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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!