Today I am sitting in a coffee shop called The Golden Roast, right next door to the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The local Orthodox Christian Fellowship (the Orthodox campus organization here in the States) has asked me to speak with them about my own OCF experience and how that’s drawn me towards missionary work. I’ve spent the past several hours meditating and journaling about this, and here’s the result:
How does OCF encourage mission work?
OCF is mission work. If you think about student culture at any given university, and if you think of the culture of most members of a typical parish, there’s a pretty big difference. When parishioners get involved in campus ministry, when they get involved with OCF, that is cross-cultural mission work. Our universities are huge mission fields.
At a national level, OCF organizes short-term service projects that students can participate in during their spring breaks. Sometimes these “Real Break” trips give participants a brief exposure to what cross-cultural ministry can look like. That’s important.
Another way that OCF can– and should– be involved in cross-cultural missions is by supporting long-term missionary work. There’s no reason why a local fellowship couldn’t pool together and commit, say, twenty-five dollars each month in support of a missionary in Albania or Romania or Tanzania or somewhere else. College students aren’t too young or too poor to matter. And some of them could then go on an OCMC team in the summer to visit the missionary they support and be involved with this work first-hand.
How did you first get involved with OCF?
As a graduate student at the University of Florida. Now this is important. When I decided to go to UF, I googled information on OCF @ UF. It was all out of date. Nobody I emailed responded, because they were no longer students. This is still true with most OCFs around the country– especially if an incoming freshman is googling them during the summer. The information is out of date, and it’s typically very difficult to get in touch with the right people and find out for sure who the group is or when & where it meets.
When I showed up at the local parish in Gainesville, thankfully, there was an announcement about OCF and I got connected that way.
How did you get involved in leadership?
There are two answers to that. My first two years at UF, we had a talented and dynamic president who was also overwhelmed and finishing up a difficult degree. And we were served by a wonderful missionary priest who lived two hours away, had a packed schedule, and would be able to fit in a campus visit maybe three times each semester.
So a core group of students– most of us not officially in leadership– met on campus several times each week to pray and met every week to eat, or do a book study, or study Scripture. These were not official OCF events. They were just Christians bearing one another’s burdens.
When our president graduated, I was asked to succeed her and several other members of this core group were elected OCF officers. So that’s how I ended up in an official OCF leadership role.
What did leadership teach you?
Leadership taught me how much we need to rely on others. Good leaders motivate and delegate. They identify members of the community who can take responsibility for various aspects of the group’s ministry. And good leaders recognize the limitations of their group. If I delegate a task to somebody else, if they take responsibility for it, and then that task doesn’t get done… that’s OK. A good leader doesn’t feel obligated to take on the weight of the whole world. A good leader supports others in their tasks, rather than doing their tasks for them. And a good leader always, always, always asks for help. I was not a good leader.
How did OCF influence and prepare you for the mision field?
My time with OCF at UF taught me about the interplay between a healthy institution and healthy people. We got some stuff done, started some new programs, while I was president. That was cool. Way more has been accomplished since my successor, Jason, took on the presidency and God raised up a strong group of committed undergraduates to work alongside him. And more important by far than any of these accomplishments is that our fellowship built relationships that became channels for the Holy Spirit to transform students’ lives.
As OCF president, I learned that deeply flawed people like me could be used by God to accomplish great things to his glory. I learned some practical lessons about how to network, how to raise up leadership and support leaders, but mostly I saw God at work among the people who showed up. And that’s all we did, we just showed up. God did the rest. And the great things that God did among us were not so much the events and programs and what have you– I saw lives transformed, I saw suffering people find solace. I saw myself being transformed. As a missionary, my first goal will be to be involved in the transformation of lives through the Holy Spirit. In OCF at UF, I saw what that looks like.
And it’s that experience with my many great failings and frailties, seeing great things happen through God’s good work in my life and the lives of others that’s made me realize it’s possible to follow the call. I am not nearly a good enough person to be a missionary. But God is, and through OCF I have experienced this personally. So that’s why I’m going.
What would you say to someone who wants to answer the call?
This is for your salvation. Christ says that if we do not proclaim the glory of God, then the very rocks will cry out in our place. God will be glorified. Your choice is whether to participate in that glory. Your participation in that glory is for your salvation.
And we all have the same calling.
This call, to bring the Gospel to all nations, is a command given to the entire Church, not just to a professional corps of ecclesial employees. We all need to be involved.
Your involvement with cross-cultural missions starts with your prayer life. Pray for the Church to grow, to be planted in local cultures and transform lives to God’s glory. Go to the OCMC website, pick a missionary, and pray for that missionary specifically. After you pray, as you are able, make a commitment to pledge a portion of your income monthly in support of this missionary.
If you are called to cross-cultural missions, start by building up a relationship with a missionary through prayer and support. Communicate with this missionary directly and learn about their work and their own calling. Contact OCMC to let them know that you’re interested– begin the process early, as it takes time. And you may consider joining a short-term team to witness firsthand the work being done by the Orthodox Church in another cultural context.
Remember that we all have the same calling: to experience the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, live in the reality of the Resurrection, and proclaim the Resurrection to the world. We are called to do this in a variety of contexts. To be a missionary is one such context, and it is no higher calling than any other. In whatever manner each of us is called, we can follow this calling only through the grace of God. And with God, all these things are possible.