In the city of Dolisie, in the south of Congo –Brazzaville, the Orthodox “St Efstathios” orphanage has been in operation since 2007. In this institution which was established by His Eminence Ignatios, the then Prelate of the Holy Metropolis of Central Africa in whose jurisdiction the local Church of Congo-Brazzaville also belonged until 2010, there are today 24 little boys aged from 5 – 7 years, whose needs are looked after by 8 paid members of staff.
The mission of the Institution is the protection and Christian upbringing of the twenty-four orphans, but always under the social principles, values and beliefs of their country, as long as they are in harmony with the historical commands of the Gospels. Please allow me to clarify that these children, as future Orthodox citizens of their country, are obliged to know, respect and implement the principles of their country, which are not very different from the relevant moral principles of Greece, at least in the way most of us were taught long ago, where respect to parents, teachers, family and social hierarchy, the holy and divine, ethics and customs and paternal tradition was an non-negotiable value.
However, this effort is not easy. The lack of family environment from the beginning of these children’s lives, the various origins of each, the differences in age and spiritual levels, the coenobitic manner of life, the complex psychological state of puberty, contemporary influences and the western way of life, as is promoted by the media, all create problems in the upbringing and behavior of these children. Love, dialogue, rules of conduct, the necessary training boundaries, order and discipline, always under the light of faith, are the criteria for training of these little orphans, although of course there is no lack of difficult times of childish discord and youthful tension.
Over and above all these essential issues, the operation of an institution in Congo-Brazzaville is a complex process. The Republic of Congo-Brazzaville, as a former French colony, follows the legal prototypes of France. Consequently, the legal payroll, the uninterrupted payment of social security contributions for workers and the strictly-safeguarded rights of those who have entered into fixed or indefinite employment contracts, the occasional changes to the legislation for charitable institutions and the periodic controls impose the lawful operation of the orphanage and its adaptation to every change which the state decides on. This is imperative, both for lawful reasons as well as for reasons of the honourable and serious presence of the Orthodox Church in the country of the Congo, seeing as this comprises one of the officially accepted four Christians churches of the country. The 9th August 2014 visit by Her Excellency the Minister of Social Affairs, Mrs. Emilienne Raoul to the Orphanage, who publicly expressed here congratulations on the excellent operating and living conditions there, as well as the handing to the Director Fr. Paul Diafouka the renewal document for operating permission, as now one of the three official orphanages of Congo-Brazzaville its definition as the best of all, confirms its successful operation.
However, the successful running of the orphanage demands large sums of money too. The full board for the 24 orphans, with three full meals per day, their clothing and shoes, their school expenses, purchase of medication for illnesses and epidemics which are easily passed on between the children who are constantly together (free hospitalization for the children at the General Hospital in Dolisie, when necessary, was ensured following the direct reply of its most kind Director Dr. Matthia Kassay, to the relevant plea by the Bishop) technical faults, and the maintenance of the complex, the salaries of the staff, as well as the tuition fees for technical schools for the older children (which was a system established in 2013, so that on reaching adulthood they would have the necessary knowledge for their professional lives), in conjunction with the even higher prices of goods in Greece, comprise endless anxiety for the Bishop. Securing of the amount of 2.500 ευρώ in total which is necessary every month for the above costs – only for the Orphanage of the Holy Diocese – over and above the paternal anxiety for the correct upbringing and Christian training of the little children, as well as the smooth overall operation of the institution, are a constant source of struggle for the Bishop.
So, it is easy to understand that the words of praise, the expressions of support and understanding, the best wishes for progress, strength and productivity of the above briefly described struggle, despite their totally pure intentions of those who express them, unfortunately are not enough.
Who can comprehend the Bishop’s struggle, when night finds him in exhausted tears praying to God for the revelation of that practical solution which will secure at least the following day’s meals for those twenty-four orphaned children…
Who can feel the mental anguish, when he begs for a little money for the orphans to people or agencies who could perhaps contribute as much as possible, but receives negative replies or even derogatory replies, even mockery because of a lack of emotion in the impenetrable shell of selfishness…
How many souls which have love can understand that an Orthodox Orphanage is not only a place of survival and of protection of children from known dangers lurking in Africa (prostitution, human trafficking, poverty, disease, famine, civil wars, death), but a literal Christian family in which the suffering child can change into a responsible person and an honourable member of the local community…
The loving financial assistance of some missionary societies, a few Holy Metropolises and very few private people sacrificially support the needs of the children in part. Despite all their loving contribution, this is not enough, as the costs are huge and continuous, the times are financially difficult and the needs of Orthodox missions globally are abundant and compelling.
My dear brothers and sisters,
Allow me to state my humble opinion, as it has been formed in the short period of my two years tenure of ministry in the African equatorial region, that mission is not a romantic story or an adventurous tale, nor a collection of experiences in the always attractive standpoint of the natural beauty of Africa. Also, Mission is not the place for narcissistic self-confirmation, neither a private setting for the solution of personal searches, disputes or arbitrary views and egocentric improvisations. Mission is a shared responsibility of the Body of the Church under heaven, according to the words of the Lord, the Apostolic and Patristic tradition and the two thousand year old history, order and experience of the Church, without distinction. Besides, this is what we confess when saying “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”!
And because Christ the King on the day of Judgment will judge us on the basis o the honest, genuine and sincere love of our fellow human beings, founded on His words “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…” (Matthew 25:35-39), let us consider honestly the measure of the love which is in our hearts, a love which we truly accept as a way of existence and natural outcome of Christian life which we proclaim, that knows and exceeds distances, physical barriers, financial circumstances and personal priorities... “God loves a cheerful giver”! (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Bishop of Brazzaville and Gabon