Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Support a Missionary

[I wrote this for our upcoming parish newsletter, but I think it raises important issues concerning Christian stewardship, and a wider circulation might be useful.]

It was a revelation to me, many years ago, that missionaries had to raise their own support.  I had always thought that mission boards paid their missionaries.  Many years ago, in certain denominations, churches did pay a kind of ‘missionary tax’ or take special offerings to go to the denomination’s missions fund.  But the last vestiges of this way of funding missions died out in most denominations in the 1990s.  Today, almost all missionaries are dependent upon the pledges of individual donors and local parish budgets.  And because it may cost $40,000 or more to keep an American missionary family on the field, it takes a lot of people and churches to make each missionary ministry a reality.

From the missionary’s side, this means making contact with as many people and churches as possible, in the hopes that some of them may be interested in joining one’s support team.  As with many things, personal relationships make all the difference.  In my own experience, people who already know me and have a history with me are more likely to want to support me than someone who doesn’t know me from Adam’s housecat or who may simply be someone listening to ‘the missionary’ make a presentation at the parish coffee hour.  In my experience, relationship trumps even denominational identity.  I was surprised to discover, even after I converted to Orthodoxy from being a Presbyterian pastor and missionary, that most of the people who supported me as a Presbyterian were keen to continue their support once I had become Orthodox.  The same was not true with most of the Presbyterian churches that supported me, for obvious reasons.  And that is why it is important for missionaries to seek out new parishes and build relationships with the priests, parish and committee leaders and members there.

Reaching out to new individuals and parishes can be a challenge, as most Christians and parishes may have a more local perspective.  This is a good thing, and what I say here is not intended as a criticism.  It’s just that while a local perspective may be the default position – the way it is – among most Christians and in most parishes, the default position theologically is something very different.  My job as a missionary is to help local Christians and local parishes begin to see the world from God’s perspective, to see that salvation is not just about me, but that God intends me to be the means by which His salvation reaches ‘them’.  It means helping us to see that God’s love does not stop at the boundaries of our parish, or our jurisdiction, or our nation.  It means helping us to see that all the wealth of resources and technology have come to us from God’s hand not for us to spend on ourselves, but so that we might wisely steward His blessings to further His priorities.  These are counter-cultural concepts to try and communicate in the best of circumstances.  But they point to the reality that we find in both the New Testament and in much of Christian history, namely that the Church is primarily a missionary organization.  Our brief is straight from our Lord Jesus Himself, who said to His Apostles and thus to us, ‘Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations…’.  This is not one option among many, nor is it to be relegated to the ‘really committed super Christians’, a relegation that gets the rest of us off the hook.  No, it is our responsibility as Christians, to find our place in making Christ’s missionary mandate a reality in our generation.  For some of us, God wants us to go and make a difference in the lives of other people, following the incarnational example of our Lord.  For others of us, God has given us the means to help make this happen financially through our giving.  And for all of us, God calls us to join with all the saints and angels in the ministry of intercession, praying for our missionaries, their families and their ministries.  Missions is the work of the whole Church.  And it’s part of our calling as missionaries to help our people and our Churches grow into their God-given calling.

But how does this work at the level of my life?  How can I as an individual Christian plug into the big picture of what God is doing?  Let me share from my own experience.  God entrusts me with time and with resources.  And part of my own discipleship (as a follower of Christ) is realizing more and more that my time and my resources are not my own, but rather God’s, and that God has given all this to me so that I might be a steward of His good gifts.  This means that I am constantly in prayer about how God wants me to use the time and money that’s mine to use.  Some of this money and time I want to give to my parish.  But I also set aside a certain amount to help with special projects or ministries that come to my attention.  And say, when a missionary comes by and I hear of the need and I’m challenged to pray if God wants me to join his/her support team, I then ask God if this is something He wants me to do with the resources He has entrusted to me.  Sometimes God says, ‘Yes! Get involved!’  Other times God says, ‘No, I have other things I want you to do with what you have.’  But the key in all this is to ask God what He wants you to do.  I think God is particularly pleased when we ask Him to show us how He wants us to give and live.  I’ve never experienced silence when I’ve asked about these things!

