A New Step for Orthodox Missions in the 21st Century

Monday, July 11, 2005

A New Step for Orthodox Missions in the 21st Century
By Fr. Martin Ritsi, OCMC Executive Director
July 8, 2005

The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), St. Augustine, FL - Three Lebanese Orthodox men were working for a construction company on a job in eastern Nigeria. While in Nigeria, they came across an old sign in the village of Ozubulu that read: “Christ the King Orthodox Church.” After some searching, they were disappointed to find the building run down and locked. They asked around about its origins, “Was this a church like the one from their homeland?”
Through their searching and desire to find a church to pray in, they were finally directed to a nearby village where there was another Orthodox church, The Dormition of the Theotokos. They set out on a Sunday morning, hopeful but unsure of what they would find. Upon entering the church, their efforts were rewarded and they were overwhelmed with what they saw. A large church structure packed with a crowd of over 3,000 people, singing and participating in what appeared to be the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Incense, icons, vestments, and other outward forms of Orthodox Christianity were present, but there was also a unique cultural atmosphere that was characteristic of this African country. Most impressive to these men was the vibrancy, the joy and participation the community expressed as they sang the liturgical responses.
This scenario would have been rare fifteen years ago. But today, because of a revived Orthodox mission consciousness, it is only one of many such scenes around the world. It is an indicator that the Orthodox Faith is spreading vibrantly among the people of Africa and in many countries around the world.
Similarly, not long ago many people in Orthodox parishes throughout the United States questioned whether missions was really an Orthodox practice (which it is!). Today, not only are there people in most parishes who have heard that our Orthodox Church is involved in missions again, but also over 800 people have personally traveled into the mission field as long or short-term missionaries through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center.

Together with this visible and substantial outreach overseas, there are behind-the-scenes activities making it all possible. Every day actions are being taken to nurture the continued growth of these essential ministries. One exciting new step on the horizon is the ground breaking for a permanent facility in St. Augustine, Florida. This center is part of establishing a firm foundation for future plans for the training and support of expanded missionary activity. Analogous to the words of our Lord that “you can tell a person’s heart by where his riches are,” so too one can judge the priorities, vision and plans of an institution by the buildings, and even the floor plans which are to house its activities. From this perspective, a glimpse at the new Mission Center plans is one that brings hope and excitement as its entire concept is based upon concrete plans for growth and maturation in missionary outreach.
There will be rooms for housing missionaries and mission team members prior to being sent into the mission field. Another area is set aside for their training and orientation. An interactive learning center will be created for visitors to explore where Orthodox missions are active and the various programs of the Mission Center. In another area are the key departmental offices that will initially support 20 and later up to 30 staff who run the diverse programs and ministries of OCMC. All this will be housed in a 12,000 square foot building located on a 20-acre site in St. Augustine, Florida. If we tally all that is done now through our current staff and facilities and then imagine the level of programs that are planned to function from the new facility, the implications are astounding and the many more lives to be touched is heartening!
We are in deep gratitude to our generous lead donors who have set the pace by pledging the majority of funds needed to build our new Center throughout the initial “silent” phase of our Capital Campaign. During this time, 75% of the funds needed have been pledged. But it would not be correct, nor can we finish this vision, without providing the opportunity to all the Orthodox faithful to be a part of, and give towards, building this new Center. The programs belong to and represent all Orthodox Christians of the member churches of SCOBA. Therefore, opportunities are now available, and will be presented throughout the remainder of this year, for individuals, parish youth and women’s groups, and entire congregations to designate gifts “for building the new Mission Center.”
Some time has passed since the three Lebanese construction workers, mentioned at the beginning of this article, first attended services at the Dormition of the Theotokos Church in Nigeria. Since then, they have been frequenting this parish and are inspired by the vibrancy and love in Christ that joins them intimately to a people far from their homes. After the Divine Liturgy, they regularly visit the home of the local parish priest and are further nurtured spiritually. Through mission outreach, not only did the Orthodox Christian Faith spread to a new region and people, but it uplifted these people to a point where they, in return, are able to minister to persons coming from traditional Orthodox lands. This transformation is one of the many fruits that stem from having a Mission Center and missionary outreach. It is also just one of many such examples, but there are still so many opportunities waiting.
Mission work is central to the life of the Church. As we move forward in faithfulness, this next step in firming the foundations of a Mission Center will prove to be a key factor in strengthening our position as we reach out with the love of Christ to new horizons in the 21st century.
The Orthodox Christian Mission Center: Helping Orthodox Christians respond to Christ''s call to preach, teach, baptize, minister to the poor and make disciples of all nations as the official international mission agency of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).
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