Each year St. Columba’s, a joint congregation of the RCH and the Church of Scotland, and Kalunba Social Services Nonprofit Ltd., the RCH’s implementing partner in its Unit for Refugee Integration, collaborate to run an English day camp for children in the city. This years camp took place the first week of July and hosted around forty children and fifteen staff and adult helpers, some of whom came from Myers Park Presbyterian Church (USA) for the second year in a row.
The kids at St. Columba’s English camp came from all walks of life – some were native Hungarian, others immigrants; some were refugees, while others were Roma – to learn English and build community together. The week was filled with delicious food, plenty of songs, lots of crafts, and of course some language practice! A working knowledge of English was not needed for kids to come and enjoy the camp; even if they didn’t speak English at the beginning, they picked up on words during the week and were happily chatting away and practicing their new language skills by the end of camp. Over forty children attended this year’s camp during the first week of July and together they spoke almost ten different languages.
They came from all over the world. Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya. Happy to be in Budapest. Afghanistan is represented through children and a couple of families. They have given their new country a 10-year-old World Champion Hungarian Folk Dancer. Syrians, who fled the terror that was once home, willing to risk their lives, get on a dangerous boat, make it to Greece, and then travel on foot to Serbia, Croatia, finally finding themselves in Budapest. Happy to be in this city. Happy to be alive. Others came from Persia, and shared a song with us from their country. These men sang, and it was filled with a homesickness that made it hard to hear, and a beautiful thing to witness. They came to day camp for fun, games, stories, lunch, making friends, learning songs. Music, play, love. The universal languages.
Staff at the camp was diverse as well – some were Hungarian while others were immigrants or visitors in Hungary, and many of them were multilingual. A group from the United States also joined the camp this year as helpers, giving the children who attended the camp a unique opportunity to learn and practice their English skills with people from around the world.
For the second year, a group from Myers Park Presbyterian Church (USA) traveled to Budapest to volunteer at the English camp. This year over twenty volunteers came and spent their mornings at the camp and their afternoons bonding with Kalunba’s beneficiaries at English-oriented community events. One day the MPPC group joined Kalunba for a boat trip to Szentendre, another afternoon they held a joint picnic by the Danube, and other evenings the group split up and joined local families for home cooked meals and quality time.
Hospitality that gives us all pause for reflection about our own awareness of what we thought hospitality was before and what we might think it means after this. More of a culture crush than culture clash. The outpouring of kindness from people who don’t know us. From people who simply want to share a meal, and to make us happy in that moment. We are filled and filled up.
Days at the English camp began with songs and a dramatic rendering of the Biblical story for the day, followed by vocabulary practice relating to the story. The children were then divided up into two groups to experience handcrafts and Godly play – an innovative way to engage the children in the Biblical story again. In the afternoon, kids and staff shared a meal together and then played outdoor games, like relay races and basketball, for a few hours.
That’s why they are here this week. So that we can all live, for a while, together in the love of God. To share and help each other understand we actually all live in the same place. The Kingdom of God. And we can rejoice in that.
At the end of each day, the group gathered again for an afternoon time of songs and then a closing conversation where each person named their favorite part of the day. This daily ritual was an important time for the children, and adults, to name the activity or person who had an impact on them that day. For many of the kids, their favorite thing was crafting, playing basketball or football, or learning some new dance moves; for others, they enjoyed watching the daily scripture story being acted out, hearing the Bible read in multiple languages, or meeting new friends.
It was a day when the desire to get to know each other won out over timidity and the hesitancy to dive into what none of us know or can understand fully. In a big way. With big smiles. With a big God. Big enough for all of us, no matter where we came from. That’s pretty much it. Go big or go home. We choose big.
The camp at St. Columba’s is an excellent example of creating God’s kingdom on Earth, here and now, for all of God’s people regardless of their social standing, faith background, nationality, or anything else that may divide us. Each year the English camp is a reminder of God’s vision for the wider-world, one that the congregation and Kalunba try to live into each and every day.
Photos via Myers Park Presbyterian Church and Derek J Macleod
Quotes via myersparkpres.org blog