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Kids’ energy plus Bible study ignite camp

   
 


Chanel Cressman (Breslau Mennonite Church, Ont.), Esther Bossou – mother of La Casa Grande children, Anne-Laure Zingbé and Mimi Hollinger-Janzen (Waterford Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN.) take a half-time break in a soccer game between staff and kids during La Casa Grande camp in Benin.

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September 29, 2006
-by Mimi Hollinger-Janzen

Tori bossito, Benin – An adorable boy with captivating brown eyes says, “Viens danser,” as he leads me out onto the dance floor. If you’re picturing a romantic evening in Paris, you’re on the wrong continent.

Little Pierrot leads me to the stage packed with small gleaming bodies of worshippers at La Casa Grande’s annual summer camp. Since singing and dancing are acceptable forms of worship in Benin, Christians engage in these activities with awe-inspiring talent.

Pierrot guides me into a circle of children and nudges me into the center, where I foolishly try to make my self-conscious body imitate some of the moves I’ve seen the kids pulling off. The children laugh and cheer as I dance, accepting my strange steps with joy. This is what is at the heart of La Casa Grande’s camp - learning from each other and praising.

Sparks of energy from 115 wired kids combined with the well-laid plans of the staff of La Casa Grande children’s home ignited passions for following Jesus during this year’s summer camp, July 9-15. In the West African village of Tori-Bossito, campers gathered to learn, worship, play and discover the theme “the secret of success lies in Jesus” based on the first six chapters of the biblical book of Joshua.

Divided into six groups named for characteristics of spiritual success – certainty, firmness, hope, punctuality, sanctity and victory, the children competed with an almost alarming intensity throughout the week to gain points in relay races, games, performances based on the daily lessons and Bible trivia contests. Hours of Bible study that included note-taking and worship sessions that lasted two hours or more served only to fuel the children’s enthusiasm.

La Casa Grande, the organization that sponsors the annual summer camp, serves as a dynamic example of what is possible when people follow Jesus’ call. From a dream in the hearts of two people and the support of a small congregation in Spain, Comunidad Evangélica Menonita de Burgos (Burgos Mennonite Church), the home has grown into a family for 24 children who have been separated from their biological parents through death or because of health or financial hardships. ]

La Casa Grande organizes the summer camp with three goals in mind.

First, it provides a change of scenery and new friends for their children who don’t have parents to take them on vacation.

Secondly, it creates a context in which children’s faith can be strengthened. Because area churches send their children to the camp, the primary focus is not evangelism but discipleship. Planning guided by an ecumenical manual ensures that the camp’s teaching is acceptable to all denominations represented at the camp.

Thirdly, the camp offers a Christian alternative to the secular singing and dancing competitions organized by Beninese television stations during school holidays.

La Casa Grande does not call itself an orphanage and does not promote adoption of the children. The villa nestled in among lush tropical greenery becomes a permanent home, until the children are ready to face the world on their own. One of the first children to arrive when the home opened its doors in 2000 has chosen to remain at the home as a staff member to contribute to the loving family atmosphere that molded her life.

La Casa Grande is expanding its facilities to accommodate the growing number of kids needing a loving home and to begin to realize their long-term vision of becoming a more viable Christian community with a school, a health center and training opportunities in agriculture, crafts and technical vocations. The new home will enable the family to welcome about 100 children.

In addition to the Burgos Mennonite Church in Spain, St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in Ontario is working together with Mennonite Church Canada Witness to assist La Casa Grande. Three past Mennonite volunteers from St. Jacobs Mennonite Church (Ont.) led by Nathan Kruger are helping to raise money for La Casa Grande’s expansion.

The relationship of Mennonite Church Canada to La Casa Grande ministry recently grew stronger when Augustine Melguizo A., the pastor of the Burgos Mennonite Church, spent two weeks with Mennonite Church Canada’s IMPaCT program (International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together (see http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/tiny/67).

Mimi Hollinger-Janzen served as a volunteer at La Casa Grande from May-July during her summer holidays. Hollinger-Janzen, a second-year student at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont., grew up in Benin.