Maybe you want to practice on me!  I’ve just been accepted as an Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) missionary to Kenya to help train the new generation of Christian leaders there, both at the Orthodox Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi and at St. Paul’s University in Limuru and Nairobi.  I need to raise about $3330/month in order to cover my yearly budget.  I need a team of people who will commit to pray for me and my ministry, and I need individuals and churches who would be willing to pledge $100/month (or more!), $50/month, $25/month, or even $10/month towards my support.  OCMC makes this so easy to do so.  You can go to the OCMC website ( )  and to their ‘Active Missionaries’ page ( where you will find my picture under ‘Kenya’, with options to read about me and how to support my ministry.  OCMC will be happy to facilitate your giving, and will let me know what you’ve done.  Or you can let me know yourself through an email. 

So would you be willing to pray and ask God if this is an opportunity He wants you to be a part of?  The important thing is to ask.  One way or another, God wants to make you his blessing in the lives of many people.  And this is one of the primary ways He does it.

His Grace Bishop Innocentios, my spiritual father and now Bishop of Burundi and Rwanda
May God raise up many more like him.

There is nothing closer to God’s heart than missions.  We Orthodox hear again and again that God ‘loves mankind’.  And the gospel is the way God’s love is expressed.  And the gospel was never meant to stop with me or us.  It’s meant to go to every person, to the ends of the earth.  This is our glorious calling.  Will you make it yours?

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Future of Orthodoxy

Metropolitan Jonah of Uganda

The future of Orthodoxy is not to be found in the halls of St. Vladimir’s or Holy Cross seminaries, strategic as they may both be for the North American scene.  Nor is the future of the Orthodox Church to be found in the hoped for Great and Holy Council, where the nettle of American jurisdictions may finally be grasped.  Orthodoxy’s future is not found in the Moscow Patriarchate, regardless of its power and influence at home and beyond.  Nor is it to be found in the Phanar of old Constantinople where His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew presides.

Instead, the future of Orthodoxy may be found in a Nairobi slum.  Thirty-three years ago, a small seminary was established with the brief to train leadership for the small but growing Kenyan Orthodox Church.  Almost immediately, surrounding bishops started sending their best men to Nairobi to be trained there, at the clunkily-named ‘Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School of [Archbishop of Cyprus] Makarios III’ in Riruta Satellite, a corner of the vast Kawangware slum in western Nairobi.  The school, under the direction of Dr. Andreas Tillyrides, who would in time become His Eminence Makarios, Archbishop of Kenya and Dar es Salaam, succeeded in training clergy for the archdiocese and, increasingly, leadership for the new world of Orthodoxy taking root in sub-Saharan Africa.

His Grace Innocentios of Rwanda and Burundi ordaining clergy in Bujumburu

I was baptized and chrismated at this seminary in 2011.  At that time there were 90 students, many from Kenya’s 300 Orthodox parishes.  But there were also students from Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Camaroon, and probably other sub-Saharan African countries that I’m not remembering.  In fact, this little school was and remains the only Orthodox seminary in sub-Saharan Africa.  The Alexandrian Patriarchate in Egypt also maintains a school in Alexandria, but as one might imagine there are issues in bringing African Christians to Muslim Egypt for theological training.

Kenyan Deacon leading the Great Litany of the Divine Liturgy at the seminary

Several years ago, the Nairobi school was forced to close due to a financial crisis caused by the meltdown of the Greek and Cypriot economies.  Cypriot Christians in particular had been astonishingly generous and had essentially funded the activities of the Kenyan Archdiocese and its Cypriot hierarch.  But that funding all but dried up in 2012/2013.  There was no more money to pay for scholarships, no more money to pay for salaries, no more money to pay for feeding everybody.  So His Eminence was forced to send everybody home.  In 2014 as the crisis eased somewhat, the seminary was reopened and 30 students were allowed to return.  But a further 50 or so were without sufficient support to begin or continue their seminary education.  I was there in February of this year and saw first-hand the dedication of the administration and faculty to make it work with what they had, as well as the focus of the students, many of whom had made tremendous sacrifices to pursue Orthodox theological training.

