Above: Mattia and Elena Leoni with sons Sam and Michele.
From late August, the Leoni family, i.e. Mattia, a language teacher and coordinator of the Amnesty Group, Elena, a well known physiotherapist and a gifted singer, and the two rascals, Michele (7) and Sam (4.5) won’t be seen at the market, the library or in church in Clonakilty. They are taking the green and red flag to Kigali, capital city of Rwanda, in central Africa. Although as a friend of theirs recently told them at a farewell party, “you’re not actually leaving us, it’s just that Clonakilty’s lovely community will have four members living a little further away than usual…”
Last April, after a long and careful process of discernment and assessment, which involved several visits to the UK, this Italian family, now happy to consider themselves Clon’s adopted citizens, were selected by the Methodist Mission Society (of Britain and Ireland) to work as Overseas Mission Partners, in a three-year project, possibly renewable for a further three years.
Why Rwanda? With 64 partner churches around the world, the range of options was quite wide, but that country, which has made great progress in the reconciliation process since the 1994 genocide, has recently switched its international language from French to English and the local Methodist Bishop feels they need a mission partner to help teachers and church leaders still struggling with the new language; moreover, apart from some primary and secondary schools, the Methodist Church manages a special needs school, with over 50 pupils suffering from mental and/or physical disabilities. It has a hospital and several health clinics around the country, so they need a physiotherapist, too. The match was perfect and, when asked if they would consider that possibility, Mattia and Elena didn’t have any doubts; just like a year ago when they felt God was calling them to serve overseas, they now felt that if Rwanda needed them, that’s where they should go.
Their project starts in January 2015, but it’s already time to begin packing, as they are first required to attend a course at All Nations College, in Ware, Hertfordshire. So when September comes, Sam will start school in England, not in Scoil na mBuachailli, and his big brother Michele will make new friends in the UK’s equivalent of First Class. Then, after Christmas holidays in Italy to say goodbye for a while to their families, the four ‘Lions’ (their surname’s translation) will come back to Clonakilty for a quick change of suitcases, a Commissioning Service to receive any possible blessing and… it’s off to Kigali!
The young boys are very excited and are taking the whole plan in their stride; their parents feel very lucky and blessed to have two children so willing to let them do something like this. Mattia and Elena feel very humbled too by the out-pouring of positive comments from people in Clonakilty as they keep hearing that they’ll be sorely missed and receiving good wishes and congratulations for their brave move. Their first answer is that after seven years they’re going to miss Clonakilty a lot too: Elena’s patients, her choirs and singing nights at Shanley’s; Mattia’s Amnesty events, gaelic football games and storytelling evenings at Teach Beag; all of Sam’s and Mickey’s friends, their Irish dancing and their hurling and football teams; the trips to Inchydoney, the family kayaking (no sea in Rwanda)…
Their second answer is that their house is only going to be rented, so at the end of 2017 they’ll be back. The next Shakespeare festival is just postponed, Elena’s voice is not lost forever, and the GAA team can cope without Mickey and Sam for a few years…In the meantime, with they’ll try to put their skills to good use for the people of Rwanda and hope to gain a lot themselves from the experience.