“When I was a boy my father showed me the way to Lodwar. Each semester I would walk for three days across the desert, so that I could receive an education,” recalls Fr. Zachariah, one of three Orthodox priests of the Turkana tribe in northern Kenya.
Fr. Zachariah hails from Loupwala, a small village nestled amidst a forest of acacia trees not far from a river that is bone dry most of the year. It is hot and extremely arid. The people of Loupwala live to survive raising cattle, goats, and camels–they long for a better life for their families.
The perilous journey that Fr. Zachariah bravely endured in solitude as a child was well worth the risk, as it meant that he would be one of the few people from his village to receive a formal education. In Lodwar, however, Fr. Zachariah didn’t just learn history, math, and science from the Catholic academy he attended; he also began a relationship with Christ.
Years passed and Fr. Zachariah was exposed to other Christians, including a charismatic preacher espousing the truth of Orthodox Christianity. As a result, Fr. Zachariah became an Orthodox Christian. The journey that began as a march across the desert in search of an education ultimately led him to the Makarios III Orthodox Seminary in Nairobi, Kenya. Upon completing his studies, Fr. Zachariah was ordained to the priesthood, and after years away from his home in Loupwala he was sent back – this time with the message of the Gospel.
Now, Fr. Zachariah walks amongst his people sharing Christ with them as they fetch water or tend their herd. With the blessing of His Eminence, Archbishop Makarios, and through his evangelistic efforts, Fr. Zachariah was able to start an Orthodox church in Loupwala. Many people from his village have become Orthodox Christian; and he is working together with the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) to start another church in a neighboring village.
Each year, young men like Fr. Zachariah are called to the priesthood in countries around the world where the light of Christ and His Church is beginning to shine with ever-increasing brilliance. It is not uncommon for these men to plant two, three, or more parishes once they have been ordained.
OCMC supports theses priests and their ministries in many ways, but most directly through its Theological Training and Support a Mission Priest (SAMP) programs. The Theological Training program issues grants to the seminaries that these men attend and sometimes awards scholarships toward their theological education. Once ordained, many of these men then receive regular monthly stipends from their hierarchs. The SAMP program supplements these stipends, enabling them to dedicate themselves to the growth and pastoral care of their communities full-time.
Though we are two millennia removed from the mission of the first Apostles, there are still people who need to be evangelized. The priests called, and filled, by the Holy Spirit to continue this work in mission countries are often the ones to take the love of Christ to people who still long for the hope of salvation. They look to us, their brothers and sisters around the world, for strength, prayer, and support as they continue the witness of the Church to the ends of the earth. United under the banner of Orthodoxy, these priests and those who prayerfully support them may help others to begin a journey in Christ that, like Fr. Zachariah’s, ultimately leads them back home.