Τρίτη 28 Φεβρουαρίου 2017

The Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, “mother of chastity, accuser of sins, advocate of repentance, life of the angels and salvation of men” - Like Moses, Elijah, Daniel & the Lord...

Kenya: Vespers of Forgiveness at Dormition of Theotokos Igonyi Diocesan cathedral (see here


With Clean Monday begins Great Lent in the Orthodox Church and marks the end of feasting. Clean Monday is called as such because Christians are called to cleanse themselves spiritually and bodily. It is also a day of strict fasting with no work. The holy fast has a duration of 40 days in imitation of our Lord's fast in the desert.

The first week of the Holy Forty Day Fast are “the days beginning the holy fast”. The Holy Church during this week, inviting Her children to begin “the all honorable abstinence”, to work “for the Lord with fear”, to fast “the pleasant fast pleasing to the Lord”, to fast not only “in body” but also “in spirit” opens the purpose and meaning of “the all honorable fast”.

“The Fast has come”, sings the holy Church in its hymns, “mother of chastity, accuser of sins, advocate of repentance, life of the angels and salvation of men”.

“For by this Moses was glorified, and he received the Law written upon tablets”, “Elijah having fasted, was enclosed in heaven”, “through fasting the youths were delivered from the furnace and the Prophet Daniel from the jaws of the lions”; and “taking as shield the strong armor of the Fast, let us repel every delusion of the enemy. Let us not be led astray by the lusts of passion, let us not flinch before the fire of temptation”; “let us quench the burning passions of the flesh”, “Let us be pure before the Pure One, and seeking purity from all before the Only Savior of our souls”; “illumined by divine virtues, let us gaze with faith upon the radiance of the Passion of the Savior”, and “let us receive from Christ God great mercy”.

Forgiveness Sunday in Orthodox Church of Burundi (see here)

Together with this the holy Church finds out in detail also the properties of true lent, as valid means for the cleansing of sin, as the basis of repentance, as the beginning of the return of the person to God. According to the teaching of the holy Church, “true fasting is to put away all evil, to control the tongue, to forbear from anger, to abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury.

If we renounce these things, then our fasting is true and acceptable”. Therefore, inviting its children to true repentance and Lenten ascetic efforts, the holy Church also sings: “Clothing ourselves in the shining raiment of the Fast, let us cast off the dark and hateful garment of drunkenness”; “let us love chastity, and let us flee from fornication, let us gird our loins with temperance”, “let us wash our faces in the water of dispassion”, “let us loose every bond of iniquity, let us terminate the knots of every contract made by violence; let us tear up all unjust agreements; let us give bread to the hungry and to our house welcome the poor who have no roof to cover them”; “let us brightly begin the all honorable abstinence; and let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God, with the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, with the purity of holiness and the strength of good courage.”

Please, click:

First Sunday of Great Lent - Sunday of Orthodoxy

Second Sunday of Great Lent - Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas

Third Sunday of Great Lent - Sunday of the Holy Cross

Fourth Sunday of Great Lent - Sunday of Saint John Climacus

Fifth Sunday of Great Lent - Saint Mary of Egypt

The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete

The Akathist Hymn

The Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts

The Way - An introduction to the Orthodox Faith
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
Theosis, St. Silouan and Elder Sophrony
Orthodoxy's Worship: The Sanctification of the Entire World  
A Deer Lost in Paradise


Σάββατο 25 Φεβρουαρίου 2017

Africa: Slaves of cobalt ― Your Smartphone Is Probably Powered by Child Labor at Mines in Africa !!

