New Beginnings and Language Studies

Dear Friends and Family! 

Greetings from San Cristobal de las Casas! We have been here for almost a month and a half, yet it feels like much longer! This week we are approaching our sixth week at “Instituto Jovel,” our language school where we spend 4+ hours a day learning Spanish one-on-one with three different teachers. We’ve adjusted more or less to the routine here in San Cristobal, and usually spend our afternoons studying and doing homework, buying produce at the local markets, and watching shows in Spanish to increase our vocabulary! The school offers extra activities, including “Club de Conversacion,” where a group of students from the school gather at a local café and speak Spanish with each other with the help of one of the teachers. We have found that this, along with simply speaking with the people around us during bus rides, at restaurants, or the local bookstore, has helped increase our speaking abilities, poco a poco (little by little). Please continue to pray for the growth of our language skills so that we may be able to better serve the Orthodox communities in the future. 

View from our apartment

View from our apartment

Our Beautiful School!

Our Beautiful School!

We have also had the opportunity to attend liturgies at a few churches here in the southern state of Mexico. On one Sunday, we were amazed to have witnessed two marriage ceremonies and ten baptisms! It was truly a day to remember. The community of San Caralampio (St. Haralambos) welcomed and treated us with great hospitality, including inviting us after for a meal. A day in the life of a priest here is very labor intensive. On top of conducting the needed sacraments in each village they visit, they also tend to their flocks in any capacity necessary from confession and spiritual counseling, to physical needs as well.  Unfortunately, most communities only see a priest about once a month or every other month due to the large number of churches, 100-125, compared to the number of clergy that serve them, 5 local priest. Please continue to pray for the leaders in the local communities that may have been called into the priesthood, as well as for the current priests, and seminarians at the seminary of St. Andrew in Aguacate, Guatemala. 

Getting to know the seminarians after Liturgy

Getting to know the seminarians after Liturgy

Presenting the new Prosfora seal to Fr. Evangelos made by one of our parishoners

Presenting the new Prosfora seal to Fr. Evangelos made by one of our parishoners

“Oh holy martyrs, crown them with glory and honor” -Hymn from the Service of Matrimony

“Oh holy martyrs, crown them with glory and honor” -Hymn from the Service of Matrimony

Fr. Evangelos prepares for ten baptisms at the church of San Caralampio

Fr. Evangelos prepares for ten baptisms at the church of San Caralampio

In recent events, the five-year memorial of Fr. Andrés Girón was celebrated at the end of February on the southeast coast of Guatemala, where Fr. Andres resided. Many of the local priests and communities gathered together to honor their beloved hero and father in Christ, who brought thousands of indigenous people to Orthodoxy in Guatemala and Southern Mexico. 

Many people traveled far to be present at Fr. Andrés five-years memorial. Here people enter the chapel with Fr. Mihail

Many people traveled far to be present at Fr. Andrés five-years memorial. Here people enter the chapel with Fr. Mihail

Photo courtesy: Jesse Brandow

Photo courtesy: Jesse Brandow

As we approach the beginning of Lent, we are reminded by the Gospel readings during triodion, to constantly be in preparation. The Holy Days of our church calendar are an annual reminder “to keep us from forgetting events that are vital to our salvation and the abundant life that God wants us to have,” (Introducing the Orthodox Church, Its Faith and Life by Anthony M. Coniaris). Our fellow missionaries Jesse Brandow and Jennifer Rice, have spent much of their time producing and updating the “Calendario Ortodoxo,” a compilation of the daily readings and saints of the day for three-month periods at a time. It is an extremely useful tool for the communities here, as it is written in simple language, and even includes the fast rule for the day. This book, along with other resources for catechists, will assist in continuing education for lay people, lay leaders and ultimately, future clergy.  

Although we are not fully working in the mission field, we are learning so much about the language and way of life in Central America. Part of being a missionary, especially during the first year, is simply observing and adapting to the life of the people you are serving. It would be impossible to relate to the people and to serve them without our adapting to the culture and the language. Our experience so far has been quite an adjustment, but we are grateful for all of your prayers and support. We are also thankful for our fellow missionaries Jesse and Jennifer, for welcoming us and helping us adjust to the life here. The body of Christ is at work throughout the world to do God’s will, and that is extremely present here! 

As we prepare to meet our Risen Lord let us “sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the Church, [...] let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber,” (Joel 2:12-26, Daily readings for March 6th). We wish everyone a blessed Lenten journey! Gloria a Dios!

Fall Updates

Greetings team Guatemala! It has been several months since our last blog post, and much has been happening. We’ve made visits near and far, from the Boston, Massachusetts area all the way down to Atlanta, Georgia. They have been worthwhile visits and we continue to expand our Guatemala mission family.

Parish visit at Holy Transfiguration in Marietta, GA

Parish visit at Holy Transfiguration in Marietta, GA

Speaking at the missions meeting at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA

Speaking at the missions meeting at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA

As many of you all know, our original plan was to depart for Guatemala this fall, however we are planning to God-willing leave in January 2019. We are currently working on setting an official date so we will be sure to keep you all posted. This will give us more time to focus on fundraising and making parish visits, as well as making more preparations for the big move.

We have a handful of parish visits coming up in the next few months, so if you’re in the area come join us and learn more about the work being done in the Orthodox Church in Guatemala. For more updates on our whereabouts, check out our Facebook page. Upcoming visits include:

  • Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church- Wilmington, DE (October 28)

  • St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral- Pittsburgh, PA (November 4)

  • St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church- Saginaw, MI (December 2)

  • Assumption Greek Orthodox Church- St. Louis, MO (Missions banquet, January 10)

Please continue to pray for us as we spend the last few months with friends and family and begin to say our good-byes. In addition, pray for the missionaries currently in Guatemala as well as the clergy and communities.

We are 75% funded! Thank you everyone who has pledged and given to our fund. We still need more pledges before we can leave in January. Make a pledge or one time gift of any amount to our online support page.

As we prepare to leave in a few months to join the team of missionaries down in Guatemala for two years to start, we are reminded of the loving and supportive communities that surround us. This journey wouldn’t have been made possible without your prayers and financial support. Glory to God!

In Christ,

Thomas & Elizabeth Manuel

First Visits

Greetings friends and family! We'd like to wish everyone a blessed Lenten season and good strength as we enter into the second week of Lent. Since the start of the New Year, we have been incredibly grateful to have been hosted by many local parishes and communities.

Thomas explains how we are more connected to Guatemala than by its delicious coffee!

Thomas explains how we are more connected to Guatemala than by its delicious coffee!

Our inaugural support raising visit was hosted by the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It is always a pleasure to visit our sister community and worship with friends and of course family, as Thomas's dad Fr. John Manuel is the priest there. They also added some Spanish into the service, which reminded me of the importance of language and enculturation. As missionaries, we must be vigilant about being sensitive to the culture we are reaching in order to share and contextualize the true message of the Gospel. We are all called to be missionaries and to fulfill the Great Commission, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...(Matthew 28:19)," whether we are serving internationally or in our own community. 

Sts. Constantine and Helen in Richmond, VA

Sts. Constantine and Helen in Richmond, VA

We spent the following weekend in Richmond, Virginia where the Sts. Constantine and Helen Cathedral hosted its annual GOYA basketball tournament. Following the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, we were able to share with them the beautiful work happening in the Orthodox Church in Guatemala. With the high attendance of children and teenagers, it reminded me of when I first learned about Orthodox missions around the world, and the potential for our young Orthodox to pursue a calling in missions. A special thank you to Fr. Nick Bacalis for graciously hosting us.

Fr. George from Sts. Constantine and Helen in Newport News, VA

Fr. George from Sts. Constantine and Helen in Newport News, VA

The next Sunday, Fr. George Chioros and the community of Sts. Constantine Helen in Newport News welcomed us to their parish. It was nice to hear Spanish in parts of the Liturgy, as well as incorporate other languages from around the world. Thomas gave a sermon on the Great Commission, as it happened to be the Gospel reading for the Orthros (Matins) service. It is important to be reminded that to spread the Gospel is not just the work of missionaries, but an obligation of all Christians to fulfill. We had a nice time presenting during coffee hour and opened up for Q&A afterwards. We are so grateful to have such supportive communities around us, much due to the strong brotherhood of clergy in our area!

Fr. Alban from Lynchburg, VA

Fr. Alban from Lynchburg, VA

 

At the beginning of February, I made my first solo parish visit. As a full time pastoral assistant and youth director at our home parish, Thomas is involved in much of the church's ministry especially on Sundays. I was hosted by Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was a pleasant surprise waking up to snow in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. This might have been the last snow I will see for a while, however we will still be close to the mountains, as much of the people we will serve live in the highlands of Guatemala. Father Alban and his parish were very welcoming and I really appreciated our discussion during the coffee hour.

 

Palm trees!

Palm trees!

Deerfield Beach in Boca Raton, FL

Deerfield Beach in Boca Raton, FL

 

The following weekend we were invited to attend an OCMC Gala honoring Louis and Helen Nicozisis in Boca Raton, Florida. On Saturday morning, we had a chance to meet and greet with the OCMC board. There really is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes at OCMC! We spent the afternoon with Fr. Martin and Presvytera Renee Ritsi. This included going to a beach front café for lunch, and then soaking up some sun at Deerfield beach. We could not have traveled all the way to Florida and not spend time at the beach! That evening, we attended the OCMC celebration Gala at the Marriott at Boca Center. There were about 300 guests in attendance to honor Louis and Helen Nicozisis and their lifetime of dedication to Orthodox missions. We met many wonderful people that had either participated in missions first hand, or were long time supporters of OCMC. The next morning, we attended Divine Liturgy at the beautiful St. Marks Greek Orthodox Church. With 14 priests and a Bishop serving the Liturgy, it was truly a heavenly experience! Thank you to OCMC and the Gala coordinators for putting on a successful and fruitful event. Glory to God for all things!

Seeing Double?!

Seeing Double?!

Beautiful Gala!

Beautiful Gala!

St. Mark's Liturgy on Sunday February 11th

St. Mark's Liturgy on Sunday February 11th

Thomas giving the sermon on Forgiveness Sunday February 18th

Thomas giving the sermon on Forgiveness Sunday February 18th

On the eve of Lent, last Sunday, we visited St. Demetrius Orthodox church in Williamsburg, VA. It is always a joy to visit our sister parish over the river and to worship in their beautiful church.  Fr. (uncle) Milton shared with us stories from some of the first mission trips that were offered by OCMC in which he attended. The Orthodox Christian Mission Center has grown tremendously in the past few decades, and continues to touch lives for people all over the world. We are so thankful for their support and guidance. Please continue to pray for missionaries and those at OCMC who help continue to serve people throughout the world! Gloria a Dios!

Preparing to serve in Guatemala

Elizabeth and I are thrilled to announce that we have begun a new chapter in our lives as Missionaries to the Orthodox Christian Church in Guatemala! Over the past ten years there has been an explosion of Orthodox Christianity in Guatemala as thousands of Mayans enter into the Church. The calling to serve as missionaries is near and dear to both of us. We have known for some time now that the mission field is the path we wanted to take. Of course we are not leaving right away, but first need to raise support before departing for Guatemala. Please pray for us as we begin this new and exciting chapter of our lives.

To read more about our story, please visit our support page here at OCMC.org.

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