As we think back and remember our earlier years, quite often a favorite memory might be of a week at a Vacation Bible School or summer camp. We remember a certain counselor or a new friend. We might remember the games or even a special food with which we were treated. But best of all for some of us, we fondly remember hearing the Gospel for the first time. It may have been through that experience that we heard the Gospel and were saved.
The importance of these opportunities to share the Good News of Christ with these young children cannot be dismissed. God continues to have His hand of blessing not only upon the children, but the leaders as well. Be encouraged as you read the testimonies from those impacted by the SGA-sponsored Summer Bible Camp in Belarus, as shared by SGA-supported Pastor Valery. Please pray that these will be days that will be remembered in the years to come, as a time when people’s lives were changed by the love and grace of God.
God’s peace to you, dear brothers, and sisters! We heartily thank you for your prayerful and all possible support of the children’s ministry . . . and, in particular, the ministry with disabled children. From June 26 to 30, 2023, the Lord allowed us the opportunity to organize and conduct a Vacation Bible School for children . . . their friends, and for children with special developmental needs and disabilities. In total, more than 30 people worked in the VBS and more than 110 children attended: either in the role of students, or in the role of assistant counselors.
Our main task was to bring the message of the Gospel to the children in a clear, interesting, and memorable form, so that they understood the essence of the Gospel and under the leading of the Holy Spirit, would repent and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Praise God, more than 25 children prayed the prayer of repentance at the end of the VBS. About 15 new children expressed a desire to enroll in Sunday school, and some of them came to the house of prayer immediately on the first Sunday after the VBS.
I would like to point out that after repentance, the students of VBS and tent camps become real helpers in future ministry and in the church, and then become active members of local churches [in this] region. Almost every year, we take them to other cities of Belarus and Russia where they get married, go to study, or work after graduation and where they become good helpers to the pastors of the local congregations. So, the effect of the VBS is huge and necessary—we should continue to hold them. Special thanks to all those who donate funds, print, and supply us with Bibles and other Christian literature. Here are some testimonies of how God is at work through these ministries . . .
Olga, our coordinator, shared with us that the mother of some of the children who visited the VBS said that her children started to read the Christian literature and books as soon as they got home, and even put their phones aside to read them. Thank God for this!
Katya, 12 years old, repented. “Before this camp, I did not 100 percent believe in the existence of God, but a couple days after the camp started, I began to believe in Him. Before that I didn’t pray at all, now I started praying before meals, and at home I started talking to God in the morning and in the evening. I like this camp.”
Julia, 10 years old, repented. “I learned to pray more, to treat my parents and other people well. I got all of this in the camp. I am very interested in it.”
Milana, 10 years old, repented. “After the Bible lessons at the camp, I wanted to pray more. I stopped being shy, and I want to get to know each other more and make friends. Today before the sports game, I prayed and asked God for help and won a prize. I don’t want to be rude; I want to be friends with everyone.”
Yura, 21, prayed a prayer of repentance: “I was invited to the camp by Pastor Valery. I liked it very much. Here I was taught to love my neighbor and God, and the most important thing: I realized that in this world only God really cares for me. He died for me. I learned about it at Aunt Luda’s lessons. It’s very fun here, cool lessons, interesting games that Aunt Olga conducts. I enjoyed the slide, trampolines, cotton candy and popcorn here. I’m ready to come here every day. The food here is delicious, the counselors are friendly and kind—not like in other camps where they swear and yell at kids for nothing. And also, I really liked to help. I want to serve God, help everyone, and praise Him.”
Tatiana (counselor of a group of children with disabilities and employee of the day care center for young disabled people): “During the first days of the camp there were no complaints from my attendees, on the contrary, a flood of positive emotions. In the morning, taking the children to the camp, I did not hear a single dissatisfied word from them, just the opposite, among them there was communication, smiles, interest in some common cause. Every day in the camp there are activities in which everyone participates. But now the vacation is over, and the children sadly left this camp. They often told me in the evenings what friends they made there, what caring, and kind counselors are there, what interesting games there are in the street and on Biblical themes. All my children hope that next year will come soon, and they will be in this camp again. I like this camp.”
Natasha (counselor and psychologist at the Center for Corrective and Developmental Education and Rehabilitation): “I work as a psychologist in the center of correction and rehabilitation for disabled children and therefore I was a counselor of a group of special children. Today a miracle happened—the mother of a disobedient child came to the camp. Her child behaved so inadequately and even aggressively that many people did not know what to do, so we had to invite his mom. We met her and had a very warm conversation. Zina was crying, telling us about the problems in their family: her husband is very jealous, beats and hurts her and the children, and does not allow her to attend church services, but she sometimes secretly comes when her husband is not at home. She told us how hard it is for her with the disobedient children. In response, we invited her to bring her children to Sunday school and told her that there was hope for improvement if she would attend church and become an obedient disciple of Christ. Thanks to God’s providence and God’s love, who knows how to turn difficult moments in our lives into wonderful opportunities to tell others that there is salvation, and it is in Christ. With God’s help, we were able to plant good seeds of the Gospel in Zina’s heart and in the hearts of her three children. We will wait for the sprouting. The camp was very cool. I really liked the high level of organization and spiritual atmosphere.”
Sergei (counselor), 27 years old. “It was my first time at the camp as a counselor of a group with disabled kids. It was a strong learning experience first of all for me. I learned patience and love for people who are quite different from healthy people with normal development. I am very glad that I went to this camp, because God, through the wonderful spiritual atmosphere of the VBS helped me to overcome the betrayal of a loved one, gave me the opportunity to look at my life with different eyes and gave me hope for the future.”
