Archie’s month in Kyrgyzstan
Jesuit Missions volunteer Archie Croft tells us about his trip to Kyrgyzstan.
I spent a month in Kyrgyzstan in August 2019, helping serve the Jesuit mission to both Catholics and non-Catholics in the country. In a country of six million with only around six hundred Catholics, it was incredibly humbling and a great privilege to witness the faith of this minority group.
As a volunteer I spent half of my stay at Lake Issyk Kul where I assisted a number of camps for youth and disabled. These holidays away from home were immensely enjoyable for the youngsters who attended, with activities ranging from swimming to hiking in the nearby mountains. As volunteers it was our responsibility to assist the priests and nuns present in the running of these camps, working around the Jesuit centre by the lake.
I also spent ten days at the parish in Jalal-Abad in the south of Kyrgyzstan. It was here in a city setting that I was afforded an insight into the charitable work carried out every day by the Jesuits. The Catholic families in the surrounding area attended mass each evening, transported by car by the priests because they lived some way from the city itself. The small jobs that us volunteers carried out following these services in looking after children and preparing refreshments for people with very little materially, but a great spiritual richness, was an honour.
As a teacher of Religious Studies, I was pleased that I had the chance to teach English to young people ranging from ages five to eighteen at both Issyk Kul and in Jalal-Abad. I did not speak Russian, but I was greatly assisted by the Polish volunteers with me who were able to communicate in both languages. The classes I ran with both accomplished speakers and complete beginners were hugely enjoyable, mainly because of the interactions I had with the pupils themselves. The work carried out at the English school in Jalal-Abad with such little means is inspirational and the children, parents and teachers were so welcoming to outsiders such as me.
I continue to be reminded of the unique weeks that I spent in Kyrgyzstan. I had not attended morning mass in a mountain forest fifty yards from a river before, but I am also glad I could contribute to the mission in small ways like painting fences. I am so grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by Jesuit missions and the accommodation and love I received from the clergy, sisters and lay people I met over the course of my stay.
Are you interested in volunteering with Jesuit Missions? Find out more here.