Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

November 29, 2011

2011 Albania Outreach (Family) Team Pictures

October 25, 2011

Orthodox Family Mission Team

by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Center for Family Care

This past July, a unique groundbreaking international Orthodox Christian missionary effort took place-the first Family Mission Team traveled to Albania. The team was a collaboration between the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Center for Family Care (CFC) and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), and part of a new family ministry initiative of the Orthodox Church of Albania. Families from America and Albania participated in “One Family in Christ” Family Camp led by the CFC’s Resource Coordinator, Panayiotis Sakellariou, and by OCMC short and long term missionaries.

The purpose of sending the Family Team was to offer a “family witness”-while sharing the Orthodox faith and growing as a family in Christ-and to answer the call of the Church of Albania to begin its own family ministry. Albanian leaders plan to build on this camp experience and the family resources that were provided, to create a strong foundation for their new family ministry. Team leader Panayiotis Sakellariou said, “We thank God for providing for all the families and granting success to our camp efforts, and we are grateful for everyone’s support and prayers. We pray this first Family Mission Team will be the beginning of an ongoing missions endeavor that gives families the opportunity to share their love of God and of neighbor, and to grow in their faith.”

“One Family in Christ” Family Camp consisted of 65 adults and children of various ages. The camp included parent, couple and children programs; family activities and Olympics; outreach endeavors and local excursions. In particular, team members presented on the following topics: Church of the Home, Child Spiritual Development, Parenting Skills, Social Networking, the Journey of Marriage, and Family Ministry.

For further information on this mission team or the involved agencies contact the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Center for Family Care at 845-424-8175 or familycare@goarch.org, or Orthodox Christian Mission Center at 877-463-6784 or missions@ocmc.org.

October 17, 2011

Reflections on Seven Years of Service in Albania: An Update from Missionary Georgia Gilman Bendo

Protagonists School has just begun its 10th year in existence! From 12 students in 2002 to about 250 this year, we thank God for always blessing us with success and strengthening us to face new challenges. His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios maintains education as a top priority in his vision for the Church’s social outreach in Albania.

I am thankful to be a part of that vision. This past August marked the seventh anniversary of my arrival in Albania as a missionary. Since then I’ve enjoyed a steady ministry of teaching English and offering an after-school catechism club at Protagonists.

In Albania, students must study two foreign languages starting in 3rd grade. Since we are an “Albanian-American” school, our English program is essential and many of the parents choose Protagonists because of it. Although we are a private school it is still illegal to teach the faith during school hours, so we must at least be vigilant that our curriculum is not working against us. I realized this last year while choosing the books for our English classes. Often the authors of these books are primarily interested in keeping the attention of young adults with little care to high moral standards. One series that the bookstore was encouraging us to use, for example, was rife with reading material about scandalous relationships and less than admirable examples of friendships. Fortunately we were able to find an excellent series for our middle school students

Our after-school catechism club is called “Spiritual Journey” and is open to all the students once a week. Many of those who sign up are from Orthodox backgrounds but we also have a number of students from Catholic, Muslim, and even atheist families. We teach the basic beliefs and traditions of the Orthodox Church with catechism books, crafts, songs, field trips, etc. Two years ago, I started teaching the older students from a book which was written by Archbishop Anastasios and recently translated by my husband into Albanian. The book, Divine Messages, is written for the catechist, so I am creating an accompanying activity book with small paper crafts for each lesson for the students.

Although formal persecution of faith has ended in Albania, there continue to be frequent attacks on the Church in the media. Sometimes they try to make the people feel that it is not really Albanian to be Orthodox. To combat this I try whenever possible to show the children that Orthodoxy has been around a long time in Albania and is an integral part of its history and culture. To this purpose, we invited the students on a trip to Ardenica Monastery this spring. This 13th century monastery is dedicated to the Nativity of the Theotokos and the walls of the church are covered in icons painted by famous Albanian iconographers. The national hero Skenderbeg was even married in a chapel at this monastery.

Every so often God grants us a glimpse of the fruit of our efforts. At the end of January, our students have first semester exams. One day Elena, a recently baptized 6th grader, ran up to me breathless. “I found you!” she exclaimed, “Teacher, there’s St. Basil, St. Gregory, and who’s the third?” “Oh, the Three Hierarchs. St. John Chrysostom is the other one,” I replied, “Why?” “Well we’re about to have an exam and I remember last year in Spiritual Journey club you told us they were the protectors of students and we should pray to them for help at school! Thanks!” and she ran off. I was delighted to see something we discussed last year had stuck and she was actually putting it into practice.

This summer, our family enjoyed time in America visiting parishes to tell about our work in Albania, while awaiting the birth of our second child. Evdoxia Lindsay was born on August 7th, and our 40-day churching service in Maine on the September 18th. Visit our website to see our new photos! Please keep our family in your prayers as we continue our ministry.

September 1, 2011

2011 Albania Teaching Team Pictures

August 26, 2011

Gezuar Pashket! An Update from Missionary Anastasia Pamela Barksdale

Dear Friends and Prayer Partners,

Pascha this year will mark my three year anniversary in Albania. As I reflected on this fact, I thought, how quickly time is passing as I am involved in the various ministries, ministries rich with the blessings of God’s grace and friends. My Christian Education and Field Work program with the students at the Seminary has grown considerably. For the first two years, my students’ work has included a teaching assignment at of one of the Kids’ Clubs or the Church in Tirana, under the direction of fellow missionaries, Nathan and Gabriela Hoppe. This year His Grace Bishop Nikola, Dean of the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy, began to also send the students to local villages and churches in Durres and Kavaja. This has been an exciting challenge for me in many new ways. Saturday there are catechism programs at Shen Vlash for the village children and in Tirana at the Roma Community. Sunday there are catechism programs in Tirana, in Durres, in Kavajes and at a local village church, in Rushku, and Sunday evening in a home in a suburb of Durres, Shkozet. Just getting to the various locations is a bit of an adventure and has prompted me to seriously consider acquiring a car.

What has been really fulfilling has been identifying the needs of the six very different catechetical settings outside Tirana and trying to implement new strategies and methods for improving their programs. In conjunction with this effort, OCMC has approved funding for ministry relating to a new Catechetical Resource Center at the Seminary through my missionary support account. The catechism programs are funded partially by the Orthodox Church of Albania and partially from my support account, made up of donations from you, my prayer partners. Therefore, I want to account to you for the work we are doing and to keep you posted on our progress so that you can keep us in your prayers. Also, if you are a Facebook fan, I have been posting pictures from the various events on my Profile page and in my Cause: Pray with Missionary Anastasia Pamela Barksdale for the Orthodox Church in Albania. Thank you for your continued support of this vital and important ministry.

Recent Events:

This Spring, the Children’s Office offered to conduct an “Outreach” program in Durres for our catechism classes at the Saints Paul and Asti Church, located near the local boardwalk. My students joined with the Children’s Office staff and the Durres youth group to conduct a series of youth oriented activities to bring the “good news” about our catechism program to the general public, as well as the local Orthodox community. The number of new children actually joining our catechism classes, to-date, has been small, but the activity did enable my students to encounter the unchurched children of Durres, reorganize our program, establishing two classrooms and begin developing interactive activities with the Church’s youth group.

Last week, the first step of the Resource Center at Shen Vlash Monastery became a reality as 22 children gathered at 8:00 am on a Saturday morning in our new classroom space. Tomorrow my students and a group of volunteers will meet once again to paint a second room which will be for younger children. My goal is to establish “age appropriate” classrooms for children 5 to 9 years and 10 – 13 years.

One of the major complaints my students have about their teaching assignments is the “conditions” under which they must teach. So often there is no real classroom, maybe they teach in a living room, a field, a beach, or the narthex of the Church. Thus, I am trying to create a teaching lab; one which I hope will set a standard, and then we can talk about the things we can and cannot control in a learning environment. Often in Albania, new ideas or concepts are difficult to explain because of the lack of experience, which provides a reference for the students. Our first “new” classroom has been painted and shelves assembled and I have begun to equip it with visual aid tools like bulletin boards, white boards, and flannel boards; cd players to use in teaching songs and hymns and playing games. Several students have artistic abilities and are painting thematic pictures of Jesus with children. Learning to use visual aids and interactive materials is still a very new idea in Albania.

Our final stage will be to set up a room that will be our workshop space for conducting training, developing curriculum and lesson plans. Besides computer equipment and a data projector, we also plan to collect materials from all the various diocese ministries in Albania and have them available for reference. We would also like to develop a good collection of craft ideas, games, songs, etc. Having resource materials readily available comes slowly here, but it is something we are working at all the time.

In the hopes that some of my prayer partners in the States would want to help, I have set up a Wish List on Amazon.Com. You can access this list at the following link:

Pamela’s Wish List

Permalink: http://amzn.com/w/3CO8T0CCGDK56

Please share the list with others. If just a few people send one or two items, we could improve our program very quickly. Fr. Luke Veronis is coming to Albania the end of May and promised to try to bring things with his Mission Institute team, but packages must arrive by May 25th. Father Luke’s shipping address is 41 Noble St, Dudley, MA 01571. Otherwise, mail by slow boat to Albania to: Anastasia Pamela Barksdale, c/o Kisha Orthodhoskia, Rruge e Kavajes, 151 Mitropolia, Tirana, Albania. Please help if you are able.

August 18, 2011

My First Journey to Albania: An Update from Missionary Candidate Jeffrey Macdonald

In 2010, I visited Albania in order to meet with Archbishop Anastasios in the capital of Tirana, and to visit the Holy Resurrection Seminary in Durres. I had the privilege to travel in conjunction with a Missions class from Holy Cross and St. Vladimir’s Seminaries taught by Fr. Luke Veronis, a former OCMC Missionary in Albania and author of the recent book, Go Forth: Stories of Mission and Resurrection in Albania.

Albania is along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, north of Greece. Albania became an independent country in 1912, following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. After World War II, Albania fell under communist rule until 1992. In 1967, the communist government outlawed religion, destroying or confiscating all religious buildings, and attempting to eliminate the Christian faith.

Prior to its conquest by the Turks, Albania was part of the Roman Empire. During this period, Albania’s port of Durres was an important link between Italy and the Roman road to Thessalonica and Constantinople. Christianity is thought to have come to Albania with the visit of St. Paul to Durres in the first century. By the end of the first century the Church in Durres had grown and had its own bishop, Asti, who was martyred under the Emperor Trajan.

Durres today contains extensive Roman ruins including a large amphitheater. I had the opportunity to visit this amphitheater with Nathan Hoppe, an OCMC Missionary in Albania, and to see the remains of two early Christian chapels built in its passageways to commemorate Christians who were martyred there.

I was also able to visit a site associated with another early Christian martyrdom when I visited Holy Resurrection Seminary built on a hill, overlooking Durres. The hill was the site of the Monastery of St. Vlash (Blaise). Tradition ascribes his martyrdom to this spot in the fourth century, which suggests that he is a different person than the well known St. Blaise of Sebaste, martyred in Armenia. The Church was an important pilgrimage site known for miraculous healings, and perhaps for this reason was the first church destroyed at the beginning of the anti-religious campaign of 1967. The church was rebuilt following the fall of communism in 1992, and the hill is now also the location of the Holy Resurrection Seminary and the Home of Hope for children. During my visit to the Seminary, I was able to meet with Bishop Nikola and some of the seminarians, and also to attend a large youth retreat held at the Seminary.

The Christian faith spread in Albania, as in the rest of the Roman world, following the end of the Roman persecutions in the fourth century. Unfortunately, much of the material heritage of Christianity in Albania was damaged or destroyed during the communist period, when approximately sixteen hundred Orthodox churches were destroyed. However, since the end of communism, the Orthodox Church in Albania, with the help of others, has rebuilt and repaired many of these damaged and destroyed buildings.

In contrast to historic Durres on the coastal plain, Tirana, the capital, is a more recent and much larger city surrounded by mountains. Here, I was able to visit an important exhibit of Albanian Christian manuscripts. These manuscripts had been confiscated by the communist government and were now being displayed to the Albanian public for the first time. Two of the manuscripts were Gospels from the sixth century. Their existence testifies to the tenacity of the Christian witness in Albania despite the many invasions that disrupted life in the Balkans through the Middle Ages and the Turkish conquest of the fifteenth century.

Unfortunately, many Christians abandoned their faith during the approximately four hundred years of Turkish rule. As a result, by the time of the communist takeover, only twenty percent of Albanians were still members of the Orthodox Church. Following this, the years of communist persecution largely reduced Albania to a secular country. However, following the end of communism in 1992, church life has been revived under the leadership of Archbishop Anastasios. He is a leading proponent of Orthodox missions, who, after serving in East Africa, has overseen the enormous work of rebuilding the Church in Albania after the fall of communism.

While in Tirana, I also met a number of the clergy and church workers, and had a chance to speak briefly about St. Herman of Alaska to the Orthodox Sisterhood. The two functioning Orthodox churches in Tirana were restored to the Church by the government. A new, larger, cathedral is now being built to replace the one that was destroyed.

Albania has a long heritage of Christian faith, but due to historical circumstances the majority of the country has been deprived of the knowledge of Christ for many years. However, now, by God’s mercy, the end of communism and the rebuilding of the Church in Albania have created an opportunity for the spread of the gospel. It was good to see how energetically this work has been begun, and we look forward to the possibility of being able to assist the Church there in its further growth.

August 11, 2011

My First Journey to Albania: An Update from Missionary Candidate Jeffrey Macdonald

In 2010, I visited Albania in order to meet with Archbishop Anastasios in the capital of Tirana, and to visit the Holy Resurrection Seminary in Durres. I had the privilege to travel in conjunction with a Missions class from Holy Cross and St. Vladimir’s Seminaries taught by Fr. Luke Veronis, a former OCMC Missionary in Albania and author of the recent book, Go Forth: Stories of Mission and Resurrection in Albania.

Albania is along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, north of Greece. Albania became an independent country in 1912, following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. After World War II, Albania fell under communist rule until 1992. In 1967, the communist government outlawed religion, destroying or confiscating all religious buildings, and attempting to eliminate the Christian faith.

Prior to its conquest by the Turks, Albania was part of the Roman Empire. During this period, Albania’s port of Durres was an important link between Italy and the Roman road to Thessalonica and Constantinople. Christianity is thought to have come to Albania with the visit of St. Paul to Durres in the first century. By the end of the first century the Church in Durres had grown and had its own bishop, Asti, who was martyred under the Emperor Trajan.

Durres today contains extensive Roman ruins including a large amphitheater. I had the opportunity to visit this amphitheater with Nathan Hoppe, an OCMC Missionary in Albania, and to see the remains of two early Christian chapels built in its passageways to commemorate Christians who were martyred there.

I was also able to visit a site associated with another early Christian martyrdom when I visited Holy Resurrection Seminary built on a hill, overlooking Durres. The hill was the site of the Monastery of St. Vlash (Blaise). Tradition ascribes his martyrdom to this spot in the fourth century, which suggests that he is a different person than the well known St. Blaise of Sebaste, martyred in Armenia. The Church was an important pilgrimage site known for miraculous healings, and perhaps for this reason was the first church destroyed at the beginning of the anti-religious campaign of 1967. The church was rebuilt following the fall of communism in 1992, and the hill is now also the location of the Holy Resurrection Seminary and the Home of Hope for children. During my visit to the Seminary, I was able to meet with Bishop Nikola and some of the seminarians, and also to attend a large youth retreat held at the Seminary.

The Christian faith spread in Albania, as in the rest of the Roman world, following the end of the Roman persecutions in the fourth century. Unfortunately, much of the material heritage of Christianity in Albania was damaged or destroyed during the communist period, when approximately sixteen hundred Orthodox churches were destroyed. However, since the end of communism, the Orthodox Church in Albania, with the help of others, has rebuilt and repaired many of these damaged and destroyed buildings.

In contrast to historic Durres on the coastal plain, Tirana, the capital, is a more recent and much larger city surrounded by mountains. Here, I was able to visit an important exhibit of Albanian Christian manuscripts. These manuscripts had been confiscated by the communist government and were now being displayed to the Albanian public for the first time. Two of the manuscripts were Gospels from the sixth century. Their existence testifies to the tenacity of the Christian witness in Albania despite the many invasions that disrupted life in the Balkans through the Middle Ages and the Turkish conquest of the fifteenth century.

Unfortunately, many Christians abandoned their faith during the approximately four hundred years of Turkish rule. As a result, by the time of the communist takeover, only twenty percent of Albanians were still members of the Orthodox Church. Following this, the years of communist persecution largely reduced Albania to a secular country. However, following the end of communism in 1992, church life has been revived under the leadership of Archbishop Anastasios. He is a leading proponent of Orthodox missions, who, after serving in East Africa, has overseen the enormous work of rebuilding the Church in Albania after the fall of communism.

While in Tirana, I also met a number of the clergy and church workers, and had a chance to speak briefly about St. Herman of Alaska to the Orthodox Sisterhood. The two functioning Orthodox churches in Tirana were restored to the Church by the government. A new, larger, cathedral is now being built to replace the one that was destroyed.

Albania has a long heritage of Christian faith, but due to historical circumstances the majority of the country has been deprived of the knowledge of Christ for many years. However, now, by God’s mercy, the end of communism and the rebuilding of the Church in Albania have created an opportunity for the spread of the gospel. It was good to see how energetically this work has been begun, and we look forward to the possibility of being able to assist the Church there in its further growth.

May 7, 2011

OCMC Missionary Department Announces Six New Missionary Candidates!

The Missionary Department of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) is pleased to announce that six new Missionary Candidates have been approved in the spring of 2011. Michael and Lisa Colburn plan to serve in Kenya, assisting with translation work and serving other OCMC Missionaries and Candidates in linguistic consulting. Kurt Bringerud, Faith Young, and Joseph and Alexandra Sima plan to serve in Albania as part of the Church’s ongoing educational efforts. Blake and Pam Dilullo plan to serve in Kodiak, Alaska. Blake will initially work in construction as Pam home schools her own children and helps with other children’s programs. OCMC Missionary Candidates spend several months travelling to churches and meeting with individuals who will partner with them financially and support them in prayer during their time of service. Please pray for these Missionary Candidates as they begin to build their support teams and as they train to help spread the Light of Christ overseas! If you are interested in having a Missionary Candidate speak at your church or organization, please contact the Missionary Department at 1-877-463-6784 or by e-mail at missionaries@ocmc.org.

March 28, 2011

Family Mission: Work, Worship and Witness

An opportunity for families who have a desire to work, witness, and worship in a profound ministry is available in a new initiative involving families in foreign mission work. Families with children are invited to join Church leaders and their families in Albania to be a part of a family ministry outreach. OCMC Missionary Nathan Hoppe explains, “Offering a witness of family unity and faith will assist in developing a new family ministry initiative for the Orthodox Church of Albania.”

The primary focus is to offer a “family witness” while sharing the Faith and growing as a family in Christ. The group will also have the opportunity to serve the ministries of the Church in Albania. The Family Mission Team to Albania, July 17 – 29, 2011, is a collaboration between OCMC and the Center for Family Care (CFC) of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Families from North America, along with Albanian families, will participate in this outreach assisted by OCMC missionaries and Albanian Church leaders.

This program will include family activities, parent and children programs, ministry visitations, and outreach endeavors of the Church of Albania in Tirana and surrounding areas. The Team is to provide a positive witness, and all participants are called to be exemplary role models as they minister as families and bear witness to Christ through their every action. Team Members will share their life experience, provide fellowship, and offer a visible witness of the Holy Orthodox Faith.

OCMC and the Center for Family Care hope that families will personally experience the joy of seeing God take the precious things He has been teaching Orthodox families and use them to bless families around the world. Pamela Filutowski, who participated with her son on a Team, reported, “From my perspective it appears that my son was initially wondering, ‘Is this real?’ as he tried to process the love and enthusiasm that openly flowed from the children and those who worked at Shen Vlash. He fully sensed and understood the reality of Christ’s love in the children, in our new lifestyle, and springing deep with us. “

OCMC and CFC invite you to join this ministry that offers spiritual benefits to families. For more information on how to apply, please visit our website, http://www.ocmc.org or email us at teams@ocmc.org.

February 14, 2011

Be part of a Family Mission Team!

This year the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) is proud to announce a collaboration with the Center for Family Care (of the Greek Archdiocese) by offering a Family Mission Team. Families from North America, along with Albanian families, will participate in this outreach assisted by OCMC missionaries and Albanian church leaders. The primary focus is to offer a “family witness” while sharing the faith and growing as a family in Christ. Consider being part of this first OCMC and Center for Family Care collaboration and family mission witness! Visit http://teams.ocmc.org, or e-mail teams@ocmc.org, for more information or to apply.

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