Former Soviet Union (MNN) — Summer camp is an exciting and fun-filled prospect for a lot of kids in the West. Camp is a fun, regular part of life in the former Soviet Union, too, but it can also be risky.
Slavic Gospel Association has been supporting church-run summer camps in the former Soviet Union for years. Many of the nations have come a long way since the Soviet days, but religious freedom continues to tighten in many Central Asian countries, often in response to extremism. Sadly, that means even religious summer camps suffer.
"The government is putting new restrictions and challenges on a lot of these camps, including in some restricted nations where they will come into the camps with film crews as well as different investigators to try to find proof that these camps are illegal," says SGA's Vice President Eric Mock. "They can't find that proof, but it disturbs the children enough that it makes it more difficult."
Although SGA works with registered churches, suspicion arises, partly due to the fact that these churches are often in line with Western evangelical beliefs. The growing sense of nationalism in many of these countries makes seemingly-foreign ideas suspect and unwelcome.
There are actual legal concerns in other nations. Tajikistan introduced a law in 2011 to ban most children under 18 from participating in religious activities. No one is quite sure how this will affect camps. Under Kazakhstan's new religion law which went into effect a couple of months later, it is also unclear as to whether or not children's camps will be restricted.
But Mock confirms that it is not a question of IF the camps will take place this summer, only perhaps WHERE.
"If they can't be in an overt camp, I am certain they will do day camps. I am certain they will do outreaches in the facility of their own church," says Mock.
It would be far easier to cancel the camps if there is any doubt. But after witnessing time and time again the long-term impact the camps have on children and then adults, canceling is out of the question for SGA-connected churches.
"What we have seen from these summer camps are orphaned children–children even in very good homes as well as neglected homes–who from these summer camp ministries get involved in their local church, are discipled through the Sunday school programs, go to additional summer camps, and get involved in serving even as teenagers in their local church," explains Mock. "We see massive fruit coming out of this."
And the need to plant those Gospel seeds is getting more vital than ever. "The window that we saw when the wall went down and the countries of the former Soviet Union opened up: that window is shrinking," says Mock.
In some areas, people are becoming less open to the Gospel. It's critical that churches reach as many as they can with the Truth before the window closes, says Mock, but they can't do it alone.
"Pray that local churches, in spite of opposition, will boldly stand for their faith and look for God's leading and prompting in unique ways to engage these kids with the Gospel," says Mock.
You can help support these camp programs this summer–as well as ongoing discipleship through local churches afterward–at www.sga.org.