Photo from here

January 19, 2016, news.vice.com
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has accused several tech and auto industry giants of turning a blind eye to child labor. In a damning report released on Tuesday, the organization found that major brands, including Apple, Samsung, Sony, and Volkswagen, were allowing cobalt mined by children into their products.
Cobalt — a metallic element that is found mostly in minerals — is a key component in the lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that power electronic devices such as laptops, smartphones, and electric cars.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in central Africa, is the world's top cobalt producer, accounting for more than half of the planet's supply. According to the DRC's government, 20 percent of the cobalt exported by country is extracted from mines in the southern province of Katanga.
Much of the cobalt mined in the region is sold to Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM), a company owned by Chinese mineral company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company Ltd (Huayou Cobalt), which the Amnesty report describes as one of the world's leading manufacturers of cobalt products.
According to Amnesty, the components produced by Huayou Cobalt are then sold on to battery manufacturers in China and South Korea, who, in turn, supply some of the world's top electronics companies.
A 2014 report by children's rights agency UNICEF found that approximately 40,000 children worked in mines in southern DRC, and that many of them were involved in the mining of cobalt.
'There is lots of dust, it is very easy to catch colds, and we hurt all over.'
Amnesty said its report was researched jointly with DRC-based NGO African Resources Watch (Afrewatch). The report is based on interviews of miners working at four sites in the DRC. As part of their investigation, researchers spoke to 17 children, ages 9 to 17. One child said he started working at the mine when he was 7.
Most of the children interviewed by Amnesty worked above ground, collecting ore and sorting through rocks, which they then washed in streams and lakes around the mines.
The children described working gruelling, 12-hour shifts in the extreme heat or in the rain, often for no more than 1,000 to 2,000 Congolese Francs ($1-$2) per day. Some of them explained that their school day was bookended with shifts at the mine, and that they also worked weekends and during the holidays.
Paul, 14, told researchers he also worked underground in the mines, often spending up to 24 hours at a time in unsafe tunnels. "I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning," he said.

Amnesty International graphic explains how cobalt moves around the global marketplace.

Researchers found that the vast majority of workers in the DRC's mines handle cobalt without wearing any protective gear, such as gloves or facemasks, despite the known dangers of chronic exposure to cobalt dust.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that extended exposure to cobalt dust can result in "respiratory sensitization, asthma, shortness of breath," as well as dermatitis and a serious condition known as "hard metal lung disease."
Amnesty said the children they interviewed complained of frequent illness. "There is lots of dust, it is very easy to catch colds, and we hurt all over," Dany, a 15-year-old miner, told the watchdog.
Amnesty also found that many of the underage miners were malnourished and subjected to "physical abuse, sexual exploitation and violence." Many of the children endured regular beatings at the hands of security guards, who also extorted them for a cut of their earnings.

Photo from here

"They asked for money, but we didn't have any... They grabbed my friend and pushed her into a tank containing diesel oil," said Mathy, who told researchers she was 12 at the time of the incident.
In a response published as an annex to the report, Apple said that underage labor was "never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards." The company said that it was "actively looking for any violations."
Microsoft said that it did not "tolerate the use of child, involuntary or forced labor" in its supply chain, but added that it was "unable to say with absolute assurance" whether cobalt in its products could be traced back to ore in the Katanga region.
Samsung SDI noted that "up until now, there has been no case of child labor violations reported or detected from Samsung's SDI's plants or suppliers." But like Microsoft, the Korean company also said that it could not determine whether its cobalt supplies originated in Katanga.

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews
Image via Amnesty International

See also

More photos here 
Allegations in Greek websites about the "slaves of cobalt"
African Children 
Slavery today 
Cocoa child slavery
Free the Slaves
Orthodox Christians in Democratic Republic of Congo   

"The Looting Machine": If Africa Is So Rich, Why Is It So Poor?
The Orthodox African Church (Patriarchate of Alexandria) denounces the exploitation of Africa by contemporary colonialists  
Orthodox Church & Capitalism: Orthodox Fathers of Church on poverty, wealth and social justice 
Is capitalism compatible with Orthodox Christianity?

