Insurmountable difficulties

Dear Friends of the Mission,

With the help of God and the blessing of His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria, one more missionary journey is coming to an end. Like all our journeys, this one had its difficulties as well. This is so because the populations of the “Black Continent” continue to suffer from the new form of economic, political and social uncertainty.

In the blood-stained countries of Central Africa, particularly in Burundi and Rwanda, the twenty-year civil war between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes created millions of homeless people who, having lost their ancestral land, were pushed into the cities, where they formed  miserable suburbs, slum areas with cheap labor.

It was in these social strata that the comforting word of Christ found response. This happened around 1850, when we have the beginning of Christian missionary activity in Central and Eastern Africa. In 1876 the Protestants arrived first in Uganda, and two years later followed the Roman Catholics. Finally, Uganda, Rwanda-Urundi and the Eastern Congo were christianized by the Order of the White Fathers of French origin, while later we had the arrival of Belgian missionaries, who also undertook the education of these peoples. Naturally, the main historical problem of Africa is the setback it suffered, particularly in countries where civil (tribal) wars broke out: Major cities were totally destroyed, education, traditions and historical continuity were lost, while production relations were set back for centuries.

This created the need for African countries to be organized and, as part of that need, there were colonial policies organized on other bases, and waves of European colonists settled in Africa. At the same time, Confessions like the Dutch Reformed Church, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, the Adventists, the Chiliasts and other Americans, the French Evangelical Mission, the Roman Catholics of the Order of the White Fathers, and many others, sent their missionaries to the interiors of the black continent.

In the case of Burundi and Rwanda, the Orthodox missionary penetration is relatively recent. My ministry in these countries dates back to 2002. My predecessor, Fr. Savvas, was transferred to another Metropolis, and I replaced him by the will of God and with the blessing of our Patriarch Theodoros II.

The difficulties we encountered were, without exaggeration, insurmountable. Our main concern was and still is to help these people, to the extent possible, stand on their feet. However, moving from one country to another was very difficult indeed, and now it has become even harder after a road accident in which our car was completely destroyed. Now we are forced to use public transport, which means a terrible waste of time, while inland the bicycle is extremely useful for our journeys.

The country where we encounter many obstacles that are difficult to overcome is Rwanda. In particular, the government has stipulated that all religious confessions should own a large plot of land (at least five acres) and build a church in accordance with the European standards (water, parking, toilets for men and women, floor tiles, and many others…) and not conduct a divine liturgy in the countryside under the trees.

Ten out of the eighteen parish communities that we had have been closed due to the fact that we did not have the plots required and, in general, we did not meet the new standards. Naturally, we are very concerned about the souls we have baptized (5,000 catechumens and baptized + 2,500 on hold), since we cannot have them gathered. We do not want to be pessimistic, and we always believe that our brothers in Greece, despite all the difficulties they have to face, will help us, as they have done so many times in the past, so that we can buy some plots. These in Rwanda are very expensive indeed, especially the ones near a street (about €30,000-40,000). As for the construction of a small church, that varies from € 60,000-100,000.

The government also calls on us to support its social work for the help of orphans, widows, and multimember families through our own contribution. Our parishes in Rwanda are served by five priests, four deacons, two sub-deacons and fifteen readers, who, in the absence of a priest, read the typikon. We are also moving forward with the translation project: Translation of the Divine Liturgies of St. John the Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great, the pre-sanctified liturgy as well as the services of all the Holy Sacraments.

In Burundi, things are a bit different. The government grants plots of land to us on the strict condition that we have finished the building construction within a fixed period of time. And since our conviction is that Education saves the man, we started building six rooms in Buramata region, where the “St. Paisios Middle School” will be housed— an oasis in the desert. We felt it was necessary since all the children who finished Primary School and considered Secondary School study had to walk at least ten kilometers on a daily basis.

I will not abuse your love and your patience. I would just like to ask you to pray to God for us and for the success of the missionary work.

You are always in our prayers and in our hearts. Thank you for supporting us in our work. Without your moral and material assistance, none of these would have been achieved.

Innocentios of Burundi and Rwanda

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