God is with us!
And greetings from Florida. On Wednesday I was able to celebrate the Theophany of Christ at St. Stephen’s Orthodox Church in Orlando, FL. St. Stephen’s is the parish where I was received into the Orthodox Christian faith back in 2003. Although I was only there for a short season before graduating from Stetson University and moving to South Korea, returning to worship with the faithful there always feels like a homecoming.
I am home in Florida now, God willing until heading overseas in March. In the past season I’ve met hundreds of people and now need to spend serious time following up with these contacts. It’s my hope to be able to spend 20 – 30 hours every week doing this follow-up, while volunteering part-time at OCMC. So I’m currently looking for a place to live, ideally within a two-hour radius of St. Augustine, from January 20 until the end of March. If you know anyone with a room to rent, please do get me in touch with them!
In the past five months I have been on the road almost non-stop, raising awareness and support for my long-term OCMC missionary work with the Diocese of Mwanza in Tanzania. It’s been a great time, and in the PS to this letter I’ll tell you a little about it.
Thank you as always for your prayers, friendship, hospitality, encouragement and financial support. These days feel like the home stretch, and I’m eager to depart for the field with such a strong team behind me. Do stay in touch!
By your prayers,
PS On the Road, Fall 2009
In September I traveled up from Florida to Ohio, and you can read more about this trip in my October update. October began in Ohio, where I was able to spend two weeks with relatives while visiting friends and parishes around Cincinnati. Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Cincinnati became a small home-away-from-home for both me and my grandfather, who came to services with me.
In the middle of the month I spent a week in Southwest Florida, in a course called Health, Agriculture, Culture and Community (HACC). This class was taught by a doctor with nearly fifty years’ experience as a missionary surgeon in the Congo. While my work in Tanzania will not be directly health-related, it’s a reality that in Africa health and nutrition are spiritual issues– and often the most important spiritual issues in people’s lives. So learning more about the interaction of health, nutrition and agriculture, with community, culture, and ultimately Christ was invaluable. My fellow students were mostly preparing to work overseas in a variety of Christian ministries, and it was really good to be able to debrief and compare notes with them. Especially valuable was the presence of my colleague Felice Stewart, who will begin work as a nurse with the Diocese of Mwanza about the same time I start my assignment. Felice has more to say about the class in her Nativity newsletter.
The last two weeks of October were spent in Southern California, where I lived and worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer with Catholic Charities in 2004- 05. You can read more about my time at St. Margaret Center in my Nativitiy newsletter . It was great to be back at my old parish, St. Matthew in Torrance, as well as to get to know the faithful at St. Luke in Garden Grove, St.Anthony in La Jolla, and St. Gregory in El Cajon.
In early November I traveled to Colorado for a week o
f training under a linguist who serves as a consultant for OCMC. Colorado is rightly known for its pan
-Orthodox evangelistic spirit. In my time there I witnessed cooperation, coordination, and love across jurisdictional lines on every level– parishioners, clergy, monastics and hierarchs.
After Colorado, I was invited to visit with several parishes in southwestern British Columbia. My trip from Colorado to BC took me through Oregon and Washington– both parts of the world I’d never seen before. I was in each state for only a day, and was amazed by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The mountains, the trees, even the tiniest vegetation– it was all new and wonderful.
After an easy border crossing into Canada, I was warmly welcomed by the faithful of Holy Nativity— a rural Antiochian parish near the Washington border. As befits their name, the congregation worships in a barn. (A very nice barn, which on the inside is thoroughly an Orthodox Christian temple… but from the outside, it is indeed a lovely red barn in the Fraser Valley farmland).
After a beautiful time in the countryside, Fr. Michael put me on the boat to Vancouver Island, where I was welcomed to a very different setting– St. Maria Centre, two stories up in Victoria’s inner city. As in Denver, the faithful of Vancouver Island work together across jurisdictional lines in an impressive way. One such collaboration is this facility, named for St. Maria of Paris and dedicated to bringing social and spiritual support to those in need. For over two hours a crowd packed the small room as we discussed the challenges and endeavors of Orthodox Christian missionary work throughout history and across the globe.
Canadians seem to love conversation. On the following day, the Holy Cross Chaplaincy at the University of British Columbia invited me to an even longer discussion about Orthodox missions. Brief statements and communications are unavoidably general and can gloss over the unique goals, perspectives and difficulties of the Church’s apostolic work. Having the time to tackle these issues frankly and in-depth is a rare privilege and a delight.
Several men share a common living facility in the building that houses St. John of Shanghai in downtown Vancouver, and one community member offered me his room to stay while he was out of town. Saturday evening after Vespers we discussed Orthodox missions over a very long and thoroughly tasty dinner.
On Sunday I was invited to St. Herman in Langley, which every parish I’d visited in the previous days described lovingly as their mother church. It was a delight to be among a congregation who has done such hard work, and borne such good fruit, to the glory of God both on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
An old friend from boarding school in Africa (who is also a member of St. John) took all of Monday to show me the sights of her city. The beauty of southwestern British Columbia is incomporable. Victoria feels like an old European city, set out on a lovely green (and deceptively enormous) island. The ferry from to the mainland passes across wide bays and narrow channels between rugged islands. And Vancouver is a huge city dwarfed by the impossibly steep, snowcapped North Shore Mountains– look up and you’d think you were thousands of miles from civilization. Look down, and there are bookstores, coffee shops, eateries of every cuisine imaginable, and an unmistakeable skyline.
From Vancouver I took the Greyhound to Ohio. Sixty hours on the bus is a grueling trip, but the Montana landscape made it entirely worthwhile. I was hoping to spend Thanksgiving and all of December with family in Cincinnati, but my Grandaddy Hargrave’s sudden illness and death in early December changed those plans. I wrote about this very difficult but joyful time in last month’s update.
After returning to Ohio to celebrate the Nativity of Christ at Christ the Savior and with family (including my parents, who have just returned to the States from a stint in Kenya), I hit the road on New Year’s Day and blitzed through North and South Carolina for an old friend’s wedding and an all-too-brief visit to Holy Apostles Orthodox Church in Columbia, SC. My earliest childhood memories are from Columbia, and Holy Apostles has been an important part of my life for several years.
And that brings me back to Theophany at St. Stephen’s and the home stretch of the support-raising campaign.
Orthodox Christian missionary work across the millenia has been funded in many ways. Some missionaries have been salaried by the state. Others with independent wealth have funded their efforts out of their own pockets. Yet others are paid by a missionary society that solicits funds from the faithful. Our American model, whereby missionaries go out on the road raising support for their own work, is uniquely suited to this time and place.
One great benefit of this approach to support-raising has been the opportunity to witness the faithful glorifying God in so many different contexts. Observing and participating in your lives has been both encouraging and instructive; I do believe this experience will better equip me for becoming part of yet another context in East Africa. Thank you for all you’ve shown and taught me. And do keep in touch.