The Fourth Sunday of the Triodion Period: Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare Sunday)

Orthodox Bishop Kisumu and Western Kenya Athanasius Akunda with Orthodox Christians, February 2017, from here

Great Lent, Holy Week & Pascha


The Sunday of Forgiveness is the last Sunday prior to the commencement of Great Lent. During the pre-Lenten period, the services of the Church include hymns from the Triodion, a liturgical book that contains the services from the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), through Great and Holy Saturday. On the Sunday of Forgiveness focus is placed on the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, an event that shows us how far we have fallen in sin and separated ourselves from God. At the onset of Great Lent and a period of intense fasting, this Sunday reminds us of our need for God’s forgiveness and guides our hearts, minds, and spiritual efforts on returning to Him in repentance.

Biblical Story 

The Lord Confronts the Disobedience of Adam & Eve; "The Expulsion from Paradise", Nave Mosaics from Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily. Mid 12th Century. 

The Sunday of Forgiveness, the last of the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent, has two themes: it commemorates Adam’s expulsion from Paradise, and it accentuates our need for forgiveness. There are obvious reasons why these two things should be brought to our attention as we stand on the threshold of Great Lent. One of the primary images in the Triodion is that of the return to Paradise. Lent is a time when we weep with Adam and Eve before the closed gate of Eden, repenting with them for the sins that have deprived us of our free communion with God. But Lent is also a time when we are preparing to celebrate the saving event of Christ’s death and rising, which has reopened Paradise to us once more (Luke 23:43). So sorrow for our exile in sin is tempered by hope of our re-entry into Paradise.
The second theme, that of forgiveness, is emphasized in the Gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 6:14-21) and in the special ceremony of mutual forgiveness at the end of the Vespers on Sunday evening. Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons. We do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from others, but should link us to them with ever-stronger bonds.
The Sunday of Forgiveness also directs us to see that Great Lent is a journey of liberation from our enslavement to sin. The Gospel lesson sets the conditions for this liberation. The first one is fasting—the refusal to accept the desires and urges of our fallen nature as normal, the effort to free ourselves from the dictatorship of the flesh and matter over the spirit. To be effective, however, our fast must not be hypocritical, a “showing off.” We must “appear not unto men to fast but to our Father who is in secret” (vv. 16-18).
The second condition is forgiveness—“If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you” (vv. 14-15). The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world, is division, opposition, separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness—the return to unity, solidarity, love. To forgive is to put between me and my “enemy” the radiant forgiveness of God Himself. To forgive is to reject the hopeless “dead-ends” of human relations and to refer them to Christ. Forgiveness is truly a “breakthrough” of the Kingdom into this sinful and fallen world.

Icon of the Feast

The icon of the Sunday of the Last Judgment incorporates all of the elements of the parable from Matthew 25:31-46. Christ sits on the throne and before him the Last Judgment takes place. He is extending his hands in blessing upon the Theotokos on his right, and John the Baptist on his left. Seated on smaller thrones are the Apostles, represented by Peter and Paul, a depiction of the words of Christ in Matthew 19:28. (1.)

1. Ashamed for the sin that they committed by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowlege of good and evil, Adam and Eve now stand before Christ.

The icon shows Adam and Eve standing before Jesus Christ [1.]. Prior to their descent into sin through disobedience, Adam and Eve were blessed with a beautiful relationship of communion and fellowship with God. However, they were tempted by the devil appearing in the form of a serpent [2.] to disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17).

2. Adam and Eve were tempted to sin by the devil who appeared to them as a serpent. 3. A cherubim with a flaming sword was appointed by God to guard the gate of Eden and the way to the tree of life.

When they took of the fruit and sinned, they realized that they were naked. Further, when “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden”…they hid themselves “from the presence of the Lord” (3:8). The icon shows Adam and Eve attempting to cover themselves with fig leaves as they try to hide, and yet they stand ashamed before the Lord. 

4. For their disobedience, the Lord has Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise. They leave dressed in garments prepared by God.

