Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

November 2, 2011

Real Africa: By Team Member Logan Johnson

“That’s the smell of real Africa!” These were the words of a fellow passenger as we stepped off of the small plane. What struck me initially was not the smell, somewhat reminiscent of my grandparent’s farm in rural Minnesota, but the completely exotic landscape. Lodwar is located in northeastern Kenya in what is basically a large desert with several small mountains, black and grave, in the distance.

But I was not here to survey the geography or admire the scenery. The purpose of our team was to teach. Surely God had been working among the hearts and minds of the Turkana since the beginning, but in 2007 Orthodoxy began to be part of their religious makeup and take root and grow. Today there are three native Turkana priests serving thirteen communities. In Lodwar the Liturgy is celebrated in a roofed building built with the help of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, and in other places it is celebrated in the open air on whatever is available for the priest to set down an antiminsion.

On the evening that we arrived in Lodwar, we were immediately greeted with what felt like hundreds of children grasping for our hands and giving us hugs. Three members of our team, who had been to Lodwar previously, were greeted by old friends with joyous shouts and the rhythmic jumping that is characteristic of Turkana people. I had been on a Mission Team before, and had experienced the warmth and hospitality towards strangers that is somehow lacking in much of our modern Western society, but I was unprepared for just how authentically joyful the congregation was to see us.

The joy and excitement continued throughout the week. We began our day with Orthros, and the rest of the day was filled with lectures about the Orthodox faith and spiritual life and crafts. It was during this time that we realized that their joy and excitement to see us and share their lives with us was only matched by their enthusiasm to learn. At times when we would share stories from the Bible about God’s immense love for us, they would clap and—literally–shout out for joy.

I felt that we were not only a teaching team but a learning team as well. During one of my lectures entitled “How God Works in the Church Today,” I asked the congregation to share how they have seen God work in their lives. As a Westerner, I was expecting that their experience would be much the same as my own—in times of doubt or trouble I turn to Scripture or the writings of the Saints and take comfort and advice from their words. What I heard was completely different—many stood up and shared how they had seen visions that told them to reform their lives or even come to the Orthodox Church. None had read their way into the faith, but instead had found solutions to their real problems through visions. Afterwards, when I spoke to one of the Turkana priests he told me that, due to illiteracy, there was not the same emphasis on the texts as in the West. This is just one small example of the complexity of the task of mission work among non-Western people.

After nearly two weeks of teaching, learning, worshipping, and sharing, it was time to leave. We departed—with singing, dancing, jumping, and shouting. Amidst smiles and tears, we were brought to the airport where I was able to catch the last smell of real Africa before the airplane would take me back to the routine life of my last year at seminary. The examples of love and service that I witnessed will follow me for the rest of my life and what I learned will guide and inspire my future ministry in the Church.


September 21, 2011

The Beauty of Simplictity: 2011 OCMC Healthcare Team to Uganda

By Catherine Furry

I wish I could capture in words what it felt like to look into the eyes of the children who carried in their younger siblings to receive malaria treatment, the dehydrated baby separated from her young mother who was hospitalized with AIDS complications, the elderly grandparents suffering from chronic pain from years of intense physical labor to feed their families . . . and know that we were at least making a little bit of difference. I wish I could share with you the experience of handing out prescriptions in paper bags from our makeshift pharmacy on the bed of a pickup truck that we set up next to a little mud-wall, dirt-floor, straw-roof church (my favorite church ever!) and the grateful smile and “webale” (thank you) in return. To show up at a church in the morning and see a crowd of people already waiting for us, some of whom had walked miles and miles barefoot to get there, was a humbling experience.

