The latest missionary journey in Africa was at the beginning of 2020. The “Christ in Africa” Association organized 3 Children’s Camps.
The feast began with the Christmas Divine Liturgy held according to the old calendar (although the christians in Rwanda are typically on the new calendar), and officiated by the His Eminence Bishop Innocentios along with a group of priests and deacons. The small chapel in the metropolitan residence overflowed with frankincense. White people, for the most part Russians from the capital city of Kigali, gathered together to receive Holy Communion, after having confessed the day before.
The 1st Day of Children Camp
After the brotherly agape, the 1st day of camp commenced in the town of Rwamagana. Over 300 children, of various religious beliefs, joyously came together. They painted, played football, shared meals and of course, sang songs accompanied by the whimsical sound of a guitar. Every child carried in their backpacks their own plate and utensils.
The 2nd Day of Children Camp
The second day of camp continued with the Holy Liturgy on Sunday. After which we were all privy to a great surprise: the traditional Rwandan dance. Each movement was filled with meaning while harmonizing perfectly with the beating of the drums and the ringing of the tiny bells gently hung on the ankles of the animated dancers.
We felt great joy being able to serve the children their meals. Organized by age, they were quietly standing in line, waiting for their portion of rice and beans. This is a staple food for them. Here they fast continuously, as very few families can afford to buy meat or dairy products. At the end we distributed notebooks, pens and cookies.
The 3nd Day of Children Camp
The very next day we attended the Holy Theophany Service and the sanctification of water. Georgiana held an arts and crafts workshop with the children and taught them how to make their own cross necklaces.
The time we spent felt compressed as we accomplished so many things in so few days. Everything finished as quickly as it started. We proceeded to go to a parish in Rwabutazi, where they hold the Divine Liturgy every Wednesday morning at 4:00am . It is set at this early time, because at 6:00am the parishioners start working in the fields and prefer starting their day with a blessing. We arrived at 3:40am and were astounded to see all parishioners already in the church, having arrived before the priest. Some even come from towns further away and have to leave their homes at 2:00am in order to have time to walk to the church.
The Second Children Camp – in Rwabutazi
Together with Sorin and Georgiana, we organized another camp at the end of the week in Rwabutazi. After the liturgy, the children and the parishioners shared a meal together: rice, beans, and pickled cabbage. We then continued with the arts and crafts workshops, teaching kids to paint on glass, play guitar and of course, play many many games. An unforgettable experience for me was the game “Red Rover”, which reminded me so much of childhood.
The Third Children Camp – in Gishari
We organized one last camp in Gishari, where I held an educational session on the Sunday of the 10 lepers. The children painted angels, and shortly after, Father Peter from Nyamata described to them the role of the guardian angel.
In all the places we went, they sang us their folkloric songs, which thrilled us tremendously. During holy communion everybody gets close to the holy chalice as if responding to what Christ urged the myrrh-bearing-women :”Rejoice!”. They have a personal way of expressing their joy: through dance and song. The lyrics are not devoid of significance: “If God opens a door, who will close it?”.
Father Peter is an English and French professor at a private school. He lives with his 3 children and his wife in a house with a few rooms and a small backyard. He’s had the same old, broken cell phone for a few years now. He sold his motorcycle to pay for his children’s school taxes. When I visited him last year, I wanted to see their church which was under construction. He is the first orthodox priest in Rwanda. During the time of the first metropolitan, Sabbas al Burundi, 100 people were baptized.
More pictures from these camps: