From July 1st to July 8th, I traveled to Mukacheve in the Trans-Carpathian Mountain region and participated in a “teacher’s camp” put on by Hope to People Ministries of Rivne, Ukraine. Every American knows the Carpathian region, which stretches from Poland to Romania, from the images of Gothic castles that are the backdrop of numerous legends such as Count Dracula. This westernmost area of Ukraine was historically part of Poland and Hungary until it was most recently absorbed into the Soviet Union in the 1940s.
Everyone also knows that prayer and Bible reading has been restricted or banned in American public schools since the early 1960s. I found it ironic that as an American public high school teacher, I was asked to speak to a group of over 90 Ukrainian teachers many of whom teach “Christian Ethics” classes in the public schools of Ukraine. This program was implemented two years ago after the so-called “Orange Revolution.” The new presidential administration of Ukraine now contains a strong evangelical Christian presence. One of its first acts was to take some steps to counteract the negative effects of western materialism among the nation’s young people. The national government decided that Christian ethics classes would be offered in the public schools.
Some school districts in Ukraine are taking steps to see that students are taught biblically based ethics. The program is an elective course and is strictly voluntary. I was told that there is such a demand for these courses that some teachers with no church background are asked to teach the courses.
Not surprisingly, the first studies on the effects of this program have shown a desirable effect in the both the behavior and the academic achievement of the students who have taken these classes. Contrast this with the sharp decline in academic achievement and a rising incidence of numerous social maladies among American young people since the 1960s. In one off our lesson discussions, I had the chance to share on some of the studies that have been done since 1962 when prayer was eliminated from public school that have shown the sharp increase in divorce, single parent families, births to unmarried women, abortion, child abuse, drug abuse, teenage sexual activity, juvenile violent crime, and so on. This is of course coupled with the sharp decline of academic achievement shown in standardized test scores.
I don’t believe that simply the removal of the Bible and prayer from schools was the direct cause of all this, but that these trends were part of a social revolution in America that started at about this time. I said that I see it as a great irony that I was able to talk to teachers in a formerly atheistic country that recognized that moral deterioration was due to the lack of instruction in Christian ethics.
Of the teachers at the camp, about 30 were from evangelical churches. The rest were either Eastern Orthodox or else had no church affiliation at all. However, many of the attendees were superintendents, principals, department heads and leaders in education. Pastor Taras Prystupa began these training camps for teachers and librarians ten years ago. In the beginning most of the attendees were unconverted, yet a relationship has been developed and most of the teachers return each year, for a week of instruction, fun excursions in the afternoons and nightly biblical preaching and teaching.
Some teachers have professed faith in Jesus Christ as result of hearing the word of God preached at these camps. Others have come each year and have developed a relationship with the Christian teachers and have become more open to the Gospel message as a result of this ministry. The focus of the camp is evangelistic in nature.
The following week I traveled to Rivne, which is located in northwestern Ukraine. I spent a few days getting acquainted with the many ministries of Hope to People. In addition to the outreach to teachers, there is also their work with an orphanage, a youth sports ministry, numerous summer camps for youth, a new magazine for Christian teachers, a seminary and Bible school, and some building projects – a future youth camp, a church building and the Hope to People Center – a Soviet era building that is being slowly renovated to house the outreach ministries.
I was told that the main need is for workers and people who will come from abroad on short-term missions trips. Having American Christians stay and work even for short periods of time is a great encouragement to these Christians in a nation where less than one percent of the population is evangelical.
If you have an interest in taking a trip to Ukraine in 2008 to take part in a Christian teachers camp – or if you are interested in working with youth or just seeing what is happening in this vital mission field – you can contact me and I will put you in contact with Hope to People.