WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?

by David Sisler

For three months during the summer of 1993 I was the missionary pastor of Maranatha Christian Center in Samara, Russia. This column is an excerpt from my daily journal, written while I lived and worked in that city of 1.5 million.

I spent several days, both at the beginning of my stay in Samara and at the end, visiting doctors and health care facilities, receiving an introduction to the medical world of Russia.

I visited the first center for psychological counseling in Russia. Here Dr. Nona Goryachkina and her staff must handle the tragedy of teen suicide. She deals with the ones who are unsuccessful, while every day increasing number of teens "stop their own lives" (as the word "suicide" came through from my translator). Causes of teen suicide attempts are school problems, general depression and drugs. Increasingly Russian teens are stopping their own lives because of growing conflicts between themselves and their parents.

Another problem Dr. Goryachkina says they are so busy, she and her staff do not dare to take vacations and rarely have a day off is teenaged runaways. Seventy children run away from home every day in Samara. A special 24-hour hotline installed just for young people is in use all day, every day.

There is only one public youth facility and it can accommodate only 16 youngsters at one time. Police provide an additional shelter, but both the doctors and the children call it a prison. The rest of the youngsters sleep in public parks, subways and other place they can find shelter. Once on the street they quickly turn to stealing, drugs and prostitution.

A third problem they deal with is family planning. Russian young people are becoming sexually active at age 12. Young couples do not practice birth control the difficulty in securing contraceptives only adds to the problems. A 50 minute sex education class in schools, once a week, seems to be doing little to stop the promiscuity or the rate of unwanted pregnancies.

The weekly class is supplemented by a ten minute daily sex-ed lecture. Teachers are trained and tested for the effectiveness of their presentations, and still young people plunge unprepared into adult responsibilities.

In spite of these efforts, the abortion rate is soaring. In Samara in 1991, girls up to 18 years old had a total of 500 abortions. In 1992 the number of murdered babies sky-rocketed to 5000. In women over 18, there were so many abortions, the number could not be tabulated. Abortion is now the "preferred" method of birth control in Samara and throughout Russia.

Many women have had more than 12 abortions. The average for women who have had abortions is four. Doctors believe that these surgical procedures are contributing to another soaring statistic. One in four Russian women has health problems associated with their sexual and reproductive organs severe enough to require medical treatment, often surgery. Doctors are also blaming the abortion procedures for the rise in birth defects.

Until recently, abortion has not been a business in Russia. Abortions were provided free of charge by government doctors. There are so many women seeking the procedure that clever entrepreneurs are starting to charge, in the words of one doctor, "to murder our own babies."

Every doctor with whom I spoke opposed the practice of abortion and lamented the fact that most of their colleagues perform abortions.

One of the doctors asked me, "What do you do in America? Do you have sex education classes there?"

"Yes," I replied, "we have sex education classes and they are as unsuccessful as yours. We are teaching them about sex and they are doing their homework. As a result, venereal disease is epidemic and teen pregnancies are soaring. We have a saying in America: 'Familiarity breeds contempt.' With sex education, familiarity breeds."

Then I added, "Young people, both Russians and Americans, need to learn the value of virginity. If they have already crossed the line, they need to be taught the safety of abstinence until marriage."

It is a lesson I hope they learn. It is a lesson I pray we start teaching.

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Copyright 1993, 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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