By Bill Webb
Kobrin Children's Camp - the pearl of Belarus - needs an infusion of assistance from its friends. By summer's end, an estimated 900 children will have reaped the benefits of the camp in southern Belarus, the former Soviet republic that not long ago was a target of partnership evangelism efforts with Missouri Baptists. But student scholarships to cover the bills are seriously lagging.
Willard Zeiser, former Belarus partnership coordinator with the Missouri Baptist Convention, said that while the formal partnership with Belorussian Baptists is over, the needs of the children who come to Kobrin remain as significant as they ever were.
The camp still reaches out to children affected by the lasting effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in nearby Ukraine in the spring of 1986. In fact, only about 30 percent of Kobrin camp youngsters, who range in age from about 8 to 13, are considered in good health. Each camper receives medical and dental examinations and treatment while at camp. For some, the experience is their first to visit either a doctor or dentist. For some, it is their only respite from areas still strongly affected by Chernobyl's radioactive fallout.
Zeiser, who lives in Little Rock, Ark., and is pastor of Bingham Road Baptist Church there, holds a firm conviction that the camp's spiritual influence can help re-shape a nation over the course of a generation. "What we need to think about is that it takes 20 to 25 years to raise up a generation to change philosophic thought," he said. He maintains that the best investment of money in Belarus is in the lives of its children - Belarus' future..
Kobrin is the place where large numbers of children from non-Christian homes hear the name of Jesus for the first time. Traditionally, 50 to 55 percent make decisions for Christ. They learn Bible stories and Christian songs.
Shortly after he retired from the state convention staff and the MBC-Belarus partnership ended, Zeiser and others established Kobrin Christian Ministries, a non-profit corporation dedicated to maintaining and improving the camp and its medical/dental clinic, and providing scholarships for youngsters.
Seventy-five dollars funds a two-week Kobrin camp scholarship for a Belorussian child, while another $25 provides a child needed vitamins and medical/dental treatment through the "Suffer Not the Children" program. That means $100 will cover the entire two-week camp experience for each child. To date, only 106 scholarships of $75 have been given, far short of the amount needed to pay bills for the summer, according to the Missouri Baptist Foundation, which receives the funds.
Zeiser acknowledges that as Missouri Baptists move farther away from a formal partnership, the challenge of caring for the children who come to Kobrin camp will be more difficult to communicate. This summer is the 10th for the ministry, which is housed on property formerly used as a Soviet military base. The struggling economy of Belarus makes support from Christians outside the country all the more important.
Many Missouri Baptists have been to Kobrin camp and seen the happiness of the children there. Belorussian Baptists refer to the children's camp as "the pearl of Belarus," a reference to "the pearl of great price" mentioned in the Bible. The children are precious to them, and they want more than anything for these youngsters and their families to experience Christ.
Surely Missouri Baptists feel the same way. Our advantage is that we have the financial resources to help our Belorussian brothers and sisters make it happen. Let's do it for the children.