Theme: “Make Disciples of All Nations”
by Fr. Luke Veronis
by Christina Semon
by Sandro Margheritino
by Miho Ochiai Ealy
by Fr. Ted Pisarchuk
More information about the authors and contributors can be found here.
Theme: “Make Disciples of All Nations”
by Fr. Luke Veronis
by Christina Semon
by Sandro Margheritino
by Miho Ochiai Ealy
by Fr. Ted Pisarchuk
More information about the authors and contributors can be found here.
ANSWERING THE CALL
Fr Luke A. Veronis
It was an exciting and challenging time in the 1990s in Albania, the only country in the world where all religion had been absolutely forbidden for the previous 24 years. All churches and mosques were closed and most were destroyed during that communist era, and anyone who mentioned the name of God, made the sign of the cross, possessed a Bible or even an icon, could be imprisoned and persecuted. Following this era of darkness, the light of Christ began to shine anew with the democratization of the country and a new freedom of religion. It was at this time in 1991 that the Ecumenical Patriarch sent His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios, the foremost Orthodox missionary in the world and a former Archbishop of East Africa and Professor of World Religions and Missiology at the University of Athens, to resurrect an ancient church.
My wife and I had the opportunity to serve in this context as missionaries and co-workers with the Archbishop for ten and a half years. Although I had the opportunity to baptize a thousand people, mostly adults, during that period, one baptism I performed will always remain as one of my most beautiful memories.
In the Church baptistery was a crowd of 30 people, 25 of which were from a Muslim background. For most of the people, it was their first time in a Church. They came to witness the baptism of Luljeta, a 45 year old woman who herself came from a Muslim background. She also happened to have the dehabilitating illness of Multiple Sclerosis. For 23 years she had been unable to move anything but her head and hands. She lived in a decrepit, old hospital room for the past seven years. She had suffered much, yet maintained a life of hope and peace.
An important event occurred in her life two years ago. She met Daniel, a second year seminary student, whose father happened to be hospitalized in a room next to hers. During that time, Daniel befriended Luljeta and daily spent hours with her, talking about God’s love and concern for her, sharing the Gospel and telling her about the strength and hope he derived from his Christian faith. You see, Daniel also came from a Muslim background, but now firmly believed in Jesus Christ and the new life that comes through Him. A friendship developed between the two, and eventually Luljeta herself came to believe his words and developed a strong belief and love for Christ.
Eventually, Daniel told me that I had to meet this beautiful woman. I started to visit her in the hospital, and with Daniel, we continued our dialogue of faith with her. After a period of time, Luljeta asked if she could also enter into the Church and become a Chrisitan.
What touched me so about this baptism was not only the path with which Luljeta came to Christ — through one of our seminarians, and a former non-Christian at that — but also that her baptism itself offered an opportunity for another 25 non-Christians to witness the beauty of an Orthodox baptism service. Throughout the service I explained what was happening and the theological meaning of what union with Christ means. By the end of the service, several of these Muslims expressed their gratitude for such a moving ceremony, and showed interest in learning more.
This is only one of countless examples in Albania, and in other such mission lands, of the opportunities to share the good news of our Savior. The saying of Christ resounds so relevant today: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
Here lies a major obstacle to our work and mission. The needs are so great, and yet the workers with experience and faith are so few. For example, Albania is a country with 3.5 million people, twenty five percent of which come from an Orthodox background. That means 875,000 people with an Orthodox identity, but very few of these Orthodox truly understand the richness of the true Orthodox faith. Over the past 20 years, the Church has made great strides in re-establishing itself, yet 50 years of militant communist atheism, followed by the now Western secular and often atheistic spirit, will take much more time to overcome. Along with re-educating the 25% Orthodox, there is another 65% non-Christian population throughout the land. Who will share the good news of salvation with these people?
Missionary statistics reveal that more than 400,000 foreign missionaries actively served cross-culturally each year. A very generous guess at how many are Orthodox missionaries could be 1000. Even though Orthodox Christians make up approximately 12.5% of all Christians, why is it that Orthodox missionaries make up only 0.0025% of all Christian missionaries. Is God not calling Orthodox Christians to fulfill His Great Commission to “go forth to all nations?”
How would we Orthodox Christians answer God’s question to the prophet Isaiah during his heavenly vision, when He asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isa 6:8). Would we answer with Isaiah, “Here am I; send me!” Or how do we respond to St. Paul’s words, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:13-15).
In order to answer the call of God, first we must be in a condition to hear His call. Three indispensible elements of hearing His call are 1) striving to live a faithful Christian life within the Church by actively partaking of the Holy Sacraments and obeying His commandments; 2) being open to whatever God is calling us to do, and not placing limits on what we are willing to offer Christ; and 3) consciously seeking out the will of God through sincere prayer, fasting, study of Scripture, confession and a life of repentance.
After hearing the call of God, we then must find the strength to overcome our weaknesses, fears and limitations by trusting in the grace of God.
Answering the call to mission can be scary. It is one thing to “think” about living in some foreign land where we aren’t familiar with their language, culture or life, and it is quite another thing to actually take the step and go. And yet, this is when we must, as Archbishop Anastasios often says, “Make the sign of the Cross, put our trust in Him, and go forth.”
Yes, God is asking some of us to answer His Call to go forth to all nations. It isn’t a call only for missionaries of past generations. It is also a call for us today! May some of us open our hearts, accept this holy mission, make the sign of the cross, and go forth!
An Eye Witness in the Republic of Moldova
During the last two years that I have been serving as a missionary in one of the poorest countries in Europe, I have had the opportunity to witness more than just an average tourist would. In America, most people don’t even know about the Republic of Moldova. Her political history is one of tug-of-war between her motherland, Romania, and the communist regime and, later in history, with Russia. In the midst of this history, the Orthodox Church was under much persecution and still is today while striving to exist and be of good witness despite the extremely poor economic situation. Of great importance for the Church is the involvement and collaboration of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) with the Metropolis of Bessarabia which historically has been under the Patriarchal Romanian Jurisdiction.
This little landlocked country, slightly larger than the State of Maryland, is surrounded by her neighbors, Romania and Ukriane, and has a population of 3,600,000. Moldova is known for its beautiful landscape, which attracts many tourists from all over the world. It was named “The Corner of Heaven” for its beautiful forest, wild flowers, and generous hospitality. Living in a country that is very poor, the people welcome visitors into their homes, good hearted, patient, and hold on to a strong faith in God. Village life is special with its traditions and wooden decoratively carved houses that send you back to an earlier time. Many villagers are worried about having food to put on the table but they are very good, big hearted, and generous. It is a country where I learned many things about life and met wonderful people that I will very much miss when I return to the States.
These people went through many struggles in the past that influenced the way things are today. Moldovan origins are from Romania but later in history, the Russian influence gradually drifted them away from their motherland. Many Romanians and Bessarabians are hoping and waiting for the beautiful day when things will return to the way they were, and unity will prevail with their brothers and sisters in Romania.
The life of the Orthodox Church in Moldova has its roots from the Apostolic Church through the evangelical efforts of St. Andrew, the First Called Apostle. He preached the “Good News” on the shores of the Black Sea. Today, many make pilgrimages to the cave where it is said that St. Andrew had lived, and to a spring not too far away, where it is believed that he performed baptisms.
Moldovans commemorate the same saints in the Orthodox Church, and especially those persecuted by the Communist regime in Romania. Churches and monasteries were closed, vandalized, transformed into danced clubs, turned into mental hospitals, and used for grain storage. Those who participated in divine services were apprehended and sent to work in Siberian labor camps, or even martyred. In 1940, there were 1,090 churches and 28 monasteries but, after 25 years, there were approximately 300 churches and only 1 monastery that functioned during Communism. Even after their revolution in 1992, the communist party was still very powerful. In 2001, Moldova was the first soviet state to elect a communist leader. Only recently, after a 3 year vacant presidential seat, they elected an independent president in 2012. The communist mentality, which brings propaganda of atheism, is still fresh in people’s minds here. With churches and monasteries today, the Church in Moldova works to address the many consequences of Her nation’s history , especially with the youth who are immersed in this challenging environment and yet are so vital to the life of the Church.
My assignment to Moldova has been to help the Church initiate formal ministry work with Moldovan youth. There, I met the many faces of youth who have been subject to a struggle that started in the lives of their parents. Most parents of today’s Moldovan youth were raised at the time when the Church’s voice was stifled, and at that time, were surrounded with atheist propaganda. Very few youths have parents who yet hold onto the traditions handed down from their grandparents witnessing the Christian faith to them. However, young people without holy examples easily became skeptical because the lack of religious upbringing and absence of traditions that keep the faith alive. So, the youth’s limited link to the Church has created a major life crisis for them. Without knowing why, the youth who must go to Church for celebrations, such as baptisms, funerals, and weddings, often find the atmosphere intimidating. They are not sure what to do and, though the faithful try to help, they may use methods that seem to hurt rather than to help. These new generations re-entering the Church seem to be like lost sheep that need never-ending love, patience, and attention.
Steps have been taken to reach out to the young people, and recently, in 2012, religion was approved by the State Education Department for instruction. However, religious education is limited since it is optional and only for 1st to 8th Graders. But from this, there is a miraculous thing happening in this country: children are bringing God’s word to their parents! These youngsters will have in their time, the opportunity to be spiritually whole, whose souls and bodies are raised up with the Truth. And with this truth, perhaps they will see the world differently, with eyes of faith, love, and mercy, and grow into mature Christian adults.
The Metropolia of Bessarabia took a further step to get support and new ideas on how to connect better with the youth by inviting the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) to assist in the development of youth ministry. The ministry plan for Moldova was to provide a “tool box” for the Moldovan Church filled with a variety of spiritual and practical tools that could be used to continue to build youth ministry. One primary goal was recruiting leaders. As a helpful tool to Moldova, I have had the honor to join the youth ministry work for the last two years at the local and nation levels.
At the local parish level, I co-labored with parish priest, Fr. Sergiu Aga and his wife Preoteasa Mariana in a town called Orhei. We have shared closely the joys and challenges as we stepped through growing pains with our youth group. Throughout our time together, we had contact with many potential candidates for youth leadership, and we pray that God will raise them up when the time is right. We have a yearly program of activities, including conferences, a spiritual reading club, pilgrimages, fundraisers, acts of philanthropy, and weekly meetings. Through our youth group, our hope is to change the lives of everyone involved, but especially to change the lives of the children who would live apart from the Church.
Our local parish ministry is establishing a pattern for other Moldovan churches, as Fr. Sergiu is also assigned by the Metropolitan to ministry for all youth in Moldova. On the nation level last year, we started the first annual religious summer camp. We met teenagers from all over the country at our camp. The program promotes a powerful spiritual movement in the youth. One such camper, before she came to our camp, was influenced by protestant youth events and started to question in her heart the true faith. This young lady was moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and brought a real-life witness to other campers to learn from so that they may be stronger in their own faith. By initiating such events, the local youth leaders gather enthusiasm to continue the outreach to the youth.
If you are a youth worker and/or involved in church youth events, you probably see common elements in what I have shared in this short article. That is actually the point: there isn’t much difference between youth in Moldova and in the USA, and maybe even anywhere else in the world. What makes the difference in youth is the culture and tradition in the each place they are planted. More important is what makes youth the same. And what unites them – and us with them – is having communion with one another through actively living an Orthodox Christian life; existing through our love for God and love for one’s neighbor.
Orthodox Christian life is a struggle–a struggle that leads to salvation. Christ encourages us at every moment through His words of love in the Gospels. Living in Moldova has truly changed my world vision and my relationship with Christ. In many ways, youth ministry is like farming. God gives seeds to youth leaders to plant in others, and He waters them when the time is right for each and every one. I am grateful to have been a part of the Moldovan Church family here, and I feel that I received more from them than I have given them. The joy is beyond words and exceeds over all the difficulties that challenged me while living so far away from home.
Rediscovering our Apostolic Zeal
The life of a seminarian is always very busy and full of excitement. The learning process is extremely rewarding but also very intense. Our formation is equally academic, pastoral and spiritual. We all put in a great amount of work and sacrifice, but that is not always an easy task. And although we all come to seminary with the intent of serving the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, we are constantly in search of our specific “call”…Where will I be assigned? In what capacity will I serve? Will I be able to support my family as a priest in a small parish? These are all valid worries, but, as worries, they are also distraction and temptations.
This past summer I took a class on Missiology and in one of the assigned texts, I was struck by a quote from Archbishop Anastasios of Albania. When he found himself having to take one of the most important and difficult decisions in his life, Archbishop Anastasios asked himself, “Is God enough for me?” His decision of following God’s will and putting aside all possible worries and distractions, led him to answer: “Yes, God is enough in my life.”
Wondering if God is enough for us and for our lives is a question that we are called to ask ourselves when we are in search of direction and we attempt to understand God’s will. Twenty-one years ago Archbishop Anastasios decided that God was enough in his life and that leaving his prestigious position in Greece, for one of the hardest missionary challenges of modern era, was indeed God’s will. God was, in fact, going to work through His Beatitude for the Resurrection of the Church in Albania.
In May, my wife and I were blessed to join the 2012 Missions Institute and OCMC Albania team led by Fr Luke Veronis, and witnessed God’s incredible work among the Albanian people. Our mission trip was preceded by a week of class at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology where we studied The Missiology of Archbishop Anastasios, the theology and the history of missions, the relationship between culture and gospel, and the effects of globalization on religions.
A central starting point was to understand that missions are not only important for the few who are interested in becoming missionaries, but are an essential part of the Christian faith. We, as members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, are commissioned to evangelize all nations. How do we evangelize? If we look among converts, we realize that people often come to the faith by observing another person, through the living example of a Christian presence. For us Orthodox, the question that arises is: are we comfortable with evangelization? Are we ready to be a light to all people and not only to take care of our own?
Missions play a central role in Christianity, and Archbishop Anastasios courageously affirms that a denial of missions is indeed a denial of Orthodoxy. Any parochialism that limits the work of the Spirit is a denial of God and the Church. Mission work is the combination of the two great commandments: “Go forth and make disciples of all nations” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
During this summer class, we learned how unique the situation in Albania was even when compared to other former totalitarian countries which suffered social, cultural and religious oppression. In 1967 the ruthless dictator Enver Hoxha declared the country to be the world’s first atheistic state. Hundreds of churches and mosques were systematically destroyed, and hundreds of religious leaders killed or sent to camps. Owning a Bible meant ten years in prison and sometimes even cost your life. The communist regime had deprived the people of Albania of the Word of God.
In class we talked about Albania as a developing country and how the Church has “resurrected” over the past 20 years. Our goal for this trip was to analyze how the Church has succeeded in living out the missiology of the Archbishop, and where the Church has not yet lived up to this missiology.
During our two weeks there, we visited many of the local Church ministries, such as the children and the youth ministries, schools and a university, radio, a women’s group, a very dynamic humanitarian organization called Diakonia Agape, as well as the Theological Academy and an orphanage. We met many people who offer their ministry to the Church and dedicate their lives in the service to the ones in need. We had the opportunity to interact with the youth and the university students on several occasions and share with each other our experiences, thoughts and perspectives. We engaged in some group discussions over themes such as secularization, social media and challenges that a Christian faces in today’s society.
Founded in the time of the Apostle Paul, the Church in Albania now presents a reality similar to the Church of the apostolic era. Christians live in a great excitement and hope even if the cross they carry is particularly heavy. Certainly, there are problems, difficulties and struggles, but while visiting the many ministries in Albania, I marveled at how people work for the Church in joy, faith and love. Many of the people we met were part of the youth who participated in the university ministries and summer camps run by Fr Luke and Presbytera Faith Veronis over 15 years ago, and who now have grown into leaders of the Church in Albania. The missionary seeds planted years ago are bearing fruit.
This experience impacted my seminary education, and more generally my life as a Christian, in a profound way. What I realized from this experience is that even before learning about missions and ecclesiology, what we were studying and seeing was simply how to be a Christian and what Christianity really means: loving our neighbor regardless of his or her race, culture and religion. We bring witness to our Christian faith by providing an example with our own life, a life of love for all people.
Every human being is a divine image of God, and as Christians who love our God, we are also called to love all people. With the same love we are asked to share the Good News of our Savior, and, as Archbishop Anastasios admonishes, not to simply wear the cross as an ornament by practicing a comfortable Christianity, but rather to preach the gospel to ends of the earth fearing nothing because the safest place for us is in the will of God.
Christianity means sharing with others what we have received. We need to overcome the objection of going beyond our national borders simply because the Church has her needs here. Our focus and our effort for the proclamation of the Gospel has to be simultaneously at a local, at a national and at a global level. We Orthodox are proud of the apostolic succession of our Church and we claim that our faith is the same one given to the apostles. The challenge now presented to us is to regain our lost apostolic zeal, that missionary spirit which took the apostles and Christians for many centuries to proclaim the Good News to all nations.
Learning from an Empty Nest
Miho Ochiai Ealy
March 11th marked the day of a massive earthquake that devastated northeastern Japan. Two years have passed since the devastating earthquake and tsunami took so many lives. I lost friends in this disaster whom I knew through church. There are a number of small Orthodox Christian communities in the devastated areas. Most church buildings survived, but each community’s path to recovery is extremely thorny. Many people, especially younger generations, left their hometowns after the earthquake due to lack of employment and uncertainty of the future.
Most churches in the northern Japan were established by Japanese Orthodox Christians who learned about the Orthodox faith directly from St. Nikolai of Japan. Indeed, he planted many seeds of the Orthodox faith in both urban and rural areas. However, instead of discussing the venerable man’s legacy, I would like to explore how St. Nikolai’s effort for missionary work for the Orthodox Christian communities in Japan has shaped our Church today.
A brief history of the Orthodox Church in Japan (OCJ) offers insight of missionary work in the Orthodox Christian context. The first Orthodox church was founded in Hakodate, Japan by Russians in the late nineteenth century. The first Russian Orthodox priest was attached to the Russian consulate, but he had to return to Russia due to an illness soon after his arrival. The Consul, Iosif Goshkevich, was hoping to recruit a priest who would be willing to work in the unfamiliar land of Japan. Goshkevish, himself a seminary graduate, also saw a potential for spreading Orthodoxy in Japan, and believed that one day the Orthodox faith would resonate with Japanese souls. Another seminarian, the young Ivan Kasatkin (later St. Nikolai), felt a strong passion for going to this unknown land from the moment he learned that Hakodate was in need of a priest. He was compelled to discover a non-Christian country and its people through his own eyes. He dedicated all his available time to study every possible aspect of Japanese culture, in the hope of future opportunity for missionary work. By the time the Japanese government allowed its people to exercise the freedom of religion (ending a period of Christian prohibition in Japan), Nikolai had a strong command in Japanese and was able to communicate with people on a deep, sincere level. Through St Nikolai’s efforts, many people converted to Orthodoxy. At the end of the nineteenth century, the population of Japanese Orthodox grew to over 10,000 faithful.
Nikolai’s primary focus during his missionary work was educating the faithful. Part of this ministry involved the translation of Orthodox texts, especially liturgical books, into Japanese. From the very beginning, he was convinced that the use of the vernacular language for services was essential. Liturgy in Japanese by Japanese clergy and a Japanese choir was the ultimate goal in Nikolai’s mind. He always sought musically gifted people in every Orthodox community and encouraged them to learn to play musical instruments, so that they could educate others in music, in order to form a choir. This essential formation of the faith in a non-Orthodox culture should sound familiar to North Americans, as missionary efforts on the American continent made early use of local languages for faith and worship.
Missionary work is rewarding, but very stressful. And, typical of most missionary experiences, not all of St Nikolai’s efforts yielded positive results. His life was full of joys and disappointments (whose life is not?!), and in fact, this saint suffered a lot. In his diary, St. Nikolai often complains about how difficult it was to recruit capable, educated, dedicated and mission-oriented people from Russia. At times St. Nikolai expressed a bitter opinion of most Russians – both clergy and laypeople – who came to work with him in Japan. Most Russians lacked the willingness to learn Japanese culture and likewise lacked the patience to stay in Japan. He also complained how stubborn Japanese people were, lamenting the fact that his church had factions among Japanese clergy as well as financial disputes among certain individuals. His diary reveals so many unpleasant incidents, and it is likely that, without writing what was going through his mind, St Nikolai would not have his sanity. Nikolai used all his energy to do missionary work in Japan. But he was able to steer through the hardships, and spread the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So what has become of the Orthodox Church of Japan (OCJ) since Nikolai died?
The official history of the OCJ is easily found in literature and on websites. However, only a few people actually know what the OCJ is like in this contemporary era. I cannot speak for everyone, but I will tell you my own experience as a cradle Japanese Orthodox Christian, which I think is similar to the experience of many who grew up Orthodox. Growing up in Hakodate, all I heard was the legacy of St. Nikolai. I must admit that I have very limited memory of learning about Christ and his Church. It’s a harsh generalization, but many people in my church seemed to be a bit disinterested in what Christianity really meant. They were very nice and polite. They were always on time for church. They cared about the finances of the church. They had good intentions, and even lived “Christian” lives by social standards, but they showed limited consideration for Christ himself.
I have visited many Orthodox communities throughout Japan, and most places seemed to have this similar feel – this subtle disconnect from our Lord, or at least no sense of his daily presence. Meanwhile, St. Nikolai has become almost like a local deity. Some people can tell me more about St Nikolai’s vita than they can tell me about the Gospels. You may have had similar experiences growing up in the Church. It’s easy to lose sight of Christ in the richness of our Faith and heritage.
This is a sobering, and somewhat depressing observation. It surely wasn’t St Nikolai’s aim to have his own personality eclipse that of the Lord. Without Christ, the church is an empty nest. Yet the empty nest has been fostered for many years, and now it has become fragile ground for the Orthodox Christians in Japan. Frankly speaking, Orthodoxy in Japan sounds exotic, but it really has lost much substance – and its relevance – as a Christian church.
When we speak of missionary work, we tend to think of the immediate result. How many people converted and are baptized? How many churches are built? How many liturgical books have been translated into the vernacular language? These are all good goals. But we need to step back and think what is really important. What has happened to the churches in Japan sets a sad, but very important example to us.
This is a hard reality, but it is the truth. I have no desire to paint a negative picture of the churches in Japan. But it is important to expose the reality of the church established by an extremely popular missionary. Nikolai established a very vibrant and large community in his time, but now the Japanese Church has dwindled to a mere fraction of what it once was. This is a warning for all Orthodox Christians in America, and even a microcosm for our own Churches. We need to remember our responsibility as Orthodox Christians in a non-Orthodox land: we must have a vision for the future…a vision that is centered around our Lord Jesus Christ. What lasting impact can any of us make as individuals? Instead, we must make a conscious effort to cultivate the faith as a community, and not merely to hold onto legacies of certain individuals.
The final chapter on the Orthodox Church in Japan has yet to be written. And although the nest may seem empty now, this is not an irreversible situation. Neither can I predict the future or speak to how God will establish His Kingdom. However, if we respond to the lessons of our past, history can be an excellent teacher. It is essential for all of us to learn from the past – from mistakes and unintended consequences – so that we and the generations after us may “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which [we] heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven” (Col 1:23).
 Nakamura, Kennosuke, trans., Senkyoshi Nikolai no Zennikki (The diary of St. Nikolai), Tokyo: Kyobunkan, 2007.
Wrecked by God
Fr Ted Pisarchuk
Today there are about 6.9 billion people in the world. If we made it into a global village of 100 people it would look like this:
The well respected relief organization World Vision reports in that same global village:
We pray in every liturgy for abundance of the fruit of the earth and God answers that prayer. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone; but the problem is that it is unequally distributed.
Something else we take for granted is water. Not thinking much of it, on an average day we take a shower, brush our teeth, flush the toilet, wash our hands, brew a cup of coffee, run our dishwasher and washing machine, water our lawns, and drink a cold glass of it. Imagine if tomorrow, all the water was shut off to our homes. Our lives would be transformed. We would be grabbing 5-gallon buckets and walking down to the nearest body of water, hoping it was safe to drink.
In the same global village of 100 people, 17 people already live like this.safe to drink. The average American uses 69 gallons – or 572 pounds – of water per day. In a family of four, that would be over a ton of water. That’s 27 trips with a 5-gallon bucket in each hand without spilling! Most of us would be late to work or school every day.
In preparation for Lent we read:
Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom . . .for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, . . (Matt 25:34ff)
In this parable, God identifies Himself with the poor and downtrodden. These words are not read to ‘bum us out,’ but to help us focus on what it means to be a Christian. God is love (1Jn 4:8). And if God is love, and we are the Body of Christ, we are to be love also. The Holy Spirit engenders this love for others within us. Love fosters compassion, and if we have compassion, our hearts will be broken by the same things that break the heart of God. Love is all about the other. There is no ‘me’ or ‘I’ in love.
As Americans, we live in a bubble. We watch the news and see a devastating earthquake or a tsunami and we assuage our ill feelings by writing a check. This is a good start, but for some of us, God wants more. The Roman Catholic Saint, Teresa of Avila wrote:
Christ has no body on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
Yours are the feet which He is to go about doing good;
And yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now. 
We are Christ to the world.
An African proverb reads: “Pray, but when you pray, move your feet.” The fruit of prayer is moving our feet and serving others. Don’t be tempted into thinking “I am only one of 6.9 billion people in the world. the problems are so big for me to do something about it.” Remember instead the famous parable of a boy walking along a beach after a storm. After the storm the beach was covered with thousands of starfish. The boy walked down beach and threw in starfish after starfish. An old man came up to the boy and says, “Just leave them alone, there are thousands of starfish, you can’t possible save the all.” The boy replies, “Yes, but I made a big change in that one starfish’s life.” God just wants us to make change in a starfish’s life. This is where our salvation is. And it has a boomerang affect.
In June 1997, I took my first mission trip ever to Project Mexico and my life changed forever. In Project Mexico, I had an amazing experience of the love and presence of God. I learned more in one week serving in Project Mexico than I did in one year in seminary. It was all heart knowledge – something you cannot learn in a book or classroom. To use a term from the field of missions, at Project Mexico my life was wrecked. I had a paradigm shift. The bubble that I constructed was burst.
At Project Mexico, for the first time in my life, I witnessed real poverty. I had a good education, a wonderful family, a home with all the modern conveniences, a paycheck, and a great parish. There, I met a family of five living in a pickup truck camper. I saw people living in homes made of discarded pallets with a tarp for a roof. The front door was a curtain. Most homes have no doors, no windows, no electricity, no running water, and no indoor facilities. When it rains the water runs through the house. Women wear no jewelry and dress modestly. No one smoked. No one had cell phones. No one played video games. No one had a refrigerator. No one complained. They are happier and more peaceful than most Americans are. They are not worried about keeping up with what the Jones’ have, not trying to find happiness from material things. While we were building the home, as we installed the front door the woman who was the future owner wept, saying she never lived in a home with a door.
Christ identifies Himself with these people. These are beautiful people, not possessed by material goods. In their poverty, they depend on God for their next meal - not the supermarket. In their poverty, they pray to God to protect them from the bad weather. They know who clothed the lilies of the field and provided food for the birds of the air.
The boomerang effect to mission work is this: until the time of my first mission trip, I coveted things that I could not afford: the nicer vehicle, a bigger home, a more lavish lifestyle. At Project Mexico, I met real people. People who were content with what God providentially provided for them. At that point, I was convicted. Convicted to eat less, fast more and to be satisfied with whatever I had. My life has never been the same. It is a spiritual truth that our material wealth and comforts anesthetize us to the gospel. Spiritual growth is outside our comfort zones. God is met outside our comfort zones. God is met in the mission field.
The 20th century saint and martyr of the church Mother Maria of Paris said:
The way to God lies through the love of others, and there is no other way. At the last judgment, I will not be asked if I was successful at my ascetical practices, or how many prostrations I made. I will be asked “Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and in prison?” This is what I will be asked.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 7:21)
As Orthodox Christians, we take pilgrimages to holy places. Today I challenge you to take a short pilgrimage into the mission field in a third world nation. Serve on a short-term mission team anywhere. Your life will change. You will experience God in the people and in the environment that you serve. If the Gospel is worth anything, it is worth everything. That means if we really believe it, like Peter, James and John, we lay down what we are doing and begin the adventure of a lifetime.
Do you feel challenged? Is God calling you? Got a question? Leave a comment!
Fr. Luke A. Veronis and his wife Faith and their four children served as missionaries in Albania from 1994-2004. Fr Luke also served in different parts of Africa for 18 months prior to Albania. He is the Director of the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, where he also teaches classes in missiology. He serves as the pastor of Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster. Fr. Luke is the author of “Go Forth: Stories of Missions and Resurrection in Albania,” “Lynette’s Hope: The Life and Death of Lynette Katherine Hoppe,” and “Missionaries, Monks and Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations.”
Christina Semon is an OCMC Missionary since 2008. Having left her home parish is All Saints Orthodox Church in Pennsylvania, she currently assists the Youth Department of the Metropolis of Bessarabia since 2010. She graduated from Binghamton University (State University of New York) in 2007, and is currently pursuing a Master of Theology in Church History at the University Ioan Cuza in Iasi, Romania.
Sandro Margheritino is a 2nd year student at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, pursuing a Master of Divinity. He can be reached at Sandromrg@aol.com
Miho Ochiai Ealy was born in Japan and grew up in an Orthodox Christian household. Miho came to the United States in 2008 and graduated from Loyola University, Chicago with a master’s degree in pastoral studies. She currently works for Abbot-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, MN, as a chaplain resident. She’s married to Dn. Gregory Ealy and attends St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Fr Ted Pisarchuk is the rector of St. Justin Martyr, Jacksonville FL, married to Matushka Lee Ann and the father of two great boys. A graduate of SVS (1994), Fr Ted served as Mission Director of the Diocese of the South (12 years) and is currently Dean of Central Florida Deanery, an OCMC board member and has led 7 time short term mission teams.