Because of their disobedience the Lord expelled them from the garden. The icon shows the Archangel of the Lord directing them out of Paradise, through the gate of Eden where God placed “the cherubim and a sword flaming and guarding the way to the tree of life” (3:23-24) [3.]. Adam and Eve are dressed in the garments of skins made for them by God (3:20) [4.].

Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Sunday of Forgiveness

The Sunday of Forgiveness is commemorated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is preceded by the Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening. The hymns of the Triodion for this day are added to the usual prayers and hymns of the weekly commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ. The naming of the Sunday is taken from the commemoration of the Exile of Adam and Eve from Paradise and from the Gospel reading of the Divine Liturgy.
Scripture readings for the Sunday of the Last Judgment are: At the Orthros (Matins): The prescribed weekly Gospel reading. At the Divine Liturgy: Romans 13:11-14:4, Matthew 6:14-21.
The Sunday of Forgiveness is also known as Cheesefare Sunday. This is the last day that dairy products can be eaten before the Lenten fast. The full fast begins the following day on Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent. On the evening of the Sunday of Forgiveness the Church conducts the first service of Great Lent, the Vespers of Forgiveness, a service that directs us further on the path of repentance and helps us to acknowledge our need for forgiveness from God and to seek forgiveness from our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the first time that the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim accompanied by prostrations is read. At the end of the service all the faithful approach the priest and one another asking for mutual forgiveness.

Kenya, orthodox Turkana (from here)
Orthodox Christians are encouraged to enter Great Lent in repentance and confession by attending these services, coming for the Sacrament of Confession, and dedicating themselves to worship, prayer, and fasting throughout the Lenten period. The first day of Lent, Clean Monday, signifies the beginning of a period of cleansing and purification of sins through repentance.
On the Saturday before this Sunday, the second of three Saturdays of the Souls are held. This is a special commemoration when the Church offers a Divine Liturgy and Memorial Service for the departed faithful. This is considered a universal commemoration of the dead. Through the memorial services, the Church is commending to God all who have departed and who are now awaiting the Last Judgment. This specific Saturday is a general commemoration of all the ascetic Saints of the Church, both men and women. As we set out on the Lenten fast we are reminded that we will make this journey as members of a family, supported by the intercessions of the Saints.

Hymns and Prayers of the Feast of the Prodigal Son

Exapostelarion of Matins (Tone Two)

Wretch that I am I disobeyed Your good commandment, O my Lord. And being stripped of Your glory, alas, with shame I am laden. And I have been evicted from the pure delights of Paradise. O merciful and compassionate, have mercy on me who rightly has been deprived of Your goodness.
We were expelled of old, O Lord, from the Garden of Eden, for wrongly eating from the tree. But, O my God and Savior, You once again have restored us through Your Cross and Your Passion. Thereby, O Master, fortify and enable us purely to finish Lent and to worship Your holy resurrection, Pascha our saving Passover, by the prayers of Your Mother. Listen »

Prokeimenon of Vespers (Tone Plagal Fourth)

Idiomela: Turn not away Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted; hear me speedily. Draw near to my soul and deliver me.
Stichos: Thy salvation, O God, hath set me up. The poor see and rejoice. Listen »

Kontakion (Tone Plagal Second)

O Master, Guide to wisdom, Giver of prudent counsel, Instructor of the foolish and Champion of the poor, make firm my heart and grant it understanding. O Word of the Father, give me words, for see, I shall not stop my lips from crying out to Thee: I am fallen, in Thy compassion have mercy on me.
The Lenten Triodion. translated by Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1994), pp. 46-47, 168-188.
Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1969), pp. 27-30.
Barrois, Georges. Scripture Readings in Orthodox Worship (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977), pp. 29-30.
Farley, Donna. Seasons of Grace: Reflections on the Orthodox Church Year (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2002), pp. 87-90.


The Lenten Triodion, starting point for Easter - warnings against pride and hypocrisy...

