I can remember how embarrassing it was to stand in front of a group of Albanian students and to tell them that I came to “help.” They didn’t laugh, they didn’t snarl or hurl tomatoes at myself and my team, but I can remember it slipping out of my mouth half-heartedly and with a bitter taste. It was bitter and half-hearted because I realized that if they asked me what I came to “help” with, I wasn’t prepared to give a full-hearted answer, and it wasn’t going to be sweet either. Somewhere in my mind, I was having a disconnect with what «Orthodox mission» stood for and what I was bringing to the table.
First, a little background: our mission team, with the invitation of His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, volunteered in March 2014. The team was to assist OCMC Missionaries Dn. Stephanos and Dkn. Alexandria Ritsi to establish a new program for the Church known as the Hunger Strike Camp. This was to be the first program of its kind in Albania. We spent a weekend with youth workers fasting, discussing, presenting, doing activities, games, dramas, and most importantly, praying. Afterward, all were asked to return and bring the Hunger Strike model to their own youth, and God-willing, it will serve them well.
Each of us was asked to do a presentation: one on fire, one of wheat, and one about water. We were to discuss fire, wheat, and water in a way that led to real Orthodox Christian education, enlightenment, and, ultimately, growth. The time spent with the 50+ youth workers from across the Albania was unforgettable. I’ll say this though, never before had I been so happy to have a translator. Albanian does not roll especially well off an American tongue.
And how wonderful were our hosts! We didn’t want for anything, we never once went hungry or thirsty or were left out to dry, and as a matter of fact, our entire team now can put on record that Dkn. Alexandria managed to make us all of our favorite Lenten meals. On top of all this, we almost never got the sense that really anyone around us was struggling with any of these needs either.
Make no mistake, the standards of comfort and leisure are somewhat different, but this was by no means defined as a “hardship” mission. There were no wells to dig, there were no food or blankets to bring with us on the airplane, and most of the people we interacted with were at least minutely familiar with the Orthodox Church. So what sort of mission work didn’t need these things, and if they didn’t, how could we possibly presume to help?
Help with WHAT?
Don’t we trust them enough to take care of themselves?
I was roasting and toasting myself pretty well for this one, but it was not long before I could put my finger on the solution.
One of the greatest, unexpected things from our trip took place in the form of a meeting with Bishop Andon of Kruja. In all our meetings, it was our time with him that gave us the greatest insight into the upcoming challenges for Albania and the United States and how we could (dare I say?) help!
This was part of his message:
The days of Albanians coming to the Church in droves are coming to a close. Going away are the days of fending off newcomers with a fire hose; coming are the days of generations that have never been without the Church. There are now Church-going generations of Albanians who have never known Communism, who are living together with generations for whom the Church is still very real and new. The world can be a very different place for each of these perspectives, and how are these generations to continue understanding each other? This can be a mystery.
In the end, it is not about how I can help; it is always about how we can help each other. If Albania is beginning new struggles, then maybe they are struggles we have already endured. Here, we can help each other; after all, the world is not all different. Human beings struggle, but if we struggle together in faith, His strength can be made perfect where we are weak. It is humbling to think that we could have contributed anything, but there is a real confidence behind knowing that we helped each other.
I thank God for all that He provided for us in our journey and for all the loved ones we gained along the way. May He continue to bless and protect all those we were involved with in our time overseas.
I extend my love and prayers to all those involved in youth work in Albania, all the workers, the missionaries, the children at Shen Vlash, the teachers, and the shepherds to whom their care is given. Thank you to those who offered prayers on our behalf during our journey, thank you to my team members, and finally, thank you to OCMC and the Kulis Foundation for all of their hard work and support.
To learn more about or join an OCMC Mission Team, e-mail the Mission Center at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 1-877-463-6784, or visithttp://www.ocmc.org/about/open_teams.aspx.
Opportunities in 2014 still exist for teams to Kenya, Ghana, Mexico, Tanzania, and Uganda.
OCMC Announcement – IMPORTANT ORTHODOX MISSIONS OPPORTUNITY: Mission Outreach to Mexico
Consider joining an OCMC Orthodox Mission Team to Mexico in 2014. Be a visible expression of solidarity with the faithful at the Mission of San Esteban the first Martyr, outside of Mexico City.
This team to Mexico has been invited to offer youth and adult catechism, and to be part of the life of the Church in Mexico. This is a unique opportunity to engage the faithful of Mexico, share your Faith and be a part of a Christian witness. The dates are July 5 – July 12, 2014. Participants with experience in youth ministry and catechism are urged to apply. Conversational Spanish is recommended.
Mission Teams serve our Holy Orthodox Church’s unending mission effort to make disciples by sharing in a journey of Faith. If you are interested in serving in His vineyard, contact OCMC.
Team applications, details and additional opportunities are available online at www.ocmc.org or call the OCMC at 1.877.463.6787 (ext 142) for more information.
Teaching Team – Accra & Peki
Celebrate the 25 year anniversary of the Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral in Accra and travel to the village of Peki to teach basic Orthodox catechism and encourage this mission parish. The 25 year anniversary is the year of the “Renewal of Orthodoxy in Ghana.”
Teach the Orthodox Faith to catechists, Sunday school teachers and parishioners in Peki, Ghana where English is the official language. This Team will help equip the faithful of Peki with a deeper understanding of Orthodoxy to help them understand and defend their faith, teachings and dogma.
The Orthodox Church is the only faith not associated with colonialism in Ghana and this Team will be part of the continued growth of this young Church. In 1982, Ghana was canonically received into the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. The Cathedral was constructed in 1989 with the aid of an Orthodox Mission Team. The Holy Archdiocese of Ghana was established in 1997 and His Eminence Savvas was elected Metropolitan of Ghana at the end of 2012. In its jurisdiction it includes the countries of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Mali.
Ghana is home to a wide diversity of people groups, rapidly entering a modern and fast paced world. On the one side, people may still be seen in traditional clothing and adhering to the old traditions, but many now have access to cell phones and internet. Ghanaians are divided into 75 different ethnic groups. Although the 2010 census reported that over 70% of the Ghanaians population is Christian, Islam (in the north) and traditional religions are second and third in percentage of adherents.
Volunteers with a firm grasp of the Orthodox Faith and the ability to teach are encouraged to apply!
Celebrate the renewal of Orthodoxy in Ghana.
Dates: August 2 – August 16, 2014
Cost: $1,400 + airfare