Artyom (counselor), 18 years old. “I was a counselor for teenagers who thought they were cool and grown up. It was really funny and amusing to see their attempts to show their “coolness.” I saw myself in them a couple of years ago. Yes, it was often very difficult with them. I realize they are going through a difficult time, but it was very interesting. I do not regret that I went to this camp. Seeing the changes in myself and others that God accomplishes through His word is really cool!”
Pavel (cameraman), 13 years old. “I go to the camps organized by my dad every year. I have been an assistant counselor many times before, and now I have been working as a cameraman for several years. But in this camp, I felt that I discovered something new and very important. I saw how through our joint teamwork, God opens the hearts of children to perceive the Gospel and how these spoiled boys and girls repent before God. With all my heart, I hope and believe that the children who prayed the prayer of repentance will continue to walk in life with God and tell others about Him. For me personally, this is important! “
Lyudmila, Bible lessons teacher. “I have taught Bible lessons to older and younger children. This was my first experience teaching lessons for not only children and teens with normal development, but also for children with disabilities and children with special needs. Much to my surprise, they listened well, answered questions on the topic covered, and demonstrated all the gestures with me. Children came up to me and asked me many different questions about the material they had learned during the lessons.
For example: Will I still come back to earth after death? Could I help him determine whether he is a believer or not? How can I get rid of any sin? Children asked me to pray for them and with them. So, one day a boy of 8 years old came to me. He was crying and asked me to pray for him on my knees, because he has many scary dreams, and it seems as if the devil is pulling him to hell. It was very important for him that I prayed for him on my knees and asked God for him.
Of course, children play, laugh, fool around, they can be distracted, but I can see with joy that somewhere in the depths of their hearts they think very seriously about God, about eternity, deeply experience family problems, appreciate, and have a fear of losing their dads and moms. I talked to the teenagers about their relationship with their parents, about misunderstandings, about offenses, but, unfortunately, I did not have enough time for personal conversations with the children.
I am very grateful to God that Valery allowed me to take my teenagers from the Sunday School . . . as helpers. In the process of working together I got to know them better, and I was able to have a little influence on their lives and on the children’s ministry. To Valery: I really like your missionary heart. You are looking for unbelievers and doing everything you can to help them hear the Gospel message. God’s blessings to your church!!! Thank you so much for inviting me to serve with you and for the good experience of working with children with disabilities!”
Anna, employee of the day care center for young disabled people. “Every year we visit the summer camp . . . with the children from the day care center for disabled children at the invitation of the pastor, Valery. Our children attend the camp with great joy, they even start talking about it in the winter: Rita, who has a diagnosis of autism, long before the camp started asking her mom and us: when will we go to camp to Uncle Valery? Staying in camp is very beneficial for everyone and we, the specialists of the department, notice that every year in the behavior of our children there are striking changes for the better. For example, the guys began to show such qualities as a kind attitude to each other, many stopped using swear words, and began to turn to God with prayer. We often pray with them right in the center.
Eduard repented during his stay in the camp and wanted to be baptized, but his mother does not allow it yet. Karina, after a similar VBS, also repented and was baptized and became a member of the church. Before that, she had been in severe depression for several years. She did not want to do anything to improve her condition and no persuasions from her mother and doctors worked. Karina saw no point in living and fighting against the difficulties of fate. After the first days of her stay in VBS, she told her mom that she wanted to do therapeutic physical training. Every morning she dressed herself and got ready for the camp. It was a pleasant and unexpected surprise for her mom. We can tell a lot more about the positive impact of VBS on our children. It is really a great help to us in our work with them. It can be very difficult to convince them not to do evil or strive for something better, which requires effort.
We, the day care center specialists and our guys are delighted and very satisfied with the organization of the camp, with good food, and most importantly with the clear language with which the Gospel was explained to us. A big slide, trampolines, popcorn and cotton candy made a big impression on everyone. Not only most of our kids, but even the counselors and staff went down the slide and jumped on the trampolines. What I am most excited about is that our children came to camp with great joy to hear about God.
On behalf of all the staff of the day care center, I express a huge heartfelt gratitude to all the sponsors, camp organizers, cooks from the church. counselors and their helpers, who invested so much time, labor and effort in our children. We see and believe that it will not go in vain.”
Lyudmila, “Coram Deo” counsellor: “I thank God and Pastor Valery for inviting me to this children’s camp! I spent a wonderful time in it and also saw a lot of useful things for me. It was the first time I came across such a program of Bible lessons for children. It is amazing in content and accessible to children and therefore very helpful and effective., I was amazed that the children seemed to memorize the daily different topics that were presented to them without much difficulty, actively answered the questions of the presenter, and also repeated aloud a large number of Scripture passages and accompanied the texts with certain gestures, and on the last day they repeated aloud all 5 topics that were passed during this time (one topic per day), with Bible verses and gestures. It was great!!! The children will go home with a good base of understanding of who God is, man, sin, Jesus Christ, faith and conversion or repentance. I was pleasantly impressed and surprised, that the program had a good balance of Bible lessons with sports games and creative work! There was a good, family friendly atmosphere on the team and with the children. For the last two days, a team from . . . a Bible school, came to VBS. They brought and installed a large slide, trampolines, and machines for making cotton candy and delicious popcorn. There was no limit to the delight of the children and adults!”