Παρασκευή 24 Φεβρουαρίου 2017

The Gift of Peace and the Spread of Orthodoxy in Northern Uganda

I. A Health Center for Uganda
From the Holy Metropolis

Lately, despite the financial difficulties that we have been facing, there has been an extraordinary effort by members of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity to get two building projects completed in the parish community of Transfiguration, Degeya of the Holy Metropolis of Uganda. These projects are the Sacred Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen, and the “P. Papadimitrakopoulos Health Clinic”, which is located beside the church. We praise the Most Merciful God, for His Grace has promoted such projects to their current stage despite numerous difficulties. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Fraternity and also to all those who have contributed their mite to the realization of these projects. Their support has been invaluable.
As you may recall, the place where these projects are taking place, that is, the Transfiguration center, has a prominent position and serves a sufficient number of fellow humans in the region, not only those of the Orthodox faith but also the heterodox, mainly as regards the need for education and health care. However, with the development of the region and of the people living here, the basic needs are increasing. Therefore, whatever is added to the center, such as an extension wing, or the widening of the range of its services, arouses great expectations for this people’s further course in Christ.
The Orthodox Church in Uganda, an outgrowth of indigenous self discovery
Click here
As young people’s education within the precincts of the parish community of Transfiguration is considered very important in the region, the S. Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen  has been erected outside the wall surrounding the school in order to be established for the community life of the believers and, (in this way), to separate programs and activities. As for the Clinic, although located inside the area that is surrounded by the school wall, it will serve not only the students, but also all the patients coming through a special entrance beside the church.

The church needs painting as well as furnishings and equipment (there is 1000 euro available in the fund for this purpose). However, the carpenters’ bids for the seats required were flimsy. Maybe we should have them made gradually. It seems that the carpenters are trying to exploit us regarding the size of the seating space. As for the clinic equipment, the project work is proceeding according to schedule, that is, without any problem. Doctor George Sunday, Orthodox grandson of the late Fr. Elias Buzinde, is the person making arrangements for buying the right medical equipment and having it installed. (There is 2500 euro left in the fund for this project).
The salvation of the people in Uganda and Africa is a work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the delays and the unexpected situations that usually arise, it is going on. May the God of Love bless all those working for the salvation of mankind.

II. OCMC News: The Gift of Peace and the Spread of Orthodoxy in Northern Uganda

Orthodox Christian Mission Center

Orthodox christians in Namayumba of Uganda (from here)

OCMC – In northern Uganda, an area that has been decimated by war and is finally becoming more secure, “every day, everywhere you go, people are waiting to become Orthodox,” says Fr. Emmanuel Oruk. So many people want Orthodoxy in northern districts like Lira, Oyam, and Apad that it is difficult to minister effectively to all of them. Fr. Emmanuel, who recently visited the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, FL., is one priest in the region who has been very instrumental in spreading the faith. After finishing his studies in Athens in 1994, he returned home just as OCMC’s first Mission Team to Uganda arrived to help build a church.
After the catechetical center in Uganda was established in 1995, Fr. Emmanuel was ordained in 1996. In the years that followed there was often political turmoil and war in the north of the country. Fr. Emmanuel notes that these obstacles have made ministry difficult. Over the last 4-5 years, though, there has been renewed hope that the climate will become more stable. The catechetical center has done its part to bring things back together and the Church has been able to provide relief for many in the area.
Metropolitan Jonah of Uganda

In Lira, where Fr. Emmanuel serves, a deanery was established through which missions and outreach are coordinated. There are not enough priests in the area, however, leaving many communities without one. Because of this, at least once a year, Fr. Emmanuel and his fellow priests try to travel and reach out to do baptisms where priests are scarce. Many communities still have to gather for services in homes or under trees. Four students from the Lira deanery are about to complete seminary training, with the intention to be ordained and serve the people.
In Oyam, there is a school serving primary through 6th grade, and they are hoping to add 7th grade soon. Some students there are orphans who come into the care of the Church. The school is still under construction, and they are working on developing a dormitory. There is a well being drilled at the school to provide water for the nearby area. It is hoped that this school will develop successfully and be a model to inspire others of all that can be done by local communities.