Seminary Students eating dinner this past February

It would be easy to get caught up in the details and day-to-day dramas of running a seminary in Kenya and all the logistical challenges that entails.  But if one steps back for a wider view, it becomes increasingly obvious that something much bigger is going on, bigger than Nairobi, bigger than Kenya, bigger than Africa.  The Orthodox Church has been growing impressively in Kenya for fifty years since the devastating ban, placed on the Orthodox Church by the British colonial authorities in the 1950s for its close association with the Kikuyu resistance to British rule, was rescinded.  The Church had formed during the 1920s as part of the resistance to mission Christianity by Kikuyu Christians wanting to be free of Western Christianity and have a church like that of the early Christians.  However the ban forced Kenya's Orthodox Church to start again at a time when the Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and Anglicans in Kenya were going from strength to strength.  [You can read more about this in my article, ‘Offended Christians, Anti-Mission Churches and Colonial Politics:  One Man’s Story of the Messy Birth of the African Orthodox Church in Kenya’ in Journal of Religion in Africa 43 (2013) 261-296]  And although behind in every statistic when compared to other, more wealthy Kenyan churches, the Orthodox in Kenya have been growing, and doing so for a number of years and at an impressive rate.

With His Eminence Makarios of Kenya visiting the growing churches of Western Kenya

But the Orthodox Church is not just growing in Kenya.  As Orthodox parishes in African capitals make the transition from being ethnic expat enclaves to centers of outreach for the surrounding communities, the number of Orthodox Christians is poised to grow exponentially.  And as these nascent national Churches obtain well-trained leadership, Orthodoxy will be increasingly rooted in the local ethos and languages, no longer a Greek transplant, but a Rwandan Church, a Burundian Church, a Turkana Church, a Malagasy Church.  Protestant and Catholic scholars and missiologist have been observing for some time that the center of gravity of global Christianity has been moving south.  Christianity in Africa, with all of its raucous, noisy diversity, will lead global Christianity, first by weight of sheer numbers, and as the Church continues to mature, by an increasing theological sophistication.

Orthodox Children in remote western Kenya

The Orthodox Church does not have the same depth and breadth of history in Africa as the Roman Catholics and many of the Protestant denominations (with the exception of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Egyptian Coptic Church, but that’s another story).  But the same wave that these other expressions of Christianity are experiencing will become the Orthodox experience as well.  The day is coming when there will be more Orthodox Christians in sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the Orthodox world combined (Russia included).  And they will be led by African bishops (as the African Churches already increasingly are:  the current bishops of Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda/Burundi are all Ugandans).

His Grace Bishop Innocentios in Rwanda

What this means is that the most important place for the future of the Orthodox Church is the little seminary in Nairobi.  The men who will make up the leadership of the Orthodox Church of Africa are being trained there.  New seminaries will undoubtedly be established.  New monasteries endowed.  New Churches planted and consecrated.  New Christians baptized and chrismated. New catechists and readers and deacons and priests trained.  New Hierarchs ordained.  And as the African Church takes its place among the great and historical Orthodox Churches of Asia, Europe and North America, her success (or failure) will, to a significant degree, be the success (or failure) of the global Church.  The future of Orthodoxy is an African future.

His Grace Bishop Innocentios presiding at a baptism and chrismation service for infants and adults in Burundi

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Orthodoxy and Missions

Orthodoxy and missions are synonymous.  Even if I’ve been a part of an Orthodox parish my whole life and never been exposed to the Church’s mission work and never met a missionary and never gave missions a second thought, none of this negates the biblical and historical fact that the Orthodox Church is a missionary Church.  The very parish I am a part of would never have existed if someone hadn’t responded to Christ’s missionary call to ‘Go!’  We can trace our missionary heritage to the very beginning, starting with Jesus of Nazareth himself.

Christ the Sower

Jesus is the model for all Orthodox missions.  He left the culture of heaven and entered into our world as one of us – completely human and God the Son.  He learned our ways, ate our food, spoke our language.  When He taught, He used illustrations that were taken from the way we actually lived.  He constantly found ways to connect the Good News with the realities He engaged.  His mission was to overcome every barrier blocking our relationship with God the Trinity and our relationships with each other.  Neither cluelessness, nor unbelief, nor hardness of heart, nor murderous anger, nor human injustice nor even death itself could frustrate His work.  Jesus’ faithfulness, His work and His Gospel were all vindicated when He walked out of His tomb alive.  And while the world of humanity has continued for the most part in rebellion against the Creator, increasing numbers of men and women and children have heard of what Jesus did and who He is and of what He continues to do in our midst.  These people are tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, their lives have been touched by the love of the holy Trinity, their own priorities and way of life are being transformed.  And in contradiction to the surrounding world, their societies become a counter-culture, the place where heaven intersects earth, where life is transformed by life, where the love and power of Jesus and His Gospel touches hearts and changes them forever.  The movement started small, but has in time become a fulcrum that is moving the world.

St. Paul the Missionary

Jesus’ apostles heard Jesus’ call to ‘Go!’ and over the remainder of their lives, they did.  The Biblical record tells us something of Peter, and a lot more of Paul.  We know that James the brother of John died a martyr in Jerusalem.  For the rest we are dependent on the stories passed down from the churches they established all over the known world, from India and Mesopotamia, Egypt and Spain to England and Scotland.  They went in spite of the danger.  All of them, except John the Evangelist, met with martyrdom.

St. Thomas of India

Even when enduring spasms of persecution, Christian churches continued to grow, mainly because the contrast between the Christians’ way of life and their love for each other and the ways of the surrounding culture could not be denied.  Historians tend to gloss over the Christianization of Roman society over the first four centuries as if it were somehow explained by social or political factors.  But the real story is not some banner headline, but hundreds of tiny stories of how Christians lived as Christians amongst their neighbors, and how increasingly those neighbors found this compelling.  This is how all true growth of any church occurs.

Sts Cyril and Methodius

The story of Orthodox missions is too vast to be recounted here.  But the outlines are dramatic enough.  From former war-slave Patrick’s missionary work in Ireland, to the monks of Iona’s efforts in Scotland and northern Europe.  Christianity was planted among the tribes of central Europe by wandering monks, in the Axumite empire in Ethiopia by the Syrian teenager Frumentius, who became a slave in the royal family charged with educating the heir, and who through patience and faithfulness lived to see not only the royal family converted to Christianity, but the kingdom as well.  Awestruck emissaries from the Rus emperor Vladimir brought back reports of the liturgical worship at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople that resulted in the Russians converting to Orthodoxy.
But if the first thousand years of Orthodox history is one of dramatic expansion, the second thousand years is one of captivity and suffering.  And though the church’s mission was not forgotten, such were the pressures of warfare, or of living as an oppressed minority in a majority Muslim culture, survival was often the most these Eastern Churches could attain.  Not only were most of the formerly Orthodox lands under a millennium of Muslim control, but the horrific social and military experiments unleashed by Marxism and fascism in the twentieth centuries focused primarily on peoples who for centuries had been Orthodox.  The numbers of those slain because they were Christian, or caught in the cross fire, beggars belief.  The Russian revolution, the Second World War and subsequent Cold War was a time of martyrdom unmatched in the history of the Churches, and not just of Orthodox but of all branches of Christianity.

St. Frumentius (Abba Salama) of Ethiopia

Many of the Orthodox Christians who have come to the United States in the past hundred years were fleeing persecution, oppression and deprivation.  Lives of mere survival in the motherland were transformed for successive boatloads of immigrants into lives of opportunity for them and their children.  And while some of these descendants of Orthodox immigrants were absorbed into the great American melting pot, others maintained their Orthodox faith, gathered in parishes and carried on with the Orthodox way of life inherited from their ancestors and now transplanted into the new world.

St. Patrick of Ireland

Many of these local Orthodox communities in the US have neither thought much about the missionary call upon their church, nor seen any reason to engage with any sort of ‘mission’ outside helping the poor and the orphaned back in the home country.  And while this good work is not to be minimized, the posture of many American Orthodox Churches is not far removed from that of their forbears during times of oppression and persecution.  Missions is seen as a luxury that the church doesn’t have the time for and which the church and her members can little afford.

