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OCMC News - Joined in the Affection of the Soul

by Kriss Whiteman (Posted 12/19/2008)

"Such is the power of love: it embraces, and unites, and fastens together not only those who are present and near, and visible, but also those who are distant. And neither time, not separation in space, nor anything else of that kind, can break up and divide in pieces the affection of the soul." - St. John Chrysostom

Each day we as Orthodox Christians in America have the opportunity to participate in the love that St. John Chrysostom describes here.  In Christ we are joined not just to our own personal Jerusalem, Judea, or Samaria, but also to “the ends of the earth,” where we find some beautiful examples of love personified in the hearts and work of Orthodox Christians in Africa.

Under the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, the Orthodox Church in Africa spans over 20 Dioceses and Archdioceses, each of which works diligently to spread the Gospel and to grow the Orthodox Church.  In most areas, the Orthodox Church arrived as Orthodox immigrants came to Africa seeking economic opportunities.  Over the years, however, many of these originally “ethnic” parishes began to look outside themselves and minister to those around them, giving rise to churches that are truly “indigenous.” A complete list of all that is being done under the blessing of local hierarchs could fill a book, so here we will focus on three countries and the dynamic leaders under whose blessing and direction great things are being accomplished for the Kingdom.

The Orthodox Church in Nigeria has a unique history.  In the twentieth century, a group of Nigerians in search of the original Christian church formed a coalition called “Calvary Grace Church.”  In 1985, this coalition was brought into the fullness of the Orthodox faith.  Since then, the country of Nigeria has suffered great upheaval, but the Church has remained faithful to the Gospel message.

His Eminence Alexandros, Metropolitan of Nigeria, has dedicated his adult life to mission work in Africa.  Born and educated in Greece, His Eminence moved to South Africa in 1988 and served there for 9 years as a priest.  Since 1997, he has been working diligently in Nigeria, first as Bishop and then as Metropolitan.  Under his leadership, the Orthodox Church in Nigeria has grown enormously.

The first objective of The Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) is to participate in introducing people to Christ. The second objective is to do this by training and equipping local church leadership. OCMC has worked to make it possible for Nigerian priests to minister full-time. This has been done through the Support A Mission Priest (SAMP) program, which provides monetary support for clergy in areas where priests would otherwise need to have other jobs in addition to ministry.  Also, this year for the first time, North American Orthodox Christians have an opportunity to travel on an OCMC Mission Team to Nigeria.  Both of these efforts serve to increase the number of Faithful and to spread the Gospel to many in Nigeria. 

Earlier this year, His Eminence Alexandros wrote a letter to OCMC thanking all those who have participated in the work of missions in Nigeria, saying:  “You all have left a green leaf in our hearts.”   Through the “men and women of deep faith and piety” who have contributed to the Nigerian church, the soil has been enriched, the Light of Christ has shown forth, and the water of Life has continued to be poured out upon this country and its beautiful people. The result has been growth, a “green leaf” in the hearts of all, both in Nigeria and in North America.

Though different in many ways from Nigeria, the East African nations of Uganda and Tanzania share many traits with their African cousin.  In both countries approximately half the population is under the age of fourteen.  In both countries years of instability have given way recently to relative peace.  In both countries HIV/AIDS and other illnesses keep the average life expectancy around 52 years of age.  In Uganda and Tanzania, however, the Orthodox Church is flourishing under the direction of leaders born in East Africa.

The Church in Uganda was received into canonical Orthodoxy in 1946 with the baptism of 10,000 people.  In the half-century since then, the Church has grown to over 200,000 Faithful in over 71 communities served by Orthodox seminaries, schools, a hospital, and medical centers. Leading this vibrant Church is a native Ugandan: His Eminence Jonah, Archbishop of Kampala and All Uganda. 

After being educated in Greece, His Eminence worked in Kenya for ten years as a priest and seminary Dean before being elevated as a Bishop.  For five years, he was the Bishop of the Bukoba Diocese in Tanzania, after which he was named Archbishop of Uganda.  For over ten years, Archbishop Jonah has led his ever-increasing flock. 

There are many ways that North American Christians have been offered a witness in Uganda.  OCMC has sent Missionaries and Mission Teams to this area, and the SAMP program is also very active in Uganda.  Through the Agape Canister Program, donors have helped with many projects in Uganda, including building and assisting local primary and secondary schools.  Most recently, funds from OCMC's Agape program went to drill a water well for the St. Mary Orthodox Primary School in the community of Katente.  Under the guidance of His Eminence Jonah, the Church is continuing to contribute both to the physical and spiritual lives of the people of Uganda.

In Uganda’s neighbor to the south, Tanzania, His Eminence Jeronymos, Metropolitan of Mwanza, leads similar efforts in his Archdiocese.  Metropolitan Jeronymos, also a native Ugandan, was educated in Greece and worked briefly in Uganda before being named Vicar General and eventually Bishop of the Diocese of Bukoba.  In 2007 he was elevated as Metropolitan of Mwanza.  His Eminence is a quiet, gentle man whose love for his flock is reflected in his daily words and actions.

In the past, North American Orthodox Christians have reached out in love to their brothers and sisters in Tanzania in many ways.  Through OCMC missionaries, Teams and projects, a seminary was established, wells are being dug, new churches are being built as well as other construction projects, the Faith is being taught, health care programs are underway and many priests receive partial support (SAMP). This year a new initiative was started in Tanzania with the help of Agape program funds, under the leadership of Metropolitan Jeronymos: the Women’s Sewing Project. This economic development initiative is teaching women to sew, encouraging financial independence and economic growth.  Over and over, the Church in Tanzania is reaching out to those in need by ministering to both their spiritual and physical needs.

Uganda and Tanzania have one more similarity: both countries have requested further assistance from Missionaries and Team Members.  OCMC Mission Teams to Uganda and Tanzania offer short-term opportunities to work for the Church and for the people in concrete ways.  Both His Eminence Jonah and His Eminence Jeronymos have also asked for long-term Missionaries, especially in the areas of teaching and leadership.  As these churches continue to grow, and as more and more Ugandans and Tanzanians answer the call to become priests and deacons in the Church, there is an ever-increasing need for Missionaries who will dedicate their lives to training these Orthodox leaders of tomorrow.

Having heard the need and knowing the grace-filled work being done in Nigeria, Uganda, and Tanzania, what can we in Nort

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Prayer for Missions

God of truth and love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Hear our prayer for those who do not know You. That they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world. Sustain, inspire, and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel. Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile. Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church, and raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world. Make us witnesses to Your goodness full of love, full of strength, and full of faith for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world. Through the prayers of all the missionary saints, Have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
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