Would You Go On A Mision?
By Father Andrew Harrison
The Orthodox Christian Mission Commission (OCMC) recently posted the list of short-term mission fields for 2009 on its website, www.OCMC.org. The OCMC is requesting volunteers to sign up now for this year’s program. I would like to see more of our parishioners consider going on a mission.
Last year I went to Romania as mission team leader with Allison Murphy, one of our young adults from St. Luke. Clark Wilson, a long time member of St. Luke, went to Tanzania. Over the years we have had 8 parishioners go on short-term missions. You could say that St. Luke is a very internationally mission-oriented parish. This missionary history began in 2000 when Father Howard Sloan, Luke Sloan, and Jason Homiak went to Project Mexico. Luke Kopulos also attended missions in Mexico. Luke Sloan, following his experience in Mexico, participated in a mission to Guatemala via the Orthodox Christian Fellowship college program. These mission experiences transformed the young men and helped make them more committed Orthodox Christians.
I never considered going on an international mission until I received a call from the OCMC asking if I would consider going to India as part of a mission team of clergy to teach newly baptized Orthodox Christians. The church in Calcutta, India has about 5,000 members; most are converts from Hinduism. Since there are laws against proselytizing by foreign missionaries in India, our role was to train the local people so they could teach and share the Orthodox faith. The training classes are supported by the funds raised by the visiting missionaries, with a percentage of the funds used to feed poor children. The mission lasts 4 weeks. I and another priest taught daily classes, and participated in a full liturgical cycle in the Bengal language to as many as 200 men women and children. A new group would arrive every Sunday. These seminars were held in a new Orthodox Church located in the farm village of Akina, built by donations from Greece. My wife Pat also went along to help out with the humanitarian aid in a girls’ orphanage and to help distribute food in downtown Calcutta, close to where Mother Teresa had her mission to the poor.
Everyone who has gone on a mission says that it requires a special calling by God. St. Luke has supported missionaries over the years and when a missionary is visiting on a fund raising tour the parish has been very supportive. In summer of 2006 Floyd Frantz, a full time missionary from Romania paid a visit to St. Luke on a fund raising and educational tour to explain his activities in Romania. Romania does not need missionaries to bring them the Orthodox faith. Romania has the second largest Orthodox Church next to Russia. Cult missionaries come to try and convert them. They need missionaries to help them with humanitarian aid and learn how to confront the inroads of modern western culture and cult missionaries.
Floyd Franz has been helping the Romanian Orthodox church support Alcoholic Anonymous programs. Floyd is a professional alcoholic and drug counselor. While visiting St. Luke, Floyd discovered that I had expertise in the alcohol counseling field. He asked if I would consider coming to Romania on a short term mission to help him develop a program for clergy with drinking problems.
In October of 2007, I went on my second monthly teaching mission supported in part by St. Luke parishioners. Seminars were given in three Romanian dioceses to priests and bishops. The program helped train clergy to recognize the symptoms of alcoholism, develop treatment options and support the establishment of local Alcoholic Anonymous groups and meetings. I also had an opportunity to witness the humanitarian activities of the Romanian Orthodox Church through its support of local food pantries, teen programs and medical care. The OCMC helps fund a facility for mothers of at-risk babies with health problems. Floyd’s wife, Ancuta, runs the program. This experience reminded me of the words of St. Paul about meeting a person’s bodily needs.
When I returned, my remarks about the experience in Romania generated interest in several of our young adults. The OCMC sponsors a summer program working at teen camps in Romania. Allison Murphy said she wanted to go and asked if I would go also. Thus began another fund raising activity for the 2008 mission trip. Both Allison and I were required to raise $3,500. Fund raising letters were sent out. We took several offerings and had fund raising dinners at St. Luke. At the end of July, we left for the OCMC facility in St. Augustine, Florida, not knowing exactly what was expected of us. We were told to develop an Orthodox educational program for teens utilizing craft activities, and to bring all supplies with us. We were also asked to be ready to organize games. When we arrived in Florida, we met up with three other members of the mission team that were headed for Romania. The OCMC put us through a three-day intensive training program which included cultural sensitivity. As team leader I was instructed on my responsibilities. These included overseeing the spiritual, mental and physical health of the team. Once in Romania we were instructed to meet daily for prayer, team meetings and discussion of any problems. As team leader I was also responsible for bringing the monetary needs for the camp program.
In Romania, Allison and I spent two weeks in two different camp locations with high school and middle school children, about 80 in each camp. The week began on Saturday and ended on a Saturday. We had daily services of Matins and Vespers served in both Romanian and English. Divine liturgies were also celebrated on weekends and on feast days. The camp was organized and run by ASCOR (A Romanian College Organization). Our responsibilities included interacting with the children to help them sharpen their English and learn about Orthodox Christians in America. We gave talks which were translated into Romanian. We shared our experience as America Orthodox Christians. We taught the lives of American Orthodox saints, and we played sports, sang Romanian and English folk songs, and ate delicious Romanian food. Before leaving Romania we visited several monasteries and a village parish which ministers to salt miners. We were taken into the salt mine to visit an underground Orthodox chapel built out of salt. All in all it was a wonderful and spiritually uplifting experience which gave us a broader view of the Orthodox Church in a country where Orthodoxy is not a minority. We learned about the problems of the Romanian Orthodox Church emerging after 60 years of communism and about what they are doing to evangelize in a free secular society. They learned about our difficulties and methods of evangelizing as a minority faith existing in American culture.
Doing missionary work is not for the squeamish. Each mission field has both positive points and those aspects that test your faith. In India it was the pollution, heat, humidity, rolling electric blackouts and the general poor living conditions, and yet it was the least stressful. The days were very ordered, we knew what was expected, the food was adequate and made special for Americans, and there was personal privacy. We even had maid service. In Romania there was no privacy; we slept in dormitories with the camp counselors. The food was good Romanian cuisine, but we missed some of our American favorites. The team had to learn to get along in close quarters, tolerate each other and forgive our differences. We also had the interaction of the Romanian youth and their leaders to deal with. There were several times when we thought we were communicating, only to learn that they did not understand us. Spiritually, all members of the team learned something about themselves in the Orthodox environment. Many had their faith tested and were able to grow.
There is a financial burden in the mission field. In addition to the amount raised for the trip, each missionary pays many out of pocket expenses. These include doctor visits for shots, craft items, clothes, personal items for daily needs, and some of the dinners during travel. In addition to the so-called little things, there is the loss of pay if a missionary must take time off of work. Allison lost a month of income from her job which set her back on saving for college expenses. I could not have gone if it was not for Fr. Sloan and the other clergy who covered for me without taking any honorarium from St. Luke.
I wrote this article because I have often said that I would not ask our members to do anything I would not be willing to do myself. OCMC is looking for short-term missionaries now. I hope after reading this article you will consider going on a mission team. If you cannot go yourself at this time, missionaries do need your support. I believe the most difficult part of missionary work is raising funds. I hope that the financial benefits we receive from the cell phone tower will be used to support missions. If interested, log onto the OCMC website. In addition, slide programs of our past St. Luke missionary trips are posted on our St. Luke website, www.stlukeorthodox.com.
Will I go again? At this time I do not know. I have received a request to return to India and several of the campers in Romania asked if I would return next year. Maybe? God only knows.