St. Vladimir

But this is not an Orthodox stance.  From the beginning, Orthodox Christians have understood that God’s grace is not something that is simply for me, or for us alone.  Rather, we are meant to be channels of God’s grace, we are meant to be the means by which God’s grace gets to people who would otherwise be cut off from it.  Missions, historically speaking, was not the prerogative of the hierarchy, or of the monastics, or of special people with a special call.  Missions is the what the Church does.  Missions is what the Church is.  It’s the prayers of the Church that makes missions possible.  It’s the giving of the Church that makes Missions happen.  It’s the obedience of the Church that makes missions a reality.  God has many ways to communicate His love to those who do not yet know it.  But His primary way starts with the Church.

St Herman of Alaska

Churches who have forgotten this have lost their way.  These churches may be large, they may be beautiful, they may be filled with powerful people, but they are living for themselves and have missed the point.

St. Nicholas of Japan

There is a renaissance in Orthodox missions today.  More and more Orthodox Churches are discovering their calling to be God’s difference in this world.  More and more Orthodox Christians are giving up successful career tracks in order to help with the mission.  New converts are being baptized in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America; new Churches are being formed and consecrated.  New communities of faith are being instructed.  New opportunities to reach out to local communities in need are being realized.  And the same dynamism that propelled the earliest Christians to the ends of the earth and facilitated the conversion of the pagan cultures of their day is being seen again in our own.  These are tremendously exciting times in the history of Orthodox missions.  The great question facing all of us is, will we sit back and watch as distracted spectators from the grandstands, or will we hear God call our name and the name of our parish to join his team out on the field?

All Saints of North America

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Most Beautiful Run Ever (and the pictures to prove it)

I like to run.  I don't go very fast, so I'm not in any danger of winning any races.  But running has given me something positive to do during a season of my life that has not been very positive.  Presently I am working towards running the Richmond (VA) Half Marathon on Saturday, November 15.  I talked my oldest daughter into joining me, so we're both working hard to be able to cross the finish line on race day.

I ran the Richmond marathon last year, but a hamstring strain earlier this summer set my training back.  I'm not complaining - I'm just glad I'm still able to run.  At my age, every day I can get out and run some miles is a gift.

Yesterday was one such gift.  I had worked up to the place where a 16 mile run could happen.  So I plotted my route, set out my water at mile 7 and 13, packed my energy chews, walked out the front door and started.  It was a perfect fall day, cool with bright morning sun.  I ran and ran and ran.  Two hours and forty five minutes later I chugged up the last slow rise and found myself back where I started.

I spent the whole run avoiding traffic and astonished at the beauty all around me.  After lunch and a nap I went back out with a camera and retraced my steps.  This is where I ran and what I saw:

Mile 0 - My street and my starting line.  That's the Blue Ridge in the background, on top of which is Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive and the Appalachian Trial.

Mile 2 - Pasture and a foothill of the Blue Ridge

Mile 3 - Apple orchard

Mile 3 - Looking east
Mile 3 - Looking east

Mile 4 - Blue Ridge
Mile 4 - More Blue Ridge
Mile 4.5 - Virginia Vineyard

Mile 4.5 - Drink Virginia Wine!

Mile 5 - Big Day in White Hall, VA

Mile 5 - White Hall, VA.  Not much more than this.

Mile 6 - Pasture on Sugar Hollow Road

Mile 7 - Moorman's Creek at Sugar Hollow Road bridge

Mile 9 - The view from White Hall

Mile 10 - Running past a White Hall house

Mile 11 - Farm on Brown's Gap Tpk

Mile 12 - Country Roads (running down the middle of)
Mile 13 - Mountain Plains Baptist Church cemetery

Mile 13 - View across field
Mile 13 - Mountain Plain Baptist Church, circa 1812 (it was a Presbyterian Church before then!)

Mile 13.5 - This way home

Mile 15 - Ran right by the taproom of our local Brewery.  Waved at friends.  Sorely tempted to  stop for a pint...

Mile 16 - Ran through our 'downtown'

Mile 16.3 - Finish Line!

Home again.  My room is upstairs on the left.  Where I take naps after long runs like this.