I was recently reading about St. Nicholas of Japan, one of the great Orthodox missionary saints of recent times. By the time he reposed, the Japanese Orthodox Church numbered 30,000 faithful. What an astounding figure! Of all the Orthodox missionary efforts around the world today, what could even come close to that?
It turns out that in 2010, a group of 150,000 Guatemalans were received into canonical Orthodoxy by the Greek Archdiocese of Mexico and Central America. This is already five times the size of the Japanese Church! This group has over 300 parishes, but only eight priests, so it is no surprise that their most pressing need is to train more clergy.
This is one of the greatest mass conversions in history, and it is probably the greatest ministry challenge facing the Orthodox Church today. We all share the responsibility for helping this infant Church learn to crawl and to walk. By this I mean that they need to learn Orthodox doctrine and practice, and clergy need to be raised up among their own people to minister to this enormous flock. At present, they identify as Orthodox, and they know that they are no longer Roman Catholic, but they do not yet clearly understand what Orthodoxy is. Most of the faithful are indigenous Maya people whose first language is not Spanish, but one of a number of Maya languages which predate the arrival of the Europeans.
Matushka Styliana and I recently took a two-week trip to Guatemala to see the Church firsthand. Every day the Lord gave us little signs to show us that this is where He wants us. We used to be missionaries in Colombia, where I translated the New Testament into an indigenous language. So we know what it’s like to live among native peoples in Latin America. On this trip to Guatemala we spent time at the site of the Sts. Peter and Paul Seminary, which is currently under construction. This is where we plan to make our home.
I will have two ministries there. First, I will be teaching at the new seminary. We will be educating new seminarians right out of high school, but also “retooling” the clergy they already have. We were blessed to meet six of these eight priests, and we were impressed by all of them. They are mature, godly men who are selflessly serving the Church. However, their knowledge of Orthodox theology, history, and tradition is limited. My encounters with them showed me that they have lots of questions and are eager to learn and open to being instructed. One priest we met is responsible for fifty parishes! The need for new clergy is urgent.
Second, I will be training and overseeing teams of translators for the various indigenous languages spoken among these Orthodox Maya people. In our brief visit I met Orthodox who spoke Mam, Chuj, Q’eq’chi, Popti, K’iche’, Tzutujil, and Kaqchikel. These are all completely different languages! The Maya who do understand Spanish only know it as a second language that they learned in school. (Remember your high school Spanish…?), but at home they speak one of the Maya languages. So the Orthodox Maya are eager to have things like the Divine Liturgy translated into their own languages so that they can really understand what is going on. In the meantime, services are all in Spanish. Other services will eventually have to be translated, too, as well as prayer books and pamphlets explaining various aspects of our faith and traditions.
Please join us in praying for the new Guatemalan Orthodox Church. We will not be able to do this work without your prayers and support. The challenges are daunting, but we know that this is God’s will. And with your regular, pledged support, you can be a part of this historic moment in Christ’s Church! Please visit our profile page at www.ocmc.org/TheJacksonFamily and our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jacksonsorthodoxguatemala .
God bless you!