‘A different place, where you can meet Aslan’. That is how Mihai Chisari describes Narnia, and in 2019 the Imago Dei Baptist Church’s children’s workers chose the title of that series of stories by C.S. Lewis as the theme for their new venture of a children’s camp, wanting the campsite to be a haven for kids from poor, dysfunctional families, and a place in which they could meet the Greater Aslan, Jesus himself.
Mihai, the pastor of the church, knows only too well what it is like to live in a family such as these children come from. Like many of them, he was brought up by grandparents while his own parents, having found no work in that poverty-ridden country, worked abroad. He knows from experience that the school system is under-resourced, and that teachers are poorly paid and largely unmotivated, so many children are educationally deprived, as he had once felt himself to be. As a little boy he, just like the children of his neighbourhood, had found few family relationships that gave him any idea of what true love and care looked like. But, wonderfully for him, in his childhood Mihai had encountered a small church where he was welcomed, nurtured, and introduced to the Saviour. He has not forgotten that experience, for it was there that he not only found human warmth. He met the Lord Jesus through the testimony of those good, simple believers. Not surprising, then, that Mihai has encouraged his own little congregation (just three years old) in the Ciocana district of the country’s capital to build a safe, welcoming community for children in their area.
The first Narnia camp was a huge success two years ago, full of largely unchurched children, who had a wonderful few days of fun, good food, and healthy activities while being introduced to Christian teaching for the very first time in their lives. Excitedly, the leaders planned to repeat the project in 2020, but Covid put paid to that. The Narnia camp came back with a happy vengeance this past August, however, when the authorities relaxed public health restrictions. 70+ children, aged from 9-16, spent 5 days in games and sports activities, crafts, and workshops, but with the daily spiritual focus being on the theme ‘Shipwrecked- Saved by Christ!’. 95% of these children (many of whom had had their first contact with the church at a Vacation Bible School in June 2021) have absolutely no other Christian influence on their lives, and they are often so poor that the camp leaders have to make a huge effort to get financial aid to help the kids pay for their stay. This is an unusual and moving story.
This year’s camp ended on 21st August. Twice a day, the children at camp had been listening to a Bible message and splitting into small groups to discuss what they had heard. They left for home with follow-up literature (Mihai had asked Matthias Media for permission to translate ‘Who Will be King?´ into Romanian, and each camper took home a copy of the attractive booklet, with its simple-to-follow pictograms); they were given the offer of a Bible if they didn’t have one, along with an invitation to the ongoing activities designed for them back at the church building each week. One teenager confessed that she had come to camp as an atheist, but was leaving ‘with different ideas’.
Have any of these children/ young people carried on showing any interest after camp? Well, here are a few stories… There are the 13-year-old twins who now attend church each week. One of them is reading Matthew’s Gospel, and came with her new Bible book-marked with post-its, and underlined in colours. She was full of questions about what she was reading. There is the ´Crossroads’ youth meeting, where 16 children aged 14+ come along to study the Christianity Explored ‘Soul’ Curriculum, or Saturday’s Narnia group for children aged 9-13. A number of girls meet up for a Wednesday Bible Study with Irina (Mihai’s wife) and another lady. Like almost all teenagers, they love pizzas, so Irina, knowing that most of them have no warm mum-daughter time, has taught them how to make their favourite food. In fact, food plays an important part at many of the meetings, for the truth is that quite a few of those coming in to the building are under-nourished.
The children who entered the Narnia camp did indeed find something new for them. It would be so wonderful if many of them had an encounter with the Lord Jesus, about whom they heard every day while they were there.