Father Andrew's Corner
By Father Andrew Harrision
I just returned from two mission trips, to Tanzania, Africa and the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. At the time of this writing, I am preparing for the Navajo Reservation mission in New Mexico. These trips can raise questions about the meaning of evangelism. When we think of evangelism we have the image of someone knocking on doors or preaching on street corners. There is an implication that missions should be about evangelism: teaching the faith and making disciples. After all we have Our Lord’s grand commission “go make disciples of all nations baptizing them”… Matt. 28:19. We have the example of St. Paul standing near the Acropolis in Athens expounding on the unknown God. Act 17:22
The Tanzania mission in May was not about preaching or teaching the gospel to people who did not know about Jesus Christ. The Tanzania mission trip was a medical mission. The established Orthodox Church in Tanzania has a medical clinic which was built and funded by a private humanitarian organization in Greece. Besides the local staff, the Orthodox Christian Mission Commission (OCMC) has two full time medical missionaries working at the clinic; Felice Stewart and Maria Roper. The clinic is under the supervision of Archbishop Jeronymos of Mwanza, Tanzania and it is open to everyone.
Since Felice has experience in substance abuse counseling, she has been able to introduce a substance abuse awareness program at the clinic. If this program is successful there is a possibility that the clinic could establish a treatment center. Floyd Franz, a full time OCMC medical missionary, has been working with substance abuse treatment in Romania for over 10 years. He has made several fund raising visits to St. Luke. I was invited to assist him and Felice with this introductory program in Tanzania. The program consisted of alcoholism awareness seminars with local Orthodox clergy, medical staff and layman with instructions supporting the establishment of Non-Church Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Your donations help fund this.
This is the second year St. Luke sponsored our adults and teens on a Young Orthodox Christian Mission Adventures (YOCAMA) mission trips. YOCAMA plans service trips each summer to two Native American Indian reservations: Blackfeet in Montana and Navajo in New Mexico. They are mainly construction and humanitarian projects. In Montana, the elders’ center and children’s playground needed rehabilitation, while in New Mexico it is the repair of dilapidated homes and health screenings for children. The St. Luke mission teams received commendations for the completed reconstruction projects at both locations last year. Your donations helped fund this.
The Orthodox Church has a long history of missions and evangelism. It was only during much of the 20th century that missions fell into disuse. This occurred because of the political realities; i.e., communism, revolutions and the two world wars.
In the United States, I can still remember as a young seminarian, questions about the use of the English language during the liturgy. The Russian Orthodox Church in America noticed that children were absent from the Liturgy and the adult membership was declining each year. The concern was for survival in America not about missions and evangelism. The American church had lost it vision as a missionary church established among the Native Alaskans in 1794. Preaching Jesus Christ in the Orthodox manner was not considered. The wakeup call came with the conversion of thousands of former Protestants who had joined the Evangelical Orthodox Church. I was one of the Priesst involved in Chrismating many of them at St. Michaels’ Orthodox Church in Van Nuys, California. I had conversations with the late Fr. Peter Gilquist about the lack of Orthodox evangelism. This was his legacy and he will be remembered for it.
Today things are changing with organizations like OCMC, Project Mexico and YOCAMA. Preaching Jesus Christ in the Orthodox manor certainly is taking place both in America and abroad. Of the four OCMC mission trips I participated in, two of them involved preaching and teaching. In India in 2006, I spent three weeks teaching catechism to newly baptized and some not yet baptized Indian Orthodox Christians in their village. In Romania the teaching was at a summer camp program where teens were taught about Orthodox saints who missionized America. Some who attended were not orthodox. Many of the participants did not know there were Orthodox Christians in America. Your donations helped fund this.
Medical missions and service projects are not direct preaching and teaching but they are very important for evangelism. This is not just telling about the gospel but living the gospel. The good news is that God loves us and we show our love for him by ministering to those in need. The substance abuse program in Tanzania may or may not bring people to Christ but the love for Christ is expressed in doing to the “least of these my brethren”.
When the 9 missionaries arrived in Alaska they quickly set up schools. Both St. Juvenaly and St. Herman ran schools for the children. They instructed the natives in agriculture and technology. St Innocent’s success among the Tlinket Tribe was directly related to his knowledge about the treatment of smallpox. You can say he was the first to open up a medical clinic. Humanitarian outreach is essential for evangelism. The more we do the work of Christ, the more we become icons of Christ, the more we are able to evangelize. This may speak louder than any so called attempt to convert someone with a quote from scripture.
The grand commission applies to all of us. Not everyone has the time or financial means to go on a national or international mission. There are opportunities for evangelism at St. Luke year around. St. Luke PADS homeless shelter is always in need of volunteers. (We are looking for a site manager now). The ministry to the mentally challenged at the Garden Center in Burbank could use some singers. Hospital and nursing home visits come up from time to time. Participation and the support of fund raising programs for missions are essential to any evangelism program. Even looking through your food pantry to support the Church food pantry is a worthy activity. And “last but not least” there is the Do-able Evangelism Program that requires only conversations and prayer.