The Ukrainian Bible Society has been working with socially vulnerable children and young people for a long time. Many of them are seriously ill. When I was in Kiev, I had the chance to visit a hospital to see how the Bible Society staff approach the children and let them just be children for a while.
Do you remember when the Chernobyl nuclear accident took place?
I remember the summer of 1986 very well. I was ten years old and lived in northern Sweden. I learned what Becquerel1 was, and that I could no longer eat berries or pick mushrooms in the woods. Now I have met people of my own age that grew up in the vicinity of the accident itself. Many of them are parents like me. If the accident was something that faded away for me over the years, these people live with its direct consequences. Their children get cancer.
The old hospital on the outskirts of Kiev is a dirt-grey concrete colossus, built during the Soviet glory days. From here it is only a two-hour drive to Chernobyl.
When I enter, I see two four-year-old girls. They walk around with some old worn dolls and look like any children, except for some details. They are both completely bald and one girl has a drip on a stand, which she manoeuvres around in the small room.
Before 1986 it was rare among children to get cancer in Ukraine. Now, there are two hundred children per year, and the number is growing every year.
We play with the children for an hour, share stories from the Bible and give them wrapped gifts. The children laugh and smile. It is obvious that they appreciate the break. It’s fun, but I’ve rarely felt so powerless. I cannot make these kids healthy, but I can give them my attention.
How do you talk about serious illness or death with a child? I do not know. But I know that, aware of my own mortality, I find hope in the Bible. So, we tell the children about hope, and we tell them of a God who gives comfort and rest and always welcomes us.
Before we arrived to the hospital, I was advised to protect my heart and not to take it all in too much. Of course, that is good advice. But I did not want to. I wanted to feel. And it cuts my heart to think about these children, their families, their future and their struggles. Yet I have met some incredible everyday heroes who make a huge effort in Ukraine.
By Magnus Wingård, Swedish Bible Society. This post was originally published in the Swedish Bible Society magazine (in Swedish).
1 “The becquerel (symbol: Bq) is the SI derived unit of radioactivity. One becquerel is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second.” (Wikipedia)