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‘This is why God built this place’

Nearly 30 years after Chernobyl, a Christian camp in central Ukraine becomes a refuge from the bloody conflict in the country’s war-torn east.

KOLENTSI, Ukraine — An hour south of Chernobyl, site of a catastrophic nuclear power plant disaster in 1986, a little camp in the woods has become a place of refuge in the midst of a new disaster.  

Andrew KellyAndrew and Jenny Kelly, Christians who oversee the nonprofit Jeremiah’s Hope, built the camp as a place for orphans and at-risk kids in this Eastern European nation — where social ills including alcoholism have devastated families, where social services are overworked and children’s homes are underfunded.

The camp, financed mostly through $20 and $100 checks from Christian donors, gave children a place to experience God’s love — and gave ministries and nonprofits a place to retreat and strategize. 

In the past 16 months, as pro-Russian separatists clashed with Ukrainian forces in the country’s troubled east, the camp has become a temporary home for more than 350 Ukrainians fleeing the bloody conflict. 

Jenny KellyIn May 2014, the Kellys were making plans for the summer, when they usually host seven or eight weeks of summer programs for children, many of whom come from lives of abject poverty and abuse, Andrew Kelly said. Then the phone rang. 

A friend in Slavyansk — a city beseiged by violence — needed a place to house children and caretakers from an orphanage. 

“That first night, when they came in by bus at 2 a.m., I said to Jenny, ‘This is why God built this place,’” Andrew Kelly said.

Shell-shocked, some of the refugees walked around the camp like zombies, Andrew Kelly said. Some were Christians and obeyed the rules. Others weren’t. They drank. They made ministry “more challenging, but more purposeful,” he said.

As the conflict lingers, workers with Jeremiah’s Hope help the refugees start new lives in central Ukraine. Some have opened businesses, including an auto repair shop, with the ministry’s help.

“They’re looking for something to hope in,” Jenny Kelly said of the refugees. “If the church doesn’t step in and meet the needs, they’re going to look somewhere else.”

Edward Sobolev and his family made the harrowing journey from Donetsk, Ukraine, under separatist control. The 16-year-old, who goes by “Edik,” was held at gunpoint by soldiers who thought he and his friends might be spies for the separatists. At the camp, they found fellow Christians who gave them housing and hope, Sobolev said.

“This is the best camp I’ve been in,” the teen said in Russian as Jenny Kelly translated. “They try to make you feel at home. Everything’s good, but it’s not home.”

For Andrew Kelly, “It’s been a year for me of seeing what refuge looks like,” he said, “and understanding better what God has done for us.”

When Ukrainians say goodbye, there are no simple thank-yous, he said. Instead, they speak for five or six minutes as they praise their hosts, counting the blessings they’ve received one by one. 

“That’s been a wake-up call for me,” Andrew Kelly said. “Am I that grateful to my God who has rescued me?”

WEBSITE: www.jeremiahshope.org
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Filed under: Headlines - Secondary International News

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