Thousands of unwanted children in orphanages across former Soviet Union 'potential recruits' for organized crime
LOVES PARK, Ill., March 7, 2023 /Christian Newswire/ -- Thousands of abandoned and unwanted children in orphanages across Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet countries are highly vulnerable to recruitment by organized crime groups, a U.S. mission agency says.
"When children turn 18 they age out of the orphanages and have to fend for themselves," said Michael Johnson, president of Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org). "Thousands end up with nowhere to go, living on the streets, caught up in prostitution, drugs and organized crime to survive. They're prime recruiting targets for criminal gangs."
The Illinois-based mission says this alarming situation can change if more orphanages open their doors to local church volunteers who are eager to "show abandoned children they're loved and wanted."
The orphanages are often depressing places where children abandoned by drug-addicted and alcoholic parents, as well as other discarded children and orphans, cry themselves to sleep at night.
Under-resourced orphanages house at least 600,000 children -- kids who "think they're ugly, they don't matter, that no one loves them or wants them," said Eric Mock, SGA's vice president of ministry operations who frequently visits orphanages in the former Soviet countries. "They're often angry as well."
Intervening 'Before It's Too Late'
A staggering 84% of children in the orphanages will be there until their 18th birthday when they're let loose -- usually without any support.
Studies revealed more than 8 out of 10 end up involved in crime, drugs or prostitution, sometimes leading to suicide, Johnson said.
"We believe only God can give them hope and turn their lives around before it's too late," he said. "It's life-changing when local Christians visit the orphanages every week, showing them genuine compassion and love."
SGA supports a network of more than 2,000 local evangelical churches across the region, including pastors and church members who go into local orphanages every week to spend time with the children, listen to their problems, and pray with them.
"In effect, these hurting children are adopted into the local church family, receiving the care and support they need," Mock said.
In 2000, SGA launched Orphans Reborn to support the efforts of local churches and "believers with a heart to show God's love to these children and share the Gospel with them."
Now the outreach brings hope to more than 14,000 orphans and abandoned children across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia. And it's growing with support from churches and individuals in the U.S.
Local church volunteers -- often braving dangerous, icy roads and temperatures 50 degrees below zero -- visit the same orphanages week after week. "They look beyond their own comfort to bind up the broken hearts of children who are unloved and unwanted," said Mock, who recently visited Ukraine.
'Brought Joy To My Heart'
Sonya lives in an orphanage. Her father doesn't have any time for her. Her mother is an alcoholic. The last time she saw her mom, "she just drank vodka," Sonya recalled.
When members of a local Baptist church visited Sonya's orphanage, she felt loved for the first time in her life. "They told me about God and said he would take care of me," Sonya said. "It brought joy to my heart."
At another orphanage, church volunteer Luda took 10-year-old Vlad, an angry boy who'd been abandoned, under her wing. She takes Vlad to her home on the weekends, and now he calls her "Mom."
"Every time I come to pick up Vlad, there are 12 other children looking at me with a questioning look that says, 'What about me?' Luda said. "God, if only I could, I would take them all to my place."
Founded in 1934, Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org) helps "forgotten" orphans, widows and families in Ukraine, Russia, the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel – caring for their physical needs and sharing the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ. SGA supports an extensive grassroots network of local evangelical missionary pastors and churches in cities and rural villages across this vast region.