Feature

Creative-Access Ohio

What’s it like to be a Christian in a hostile land?

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Have you ever been to Yugomania? If you look for it among the list of nations you won’t find it. But don’t try to convince 77 third through sixth graders who lived there last October that it doesn’t exist. In their minds it’s a very real place that few Christians from America ever experience.

The Children’s Council of the Central District has conducted a district-wide missions challenge called Kid Venture every year for more than a decade, but this one was different. Rather than talking to kids about the need for people in every culture to know Jesus, these kids experienced what it’s like to live in a country—Yugomania—where very few people actually do have a relationship with the Savior. Of course, Yugomania does not appear on any map but represents many countries where it is not OK to be a Christian.

The first indication the participants had that they were not in the United States anymore was a barrier at the entrance to camp that demanded that their vehicle “halt.” Military police in camouflage gear questioned the driver, inspected the vehicle and sent them on to the border crossing. At this checkpoint was a large sign: “Attention! You are entering Yugomania. All visitors must have VISA. Religious items prohibited. Lawbreakers subject to fine or jail.” Occupants were ordered out of their vehicles. Drivers secured visas for all their passengers, who were told to carry them at all times. They were also warned that religious items of any kind were prohibited; if any were found, there would be consequences.

The next stop was immigration registration. MPs at the entrance directed people inside, where they registered under the watchful eyes of the ever-present military. Some kids, now “immigrants” in a hostile land, were noticeably nervous. One girl quickly tucked a religious necklace under her shirt. Guards singled out some of the immigrants for a bag inspection. If a Bible or other religious item was found, they were told that it was not to be seen again or it would be taken.

One boy asked his leader what he should say if the MPs asked him a question—should he tell the truth or lie, fearing the consequences of a truthful answer? Quite a dilemma for a preteen. The camper reasoned that if he lied and the MPs found out, the punishment could be worse than if he had told the truth. The leader was impressed with this young man’s thinking and affirmed his choice, one that people in creative-access countries face every day.

Of course, there were the usual camp activities: hanging out with friends; eating high-carb camp food; playing in the game room, gym, ball field and zip line; bunking in cabins for the night—although lights out was enforced not by leaders only but by flashlight-wielding MPs. One highlight Friday night was the campfire with a devotional by Dian Harner, missions mobilizer for the district. Worship at the edge of the woods was in hushed tones so as to not attract attention.

Getting the boxes of snack rations was another highlight. The immigrants had been divided into six house-church groups at registration. These groups had to scavenge for their rations boxes, which were hidden throughout one of the buildings and carefully guarded by the MPs. House churches devised their strategies and under cover of darkness tried to evade the police to find their rations and make it to their destination without being caught. Most succeeded. The leaders of the house church that failed enlisted the help of “ambassadors” (camp leaders) to negotiate the release of the rations. Negotiations were difficult but successful in the end.

Immigrants awoke Saturday to a clear sky and a ground-hugging mist. There were no MPs hanging around the cabins while the campers got ready for the day, which was a relief. That was not the case in the dining hall. Walking among the tables, guards randomly questioned the immigrants about anything and everything: What is your business here? Where are you from? Is that a Bible you’re carrying? MPs demanded food from the immigrants. The immigrants who volunteered to pray over the meal were abruptly interrupted and told that prayer was not permitted in Yugomania. They were arrested, handcuffed and led off to jail. Some campers expressed doubts about their decision to come; this wasn’t all fun and games, as they had hoped.

In the first hands-on session on Saturday the immigrants learned the importance of being strengthened by the Word of God. Since Christians in many countries do not have easy access to the Bible, they find creative ways to learn and share God’s Word. The session ended with the kids braiding the page of a Bible into a wristband so they could carry it undetected.

In the second session, a C&MA international worker from a creative-access country shared that Christians there are desperate for the Word and the importance of finding ways to get it into their hands and hearts. The session concluded with the immigrants making parachutes to be used to drop Bibles into a creative-access country, where Christians and others have no other way to get their own Bible.

In the final session, a C&MA international worker recently deported from a creative-access country told how believers there have to secretly arrange a time and place to meet. One pastor was repeatedly interrogated and eventually had to flee with his family to a neighboring country. They still have not been able to return. There was no problem keeping the immigrants’ complete attention through the entire session. It ended with the immigrants trying to figure out how to gets messages of encouragement to their house church brothers and sisters who had been jailed earlier in the day. They also prayed for real-life fellow-believers imprisoned for their faith in other countries.

The culmination of the Yugomaniac experience began in a courtroom where five imprisoned immigrants were brought in for trial and sentencing. They were charged with violating the religious restrictions of Yugomania and were permitted to speak briefly in their defense. Then something amazing happened. A person in the courtroom appealed to the judge to release the prisoners because they were guilty of nothing more than loving and praying for the people of Yugomania. The judge considered the appeal and chose to release the prisoners, to the spontaneous applause of the immigrants. Worship followed, led by a group of teens, now in civilian clothes, who had been the MPs.

At the end of the day, the immigrants were asked to share what they had learned. One camper summed up the experience for everyone: “Sometimes you get treated badly, but we always know that God is with us no matter what.”

Months of planning by the leadership team preceded Kid Venture. Scores of hours were spent on top of already busy schedules in their church ministries. Even during the final week many details that had not yet been thought of were being worked out. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Hearing the comments of immigrant/campers in the final session and the comments of parents of these kids the next day in church was proof that God has showed up in that godless country.

One mom shared how much more attentive and grateful her three kids were in family Bible time that Saturday night. She doubted that her kids would think of God’s Word and their faith in Jesus in quite the same way as before.

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