The need that remains both in Uganda and world-wide is still great, but each interaction with the people we did encounter was an opportunity for us not only to serve and practice being witnesses of Christ’s love, but also to learn from the people with whom we interacted and build relationships. I think one of the biggest things I learned was the beauty of simplicity. Our operation wasn’t high tech — we set up our clinics in the local Orthodox churches (though open to all faiths), used school benches to perform exams, and filled prescriptions on cardboard boxes – but we were still able to offer a little something of what we could give to several thousand people, and they received it with joy and gratitude, opening their hearts and homes to us. The love with which they welcomed us will always stay with me, and I’ve definitely come home inspired to continue serving both near my US home and hopefully abroad again.

August 26, 2011

2011 Uganda Healthcare Team Pictures

June 2, 2011

Support Team Update: From Missionary Maria Roeber

Kristo amefufuka! Christ is risen!

I am writing to you from Denver, where I am currently doing a week of language training (learning Kiswahili!) before my departure to Tanzania at the end of this month!

It has been a long process; but thanks be to God, with your help, I have built a fantastic support team and am fully funded/pledged for two years of missionary service as a nurse in Bukoba, Tanzania!

It feels like it’s been so long since my last update, and with this being my first official emailed update. I thank you for your patience with me over these past few months as I have been developing my support team while working full-time in Washington, DC! My last day of work was April 1, and since then I have been to Florida for my pre-field training at OCMC headquarters, packed up and moved out of my apartment in DC, and enjoyed Holy Week and Pascha at home in State College, PA with my parents. For Bright Week I travelled out to Calistoga, CA to visit my sister at Holy Assumption Monastery, and then to the LA area to visit with my brother. I also had the opportunity to visit Saint Barbara’s monastery while staying in Santa Paula. Following this week in Denver, I will return to State College for a few days. Then, I will be in Kansas City to attend a medical missions conference for short and long term missionaries. This leads me to my next big announcement…

On Sunday, May 22 at 5 pm, I will be officially commissioned as a long-term missionary with OCMC! If you are in the DC area (or are willing to travel) I invite you to attend Great Vespers at St. Sophia’s Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, DC. The commissioning will follow the Vespers service, and will be held in conjunction with the annual DC area OCMC benefit banquet. If you would like to attend the banquet, information is available on the OCMC website at http://ocmc.org/resources/view_event.aspx?EventId=261. You don’t have to attend the benefit to come and pray with and for me, though! I would love to see all of you before I leave!

I’m so grateful to all of you who have been praying for me, and to those of you who are pledging to support me or have donated to help send me to Africa! I am so eager to finally be on my way and to begin sharing Christ’s love and salvation with people in Africa! It’s also very exciting to know that soon I will be using my skills as a nurse to minister to the physical needs of people in Bukoba and in the surrounding areas. I can’t wait to start sharing the details with all of you!

May you enjoy a blessed Paschal (Easter) season, and please be in touch! I hope to see as many of you as possible in DC on May 22!

In Christ,

Maria Roeber

Missionary Candidate

May 25, 2011

Why Are You Here? : An Update from Missionary Michael Pagedas

The last few weeks have been busy and full of surprises. We were treated to a visit by Fr. Martin Ritsi and His Grace Bishop Savas, who had just spent time in the Turkana region of Kenya. Katie and I then traveled with Bishop Savas and Fr. Martin back to Nairobi where Katie had made an appointment to receive follow-up care for her appendectomy. This was my first trip to Nairobi, or even Kenya for that matter, so I was happy to go along. Katie was under the care of a doctor who is quite famous, although it’s for something that almost killed him. Dr. Shem Musoke is a General Practitioner who works in a nondescript office at Nairobi Hospital. If you have ever read the book The Hot Zone (a book which inspired the movie Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo), you may remember reading that, back in 1980, Dr. Musoke treated a patient with the Marburg Virus, a virus that is very similar to Ebola. Dr. Musoke, himself, contracted the virus but somehow survived, making him a medical miracle. I had no idea who the guy was until Katie told me, but I feel honored to have had the chance to meet and get to know him.

Our lodging in Nairobi was the Mayfield Guesthouse, a resting place for missionaries, medical professionals, and even businessmen who happen to be passing through on the way to different parts of Kenya. The Mayfield was a place where the family of James Hargrave, who is now our Tanzania Field Coordinator, used to visit while they were missionaries living in Africa, and James had recommended the place to us. In addition to nice, comfortable rooms, we were given full board, and the meals were quite a substantial part of the stay. Katie and I ate food that we hadn’t eaten since leaving the states, and we nearly came to tears at how good it was to have that stuff again. Being a Christian establishment, it was customary for one guestto begin with a devotional before breakfast every morning. One night after dinner, one of the staff members approached me and asked if I would like to lead the next morning’s devotion. Whether you are a long-term missionary or even a short-term team member, there is always a chance that you will be called upon to witness. It’s something that you always have to be prepared for because you never know when it will happen. Even with that in mind, I wasn’t anticipating having to witness away from my “home territory” to a group of non-denominational Christians from all walks of life. I immediately went back to my room to think about what I could present the next morning.

That day had been a busy one. Katie already had a couple of tests done and was sent by Dr. Musoke to have a surgical consult. While we were sitting in the waiting room, Katie picked up a magazine and started reading about a nurse who was helping cholera patients in Haiti. Katie handed me the article when she was done and said, “This is the kind of work I had hoped to be doing.” There have been some “tie-ups” with getting the hospital here in Bukoba open, and because of that, Katie has not felt like she has really been doing what she was called to do yet. I responded that there was still a lot of time left in our two years, and that things could happen unexpectedly. What I didn’t realize at the time was that “unexpectedly” would come about 20 minutes later. On our way out of the building, we stopped at the pharmacy where I happened to recognize a family that was staying at the Mayfield with us. The parents were picking up medication and looked visibly shaken. They had all been in the bush for about three months, and one of their daughters had come down with a serious respiratory infection. They decided to bring their daughter to the hospital a day before they were to leave for home (a 40 hour trip to Alaska). When we met up with them, they were getting ready to take her to Radiology for a chest x-ray. The daughter looked very pale and was having extreme difficulty breathing. Katie immediately went into nurse mode and helped them make their way to the ER. Katie’s experiences in Tanzanian hospitals (and as an ER nurse back in the states) allowed her to help the family through the process of getting her daughter admitted and counseling them on what tests would be done, what those tests would entail, etc. As Katie and I left the hospital, we marveled at how we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. “We were definitely meant to be there,” Katie said.

I decided to incorporate that experience into my devotions session the next morning. I began with one of my favorite verses in scripture: “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I then asked everyone a very blunt question: “Why are you here?” I followed that up by asking if they knew why they happened to be at the Mayfield Guesthouse in Nairobi, Kenya at that particular moment in time. I explained that we were all there because we answered a calling, but that there was also a plan for each of us at that very moment to be together at the Mayfield. The reason for that would be beyond most of our grasps, and perhaps we would find out much later on, or not at all. I then told the preceding story and concluded by saying that what happened was more than just a coincidence. We really were meant to be at the hospital at that exact time to help that family. The father and one of the daughters from the family we had helped were also at breakfast and attested to that.

It’s experiences like that which help me to feel more relaxed about being here in Africa to do my missionary work. I needed to be here, and now that I’m here, I really shouldn’t have to worry about anything else.

Thank you to my support team!


April 1, 2011

When I was 35…An Update from OCMC Missionary Michael Pagedas

On February 22, 2011, I celebrated my 36th birthday. Of course, I had to think of a unique way to celebrate (spending a day by myself at Disney World was the previous record-holder), so I traveled to Mwanza and then spent my birthday in the Serengeti. This was my third trip to the Serengeti, and while I didn’t see as many animals as on the previous trip, I saw just about everything I wanted to see. This time I saw even more lions than last time, plus I saw a dik-dik (a tiny antelope) which I had never seen before. While I was in Mwanza, some friends of mine back in Bukoba called me to wish me a happy birthday. I met this family a few months ago on one of my daily walks. They live in a house right on the beach along Lake Victoria. In the beginning, I was a little unsure about the expectations of this relationship (more on that in my next blog), but I have learned that they are genuinely interested in being my friends and are delighted to have me stop over on a regular basis. I even began taking over some of my movies, and we watch them together. Since I wasn’t in Bukoba on my birthday, this family had me over for a mini celebration after I returned. They brought out a cake (a small round cake without frosting) and sang happy birthday to me in Swahili. Then they brought out some chicken soup. They raise chickens at their home, so I asked if we were eating one of their chickens. They said yes. The two daughters (4 & 11 years old) then presented me with handwritten birthday cards. Both were addressed to “Uncle Michael” and they thanked me for coming to visit them and play with them. This is one of the extra perks of mission work.

There was another event a week before my birthday that was an even bigger perk. Back in November, at the first priest seminar in Bukoba, I met a priest named Fr. Polycarp. We made a connection and further developed it when he returned for the second priest seminar here in January. It was then that he asked me to be the godfather for his baby son. Arrangements were made, and on February 14 (Valentine’s Day) I went to St. Eleftherios Church in Bugabo for the baptism. This was my first trip to Bugabo, which is a town very close the Uganda border. The church property is within view (almost a 180º view) of Lake Victoria and the weather is nice and cool. Fr. Spyridon told me that he had grown up close by and was a fisherman there before he was called to the priesthood. Seraphim’s baptism ended up being a mass baptism. 27 babies, children, and young adults were welcomed into the Orthodox Church. I imagine this is what it must have been like back in the early church when the masses were baptized by the hundreds or even thousands. I now have godchildren in three different countries, and for those back home who are trying to keep count, it’s up to 15 now.

What’s interesting about both of these experiences, and the many others I have had like them, is that I didn’t actively seek them out. They sought me out. It’s like I am already being rewarded (unworthy as I am) for my service here in Africa. If this is just the beginning, I can’t wait to see what happens from here on out.

Thank you to my support team!



January 31, 2011

Katie Wilcoxson’s Village Visits, Thanksgiving, and More

Furaha na Amani!

My family, friends, and support team: Without your prayers and gifts, I could not have fullfilled my lifelong dream to be a missionary nurse in Africa. I continue to feel at home; of course I miss my family, but I have been blessed to have a new family here in Tanzania!

My teammates and I arrived in Tanzania five months ago. We have yet to being our “work” that we came here to do, medical work. Some might say, “What is taking so long for you to start your ministry. Why can’t you just start working at the hospital and start the ‘exciting part’?” We understand that frustration because, in many ways, it doesn’t look like we are spreading the Gospel, and bringing people into the Church. But we have been doing this work since we walked off the airplane.

We work towards bringing people into the church many times in a day. We are constantly looked at and seen as outsiders. Lots of times we are judged, and our actions and words are looked at under a microscope. Because we are foreigners and because we are missionaries, we are expected to “act a certain” way. While walking down the street, meeting people in the hostel where we used to live, or waiting in a line at the post office, we are given the opportunity to tell people where we are from and what we are doing here. We have the opportunity to speak about the Church, and many times people actually listen.

Throughout history, Orthodox mission work has taken a long time. Saint Herman travelled from Finland, through Russia and across Siberia before getting to the native people Alaska. Saints Cyril and Methodius developed the Slavic language before even beginning their mission work. Saint Nicholas of Japan, who’s story I connect with, had the same frustration that I have with learning a new language. It is hard having people laugh at you because you mispronounce or mix up words. People sometimes laugh when you are speaking correctly. It is hard to hear all the laughing on certain days, after a long language lesson, especially.

