Russia (MNN) – Summer camp usually brings to mind an excess of sun and fun and games. But do you ever think about how important and impactful these ministries are? Even life-saving?
In Russia, many of the orphans are considered social orphans, meaning they have one parent still living who is either unwilling or unable to care for them. Many of the kids struggle with anger and feelings of abandonment. They age out of the system at age 18, and receive some government help in the future. But many of them have never learned valuable and basic life skills. Like many orphans, the future holds the dangers of drugs, prostitution, crime, and suicide.
That’s what makes SOAR International’s support of local churches so valuable in Russia. Working with the local Church and through their relationships with communities, SOAR has been ministering to orphans and impoverished children and families for many years. Summer ministry is just a tiny piece of what they do to support the Church’s ongoing ministry.
The SOAR team just wrapped up one summer camp in Ryazan, and SOAR’s Joanna Mangione shares how it went.
From Ryazan, Mangione said, “We hold classes every single day for the youth from the transition home—for the graduated orphans. This year we are teaching them things like art, and science, and astronomy, as well as Bible and English as a way in which to show Christ in the midst of creation.”
In Ryazan, they had a couple of dozen youth come each day. And for the kids program which they held every other morning, about 33 kids attended to learn English, do crafts, and play games. Mangione says for a small team of five, it was quite a handful, but they were excited to see the numbers grow each day.
The attendees came from a couple churches in the area, the transition home, and the neighborhood. And twice a week, they held English classes for adults from the area as well. “It’s been a huge encouragement to see the response,” Mangione says.
But more exciting than the number of people attending is the transformation that takes place.
Mangione explains, “The kids that we met last year, we’ve gotten to meet again this year and interact with them and see the way God has impacted their lives over the last year since we last saw them.”
One volunteer remembers from last year a boy “who had a little bit more anger in his eyes, who was not always happy, who didn’t enjoy the program at all.” But this year, Mangione explains, he became a Christian and instead of anger, there was joy in his eyes.
“The change is just drastic,” she says.
Another youth also exemplified this transformation with a giving heart. He bought the whole transition home, the SOAR team, and some church workers lunch.
“His heart has just become so big and he just wants to give and he was nothing like that last year.”
Also on this trip, the team got to be with a graduated orphan as she walked through the door of her very first, and very own apartment. It was an emotional, beautiful moment to witness, Mangione says.
“Things are going really well here, and God is moving for sure.”
Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the cost of ministry
Up next, the team will head to the Podolsk suburb. Here, they will be teaching an English intensive program. After that, they’ll spend a week in St. Petersburg to teach English and help with crafts for children in that community.
“We’ve still got quite a bit of summer left, a lot of teaching before us, and a lot of kids and youth and adults yet to interact with. And we are extremely excited for it and excited for what God has in store for the rest of the summer.”
Despite the amazing things that are happening in Russia, ministry does take a toll. As they head to the next projects, a new team will jump into the action full force to teach English class eight hours a day. Mangione says minus one developing cold, the current team is doing well and that it’s “been a wonderful team to have on the ground here.” But the work can be exhausting.
“It is a go-go-go kind of a project, so prayer for stamina, prayer for health [is needed].”
Additionally, the churches hosting them over the summer give of a lot of their own resources. Depending on the structure of the program at each church, they will provide food for the children and youth and volunteer team. You can help support these churches by donating to SOAR’s summer ministry fund, here.
Mangione says our prayers are also much appreciated.
“Be praying for the kids and the adults and the youth who are coming that they would feel God’s love, and that their hearts would be opened and prepared to hear about Him. And then, pray for the churches we are partnering with this summer that God would just bless them immensely and that God would use them in the cities they are in to reach as many as possible for His glory.”
The Global Body of Christ
The encouragement the team has felt doesn’t just come from the life transformations they’ve seen in the kids, but also through the enthusiasm of the Russian churches to serve.
“One of the things that our volunteers say when they come to here to Ryazan and really to any of the churches here in Russia is the community of love and grace that the churches bestow upon everyone who walks through the doors.”
SOAR’s Partnership with these churches has been a great example of how the Body of Christ can work together.
“I think it’s the perfect model that God lays out for us — is how we are to interact as a family in ministry, how to support each other in ministry, [and] how to come alongside one another in ministry. It’s a beautiful picture of what the Church should be, whether it be in Russia, whether it be in the U.S., whether it be in China, whether it be wherever the Church is and from wherever you come from.”
This partnership and the transformation they’ve seen happen through it, Mangione says, is not due to them. And the church workers will tell you that again and again.
“No matter how many times you say, ‘Wow, you’re doing a great job,’ every response that you hear is, ‘Praise the Lord, praise the Lord. It’s God, it’s God.’”
And because of God, the precious lives of these orphans are being saved from despair, loneliness, and hurt.
“Their lives are changing, and it’s amazing to see from one year to the next them go from being grumpy, and not smiling, and angry, and violent, to eyes that are twinkling with joy, and smiles, and laughter.”