Ms. Johnson (name changed for confidentiality) smiled at me. After several months of unemployment, she had just found steady work and would be able to make rent. But back rent was overdue. She and her children faced eviction. My new boss Jeanne had secured funds to pay back rent and prevent the Johnsons from joining the ranks of Los Angeles’ eighty thousand homeless.
This was my very first day as an AmeriCorps volunteer with St. Margaret’s Center, serving an impoverished immigrant neighborhood in Lennox, California. And my very first task was to deliver the check that would keep Ms. Johnson and her kids in their apartment.
It was a beautiful start to a tough year. For every Johnson family there were a dozen folks I couldn’t help much. But Christ crucified was on the wall behind me. As the poor of Lennox suffered, Christ our God suffered with them. And his Resurrection promised transformation to all who lifted up tear-filled eyes in faith. Standing at that counter in St. Margaret’s, participating in that transformation, I heard God’s call to lifelong Christian service.
Five years later—this week—I return to Los Angeles and will visit St. Margaret’s. I will hear stories of great success and deep failure. A succession of year-long volunteers like me have done good work. But it is Jeanne and her colleagues, dedicated to lifelong service in the same community, who make real and lasting change.
I write in the midst of preparation for my own lifetime, as God wills, among the peoples of northwest Tanzania. In this newsletter I will answer some frequently asked questions about preparation for long-term OCMC missionary service. And I’ll give a brief overview of the ongoing effort to build up a sustainable support team.
Frequently asked questions about Tanzania and James
Q: “How long is your term of service?”
A: As long as God wills. I have no plans to stop being a long-term missionary, and intend to serve in Tanzania indefinitely.
Q: “What is your budget?”
A: The estimated monthly budget for my ministry is in the neighborhood of $3,500/ month. This is the high end of a calculation that includes training, language school, ongoing education, transport, health care, insurance, support staff back in the States and communication with my large network of supporters, as well as a monthly stipend. To give some perspective, this is about one-quarter of what most non-government organizations spend to maintain American personnel in Africa.
This budget is best sustained by long-term commitments to regular giving. I’m asking God to raise up a team of about fifty faithful parishes, fellowships, families and individuals each committed to investing $20 – $100 per month. These are the partners who will sustain my service for years.
Q: “When do you arrive in Tanzania?”
A: God willing, this coming Spring. This date depends on a number of factors including finance. The first year of my service needs to be fully pledged before travel can be arranged.
Q: “How can I help?”
A: Pray for me. Every day. You probably have a card to place at your home altar as a reminder to lift me up to the service of our God. If you’d like a prayer card, just ask.
Pledge. The core of around fifty supporters committed to monthly giving will keep me in overseas ministry for decades to come.
Pray some more.
Be in touch! Your encouragement and friendship is invaluable.
Pray even more.
Q: “I have an idea!”
A: Glory to God! Thank you! But please remember that I’m not in Tanzania yet. By the spring of 2011 I will be better equipped to handle requests for penpals, donations of items, etc.
Q: “What will be your role with the Church of Mwanza?”
A: The first task upon arrival will be six months, minimum, of full-time language study. I hope to be enrolled in language school for the bulk of this time. Fluency in Swahili is absolutely necessary for me to work competently in the Church of Mwanza.
Once language allows, I will begin duties at the diocesan office in Mwanza in assistance to Metropolitan Jeronymos. My work will enable His Eminence to devote greater energy to pastoring a rapidly-growing local Church.
Many of you know about the idea for a theological and liturgical translation program. This is a very long-term goal. In my first two years of service, I hope to discern what resources are needed to build and sustain such an endeavor.
Q: “When will you come back?”
A: God willing, I’ll visit the US for a few months in the spring of 2012. Subsequent terms of service may last for up to four years. Travel is expensive, and frequent departures from the field of service can be very disruptive to long-term work.
Q: “Tell me about [Church or country that is not Tanzania].”
A: Forgive me, but I probably do not know much. For information about the Orthodox Church in your country of interest, contact OCMC directly.
Q: “Tell me details about your future housing, daily life, etc.”
A: Again, forgive me. I’m really excited about my future missionary life in Tanzania. I look forward to sending back stories filled with details. But I’m not there yet. Given six initial months of language school, it will likely be fall of 2010 before my permanent assignment even begins. I’ve heard a lot of really great things. But I do not know a lot of details.
Q: “What are you most excited about?
A: Singing the Trisagion in Swahili.
Q: “What are you most worried about?”
A: Myself. I am a sinner and my sins will cause damage and pain. The reason I’m going is the fervent hope and prayer that God’s work through my willingness to serve will preserve me in his abundant grace and mercy, and that the glory of God will outshine the glare of my shortcomings.
Q: “I have more questions.”
A: Get in touch! You can reach me at email@example.com, 239-464-6515 , or by mail at 220 Mason Manatee Way, St. Augustine, FL, 32086.
Building a Support Team
My goal since New Candidate Orientation in April has been to raise up a team of fifty faithful parishes, fellowships, families and individuals committed to regular monthly support of my long-term OCMC missionary service.
The Orthodox Christian Fellowship at the University of Florida played a major role in my spiritual development and calling. I’ve been honored to visit with OCFs at universities across North America. While college students probably won’t provide the bulk of my financial support this year, their prayers and friendship will sustain me for decades to come.
Over the summer I worked full-time and traveled in Florida as I was able. The support-raising campaign began in May at my home parish of St. Elizabeth’s in Gainesville. It was a great joy to begin my new work among the community that shaped and inspired me to service.
Autumn began with a whirlwind tour through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky. I made dozens of new friends and had a wonderful experience discovering the Orthodox Christian South.
Late autumn and winter will take me to fewer places for longer periods. After two weeks in southwest Ohio, I joined colleague Felice Stewart for a week of training in Florida, and as of mid October I am spending two weeks in Southern California. November will find me doing linguistics training in Colorado and speaking in British Columbia. December will bring one week of Pre-Field Training at OCMC followed by final preparations for departure and Christmas with family in Cincinnati.
In the Spring, God willing, I will begin six months of Swahili language school in Tanzania. However, my first year of service needs to be fully pledged before travel plans can be made.