Agriculture is the cornerstone of the Tanzanian economy representing about half of its national income. In a land well acquainted with periodic droughts, its cultivation nevertheless depends on rain. Irrigation holds the key to stabilizing agricultural production in this beautiful country. Without it, adequate food production could be uncertain. As with agriculture, the spiritual harvest also needs to be fed and watered in order that it may grow.
The Church in Tanzania has experienced tremendous growth over recent years as the land continues to be tilled spiritually by an increasing number of clergy, and the seed of the Gospel continues to be planted. But in order to produce the maximum harvest possible, Metropolitan Jeronymos Archbishop of Mwanza has sought support from the Church in North America through the OCMC.
In response, OCMC has been working diligently over the last several years to recruit and train missionaries to serve in Tanzania so that the seeds which have been so faithfully sown can be watered by more hands to produce an even greater yield. The preparation and training for these missionaries has been lengthy and rigorous, and has included studies in missionary history, enculturation training, contextualization of the Gospel, world religions, evangelism and discipleship, team dynamics, communications, linguistics, support team development, and task assignment.
In less than a year, OCMC has deployed five missionaries to Tanzania to support the Church in this great effort. After serving a number of times on OCMC short-term mission teams to Tanzania, Uganda, and Cameroon, Charita Stavrou was deployed to Mwanza, Tanzania in March to begin her service as a long-term missionary to help spread the faith to nonbelievers, and to help with the very practical task of running a sewing operation which will produce a large volume of church linens and vestments for the fast growing ranks of clergy and parishes. At 80 years “young”, Charita is a pillar of strength; and she is devoting the remaining years of her life to serving the Church abroad to, “reach those who have never heard about Jesus”.
In April, OCMC Missionary James Hargrave also arrived in Tanzania to begin his work there. Following a period of intensive language learning in Kiswahili, James will be serving at the Archdiocesan office in Mwanza as a special assistant to His Eminence Jeronymos. Using his graduate education in linguistics, James also hopes to be able to assist with the translation of Church documents into native languages in the future. James grew up as a missionary kid in Africa (Kenya) and has also served in Russia and Korea. He has embarked on his own mission and with the hopes of carrying forth the legacy of his family.
July was a very busy month as well as OCMC deployed three additional missionaries to provide healthcare services to the Resurrection Hospital in Bukoba, and possibly beyond, as the program expands.
Katie Wilcoxson, an ER nurse with additional training in Advanced Life Support and Emergency Nursing Pediatric Care, will be applying her skills in this new and challenging setting. She has short-term missions experience in Tanzania, Guatemala, and Alaska and has felt a strong calling for years to serve as a medical missionary. Katie is the daughter of Fr. Aidan Wilcoxson who serves as rector of St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church in Cedar Park, Texas.
Joining Katie is Felice Stewart, a registered nurse with considerable experience in program and staff management including mental health centers, day and long-term treatment programs. She is a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor as well with addictions counseling and treatment experience in the US and abroad. Her experience in short-term missions includes Romania, Uganda, Haiti, Vietnam, China, and the Philippines.
Michael Pagedas is a public health educator who will also be serving at the hospital but will likewise be involved with educational seminars and workshops that may take him throughout the diocese. The need to bring public awareness and training to this population that struggles with serious health issues such as malaria, cholera, and HIV/AIDS will help to add a new dimension to the Church’s healthcare efforts there. Michael has prior short-term missions experience in Mexico and Tanzania, including a more extensive period of service with his Eminence Jeronymos in 2008.
In the coming months, Maria Roeber, another medical professional who currently serves as a labor and delivery nurse at Georgetown University Hospital, will also join the team for service in Tanzania. She has served as co-chair of the Nursing Practice Council and is a member of the Honor Society of Nursing. She has previously participated on a short-term medical mission trip to Uganda. Maria is working hard now to develop her support team and anticipates joining the rest of the team early in 2011. She is the daughter of Deacon Gregory Roeber who serves at St. George Orthodox Church in Altoona, PA.
Together, under the Omophorion of His Eminence Jeronymos, our Tanzania medical missionaries will be supervised by the Resurrection Hospital’s local medical director, Dr. David Balyegwera, and work in tandem with medical teams from Greece led by Dr. Kyriakos Maczezis. What a joy and expression of Orthodox unity this will be as these American, Tanzanian, and Greek medical professionals work as the hands of Christ the Healer to tend to the health and spiritual needs of the Tanzanian people.
This ministry of healing will work in tandem with the evangelistic witness of Charita and the translation and administrative services offered by James to provide a Christian witness to the Tanzanian people and to share with them love and faith in Jesus Christ. As the ground continues to be watered, the seeds of the Gospel will surely grow and produce an even greater harvest.