So it just takes time, but I’m sure you would also like to know what we have been doing since we arrived in Bukoba.
Metropolitan Jeronymos is our boss, and he is a very busy man. He is constantly traveling to villages where parishes are already established and flourishing or where he feels there is one needed. To give you an idea of what that kind of travel is like, let me tell you about an experience I had. Not too long ago, I had the wonderful blessing to travel to Mibwera, a village about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from Bukoba. This dala dala (bus) ride was a different experience from my other travels. Father Spyridon insisted that I sit in the front seat with the driver. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be the muzugu (white person) that gets special treatment.” Boy, was I in for a surprise: no special treatment here! On this dala dala, which could be described as a workmen’s van, there were seats, but also people are required to “stand up” (bend down like they are stuck in a square box). Then in the front seat is where up to 5 +(not including the driver) people can sit in a bucket type seat. The front seat passengers are also required to hold, mainly in their laps, all of the fragile cargo the passengers traveling on the dala dala bring with them (ex: bread, valuables, and children). So that was me: one of the six people in the front row with an unidentifiable package and 3 loafs of bread in my lap.

Father Spyridon and I arrived just outside the village. We walked the rest of the way to the church, St. Demitiros, where Orthos was just about to wrap up. This was the parish’s feast day, and Metropolitan Jeronymos was present, so all of the secondary school children were preparing to put on a show for the celebration. A few years ago the secondary school was built by a group from Greece. This is the only Orthodox secondary school in Tanzania. Even though it is Orthodox, children from any type of background are allowed to attend.

The afternoon was filled with celebration for the parish’s feast day and for the presence of the Metropolitan. There was dancing and singing, and even some rapping by the children and adults. It was a wonderful show that was put on by the people of Mibwera. Then the Metropolitan asked me to travel back to Bukoba with him in his car. So we all scrunched into this land rover. Seminarians, from the diocese’s seminary in Kazikazi, were in the back. Three others and I were in the “back seat”, and the Metropolitan, Demtri (a driver for the diocese), and a man named Anastaios were in the front. Laughing and Kiswahili could be heard the whole way to Kazikazi. I was hoping to see Mama Maria, a woman I met when I first visited Tanzania eight years ago, when we dropped off the seminarians, but she wasn’t around. I still have a year and a half to reconnect with her. I did get to spend a little time with Fr, Geronimos, our host priest eight years ago in Kazikazi.

I arrived back home and told Michael and Felice about my exciting day. I was so tired; we had Vespers and I went to bed after returning a few more emails.

Finding a language teacher, or nurturer as the program we use calls them, is a hard process. The person has to speak and read English fairly well, have the availability to spend two to four hours with you five times a week, and be really, really patient. These are just a few of the qualities that one person needs to have for you to get the best language training possible. Glory to God, after many false starts on finding a nurturer, Felice Stewart, my fellow missionary teammate, and I found a nurturer that we can share!

Thanksgiving was figured out at the last moment. We wanted to invite our new friends and family. Since Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated here, many people were not available to celebrate with us. We had just hired our cook/housekeeper and guard/gardner, and James Hargrave, our fellow missionary teammate, arrived a few days earlier to help us restart our Kiswahili lessons. Since James lived in a remote village in Africa for many years of his childhood, unlike us, he knew how to cook from scratch. And, surprisingly, he loves to cook. So God, as always, had the perfect plan for our celebration of Thanksgiving. My name day fell on Thanksgiving Day this year. So the day was extra special for Papazia Katherine, Fr. Spyridon’s wife, and for myself. In celebration of both occasions, James cooked a chocolate cake from scratch! It was a wonderful day. We also had some unexpected guests which made the celebration bigger.

Again, I can’t say this enough: I could not have come to Africa to fulfill my lifelong dream without your prayers, my family, friends, and wonderful and generous support team.

January 13, 2011

Christmas Unplugged: An update from Missionary Michael Pagedas

As I thought about what I would write for my Christmas blog, I kept thinking of things I wanted to address, like being away from home (and overseas no less), being away from the Christmas commercialism that I’ve come to expect, and even focusing on how people in Tanzania celebrate Christmas. At no point did I ever consider parasitic disease as a discussion topic, but that is exactly how I’ll be starting this entry.

On December 21, at around 10PM or so, I noticed that my muscles and joints really started to ache. I had noticed a similar sensation several days before during dinner, but the pain was minimal and went away soon after. This time, I felt like I was coming down with the flu–a bad flu. I went to bed and when I woke up at around 2AM, I felt horrible. The aches were still there, plus I had a fever and chills. I couldn’t stop convulsing until I put extra clothes on, but that did little to stop the other ailments. I immediately thought malaria, but I wasn’t 100% positive and didn’t want to jump to that conclusion without knowing for sure. I had felt similar symptoms in the states, and those could usually be dismissed simply as the flu. I also learned at the travel clinic back home that it is still very possible to get the flu here in the tropics, even though we only think of the flu existing in cold weather climates. When I woke up again in the morning, I felt well enough to get out of bed but still a little iffy about what was bothering me. Later that morning, I was bed-ridden again. I attempted to get up and move around in the early afternoon, but I was very wobbly and becoming somewhat delirious. That was all Felice and Katie needed to send me to the lab to be tested for malaria. I somehow managed to get into a cab with Felice and our interpreter and down the short, bumpy road to the lab without incident. The clinic was a a small building close to the main hospital in Bukoba. We walked into a small room with a desk and some chairs lined up against the wall. On the desk were a jar of cotton balls, a container of wrapped lancets, and another container for their disposal. I remember being relieved at seeing the lancets individually sealed in paper wrappers, indicating that they were most likely sterile, but in my condition, they could have had a jar of rusty nails, and I probably wouldn’t have objected. The technician stuck my finger, did a blood smear on a glass side, and then went into a side room to do the analysis. About 10 minutes later, which seemed like 20, she came out and delivered the news: I really did have malaria. On one hand, I was relieved that it was something easily identifiable and could be treated, but I also felt like I had been betrayed by a close friend. I had done all I could to prevent getting malaria (a daily doxycycline pill, burning a mosquito coil next to my bed every night, and using a mosquito net) but it didn’t matter. I still had malaria, and Africa didn’t care. Over the days since I have both contracted the disease and been treated for malaria, I have been putting a lot of thought into this and have come up with the following philosophical perspectives:

I am OK, and the world will go on.

Malaria is a serious disease and can be fatal, but most everyone here regards it like we would the common cold. That’s not to say that there is a nonchalance about it, but the fact that it is so commonplace, in addition to advancements in modern medicine, make malaria one of those “it’s just part of life in Africa” things, for better or worse. Millions of people have had the disease before me and millions more will get it from this point on, unless someone stumbles across a cure before then. By the way, there is no known panacea for malaria prevention. There are simply ways of managing it once you get it. The ways of managing it are so advanced now that many people no longer find it necessary to take prophylactic medications for malaria. It’s actually easier to be treated for malaria once you get it than it is to prevent getting it! This opens up an obvious point of debate within the medical community. I have been told by both a medical anthropologist and a local pharmacist with reputable training that drugs like the doxycycline I am taking daily to prevent malaria don’t work, especially over the long-term, and that it’s better not to take anything at all and then be treated for malaria once it hits. I now believe the first part of that to be true, but I’m not sure about the mentality of giving up completely on trying to prevent getting malaria. To be continued.

I have been given a firsthand insight into what life is really like here.

