This year, Saint Elisabeth Convent launched its Little Eagles Camp initiative to give children aged 7 – 14 an opportunity to spend an exciting several weeks in a Christian community. It benefited fifty children who came from the monastic school Ikhthys, the Sunday school and the families of the Convent’s staff. We asked Nun Rebecca, the camp organiser, to talk about the day-to-day activities, its most exciting events and the impact on the children’s lives.
A day in the life of Camp Eagle
It was an outdoor camp that we had put up on the grounds of our farmstead for disadvantaged men. The younger children lived in a wooden house, and the adolescents stayed in real tents. Our typical day began with the morning prayers. The younger children prayed before the cross at the entrance to the camp, and the older ones at the sprawling oak tree surrounded by some flowerbeds that we had planted earlier as a part of a work project dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky. We closed the day with evening prayer, followed by a joint procession of the cross. Each team had a banner, icon and flag that they carried in each of the processions.
We wanted our days to be as ‘gadget-free as possible, so our ground rules minimised the use of smartphones and set regular times for children to call their parents if they wished.
The children were assigned a set of daily chores that they performed in teams. We called them obediences, just like at the Convent. Doing chores was a way for the children to develop a sense of responsibility to others. It was also an opportunity to learn that not having their parents nearby did not mean freedom from duties, discipline, or the need to help others. As they strived to do their jobs well, they also learned to adapt to their new circumstances and engaged in an adventure of self-discovery. Altogether, it was in every sense an extremely rewarding time for the children, counsellors and parents.
After finishing the daily obediences, the children engaged in a wide range of exciting activities. Some participated in painting workshops; others engaged in basic iconography, made felt toys or wax candles, learned beadwork or playing the guitar. For the more active and athletic, we offered hiking and outdoor orienteering sessions.
We spent a portion of our day watching children’s films. Our children found them educational and exciting. Some of their favourites included an animated series about the Old Testament saints. We always had a discussion after watching each film.
The older children were tasked with a creative project – to adapt a secular board game with characters from the Italian Mafia, making it appropriate for a Christian group like ours. Their adaptation turned out to be more entertaining than the original. Instead of the Mafia characters, the children played as different people from the camp. The game became one of our most favourite pastimes.
Father Oleg Kovalenko, a member of Saint Elisabeth Convent’s clergy, impressed everyone at the camp with his versatile talent. In addition to being a fine priest, we also saw him as a brilliant naturalist and experimenter. He made demonstrations of some of the most exciting discoveries in physics and familiarised all of us with the life and works of Nicholas Tesla, a genius innovator. He brought with him a film about Tesla. After the film, everyone was invited to explore an electric car that needed no fuel!
Other fun activities included football, horse riding and chess, checkers and darts matches, all available to the children after lunch. Occasionally, we invited visitors to take part in our fun activities. That way, the children have met people from the army, a practising psychologist, and discovered what it was like to be a medieval knight of the times of Alexander Nevsky. Parents were welcome at all times.
The time that we spent together doing chores, praying and sharing in various activities helped us build strong relationships and create a sense of belonging to a larger group of friends and like-minded people. I was delighted to feel the bonds among us ever deeper as we gathered almost every evening around the campfire. On rainy evenings, we read the New Testament together with the younger children and discussed how we could put our readings into practice. We also read them books about the lives of the saints. These shared moments became the building blocks of the spirit of unity among others and made us like one big family.
Shortly before the camp’s closure, we produced a poster with some of the highlights of our time together. Everyone had something to remember and share with others, and all the children contributed with enthusiasm.
Highlights of the season
Some of our most exciting events were the reconstruction of the lifestyles of the Russian medieval knights from the time of Alexander Nevsky, our open house for the parents of our children, and an extended hiking trip.
The historical reconstruction gave the children a taste of the spirit and culture of medieval Russia. They learned some medieval dances and games, tried on the knights’ outfits, and even participated in a tug-of-war competition.
The highlight of the open house event for parents was a concert given by the children with support from their counsellors. Afterwards, we had a picnic under the oak tree. Fathers Sergey Khrapitskiy and Oleg Kovalenko served an Akathist to the Icon of the Mother of God “Nurturer” and led a procession of the cross attended by the children, their parents, and the camp counsellors.
For their hiking trip, the children took three different routes according to their age. The older children went on the longest and most difficult journey of fifteen kilometres along the nearby lakes and rivers. Younger children followed the transfiguration trail across the fields and forests, which took them about eight hours to complete. The smallest walked to the farmstead church, where they attended a worship service, had lunch, attended a candle making class and played with the farmyard animals.
Our most memorable worship events were our Sunday liturgies, one on Pentecost Sunday and the other on the Sunday of All Saints. We celebrated the first at the farmstead church. Father Oleg Kovalenko was the celebrant priest, and the singers were the children and counsellors of the camp. The children also served at the altar. Our second liturgy was at the church of Zhukovka Village, about 7 km away. We walked all the way to the church and back to the camp, which was good physical exercise for everyone.
Our last day at the camp was cloudy. Despite the weather, we took a to Vyacha, an artificial lake near Minsk. By the time we got there, the weather had already cleared up, and we enjoyed a great sunny day playing beach volleyball, swimming and having a picnic. We returned to the camp in the evening to prepare ourselves for the good-bye bonfire. Father Oleg served a thanksgiving Moleben. We spent the rest of the evening singing to the guitar, having sweet treats and remembering the best moments spent together. That was a joyful and emotional experience. The older children stayed up until dawn and went for a swim in the lake before going to sleep.
In general, the days we spent together at the camp were a time of great joy and wonderful discovery. We hope that this experience will give rise to a long-lasting tradition, lasting friendships and a sense of community. We are hopeful that God will hear our prayers and assist us in our aspirations. May our good intentions yield fruit and help us grow in the spirit and faith, learn to value other people, make us good guardians of nature, and give us the strength to make this world a better place through our good works.
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Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds