Listen: Jenny Karmas chats to Clare Chate. Above: A family of nine children supported by Mission Without Borders.
While Ukraine is still suffering the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster 30 years on, it’s also seeing a resurgence of faith—as people search for answers in God.
That’s the good news from Jenny Karmas from Mission Without Borders – a Christian-based humanitarian organisation supporting the poor in Eastern Europe.
Hope 103.2 spoke to Jenny to mark the 30th anniversary (April 26) of the massive chemical explosion in Chernobyl – the worst in human history – that spread radiation across Europe and impacted the lives of millions.
While cancer, congenital birth defects and poverty are common in Ukraine as a result of the disaster, so is a desire to find faith.
“During communist days, the Christian faith in Ukraine was very much underground,” Jenny said. “With communism there was no way that people could proclaim who they were or what they were doing. We have a gentleman working in Ukraine who was a pastor in the Communist days. He tells of how they used to print hymn books by hiding the printing press under their bed and going around getting pieces of paper from different shops so it didn’t cause suspicion that they were running a church.
“But today communism has fallen and the people are hungry to know who Jesus is and that there’s hope for them in the situation they’re living in.”
War and poverty have also caused people to open their hearts to God.
“Since the start of the war in 2013, people are turning back to church and going back to God and trying to seek what’s the reason for this, asking those big questions. ‘Who is God’ and ‘where is God’,” Jenny said.
“We’re seeing a resurgence of people coming back into churches again, and people who need to know that God loves them.”
Cancer and Early Death Are Commonplace in Ukraine
The radiation of the Chernobyl disaster was said to be 100 times greater than the fallout from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a 70 square-kilometre exclusion zone is in place around the city called ‘Death Valley’.
After the disaster occurred, it was estimated that many of the effects wouldn’t be seen until 20 to 25 years later. Today that prediction is coming to pass.
Decades on, families are suffering as both adults and children die of terminal illnesses. The numbers of children born with defects are double the normal figures, many families have been devastated with cancer, and countless children suffer enlarged thyroids.
Over 85,000 children live in orphanages. This environment has created a sense of hopelessness among many young people.
“In Ukraine, 85% of children are deemed to be Chernobyl victims as they carry a genetic marker,” Jenny explained. “They don’t know what their future will hold. Children are growing up without any hope for the future.”
As if that hardship wasn’t enough, now war with Russia is forcing people in the east of the country to flee to the radiation-affected West.
It’s in this environment that Mission Without Borders works to provide practical support, funded through child sponsorship and family sponsorship programs.
“We minister to these people with the love of Jesus,” Jenny said. “Our first priority is to provide the gospel. But we can’t just give a Bible and turn our backs on their poverty. So we also provide them with food and clothing and hygiene items. In Eastern Europe the winter temperatures can get to minus 30 degrees celcius, so they are need of warm clothing and blankets.”
Families With Multiple Children
It comes as a surprise to many Westerners when they hear that it’s common for couples in Ukraine to have multiple children, despite their poverty. The tragic reason for this is because there’s a high chance of children dying early from congenital diseases.
“They never know when their children are going to pass away,” Jenny explained. “Medical help is very poor. So we see many large families in Ukraine.”
But that doesn’t stop Mission Without Borders helping them.
“The families come to us in need, and we see the families as they are and try to provide help as best we can.
“One lady we support, Helena, has nine children. One has passed away, one has Down Syndrome, her youngest boy is very sick with a rare form of pneumonia and she herself has cancer.”
Making A Real Difference
Mission Without Borders has worked in Eastern Europe since the 1960s when it used to smuggle Bibles into communist Russia. Since the fall of communism, it now works in the six poorest countries of Europe: Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine – all affected by communism, war, and nuclear fallout.
One life at a time, their work is making a difference.
“I went to Ukraine a few years ago visiting our vocational centre,” Jenny said. “There was a little girl brought in with a concaved thorax who would die very soon if she didn’t get help.
“The family-to-family sponsorship program provided medical help for her, saved her life, and she is now a vibrant member of her church and community.”
Read about Mission Without Borders and their child and family sponsorship programs.