Summer camp in refugee camps? Yes, and it’s out of a truck.

By July 3, 2020

Lebanon (MNN) — Normally, summer means camp for many kids. Be it Vacation Bible School, band camp, or youth programs, kids dive into learning and games under the watchful eye of exhausted but patient camp counselors.

Then, COVID-19 put the kibosh on those plans for 2020. This summer, rather than hurling water balloons or staying up late in cabins, kids are mostly stuck at home.

But what if your home is countries away and ravaged by war? What if “camp” means a refugee camp, and summer programs are your only escape from a repetitive and impoverished lifestyle?

That’s the case for many kids in camps where Heart for Lebanon works. Thanks to coronavirus-induced restrictions, they can’t provide traditional summer programming and the escapism it offers. Instead, they’ve resorted to digital programs and minimal contact.

The programs are still effective, says Heart for Lebanon’s Tom Atema. “We know that because of the response we’re getting not only from the children and their parents, but what we see as we go visit the tents.” These visits, of course, strictly maintain the health measures required by local governments. Still, any face-to-face contact is meaningful for these struggling families.

(Photo courtesy of Heart for Lebanon)

And as of June 16, face-to-face Bible study meetings are back on. On June 24, the first Kurdish Hope On Wheels Bible study kicked off.

It’s this last ministry that’s taking an especially unusual form during quarantine. Normally, the Hope On Wheels ministry takes a literal truckload of games, puppet shows, and club activities from refugee camp to camp. The goal is to keep kids not only entertained but filled with hope.

“We believe working with children as young as possible is a game changer for the Near East,” Atema says. “It’s an ability to take these children who have been living at or below the extreme poverty line and who have lost everything living in total despair… and rescue them with the love of Jesus Christ.”

“HOPE”, in the context of Heart for Lebanon, stands for “Helping Overcome Poverty through Education.” That education, alongside Christ-centered messages of love and faith, take the form of an educational fun truck.

But with a pandemic gripping every corner of the world with its diseased fingers, a truck can’t travel from camp to camp. That means 17 refugee camps are short their visit from Hope On Wheels.

Or are they?

Even though the truck can’t go visit each location, kids have staged their own versions of Hope On Wheels activities. Older kids organize games for younger kids, children put on their own puppet shows, and young fans of the truck mimic the lessons and stories they learned through Hope on Wheels.

Photo courtesy of Heart for Lebanon

In response, Heart for Lebanon has plans to help. They’ve built a team that works to produce Hope On Wheels digital content, such as videos and stories, that are now being shared across the world. This fall, Atema says they hope to have a dedicated Facebook page for Hope On Wheels content.

It goes to show that even a global pandemic can’t stop the joy and peace of the Gospel from touching even the youngest hearts. Pray for the continued success of ministries like this one, ask God to work in the hearts of the young kids you know who can’t attend camp this summer, and consider supporting Heart for Lebanon’s work directly right here.



Header photo courtesy of Heart for Lebanon.

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