Namayumba again

In Apad, a church is being built with funds from Greece, and sewing machines have been donated for women there. There is so much progress, so much for the people to look forward to, and many new opportunities arising as the Orthodox Faith spreads throughout the region.
There is a deep appreciation for the help that the OCMC offers the people of northern Uganda – working together, sharing together, and helping them to move forward. However, there is also a drive to become more self-reliant in whatever small ways they can. As Fr. Emmanuel says, “Yes, we are poor, but we have to lift ourselves up through a life of sacrifice. We need to have the spirit of sacrifice.” Every community is now sharing something small with the local catechists- soap, or a bag of sugar- out of inspiration to help themselves grow and move forward together. By working with the OCMC, they are learning new ways to do things and what contributes to success, and those things can be shared throughout the country.


The Orthodox Church in Uganda, an outgrowth of indigenous self discovery 
Orthodox Mission in Tropical Africa (& the Decolonization of Africa)
Orthodox Uganda (tag)

Kanisa la Orthodox (tag)
Pioneers of the Orthodox Church in Uganda!
News & articles from the Orthodox Church of Uganda here & here.

"The African culture is ripe and ready for Orthodoxy because her people already live in community..."
“Christ is the hope of the Africans” : A spiritual Odyssey in Tanzania  
Natives Africans bishops in the Orthodox Church
«African needs to be helped, to find his divine roots, for his soul to be at peace, to become united with God...»


Turkana, or "With God, All Things Are Possible"...

Turkana man and children
Salawe was Turkana. A tall, thin and wiry man, dressed in a traditional colorful cloth that draped over his shoulder, he held an aura of authority and power. He was strong, in his sixties, and not only the leader of the remote Africa desert village, but also its Shaman. His influence was evident and seen in the respect and deference given to him by the people who turned to him for healing and prophecy. On one hot February day, Salawe sat across from a group of nine Americans and three African Orthodox clergy. Locked in a powerful and magnetic gaze with the group’s leader, they discussed Orthodox Christianity and bringing this new religion to his village, which still adhered to traditional beliefs.
The sun beat down mercilessly on the group who sat on the dry, sandy ground. Even in the shade of the Acacia tree the temperatures were above 100 degrees, and sweat trickled down their bodies. The air was still but charged with an electric presence. Something powerful and otherworldly was taking place. I was the group leader who was locked in this gaze with the shaman.
Looking back with amazement, I’ve asked myself: “How did this come to be? How did a group of people, so foreign and far removed from this isolated desert region, travel across the globe to sit in front of the local religious leader and engage in the deepest of conversations to introduce Jesus Christ and the Orthodox Church?”.
At one level, the birth of this encounter began when Jesus Christ entrusted His followers and the Church to carry on His mission. At another level, the encounter was a product of OCMC’s striving to reach for the most pertinent goals of this mission. At yet another level, it was the result of people allowing themselves to be stretched for God.
Fr. Martin Ritsi (from here)
Jesus, as He ascended into heaven, gave the marching orders for the Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all Nations…” (Matt 28:19-20). This was not presented as an option or an aside, but rather as the final message delivered to the Apostles prior to His ascending into heaven.
Today, 1/4 of the world’s population (over 1 billion people) still have not heard the Gospel message, nor have they had the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ or to join the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Turkana desert region of northern Kenya is one of those places. OCMC, as it strives to move forward and answer the call to missions in finding and reaching those who have never heard, had been guided to this special moment.
At the same time, being with the Turkana and meeting Salawe involved a willingness to stretch ourselves for God on the part of OCMC, myself, the Team that was there with me, the local Orthodox clergy, and maybe Salawe too!
The plan evolved after an exploratory visit to the area in 2009, when I sat with the local clergy from Lodwar and we began to dream about the growth of Orthodoxy among the Turkana. What could OCMC do in this area? Of course we could build a church or dig a well, or help with a school or address medical needs. But, we wanted to go further and dream about how we could stretch ourselves to get involved in a way that would directly help to spread the Gospel (in addition to these other methods) to the many people who had not yet been introduced to Christianity.

