ΑΝ ΠΕΘΑΝΕΙΣ ΠΡΙΝ ΠΕΘΑΝΕΙΣ, ΔΕ ΘΑ ΠΕΘΑΝΕΙΣ ΟΤΑΝ ΠΕΘΑΝΕΙΣ

(ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑ ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΩΝ ΜΟΝΑΧΩΝ)

Παρασκευή, 23 Αυγούστου 2019

Discovering and Sharing God's Love

Orthodox Christian Mission Center
In the Orthodox Vineyard of Africa

by Theodora Veronis (Posted 8/16/2019)
 
Like many people transitioning from school life to working life, Theodora Veronis took a gap year. In this time she chose to connect with her Faith by serving in the mission field.

As many people go through life, they experience a multitude of changes that vary in severity and genuine impact on the person. To begin to find the truer and deeper meaning of our lives each us must carve our own path through the confusing and overgrown forests that we all harbor within. As I've looked for stability on the ever-shifting tectonic plates of life, I seem to have found something these last couple months.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to experience some uncommon things for an 18-year-old: served the Church in Mexico,
Uganda, Kenya and Albania. When I think about all the people I encountered, the first thing that comes to mind is love. We are taught to love others, we cannot solve others problems, but we can blanket each person in astounding and abundant love.

In Africa, each day I had a 30-minute walk to school to teach English and art. I would stop and play with the children along the way, and I noticed them constantly calling out to my friend Agnes and running up to her. I mentioned to her, “These kids really do love you.” She had this perplexed look on her face - sort of surprise as if what she said next was so obvious: “Well, it’s because I love them, too.” People can sense when someone truly loves them, and everyone wants to be loved.

Spending these months abroad led these people to truly become my neighbors, thus my love for them became more real. C.S. Lewis writes, “When [humans] have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors.”

During all my time in Africa, I felt the spirit of love in such an undeniable way. The simplicity of the environment made it easier to feel God’s presence and appreciate all the blessings He gives to us. This experience continued to expand my mind and heart as I dwelt in the presence of people that seem to have little materialistic items yet have more love than I can imagine.

On my OCMC Team, I presented at a conference which 600 youth attended in a remote area of Western Kenya. We hiked down into a valley and met families who truly lived off the land. There were no stores or businesses for miles. It even seemed that some of the children had never seen white people before as some began to cry when they saw us! The family that we were meeting had prepared a feast for us. When we arrived, we saw a chicken running around outside. By the time we sat down to eat, that same chicken was on our plate.

While at Project Mexico, I was with 20 other young adults and helped to oversee 675 volunteers who dedicate one week of their summer and build 30 homes in a leadership role. As a young woman, it forced me to grow and gain more confidence in myself. A huge part of this experience was connecting with the boys who live at St. Innocent Orphanage. When I first arrived, I felt the boys holding back but when they realized that I was there for the entire summer, a shift occurred in their interactions with me.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is the difference between the “real world” and what is often perceived as the real world. We thank God for everything we have, and we remember that all the service we do is our gift back to Him in gratitude for the gift of salvation He gave to us.

NOTE: Theodora Veronis is a member of the St. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church in Webster, MA. As a recent graduate of Shepherd Hill Regional High School, she took a “gap” year to explore ministry opportunities by serving as an intern at Project Mexico, volunteering in Albania and Uganda, and participating on an OCMC Team in Kenya. Theodora spent her early years in Albania, where her parents, Fr. Luke and Presbytera Faith Veronis, served as long-term OCMC missionaries. 

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