Bibles for 'Children of Chernobyl'

ABS helps bring God's Word to children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown

A girl reads a Children's Bible in the library at a rehabilitation center for children affected by the Chernobyl disaster, in Belarus. Photo: Bible Society of the Republic of Belarus.

More than 23 years after the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the people of nearby Belarus continue to suffer from the exposure to intense radiation and its long-term consequences. In fact, some observers fear that, far from improving, the situation is getting worse.

According to official post-Soviet data, about 60 percent of the radioactive fallout from Chernobyl landed in neighboring Belarus. In that country’s nearby Gomel region, life expectancy in 1986 was 72.6 years, but by 2000 it had dropped to 67.6 years.

The “children of Chernobyl,” youngsters who were not yet born when the disaster hit, are of particular concern. More vulnerable than adults to the effects of radioactive contamination, many show symptoms of exposure, especially thyroid disorders.

It was through the foresight of the American Bible Society (ABS) and dedicated ABS donors that there is a helping and witnessing Bible Society in Belarus. When the godless Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991, only five years following the Chernobyl disaster, ABS dedicated 19 million dollars to help rebuild or found a Bible Society in Belarus and 23 other formerly-captive Soviet satellite countries.

“There are some 400,000 ‘children of Chernobyl,'” explains Bible Society Project Manager Anatoly Greben. “Some of them have the opportunity to go abroad temporarily to improve their health, while others attend one of several children’s rehabilitation centers in Belarus.

“We recently had the opportunity to visit the center in Zshdanovichi, which cares for around 400 children at a time, each spending nearly a month there.”

When Bible Society staff went into the library at the center, they saw that there was only one Children’s Bible available for the 400 residents to share. Tattered and fingered, it had clearly been read many times since the Bible Society donated it five years earlier. Fortunately, the Bible Society had brought new Bibles and children’s biblical literature, and is now committed to replenishing the library’s stock of Scriptures regularly.

Like the children at Zshdanovichi, the temporary residents of the Hope rehabilitation center in Vileyka come from remote villages devastated by the long-term effects of radioactive contamination - villages where children have few recreational or learning opportunities.

Here though, they can study, play sports and receive appropriate medical treatment.

Thanks to continuing support from the American Bible Society, their learning is enriched with a range of colorful children’s biblical literature.

“These children’s hearts are soft and readily accept God’s truths,” explains the center’s Deputy Director Vera Alexandrovna. “We are very grateful to the Bible Society for these Scripture materials to awaken the spirits of these young people. Our staff members include Orthodox and Catholic believers, and they will use the Bibles and other books when helping the children with their studies.”

Visits to these centers remind Bible Society staff of the need and of the importance of this hope-giving ministry. “These children need the comfort and support that only God can give,” says Mr. Greben. “We see that, through his Word, the Lord works in children’s hearts.”

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