Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Going Deeper Into the Heart

Emily Arneson, program manager for Children’s Heart Project in Mongolia, blogs about a special follow-up and discipleship program.

Since 2000, more than 270 Mongolian children have received life-saving surgery for congenital heart defects. The child and family receive follow-up visits by our Mongolian staff, and we help connect them with a local church if they become Christians.

But Cindy Bonsall, director of CHP, dreamed of a way to continue to reach out to these families on a consistent basis beyond the routine visits. Heart Camps were born out of her desire for continued discipleship.

Heart Camps are four-day retreats packed with games, activities, skits, group sessions, praise and worship, good food and just a whole lot of fun. But there is a deeper purpose for all of these activities—to show the love of Christ and to teach new Christians how to become active followers of Him.

The camp counselors use The Greatest Journey, a Bible study program primarily developed for Operation Christmas Child. They teach all 12 lessons on the foundational truths of being a follower of Christ. Children are shown how to read and study God’s Word, how to pray, and how to tell their friends about salvation in Jesus.

The counselors are young adults from local churches who have a great fire and enthusiasm for Christ, showing the children how much they are valued and cared about.

Three Heart Camps were recently held throughout Mongolia. The first was in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, and the other two were in the western provinces of Khovd and Arkhangai. Seventy-seven children attended, and many parents from the countryside joined their children for the camps in Khovd and Arkhangai.

Many seeds had been planted in the children and their families during their stay in the host homes before and after their surgery. At the Heart Camps many of those seeds were harvested. The families were encouraged to continue to read and study their Bibles, get involved in a local church, and share about what Christ has done in their lives to their neighbors and friends.

One night, after an evening hike and stargazing, the children shared their dreams. These children have big ambitions, like becoming a doctor, running an orphanage, and being a teacher. Now they have received life-saving heart surgery, those dreams are possible.

For a child who was once so sick and then suddenly became healthy, you can imagine there are many emotions that run through their minds. Some children could only walk short distances before wearing out, and now they have scars on their chests that remind them of what they have gone through.

But at Heart Camp, that is normal for every child. They all have similar stories to tell, and they can relate to other children who have gone through the same experience. That is a powerful thing for boys and girls who have endured so much.

Families from the countryside live very isolated lives caring for their livestock and get very little encouragement, so Heart Camps are a time to love on these families and present them the truth and hope of Christ.

Parents who attended the camps in the rural provinces had fellowship together led by a local church leader. The parents were able to relate to each other, all having a child who was once very sick and also sharing the burdens of living in the countryside.

Many parents were so thankful to just have some time away to rest and reflect. Some who could not read or write were given solar-powered audio Bibles.

The camp concluded with a family time where the Gospel was presented and children received a Bible and a certificate of completion for The Greatest Journey. The kids sang praise songs and radiated excitement for their Savior. Many campers were shy and reserved when they first arrived, but throughout the course of the week transformed into outgoing followers of Christ.

One special story came from the final Heart Camp in Khovd. The counselor shared about a 6-year-old boy named Bolotulga:

“The first day at the camp he wasn’t open, but on the last day we talked about his family, friends, and God’s presence in his life. He is connecting everything in life to God. He likes to share what he has learned with others and wants his father to go to church. I am sure that he will become a really good Christian man.”

We recognize the success of these camps as a blessing straight from the Lord. He who is the giver of life revealed Himself so uniquely to each child. Many children who did not know Jesus previously became alive to Him through the Heart Camps.

The camp counselors continue to follow up with these children since they have formed deep relationships with them. The Lord worked miracles at these Heart Camps and we are so grateful. We cannot wait for the next camps in the summer of 2012.