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Children’s camp established in former Soviet troop base

KOBRIN, Belarus (BP)–Stephan Komartschuk is something of a missions entrepreneur. He is director of Emmanuel Ministries, a business enterprise begun to undergird missions in Belarus.

Komartschuk strides confidently across the former military base, describing what has been and what is to be. The land includes a garage for repairing and renovating cars and trucks, a garden and greenhouse, and woodworking and livestock operations. Emmanuel Ministries provides jobs for about 100 people in a struggling economy in the former Soviet republic. The profits have helped construct three Baptist churches and given partial support to five other congregations who have built. But the pride and joy of the ministry lies at one end of the property — Kobrin Children’s Camp.

“The most important event in the life of our ministry was 1993 when the government invited us to buy this military base,” Komartschuk recounted. “A military unit was here before it went to Russia. But 18 military families stayed here and have apartments here. Military officials said we could have the base if we constructed 18 apartments. It was the condition to get the base. The condition was very difficult.

“At first I said no,” Komartschuk said. “They came again. I said no again. When they came a third time, we started to ask, ‘Why have they suggested this so boldly? Maybe it is the will of God. I don’t remember what moved me, but I gave my permission. We made an agreement that we build 18 units in one year, and the base would be our property.”

The ministry didn’t have 10 percent of what was needed for construction at the time. But they started to work.
“We had a few cars and trucks (to refurbish and resell), and we got help from foreign countries,” Komartschuk said. “By the end of 1994, all of the apartments were ready. At the same time the apartments were constructed, we started to reconstruct the military base for a children’s camp. We started to reconstruct whole facilities, including military barracks, into places for children.”

In 1994, children came to the camp and stayed in tents. That year, when Missouri Baptists first sent volunteers to the camp in their partnership with Belarus Baptists, renovation of the barracks was well under way. Barracks that once housed Soviet soldiers were filled with children.

Komartschuk points with pride to the brick building that connects two of the converted barracks. It is the centerpiece for the camp and includes large rooms for worship, training and study for the children. He is grateful for the efforts of Missouri Baptists to help make the camp what it is today, a facility that can accommodate 185 youngsters at a time. A modern dental office also graces the facility.

“The work is not complete yet,” he is quick to note. The facility is unheated but gas pipes have been secured. Lines have yet to be laid. Then the vision for a year-round facility can become a reality. “Churches from Missouri donated funds so we could buy pipes and equipment for gas,” he noted.

The target for year-round operation is the end of 1997. And then there is the matter of a pool and indoor recreation facility — or gymnasium — for the children. Even with the business side of Emmanuel Ministries thriving, Komartschuk knows outside help still will be needed.

“Our mission is to provide the camp ourselves,” Komartschuk said. “We need to fish for ourselves, not to wait for others to give us fish. We will need help for about three to four years. It is important for the children. Reaching children for Christ is the most important part of our camp.

“Adults don’t want to go and listen to the gospel, but children are very open to the gospel. Through the children, the gospel will transfer to the parents. We have received assurance of this for the past two years. For two years, we have had 1,350 children, a majority of families of unbelievers, we know. One thousand three hundred fifty families received a testimony about Jesus.

“We had children from the homes of government officials and communist party officials. The daughter of a city police chief was in camp. This official told me, ‘When my daughter came home from camp, she never stopped talking about God. She is even praying.’

“One big official in Brest said, ‘After my son was in your camp, I got a new person. My son was radically changed. I want him to go to camp again.'”

At the end of each week of camp, children are asked to complete an evaluation. Most rate the food highly — it is produced on the grounds. They like the Bible lessons and the doctors. Most aren’t too excited about mandatory quiet time. But that doesn’t mean children don’t come to Kobrin with apprehension.

“When the children first came to the dentists, they were very scared because of the image of the Soviet dentists,” Komartschuk said. “But the first children to see the dentist shared with the others, ‘It is not so bad. It is not so painful.'”

Voicing thanks for Missouri Baptists’ partnership in Belarus, Komartschuk said, “We had many foreigners who visited our camp, but we never had such good partners and friends as the believers from Missouri.”

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  • Bill Webb