Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world:
- It has a population of approximately 10 million people and
- a surface area 10 times smaller than that of Romania
- A few thousand orthodox Christians live here.
Before Children Camp: Burundi
On the feast of St. Seraphim of Sarov, we visited an orthodox school (elementary through middle school) in Buramata. The school teaches around 300 students. Teachers are paid little by the government and as a result they are not always the best.
Here we passed out notebooks, pens and sweets to the children. At the end the children sang their country’s national anthem as well as the East Africa Union anthem.
We also wanted to visit the St. Arsenie parish. Here the parish priest, Father Silvestru, lives with his wife, 3 children and another priest in a house without electricity or water. He showed me the school and an additional building that could have served as a missionary center if it was not so dilapidated.
Children Camp in Rwanda
We then left Burundi in order to travel to Rwamagana in Rwanda. Here gathered around were 100 children eager to participate in the Epiphany children camp. The parents were overjoyed knowing that their kids were safe while attending the Holy Liturgy as well as the arts and crafts workshops. In addition they were very pleased that we offered them meals. They often cannot afford to purchase meat, milk or eggs.
I was astounded by the children’s obedience and seriousness. There was no sign of audaciousness or rudeness in them . At the end of the workshop I told them they can venerate the icons they had just finished coloring. Shortly after, while visiting some families’ homes, I noticed the colored paper icons portraying the Great Martyr Catherine of Alexandria, the Holy Mother of God and Jesus Christ, hung on their walls right beside their regular icons.
The Epiphany Children Camp Budget
We hope this children’s camp will continue to be fruitful. The better part of the costs was covered by the generosity of the parishioners of the Talpalari parish in Iasi, România. They donated over €800 and supported many more past editions of the camp. In addition many other generous people from Iasi contributed to our cause.
Members of the students’ church in Cluj-Napoca (A.S.C.O.R.), România led by parish priest Ciprian Negreanu, donated over €600. We purchased over 500 notebooks, 1000 pens and a few large boxes of feminine care products (greatly needed by the girls in these communities, as the elevated cost is the primary reason they miss school).
People Behind the Epiphany Children Camp
We organized 3 catechesis sessions in Rwamagana for the clergy leaders of the churches in Rwanda: readers, deacons, priests. There were various themes including the Office of Oblation and the Divine Liturgy. Alexios Z., from the orthodox missionary organization “Route of Agape” from Greece hosted a workshop with the priests’ wives, highlighting the role of women in the orthodox church as well as describing orthodox monasticism.
After these sessions I truly understood how meek african priests are. They only know this: that they know nothing! Before asking his first question Father Panaghiotis from the Rwabutazi parish stood up and said: “We know nothing. We are here to learn and we rejoice whenever somebody from Romania and Greece comes to visit us”.
In these parishes all members know the Crede (with the exception of pre-elementary school students). On Sundays of great feasts when priests are not available to carry out Holy Liturgy, parishioners get together for prayer and holy reading. At the very end, tens of catechumens are taught about the orthodox faith.
They sing together, and the atmosphere is what you would imagine in the first few centuries of Christianity. The core of catechesis is grasping the foundational aspects of the faith as well as learning about saints and making the sign of the cross. There were also some more pragmatic lessons, such as saying the epiclesis prayers out loud followed by the parishioners’ Amen.
I was overwhelmed by their contagious joy and how accepting they are of whatever comes their way without complaining. Here hospitality is fundamental. They are also impressed with Romania. Those of them that have visited Romania via the I.T.O. (International Meeting of Orthodox Youth), are very impressed with His Eminence Bishop Teofan – the Moldova and Bucovina bishop, as well as the Romanian people as a whole. They feel quite attached to Romania.