Peace Camp 2014 Report
By: Alexandrea Brooks
Five years ago, Laurena Zondo, a current member of First Baptist Church Toronto, started an African youth initiative and called it A Peace of Life. A Peace of Life uses an array of media and art forms, to provide young people with creatively unique ways of expressing one’s self, in a more positive and healthy manner. The prayer is to teach and instill the art of building peace, in the many ways Peace itself has the great potential to look like and represent, in order to gain Hope. Now within the different clubs that were established while working in Rwanda, Africa, Peace Camp was then introduced as a way to bring the young people from the different peace clubs, schools, and surrounding communities together annually. First Baptist Church, who has always been a huge support and contributor to this project, had the amazing opportunity of sending a team of four to Peace Camp 2014.
Now the absolute beauty of Peace Camp, is that it combines the learning and teaching of the essential skills necessary to inspire, support, encourage, and spark peace and change. Peace Camp provides the tools, resources, skills and opportunity, to learn and understand the concept of inner peace versus communal peace, and how to bridge the gap between the two in order to make the broken pieces whole again. You are challenged to expand your mind and ways of thinking from different perspectives, on different scales, and how to approach topics of conflict and discussion from different, yet healthy angles. The overall setting and environment collectively pushes and challenges any limitations and boundaries on a social, personal, global, cultural, communal, psychological, mental, emotional, economical, and also physical scale. The challenge helps to create an openness in your mind and heart, to a whole new world and dynamic way of living in building true relationship and fellowship with others in unity, love, respect and togetherness, no matter where one may come from.
All of the devastation, pain and damage caused by the Genocide in 1994, along with the events that took place prior to, leading up to the heinous massacre, is still being felt throughout the country of Rwanda. Although there are some young people who were born well after the event took place, the trauma, the heartache, the pain, the loss, the devastation and so on, are passed on and still being felt on a very real and highly sensitive level. Extensive sessions on understanding mental health and trauma, is a key component to the camp. A Psychology doctor was brought in to teach what trauma looks like, what it means, how to recognize it, and the different ways one can cope with any traumatic experience. Ways were taught of not only expressing emotions, but also the ways of healing and learning to let go and forgive were also included. But the one aspect of the camp that not only offsets the seriousness of all material covered, but it also gives the week its camp-esque feel and nature, is the arts, crafts and activities umbrella. It introduces fun and closely interactive forms and activities that encompass grave power to either bring out, build, shape and/or instill great leadership qualities, teamwork, having good sportsmanship, being a team player, character, unity, trust, love, care, honesty, friendship, family, and of course Peace! Drawing on strength from each other to help build strength as a unit.
Africa has always felt like home for me. I was elated to have yet another opportunity to go home again; but home to be now called Rwanda: the land of a thousand hills and a million smiles. Travelling back to Canada, when our group had the layover in Amsterdam, Pastor Gibbs asked us what we took away from the mission and experience. During my reflection being back in Canada, I realized that I busied myself too much with the look and practical form of the mission and was losing sight of everything that was taking place right before my eyes in that very moment. My journey, the amazing experience I had, and most of what I took away from being in this beautiful country, can be found in everything that Peace Camp is and all it represents and stands for. There was nothing for me to find or pick out and seek in terms of a higher lesson and revelation, within all of the special or intense moments we felt and were very much apart of, because we were physically there living it and sharing it in almost every capacity.
There was one moment when I was thinking about one of the memorial sites we went to at a church. 11,000 people went to this church for refuge and safety; only to be locked in, gunned and bombed to death. Approximately close to two hundred people survived that attack out of the eleven thousand. The mental image created walking those grounds, I can’t even begin to imagine what that whole space of time was like, and what it was like to be present in that moment. But when you take a look and compare it to where we are now, with it being twenty years later, it dawned on me that this is what it’s all about. This is exactly what we are here for, in working towards the ongoing rehabilitation of Rwanda; starting with its young people to work with, educate and instill peace of hope, peace of love, and peace of faith that all stems from the Prince of Peace. The gravity, the significance and true understanding of that moment for me just truly makes me embrace and appreciate the whole aspect of the trip itself. Having the opportunity to be a part of something that is so much bigger than me or just us, but yet have such a profound effect on the lives we touched there, in simply showing up and being present. There’s nothing more pure than the genuine love and feeling exchanged and shared, in love, in joy, in pain, in laughter, in care, in suffering, in conflict, in resolution, in past, in present, and in hopes of continuing to move forward. Peace Camp helps build a hope for a better tomorrow within these young lives, and exposes us to a world that’ll open your eyes to truly and really see life, God and His people, in the splendor, awe and wonder of it all. I am forever humbled and grateful for this experience.
Peace Camp 2014 Report
By: Joseph Cain (Mr. Peace Camp)
This is my report from my mission journey to Rwanda, Africa. I journeyed with four other members of First Baptist Church to participate at the annual Peace of Life camp from July 25 to August 4, 2014. We enjoyed some brief opportunities of visitor excursions before and after the camp, i.e. Memorial visits and the Safari. However, we spent the week of Monday July 28 to Friday August 1 at the Gashora Girls Academy with youth from Kenya, Congo, Burundi and most from Rwanda. The camp was celebrating its 5th year of operation in conjunction with the 20th year anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. The camp offers healing and peace for change, from the many participants who are orphan youths from the Genocide experience. It was the beginning of my mission journey and certainly not the end as I’m now to return in 2015 from being selected as Mr. Peace Camp 2014. My journey has only just begun.
