After thirty hours of journeying to the other side of the world, one might expect a level of jet lag – but for Rev Peter Benge, the Vicar of our Lower Hutt parish whānau, the tiredness “lifted as if by a hand” – that’s according to a Belarusian television news story, centred on Peter’s trip there.
Peter was visiting the eastern European republic to retrace his family roots, which date back to the fourteenth century and an ancestor who was granted a place in Russian nobility. Peter found a natural connection to the place. “I experienced such a warm welcome, it was like being loved by the people who up until then had been complete strangers,” he said. Whilst there, Peter’s research connections had arranged for him to visit the ruins of his family’s former estate. Now just an overgrown foundation in the forest, Peter needed the assistance of a local hunter to help him find his way to the ruins.
Joining Peter on his pilgrimage was a group of new friends – some who had helped to research his family history from afar, whom he had only met once he arrived, and some who were there to assist with translation. The television news crew joined the group as well. “Quite by chance last year I met the honorary consul for Belarus in New Zealand – Stuart Prior. He was the one who found me a contact in Belarus, and that contact put me onto a family researcher there. Stuart’s contact was also a senior manager in the Belarus National Film Studio, and he made contact with MIR TV, who put together the video report,” Peter told us.
Upon finishing their time on the estate, the group then enjoyed a picnic together with good food and drink, conversation and laughter. Peter tells in his blog:
“The vodka came out, there were toasts and, as the evening drew on, songs were sung in Russian that were familiar to the group. I had the strongest sense of appreciation for this event, which had the effect of connecting me deeply to the soil of this place that had been so special to my ancestors. They would have enjoyed picnics on the estate over many years, and here I was doing the same thing…. To visit the site of the former estate house had been very special, but it was capped off by this experience of relaxed enjoyment with people whose deep warmth and hospitality had been shown to me. Throughout the day and especially during the picnic they had given me the gift of feeling truly at home.”
Peter’s visit established global friendships and a huge sense of well-being and connection with his family history. You can read his blog about his journey here, and you can watch the Belorusian television feature here. A transcript of the article in English is available here.
Photo: supplied. Peter Benge is offered a formal welcome at Shumilino District Council in Belarus.