Turkana woman and girl

What resulted from our meeting was the idea to assemble a team of seminarians that would return to this area to interact with the newly illumined Christians, living as close to them as possible, sleeping in their remote villages and teaching under the local trees. In addition to reaching those who have newly joined the Church, somehow, the group would be brought to a village where Christianity had not yet been presented. Somehow…we didn’t know how…but somehow we would pray and stretch ourselves to make this happen. The Team developed and was comprised of a priest and his wife, four seminarians, a professional photographer and graphic designer, OCMC’s Communications Director, and myself. Together, we traveled to the Turkana region of Kenya and conducted retreats with the men, women, and children of four different villages. There was time of worship, teaching, and celebration.
Our trip had been so packed from moment to moment that we had little opportunity to think each day of what we would do next. Toward the end of the trip, this goal of reaching out to a village that had not heard about Christianity was approached. The night before, we sat outside under the stars beside a traditional grass hut. I asked Fr. Zachariah, our Turkana Orthodox priest from the area, “Father, you’ve said everything is lined up for the group to present Christianity in a new village tomorrow. Tell me, now, a little more of what you are thinking.” 

Fr. Zachariah proceeded to explain how the next day the Team would all travel to a village deeper in the desert. There, we would be introduced to the local “magic” man. This man was a key to being able to preach Orthodoxy there. If we could get his approval to allow the Church in his village, then Father Zechariah believed he could return later and have great success. If, on the other hand, the Shaman didn’t give permission, it would be extremely difficult to try and work there. Father Zechariah then added, “What I am hoping is that you, Fr. Martin, will approach him on behalf of all and get this permission for us.”
“Wait a second, Fr. Zachariah! That’s not quite what we had been thinking!!! What kind of ‘magic man’ is this? Does he do ‘good’ magic or does he also send curses on people? I thought we would be doing some sort of Team skit or presentation to a group of people who would come out to listen to us.” Fr. Zachariah reaffirmed the importance of reaching the Shaman, and as he pondered on the type of ‘magic’ he did, he said that Salawe was well respected and involved in things like healing or prophecy, but not in cursing or harmful things.
All I could think at the moment was, “Oh, no, what have we gotten ourselves into!”. But this was where the Lord had led us. Bringing His message to the world is not an option, or something to be done only when it is safe, or sure, or comfortable. And most importantly, He has promised that we are not alone when we give ourselves to serving Him. 