The reason I wanted to go Rwanda was because I thought it would teach me that my problems aren’t worth complaining about. To look in the faces of people that wish they had my life including its misfortunes. To take the causes of their sadness, and compare it to my reasons of my moments of depression; to take their hurt and pain, their trials and tribulations and size then up to mine, and see the insignificance of the things I grumble about. But, that didn’t end up happening.
Why? Because they weren’t sad. They are genuinely happy. They aren’t holding on to any grudges on how life’s not fair. They’re taking the cards God gave to them, and are doing the best they can with them. They aren’t worried about what they don’t have and what they can’t get, ’cause they are too busy paying attention and appreciating on what they do have, and working hard on what they can get. Which is amazing, with their traumatic histories (20 year Genocide). In Canada, if youth had the kinds of past events that happen to them, they probably would have resulted in severe depression, intense rebellion, mental instability or a combination of them all.
When they shared with me their stories and what they have to the opportunity to complain about, but don’t, it made me feel embarrassed about the things I threw fits over, things I wouldn’t forgive people for, things I held on to, and things I wouldn’t move on from. Especially since most the things I did complain about, I had the resources and opportunity to change them, but just didn’t, ’cause I wanted someone else to do it for me, as if I were entitled and then wanted to cry ‘whoa’ is me, when I didn’t get what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted it.
This trip has taught me so much. It revived a side of me that I had let die. In fear of it not being accepted, in fear of it not being appreciated, and in fear of it being not being relevant in today’s society. I’m more than happy that I went. It gave me the tools and drive that I needed to start my life over. And that is what I’m going to do. Renewal of my mind, body and soul. And I’m using this trip as my foundation.
I had a lot of challenges before deciding if I should actually go to Rwanda. At certain points in time it was honestly, the flip of a coin that was determining if I was going or not. But the support and love you all showed me, the council from everyone that knew my uncertainty was kind and understanding. The prayers you made on my behalf were heard and God sent me signs that influenced my decision, some more prominent than others, but at the end of the day all very clear. I know better than to think that going to me, that I did it all on my own. I know that I couldn’t have done it without you, my church, my family. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for supporting all of us.
Rwanda, Africa – July 2014
Peace of Live report
Going to Rwanda, Africa was a life changing experience. When we first landed in Kigali, Rwanda I had many emotions going through my mind and body,I felt happy, nervous, excited and also a little scared. Laurena Zondo a member of our church founded a non-profit organization called ‘A Peace of Life’, where every year youth from different areas of Africa come to peace Camp. Peace Camp is a place where all these youth come together and learn and just enjoy each other’s company. When leaving we pray that each individual leave with a positive attitude and will want to be one piece of the puzzle needed for good change and spreading word that peace is a great thing and is also needed. We went to attend Peace Camp because a Canadian group never attended and it was honestly the best experience of my life.
There were many benefits that this trip had to offer. Firstly it taught me to just cherish things I have and be thankful because many kids aren’t as blessed as I am. I am very blessed to have food, shelter and family, but many aren’t as lucky and may not have any of these things, and they still seem to keep a smile on their faces and appreciate all they have. Secondly I need to stop feeling sorry for myself, because there will always be someone with a worst situation then I, and they handle it without complaints and fighting, because they know it will not make the problem better but potentially make it worst. Another benefit I got from this trip is to love and care for people. I met so many amazing people and they loved me and showed me that just because they’ve been through so much heartache, doesn’t mean they have to stop loving, but simply that we need to forgive and move on.
My personal journey was a Roller coaster but I wouldn’t have it any other way because I learned so much and just appreciated things a lot more. When we got to Peace Camp I was worried that no one would talk to us but I was wrong. They were super welcoming and just always wanted to be with us and I loved it. We danced, sang and played many different games and sports together which was so fun. The hardest part for me was when we went to the Genocide Memorial Church. At the time, the genocide took place, the priest disguised the . church as a safe place, but sadly 11,000 innocent people were bombed and shot to death by the radicals. It was really hard for me because many of the youth at Peace camp who were with me lost many of their parents and loved ones, if not all of them, and I’m extremely happy that I could be there and comfort them and listen if they needed someone to share their sorrow.
A teachable part of the trip that was first frustrating was when I saw many different girls wearing my clothes, and I had no idea because they didn’t ask me. But I then understood that’s their culture and I cannot be angry with them because that’s the way they do things, they share everything. Many of them told me I had a special place in their heart and they will never forget me and thanked me for just being there & I was further touched when they apologized to me after learning of my frustrating. I thank God for this learning experience and realize through this experience, how much Jesus gave to me.
My fondest moments were with my new friend, Gilbert. He was literally the happiest guy ever. He didn’t live in the past, but he lived for the future, he wants to be the change. He was probably the strongest person I ever met in my life, because he lost his whole family through the Genocide, and he is the only person from his family left. He still lives life with no regrets and doesn’t look at his past, because he believes the future is brighter, and I believe that too. He thanked me for being there for him throughout the week and didn’t want me to leave, because I mean a lot to him. I can honestly say, I miss his welcoming spirit so much. But I’m just happy that I could be there as much as possible for each of them. I hope to return again, because it was honestly the best thing I have ever experience.
I would like to thank my Church and Pastor for this mission trip and pray that God will help me to trust Him more and be a blessing wherever I go.