LOVES PARK, Ill. -- The war in Ukraine is accelerating an orphan crisis in the embattled nation and neighboring Russia, a U.S. mission agency says.
Children are being swept up in the turmoil in Ukraine and taken to overcrowded orphanages miles away across borders, often separated from family members desperately searching for them, says Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org).
"The kids don't understand why this is happening to them," said Eric Mock, a missionary with SGA that supports local evangelical churches ministering in Ukraine, Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union.
The orphanages are often cold, depressing places where war-affected children, kids abandoned by drug-addicted and alcoholic parents, orphans, and other unwanted children cry themselves to sleep every night.
"The children assume there's something wrong with them," said Mock, who frequently visits some of the orphanages -- facilities that house at least 600,000 children across Ukraine, Russia and the former Soviet Union. "They think they're ugly, that they don't matter, that no one loves them or wants them. They're depressed, lonely and sometimes very angry."
Intervening 'Before It's Too Late'A staggering 84% of children in the orphanages will be there until they turn 18, when they're released into the community and struggle to survive on their own. Studies reveal more than 8 out of 10 end up involved in crime, drugs, or prostitution, sometimes leading to suicide, said SGA president Michael Johnson.
"Only God can give them hope and turn their lives around before it's too late," Johnson said. "This is why it's so crucial for local Christians to visit with children in the orphanages every week, showing them compassion and love, praying with them, telling them about Jesus, and reading Bible stories to them."
SGA launched Orphans Reborn in the year 2000 to support the efforts of local churches and "believers with a heart to show God's love to these children and share the Gospel with them."
Orphans Reborn brings hope to more than 14,000 orphans and abandoned children across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia. And it's growing with support from churches and individuals in the U.S.
Local church volunteers -- often braving dangerous, icy roads and temperatures 50 degrees below zero -- visit the same orphanages week after week. "They look beyond their own comfort to bind up the broken hearts of children who are unloved and unwanted," said Mock, who recently visited Ukraine.
'Brought Joy To My Heart'
Sonya lives in an orphanage. Her father doesn't have any time for her. Her mother is an alcoholic. The last time she saw her mom, "she just drank vodka," Sonya said.
When Christians from a local Baptist church began visiting Sonya's orphanage every week, she felt loved for the first time ever. "They told me about Jesus and said the Lord would take care of me," Sonya said. "It brought joy to my heart."
At another orphanage, church volunteer Luda took 10-year-old Vlad, a boy who'd been abandoned, under her wing. She takes Vlad to her home on the weekends, and now he calls her "Mom."
"Every time I come to pick up Vlad, there are 12 other children looking at me with a questioning look that says, 'What about me?'" Luda said. "God, if only I could, I would take them all to my place."
Founded in 1934, Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org) helps "forgotten" orphans, widows and families in Ukraine, Russia, the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel – caring for their physical needs and sharing the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ. SGA supports an extensive grassroots network of local evangelical missionary pastors and churches in cities and rural villages across this vast region.
SOURCE Slavic Gospel Association