Throughout my time in Ukraine our ministry (Orphan's Promise) has been privileged to be involved in dozens of summer camps. When I stop and count them the number actually adds up to 16 camps that I've participated in. Wow...now I'm starting to feel old. Probably because the kids stay in the same age range....its just us volunteers that get older!
Each summer brings with it new challenges and new faces (and some familiar ones too). Faces that then become names we learn and names that become stories of individual lives. Individuals who have lived through an immense amount of pain and loss in their 14-18 years of living.
On the first day of the camp, kids from 3 different orphanages unloaded the bus and were instructed to divide into groups of 3 people so that we could then form teams (we figured if they were at least with 2 of their favorite friends they couldn't get mad at us for then mixing them with kids from the other orphanages). As they began to divide into groups I began to have flash backs to my worst days of High School. The days when you saw the 'cool' kids picking one another and the not as cool kids shoved to the other side. (Repressed memories-- I know).
Some things are universal I guess.
As this popularity contest was happening and some kids were quickly grasping their bosom buddies, my eyes settled on one girl - the girl who looked lost among the mass of teens, the girl who clearly didn’t have friends to partner with.
There she stood, all alone, wondering who would pick her and where she would end up. My heart broke for her and I knew right then and there that we would become friends that week.
Later that day I would learn her name was Oksana and she was 16-years-old. Throughout the week I learned pieces of her story. Orphaned at 12, abandoned by relatives, placed in a foster family and eventually in the orphanage. It was clear that Oksana was a survivor.
As the days of the camp went by Oksana came out of her shell and truly began to take in all she was learning. Such a delightful girl! After a few days she was already on stage, helping lead the worship sessions. Then in a prayer time with her leader, Oksana prayed to receive Jesus as her savior. (YEAH!)
On the last day I asked Oksana if she’d mind sharing some of the things that were the most meaningful to her while at the camp ---things that I'd be able to share with others. I was so touched by the eloquence of her own words, so I'll let her speak for herself:
“I can’t even express in words everything I want to say,” she said. “It felt like I was home here. Thanks to this camp I’ve gotten closer to God and I’ve gained information I know I’ll need for the future. I think everyone has taken something away from this camp. I’ve learned about gratitude and forgiveness here. In some ways I feel like God restored me to who I was before.”
Sometimes I wonder if there is a point in continuing these summer out reaches, as many of the kids can seem so closed off to what we have to share. But Oksana's words encourage me that God has us exactly where he needs us, and for that I'm grateful.
*This camp was made possible thanks to the ministries of CBN/Orphan's Promise, Emmanuel and Agape in Kherson. Thanks to all who partner with these GREAT organizations! :)