When Jesus directed the Apostles, and through them the Church, that they were to go make disciples of all nations, He concluded that commission by assuring them: “And lo, I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). In fact, they were instructed to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them to empower them for this task. At another time, when they were questioning whether salvation was possible, Jesus again assured them: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Left to our own power, that which is possible is very limited, but with God all things can be accomplished, as can be seen with what followed in our meeting with Salawe.
The next morning we woke up early, packed our things, and jumped into the four wheel drive vehicles we had rented to bring us across the sands of this forgotten corner of the world. Ten minutes later, we sat looking across a quarter mile of flowing river that blocked our way. The night before, and for the last year, the river had been completely dry. The Turkana region had been in a time of serious drought, and the waters that seasonally flowed through this riverbed had ceased long ago, so that the people were suffering from a lack of water. As one would expect, in a dry desert region the coming of water is acknowledged as a blessing from God. Overnight, distant rains had caused the riverbed to fill, which was a great relief to the Turkana people. But now, this blessing stood between us and the only way to reach Salawe’s village! 
We were determined to carry our mission through, and it wasn’t long before a testing of the waters with a long stick revealed that the water was not too deep, and that the current was not more than anyone could wade through. If the river didn’t rise any further, we would be OK to cross and then strike out on foot to find the village. Making the crossing was actually refreshing, and our wet clothes helped to keep us cooler as we hiked through the scorching desert. An hour later, after a few stops to pull long acacia thorns from our shoes and sandals or to get our bearings, we arrived at the outskirts of the village.
Again, however, it seemed our plans would be thwarted. Salawe was not there. When he heard that the river was flowing, he assumed we would not be able to cross and he had left early that morning with his herd of animals to care for them. A messenger was sent to try and find him, and we all sat down on the dusty ground to wait, hoping he would arrive before we had to begin our return journey to Lodwar town.
Another hour later, as we sat chatting under a tree, a lone man strolled up to our group. It was Salawe! He greeted us warmly, and then we all sat back down on the ground together before him, as if we were in a formal reception hall being hosted by a dignitary for a special meeting.
As Fr. Zachariah began the discussion, though, something began to happen. I can only explain it as the presence of the Holy Spirit descending and connecting our souls. The conversation continued, and because we didn’t speak each other’s language, Fr. Zachariah and Fr. Vladimir (another Turkana Orthodox priest from Lodwar) were translating. But somehow, there was a presence that held us together; there was a communication taking place so much deeper and more intense than words could ever express. Our eyes were intently locked together, peacefully, as the conversation and words came from and around us.
I was moved to tell Salawe that God had brought him a message today and that it was God who wanted us to meet. The old man answered, “I know,” with a smile of joy on his face. “I was tending my herd,” he continued, “and didn’t think you would be coming, when suddenly, God spoke to me and told me that you were here. I started back immediately and halfway back I met the messenger you sent. But I didn’t need the messenger, because I was already on my way!” 

We continued our conversation, and I discussed, in brief, the Faith and our Church and finally said that we had come to seek his permission to bring this religion to his village through Fr. Zachariah, who would return later. But not only did we want to bring this to the people in his village, we wanted him to consider becoming Christian. Immediately and without hesitation he replied, “Of course. I can feel that what you have is good. Yes, my answer is yes.” At that moment I realized that the intensity of how we had been engaged was mutual. Just as I had been feeling a powerful connection to Salawe and could see into him beyond the words we were speaking, he too was being granted something special during our communication.
To have set a goal to hold a meeting in a remote desert with the religious leader of a traditional tribe of people who have had little connection with the Western world and to hope that this meeting would result in that leader warmly embracing the invitation to receive Christianity into his village was daunting in itself. If all we could see was this task and what could be accomplished by our own talents and ability, it might seem impossible, and we could be tempted to shy away from it. But in our lives we are not alone, especially when we step forward and stretch ourselves in the Lord’s name to do His will. Our God can fill a river that has been dry with water overnight. Our God can speak to people and send them divine messages. Our God can come upon us and help us to see, to understand and discern in miraculous ways. 

We have been entrusted by our Lord to carry the Gospel and make disciples of all peoples. So many have yet to believe, and over a billion people have yet to even hear the message for the first time. How can we hope to make a difference? Can we, coming from our particular backgrounds and with all the struggles and limitations around us, dare to hope, dream, or strive to be messengers of Him who is, who was, and who is to come? This task is something that OCMC is striving to apply itself to more fervently. As we review all that has been accomplished throughout the past 25 years of missions by the Orthodox in North America, we can see that a foundation has been laid, but the needs remain great. We are looking ahead and stretching ourselves to go forward and to go deeper, not only in ways according to the abilities that we know we have, but in ways that may seem beyond what we are capable of.
Likewise, in our own personal lives there is a lesson to be learned from how God intervened in reaching Salawe. Not only is it OK, but we all need to be willing to dream and to stretch ourselves for God as we reach out in mission to the far corners of the world in our nation, in our cities, in our parishes and even within our families and in our daily lives. Alone we are weak, but with God all things are possible.
"Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people.
Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.
Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle."
(Phillips Brooks)