We all know that malaria is a huge problem in Africa, but I’m sure that only a few of you reading this know exactly what it’s like to have malaria. Given my reasons for coming here, this may have been a boon for the rest of my term. I got to experience firsthand one of the health issues I will be dealing with in my ministry. It’s easy for someone to come in and say, “Malaria is bad. Here is how to protect yourself,” having no idea what it’s like for those who have had the disease. However, I now consider myself more of a respectable authority on malaria because I’ve been through it. To take another angle–and I apologize if this is an affront to anyone who has ever been deathly ill from or lost a loved one from malaria–I kind of feel like malaria is a rite of passage for living in Africa. I’m now a member of the club. Welcome to Africa. I have often read stories of 19th century explorers traveling through the heart of Africa and contracting diseases like malaria. I can now understand what they felt and can only begin to wonder what it must have been like to be in a time when medicine wasn’t the same and it was more difficult to be evacuated in an emergency. Furthermore, I am amazed at their willingness to keep going under the circumstances! To look at this more spiritually, maybe I needed to suffer with those I am serving to really become a part of who they are. Just as God was able to participate in human life through Christ, I feel like I have been able to participate in African life through this illness. A recent daily scripture reading, which relates to God taking the form of man in order to deal directly with temptation, sin, and death, was perfectly (even frighteningly) well-timed: ”Therefore in all things He had to be made like His brethren…” –Hebrews 2:17

I hope I never get malaria again, but even if I do, I’ll know that it can be treated very effectively.

I have been prescribed two relatively new drugs on the market: Artefan and Artequin. Both are extremely effective at fighting malaria and can even reach the parasites where other medications may not be able to, like the liver. The pharmacies I have used for all of my prescriptions carry medications made from reputable sources in countries like India and Switzerland, so there is little reason to worry about the efficacy of the medications I am taking. It may be difficult to prevent malaria over the long haul, but it’s nice to know that modern medicine is keeping pace with the disease.


I was worried about the weeks leading up to Christmas because I didn’t know how I would be emotionally. I have always been with family on Christmas, even when not at home, so this would be new territory for me. There were two things working in my favor. One was that we arrived in Africa in early July. Had we arrived only a month or two ago, the pending holidays may have been more difficult to get through. The other advantage was the “lack” of holiday spirit in Bukoba. I have become used to Christmas seasons that now begin as early as Halloween. To not have that around put me through somewhat of a withdrawal, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I felt kind of relieved to not be subject to the onslaught of Christmas ads on TV and Holiday Music 24/7 on the radio. A local restaurant we frequent played Christmas songs (unfortunately, most of them were sung by Jim Reeves), but there wasn’t much else in the way of lights and decorations until Christmas was on our doorstep. That led me to make the following realization: Bukoba is what Whoville would have been like even if the Grinch had not returned the presents at the end. People really got into the spirit when it counted and didn’t need to exchange a lot of material items to officially make it Christmas. What an amazing concept!! Is this how most of the world celebrates Christmas? Could this have been how the early Christians celebrated? At our home parish, it was business as usual. The only difference was that on Christmas morning, the church yard was decorated with balloons. Yet, the mood during the liturgy was definitely a lot more festive. There really was a sense that it was Christmas, even though it wasn’t the Christmas I was used to. Maybe Dr. Seuss was right when he said that “Christmas doesn’t come from a store.” I went from feeling like I was cheated out of a homestyle Christmas to being grateful for the opportunity to experience Christmas in a different part of the world and stripped down of the excesses. Christ really was put back in Christmas.

And to think that I get to do this again next year!


I enjoyed getting so many responses from my previous blog. Thanks for the positive feedback. I am always open to questions and comments, and I will do my best to answer every message I get.

Thank you to my support team! Wishing you all a Safe and Peaceful 2011!

Furaha na amani,

November 8, 2010

Four Weeks in Dar es Salaam: An Update from OCMC Missionary Felice Stewart

Glory to God for All Things!

Enculturation and language acquisition are proceeding. Sometimes I think it makes me tired because I am so old, but today I noticed that my young missionary companions were also tired. We went on a very special outing to the home of one of our language helpers. We met his wife, daughter and younger sister as well as five other children from the neighborhood. We had the exact number of lollipops needed. We went to a nearby (for us new and different) location of the Salvation Army where they care for girls with no parents, and to see the gardens of two of our language helpers. We got to try sugar cane from the stalk.

Another of our language helpers has taken us on two outings. First to a huge market place near downtown where they seem to have everything from clothing to fresh produce to hand made utensils and many things in between, and then earlier this week she took us to the National Museum. I have always found that knowing this kind of historical information has helped me to understand the current situations and culture.

This week I have been noticing things in the environment that have been there every day that I have been here, but I have not really seen them before. Walking home to TEC (a Catholic retreat center) from Salvation Army (where we lived at first and still go daily for language acquisition sesssions) yesterday, I realized that the place, which has so many trucks that you can barely find room to walk on the sidewalk by it, is a garage (actually a place where they fix trucks that is not inside a building). Many things happen outside here in the beautiful weather. Most of the places that we go to eat are not inside buildings.

Many times I feel like I haven’t learned hardly any Kiswahili yet, but other times I find myself able to supply words that others are struggling and reaching to find. We are learning according to the Growing Participator Approach where the initial focus is on listening and being able to recognize words and their meanings, and then speaking appears naturally later. We are referred to as GP’s and those helping us are referred to as nurturers. One of our nurturers is a language teacher who has been teaching her colleagues about this method. The other two nuturers are not teachers, and speak a little English. At times I am amazed at how we communicate with our few Kiswahili words and they communicate with their limited English.

Every Sunday when I am at church, I notice that I know more of the Kiswahili words, and understand the English (British English with a Kiswahili accent) a little better. I am getting to know the people at church a little bit now. The parish is clearly pan-Orthodox. So far I have identified people from India, Ethiopia, Congo, Cyprus, Greece, and Tanzania. Fr. David from OCMC was here one Sunday and so that service was in (American) English. Fr. David went from here to Mwanza and Bukoba with the Archbishop. Many of you have asked me what I will be doing here. When I last spoke with Fr. David, he mentioned that they will be wanting me to use my specialties which made me VERY happy. As I understand it, the current plan is for us to go from here to Mwanza perhaps as soon as the end of the month. There we would get to know the Archbishop and he could get to know us. After a period of time, we would go to Bukoba and start working in the hospital. We will still be working with nurturers on language acquisition and enculturation during this time.

People here are very friendly and help us learn Kiswahili. Yesterday as I was walking to language class I noticed a young man walking toward me wearing an Arizona (University of Arizona in Tucson) T-shirt. I greeted him like a long lost friend explaining that I lived there. He was very friendly and asked my name. With his limited English and my limited Kiswahili
the conversation didn’t go much further than that. I continued on toward class and stopped to chat with a vendor, telling him that he was sleeping sitting up by his booth when I passed by on my way home the day before. He confirmed that I had used the right Kiswahili words. Later one of the other missionaries explained to me that he is a 24 year old widower with two children.

Some of you have been praying with me for Mama J’s sister who has been ill with typhoid and malaria and will be glad to know that she is better, although not 100% yet. I request additional prayers for two more sisters—one who has come to Dar es Salaam seeking medical care for her heart problems and the other on Zanzibar who is suffering from a sudden paralysis. The other issue I ask for prayer about is that she is in danger of loosing her house, and that pressure is causing problems in the family.

Thank you so much for your prayers, support, inquiries and comments. I very much appreciate hearing from you and all of your support. I am hoping you will keep me posted about what is going on in your lives.

In Christ’s Love,

Felice Stewart

OCMC Missionary in Tanzania

October 20, 2010

OCMC Missionary Katie Wilcoxson Appendectomy Update

By God’s grace and through your heartfelt prayers, Katie has come through and is recovering from her recent emergency appendectomy. This week Katie, Michael and Felice traveled to Bukoba where they take permanent residence, continuing language studies and beginning ministry in the hospital. Thank you for your continued prayers for Katie and for the entire team of long-term Orthodox missionaries serving in Tanzania.

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