to connect with them and understand them. They look like normal kids, but when you learn their stories you realize how much they have suffered and how important these camps are.
The Renewing Hope of Jesus Always Breaks Through
By Zach Bell – This was my eleventh trip to Ukraine to serve at a Mercy Projects camp. I’ve been ten times within the last eight years while working as the mission trip coordinator at MP, and I am so thankful for this ministry.
I’ve seen kids grow up through our programs and then graduate out, replaced by different kids the following year. Some of my “camp kids” are now my translators; we are all getting older.
In Ukraine, we identify young people whose families are disrupted or destroyed. Perhaps a dad has abandoned the family, a mom is in prison, family members are handicapped, a brother died in the war, or kids have been abandoned to live with a grandma. With each new batch of kids, the stories are similar but with new names and faces. It’s hard to see.
What encourages me, however, is to watch the transforming hope of Jesus working in each new bunch of children. At camp, the kids are introduced to stories and principles from God’s Word. They then meet real people–their counselors from Ukraine and America–who share their own stories of hope in Jesus. Our goal is not only salvation for the kids, but that the cycles of poverty, divorce, alcohol abuse, and abandonment will be broken. We tell them their stories are not finished. Jesus loves them. It’s time for forgiveness and reconciliation. Their pasts may leave scars, but God can do amazing things in these–the youngest of our new brothers and sisters in Christ.
My Translator, Natasha
Natasha is in her early 30’s and it was her first time serving in a MP camp. We were talking casually and I told her the story I had just heard about a child:
This young boy was one of only two black boys in camp. His father is from Africa and his mother is Ukrainian. They met at university and had a child together. Upon graduation however, he returned to Africa. The boy now lives with his mother and grandmother in a country where there is still a stigma attached to having black skin.
Natasha acknowledged this as a difficult situation. You don’t have to dig too deep to find stories like this one. She then shared her own story. “This is somewhat like my father,” Natasha said. “He was an alcoholic. For decades he just ‘checked out’ of the family. He’s sober now but I have no relationship with him.” “So where is he now?” I ask innocently, assuming that he is gone. “He lives on the other side of the wall in our divided apartment. My parents do not talk or ever see each other.”
The young boy’s father is a continent away. Natasha’s father is next door but still absent. Nevertheless, the hope of Jesus is real, and it was beautiful to see Natasha share that hope after so many years of pain. Miracles happen in the hearts of kids because of Jesus. Thank you to all our supporters for making His love real to them.
Donate to Mercy Projects today to keep ministries like Summer Camp going: