February Update from Jesse

Dear friends and family,

I hope you're staying warm! My sympathies to everyone in New England as you trudge through a winter apocalypse! This month will be news-oriented with updates about Guatemala and about myself. There's a lot to share!

Guatemala News

Last November, priests from Guatemala met with Metropolitan Athenagoras in Mexico City (see photo). They developed a strategic plan for Guatemala, including three goals: (1) enable Fr. Fernando to succeed Fr. Andrés as leader in Guatemala by sending him abroad to study theology, (2) identify potential deacons and priests in the Guatemalan villages and train them on-site, (3) complete the medical clinic in Aguacate and develop a strategy for ongoing healthcare.

In January, Fr. John Chakos and Pres. Sandy returned to Guatemala with a small mission team to assist in Aguacate. Almost 1,000 people gathered for a marathon service with 6 weddings and 13 baptisms (read more on their blog).

February 16 was the one-year anniversary of the death of Fr. Andrés Girón, the leader and advocate of these Mayan villages. The people held large memorial services and eulogies.

This coming summer, two mission teams will travel to Guatemala. You can volunteer for one through OCMC.

Personal News

90% funded: That's right, I'm in the home stretch! It's thrilling to see my team coming together. Thank you, everyone!

Purchased my plane ticket: I now have a departure date! On April 21st, I will fly from Miami to Guatemala City.

More parish visits in February and March: I can't leave until I'm 100% funded, so I will be traveling in New England and New York to seek more monthly supporters. See pictures from my recent visits on my Facebook page.

Ways to Help

Prayer requests: Please pray for personal peace as I begin saying goodbye to family and friends. Also pray for healing from wrist pain (a result of all the driving, typing, and writing).

Donate supplies: I am gathering supplies for my move on April 21st, and there are several items that you could donate (email me at j.brandow@ocmc.org to donate something):

  • A Kindle e-reader
  • E-book versions of theological writings
  • Logos Bible Software
  • A used Macbook for a backup computer
  • Large, lightweight suitcases
  • New or used cassock
  • Liturgical supplies for the churches in Guatemala (chalices, censers, and blessing crosses)

Become a monthly supporter: I still need more monthly pledges before I can leave in April. Make a pledge of any amount (e.g., $25 per month) using my online support page.

Final Word

Standing with Fr. Andrés in 2012. May his memory be eternal!

Standing with Fr. Andrés in 2012. May his memory be eternal!

I can't tell you how much I miss Fr. Andrés as we mark the one-year anniversary of his death (Feb 16). I got to know this great man as a father. Imagine driving in a car with Martin Luther King, Jr., or having tea with Mahatma Gandhi. I look to Fr. Andrés with the same degree of love and admiration. 

During one car ride in 2012, Fr. Andrés stopped at a small store and walked inside with me. He walked carefully, holding my arm because of his increasing weakness. Suddenly he stopped, stared into my eyes, and said, "do you see this cassock, Jesse? This doesn't make me a priest! The people in the villages made me a priest. Always remember that!" Then we continued into the store to buy coffee and food, and his words lingered in the air. I never forgot those spontaneous, prophetic moments; the words of Fr. Andrés linger in the room where I sit and type, they permeate the churches where his people pray, and they flow through the mountain air of Guatemala where thousands of people still look to this man as a father.

Now, as I prepare to move on April 21st, I ask Fr. Andrés to pray for me and to beg God that I will serve his people faithfully. I try to honor his words from that car ride by remembering that the villages made me a missionary. Not only that, but all of you are making me a missionary each day through your prayers and support. Join me today in prayer, as we remember Fr. Andrés Girón and the villages that love him dearly.

In Christ,

Listen to "Mayan Orthodoxy," a Recorded Lecture

On May 18th, I delivered a public lecture at St. Vladimir's Seminary on the growth of Mayan Orthodoxy in Guatemala. The lecture focused on the rich, volcanic soil of Guatemala as the key to understanding the history and culture of the country. The fertile soil has made some Guatemalans rich because of abundant crops, but it also has divided the country and contributed to decades of civil war, bloodshed, and poverty among the indigenous populations. This "story of the soil" is also the key to understanding why thousands of Mayan Indians converted to the Orthodox Church under the leadership of Fr. Andrés Girón. The lecture described the future challenges that face this movement to Orthodoxy, and it concluded by urging the broader Orthodox Church to help the seed of Orthodoxy take root in the soil of Guatemala. By by supporting the missionaries who are working in Guatemala, the broader Orthodox Church will help the seed of Orthodoxy grow. When this seed grows into a strong, Mayan Orthodox Church, then God will show all of us "the joy of the harvest, which is so great."

To support Jesse through a monthly contribution,   click here  . Even $5/month (a few coffees) will have a tremendous impact over Jesse's two year term of service.

To support Jesse through a monthly contribution, click here. Even $5/month (a few coffees) will have a tremendous impact over Jesse's two year term of service.

The lecture was recorded for "Voices from St. Vladimir's Seminary" on Ancient Faith Radio.  You can listen to the full lecture in the audio player below, or download the audio file here.

Returning to Guatemala long-term, by God's grace and your love

Dear friends, near and far:

I'm about to take a big step in my life, and I'm really excited to share this with you. On March 14th, I was officially approved by the Orthodox Christian Mission Center as a long-term missionary candidate to Guatemala. As many of you know, this has been a long time in the making.

With three of the Guatemalan priests during a trip to Tziscao, Mexico, in June 2012

I first traveled to Guatemala as a short-term missionary in 2009 and then returned in 2012 for an entire summer. During that summer, I fell in love with the Mayan people who have come into the Orthodox Church: their resilience, humility, and beauty. These people are begging for teachers and missionaries who can guide them as they grow in their newfound faith. Since 2012, I have been praying to God about moving to Guatemala to help answer their need.

Now, after almost two years of further discernment and evaluation by OCMC, I am ready to take the plunge! I am officially a missionary candidate, and I'm already beginning to travel to parishes to raise a team of regular, monthly supporters who will enable me to get to the field. Even though I'll be traveling to raise support, I still plan to continue my current work (hospital chaplaincy) through August. At that point, my full-time support raising will begin. I have to raise all my own funds, so it will be a long process, but my hope is to move to Guatemala in the first part of 2015.

With two other Guatemalan priests and Fr. John Chakos (second to right), the missionary team leader

Because this is an exciting step for me, I wanted to share the news with all of you. Thank you so much for your love throughout the years, and for all of your support as friends, family, and mentors. If you would like to follow my steps as a missionary, you can like my support team page on Facebook or you can follow my new blog right here on Mayan Orthodoxy. To subscribe this blog by email, click here.

Again, thank you so much for your love and friendship. I never could have come this far without you, and I still can do nothing except by God's grace and your love. Please pray for me as I begin this new journey.

With love,

Fr. Andres Giron—memory eternal!

Note: This post was originally located on the author's seminary blog and is now reposted here on Mayan Orthodoxy for background info.

Many of you have been keeping Fr. Andres in your prayers, along with all of the people in his flock in Guatemala and Southern Mexico. Thank you for your prayers. With a heavy heart, I now give you this final update. Fr. Andres passed away in the Lord yesterday morning in the hospital in Guatemala City. His loss will reverberate throughout the hundreds of Mayan communities that he upheld as a shepherd and father. Thousands of people have lost their beloved leader who fought for their most basic needs, such as land and food, and guided them towards Christ. I am so thankful that I was blessed to know this man of the people, and I am heartbroken to lose him. 

While this will be a sorrowful time and a difficult transition for the people living in Guatemala and Mexico, we also must accept that it is the will of God. So many people have been praying for God's will in the time of Fr. Andres' sickness, and God has chosen to receive Fr. Andres into his arms in the blessed hope of eternal life in His Kingdom. I am confident that Fr. Andres will always stand before God in tears and supplication for the native people he loved so dearly. Please stand there with him, before God, by praying for the Mayan Orthodox people who have lost their leader. And pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Andres Giron. What a man, so full of love and joy. May his memory be eternal!

Two articles from Guatemalan news sources concerning Fr. Andres' passing:
"Fallece sacerdote Andrés Girón" on Prensa Libre
"Muere sacerdote Andrés Girón por complicaciones médicas" on Soy 502

Stand with the Guatemalan Church in Fervent Prayer

Note: This post was originally located on the author's seminary blog and is now reposted here on Mayan Orthodoxy for background info.

Dear friends,

This post comes after a long pause, but I write it with an urgent request for prayer.

As most of you know, I spent summer of 2012 living in Guatemala with the Mayan Orthodox Christians in the mountains. I fell in love with the leader of the Mayan communities: Fr. Andres Giron. This man has spent his life fighting for the rights of the Mayan natives, traveling by car and by foot through horrible mountain roads to visit the villages, and even facing assassination attempts for his defense of the native people. He is a father to thousands of natives, and he became like a father to me during my months in Guatemala. I cannot describe this man's love, which shines with joy through every wrinkle on his weathered face.

To my deep sadness, I recently received news that Fr. Andres is sick. I do not want to go into details in a public post, but I am begging you to keep this incredible man in your prayers. Please, pray fervently for Fr. Andres that God will heal him, and pass this prayer request on to others who can stand with the Mayan Orthodox Christians in prayer.

Thank you so much!

Fr. Andres Giron: