It was dinnertime at camp. The sound of voices mingling filled the air and the walls echoed with laughter. As kids, moms, and staff gathered around tables filled with food, all I could think about was the banquet hall of heaven. Sitting before a simple meal thousands of miles from home, I felt more “at home” than I had in a long time. And I suspect the same was true for every kid in the building.

Camp is family for kids with disabilities. Normally, these kids live isolated lives, unable to even leave their homes. But at camp they gather around tables filled with friendly faces. They are welcomed into the family of God. And this experience changes their lives.

Sasha, whose life has been changed forever at MTU's camp.

Here is a glimpse of a few kids who were changed by being part of this family.

Sasha

Sasha is 11 years old and lives with muscular dystrophy. He is a sweet boy despite losing his mobility in the last few years. Not long ago he ran around like any other kid his age, but now he is confined to a wheelchair.

One day counselors asked the kids in Sasha’s small group what they wanted more than anything. Sasha’s answer: to walk once more.

At camp Sasha isn’t alone in this struggle. At camp he can express his fears and frustrations to understanding leaders and kids who have the same problems. And this year at camp, Sasha gave his life to God. Now Sasha will never be alone again.

Oleg

Oleg smiling wide as he participated in the camp's Special Olympics.

Oleg also left his solitary life in the village to come to camp. But for him, this was an even bigger deal.  For 16 year old Oleg, camp was the first time he had ever even left his village. Ever.

Oleg has a mental disability. And because he has never been in a group of kids before, he hasn’t learned appropriate group behavior. Oleg brought us all a lot of laughter and a few moments of frustration as he slowly learned how to interact with others. Sometimes from across the room I heard his joyful whistling or his incessant cry of “Mama!”

As camp progressed Oleg learned how to sit through a Bible lesson quietly and join in during games. He spent time around positive male figures, something missing from his life in the village. Oleg went from being withdrawn and fearful to sharing smiles and laughter with new-found friends. At camp he traded isolation for being part of a family.

Nastya

Another great kid I met at camp was Nastya. Nastya is a smart and kindhearted girl. Due to her advanced muscular dystrophy, Nastya is wheelchair bound and cannot communicate verbally. Instead, she communicates by pointing at letters on a chart and spelling out words.

A boy enjoying craft time, a treat for kids who don't have this opportunity often.

At camp, Nastya was surrounded by people who took the time to get to know her via this letter chart. Camp was the kingdom in action for Nastya, because she was valued and understood there. She joined in on small group discussions, games, and made new friends, despite her disability.

“Proud of You”

On one of the last nights at camp, Pastor Dima finished the evening session by asking each parent to find their child. He asked them to put their arms around their son or daughter, to look them in the eyes and to share words of affirmation with them. The room was soon filled with moms and dads embracing their kids.

A meal at camp through which MTU's staff works hard to provide balanced nutrition for the kids.

Tears streamed down every face as parents took the time to speak words like “I am sorry,” “I love you,” and “I am so proud of you!” to their children. I felt my own eyes fill with tears as I watched children, some for the first time, experience what it means to be part of a loving family.

For kids with disabilities, belittled by the world and isolated from humanity, Mission to Ukraine’s summer camp is otherworldly. At camp they are part of a community that loves, understands, and accepts them just as they are.

I think they would, with me, echo the words of an old church hymn; “I’m so glad that I’m part of the family, the family of God.”

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Next Steps
    • Check out MTU's website for ways you can get involved in their ministry to those with disabilities.
    • Donate money to help fund MTU's camp for kids with disabilities. Click here for more info.
    • Pray for the lives that God has transformed this summer at camp.
    • Pray that MTU would continue to have enough volunteers and resources to run camp.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Krystallin was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2010. She is currently a senior at Moody Bible Institute majoring in Communication Studies. After graduation, she hopes to spend her life pursuing justice for the oppressed. She loves adventure and chases tornadoes on her time off.

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Comments

  1. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    July 28th, 2010 at 7:04 am  

    “Otherworldly”, I had to look that one up in order to savor its meaning. Krystallin, this word captures all of the elements of the story, what a great word picture for us to hang on. For you to see for us the otherworldly dimension to where you are is the Spirit at work.

    J

  2. Virginia Baldwin said... 

    Reply

    July 28th, 2010 at 1:16 pm  

    Good job in giving us a picture of what living in a family for a person who find it new to them is like. You are enriching our prayer life when we pray for them. God is good.

  3. jenny fitzgerald said... 

    Reply

    August 7th, 2010 at 11:26 am  

    Krystallin,

    I’m in tears…as I usually am by the end of these beautiful accounts. THANK you for sharing! I know the “least” of these have such a special place in the Lord’s heart ~ and I long for the day when each of these precious ones will be able to see the Lord face to face and experience perfect acceptance and perfect Love!!!
    My son Garrett, who is 6, has Down Syndrome and doesn’t speak a lot. He is going to have surgery on his tongue next week for medical reasons. I just overheard 2 of his cousins talking about his surgery. One said they should just cut his whole tongue off and the other jumped in and said “He wouldn’t be able to talk if they did that” and the other one answered “He doesn’t talk anyway ~ what’s the difference?” So, I really do know what it means that there is so much misunderstanding around disability ~ but there is SO much room and opportunity for love, too!! Thank you for being a part of loving them in this world!

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