When you’re given a luggage allowance of 42kg per person, it sounds like a huge amount and it’s tempting to see it as a target … but both myself and my daughter found ourselves struggling for space when it came to packing for our trip to Romania!
As part of a team of 10 people from Ireland, we were heading out to help run a summer camp for 32 children, who are living in poverty and supported by our Partners in Romania through our International Sponsorship Programme. We were going to give them the holiday of a lifetime – a chance to experience being a child, to run around, laugh and have fun. We were packing sports equipment, t-shirts, colouring markers, a huge array of craft items, children’s clothes, gifts and food. We wanted to make it a camp to remember! We were running out of space when we remembered our own clothes for the 10 day trip! Packing “light” took on a whole new meaning!The team was a mixture of men and women ranging from my daughter aged 13 to some more experienced leaders in their early 60’s. We were all expecting to give so much during our trip – our expertise, our time, our love – but we received all that and so much more in return. God was with us at every turn.
The camp was a home, owned by our Partners in Romania, Ecce Homo, in a beautiful mountain village about two hours from Cluj. The campers were children aged 7-13, each with their own emotional story to tell.
A typical day started with a team meeting with our Romanian partners who were also our translators at 7.30am where we prayed about the day ahead. This was followed by the “youth” in the team waking the whole camp with energetic aerobics and then we’d have breakfast – a bowl of cereal or bread and meats. At 10am we’d bring the children together for Jesus Discovery Time. Some of them already knew about the Bible, about the wonders of God and could sing some hymns. For others, learning about Creation and the miracles of Jesus was new to them but they all loved the stories, enjoyed learning new songs and were eager to participate in everything. Every day we saw them run into the hall and sit, eager to learn more!
After Jesus Discovery Time we’d split the group into their teams. Two teams would play sports whilst the other two did crafts. They would then rotate round. Sports included volleyball, football, hide and seek, badminton – anything that made our young leaders Isaac, Jennifer and Eva run around in the blazing 34 degree heat!
Inside, our imaginations were running wild with crafts like puppet making, popsicle frames, bracelet making, colouring in stencils on t-shirts, ninja warriors and making a foosball table from an empty shoebox! Every day there were amazing creations and every day the confidence of the children grew as they completed another task which gave them a sense of achievement and reward.
Lunch was eaten at a small restaurant 10 minutes’ walk from the camp site and consisted of a soup course followed by a local meat and vegetable dish. For some of the children this was more food than they would normally eat in a day, let alone one meal. One child said he was vegetarian simply because he had never experienced meat before and didn’t know what it was – by the end of the week he knew he loved meatballs, chicken was okay but his favourite was salami!
In the afternoons, we would take the children on an “adventure”! This could range from a water balloon battle in the grounds or a trip to the river (or seaside as some described it!) One of the leaders had brought swimwear out – previous experience had taught her very few of them would have owned anything like that. The children screamed with delight as they dived in the water and splashed the leaders.
Another day we walked to the top of a nearby mountain – a trip that will stay in my memory for many years to come. An old knee injury was causing pain for me climbing the mountain and one of the other leaders was feeling unwell. However, we were determined to reach the summit and see the neon cross at the top that lit up the sky every evening. The encouragement of the children was overwhelming. On the way back down, they spontaneously started singing the songs we had taught them throughout the week – the Lord was with them and their singing was beautiful to hear.
The evening meal was followed by more Jesus Discovery Time, more singing and then evening games including wool hunts, camp Olympics and of course a camp fire and Irish night! So much fun, so much laughter, so little time to squeeze everything in.
As the children left on the Wednesday those that had cried on arrival, missing home and scared of what to expect were the same children that cried because they wanted to stay and would miss the new friends they had made. Little did they know that some of them would be visited by us the next day, armed with food parcels, ready to meet their families and see their home life. Little did we know how that would affect us – both emotionally and spiritually. We had seen these children playing, laughing and enjoying their time at camp. Now they were back in their home environment, one of them 9 years of age; the “man of the house”. It brought us back to reality. Yet they were delighted to see us; excited to share their home, their food, introduce us to their families. The time spent with them and their families was humbling but so rewarding.
Everyone says you go expecting to give so much but God and the children gave us so much more in return. We came home with empty cases but full hearts, tired bodies but active minds. Those same minds are already hatching a plan for another adventure – I’ve got a year to find a bigger suitcase!
Full video made by our partners in Romania: