Twenty Years of Service....So What?

By Father Martin Ritsi

Day after day, we stood face to face with hundreds of Africans, crowding to us after having walked two or three miles from their remote homes. They gazed upon us with their deep brown eyes, their features worn by the harshness of their lives. As newly sent missionaries standing before them we asked: God why are we here? What do we have to offer as strangers to this land?  Shouldn't we be serving in our homeland where there are so many needs among our own families and churches?

Many Orthodox Christians still ask these questions but there are many who know the answers: those who send, those who have been sent and those who have received!

This year the Orthodox Christian Mission Center marks its twentieth year of sending missionaries around the world. In this issue, we reflect on these twenty years of service. Founding board members and missionaries comment on the impact of their service.

Twenty years ago, Fr. Dan and Pres. Nancy Christopulos traveled to East Africa as OCMC's first missionaries. Today, over 75 missionaries and well over 1000 short-term mission team members have traveled to distant lands in

Fr. Dan Christopoulos enjoys taking
a break with fellow seminarians from
the Makarios III Patriarchal Seminary
where he has taught canon Law and
Pastoral Theology

their footsteps. Aid is given to those who suffer, clinics are built and supported, schools are erected, orphans are cared for and thousands are baptized by our missionaries, while tens of thousands are baptized by those they have trained and who are supported by the Mission Center.

In return, our Church at home is strengthened and invigorated by the enthusiasm of those returning from these experiences and those who have been blessed by supporting them.

In addition, this issue celebrates a new step for mission outreach in the years to come: the completion of a six million dollar campaign to establish endowments and build a permanent missionary training and administrative support center.

Is it worth it? Should we be sacrificing to carry our Orthodox Faith to distant lands? Let me answer that with what I came to understand that day in the hot African sun, standing on a barren, dry hillside with so many eyes gazing upon me as a new and young missionary that had come to visit them from America:

Presbytera Nancy
Christopoulos shown
surrounded by Kenyans

"These eyes, which reflected their suffering, looked to us - but with joy and with hope. And now, we stood naked before them, with nothing to give. It was during this journey that we were finally led to understand just why we had come to Africa and what the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ really is - not only for Africa but for the entire world! While giving is a part of being Christian, we have seen that all our giving in East Africa looks insignificant when compared to what the people have received in Jesus Christ.

To be assisted, freed from material needs, to be affluent, or even to live a life of luxury is of no value to a soul which is suffering. But to be filled with love and hope, to have an understanding of life, and to live in harmony with God and one's community, gives a quality to life which even the harshest of conditions cannot destroy. While in the midst of hardship, many of the eyes before us were filled with that hope and knowledge of God. And not only did they have a new hope for the future-but their 'today' had become fuller. Because God is love and His love is sanctifying their existence."

With joy and hope in their eyes, the Kenyan people
look with thirst of learning more about the Orthodox
faith as missionaries preach the gospel

My question at the end of that moving experience was no longer: "Why are we doing missionary work" but, "Why haven't we gone out sooner to the rest of the world which still hungers and thirsts for Jesus Christ?"

May the Lord continue to bless our Church and its efforts, that His Name may be proclaimed among all nations!

(Posting date 17 August 2006)

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