Friday, July 6, 2018

St. Vlad's seminarians travel to Uganda for service trip

(SVOTS) - Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

From May 21to June 3 of this year, I, alongside eight of my seminary colleagues, had the amazing opportunity to travel to Uganda as part of a teaching missions trip sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). Thanks to the support of OCMC, St Vladimir’s Seminary, and many others, the nine of us were given the incredible opportunity to serve the communities of the Ugandan Orthodox Church, which would not have been possible on our own. With the blessing of Metropolitan Jonah of Kampala and all Uganda, we were able to travel across the country and serve many communities, especially those in Northern Uganda.

Our first few days were spent in Nsinze in the Eastern region of Uganda where we had the honor and privilege to participate in the diocesan clergy conference. Over fifty priests from all over the country were present. We spent time both in prayer and fellowship as we focused on the tough realities of ministry. The priests of the Uganda Orthodox Church do not have a salary and must have secular jobs to provide for the needs of their families and their churches. Despite the many sacrifices, it was an inspiration to see how these clergymen found strength in Christ and in each other as they prepared themselves to continue serving their people.

Two truly memorable occasions occurred next. For the conclusion of the clergy conference, we had the blessed opportunity to celebrate the Divine Liturgy alongside these fifty priests who had gathered together. It was a great act of fellowship and comradery as we were able to serve as brothers in His ministry. From there, we traveled to Gulu in Northern Uganda where we had the opportunity to participate in the Feast of Pentecost, celebrated by Metropolitan Jonah and the local clergy. In this moment, alongside the people of Gulu, we were able to transcend barriers of language, culture, and ethnicity, as we became the One Body of Christ during this service, similar to that of the very day of Pentecost two thousand years ago. As we prepared ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit and renew ourselves in our commitment to serve the Church and each other, it was a powerful moment as we all prostrated together before the mighty throne of God.

The next week of our trip flew by quickly as we worked alongside a medical mission team traveling to different schools and communities across Northern Uganda from Gulu to Lira. We spent our days in prayer as we used our time there to preach the Gospel, be with the people, and try to understand their struggles. It was an exhausting effort since we spent many hours every day traveling to reach these communities, but it was definitely worth it. Personally, it was a humbling experience to see the people of Uganda, who have so little, give so much for the Church. I was able to witness first-hand the love that they have for their Church and for each other. These people looked out for each other; they made sure the most ill were taken care of first. They shared their food and took the time to show concern and care for their neighbor. Uganda is the Pearl of Africa—not because of the beauty of the land but because of the treasure that is found in the hearts of its people. Regardless of the wealth they may not have, they are rich in their love for Christ, and it was truly an unforgettable experience to receive so many blessings from their unending treasury. May God strengthen us all to have the same resolve in faith and love that He has given His people in Uganda.

Read more and see more pictures from the trip on the Uganda Orthodox Church website.

Read more seminarian reflections in Seminarians Speak.

Amal Punnoose is entering his third year as a seminarian in SVOTS’ Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program. He hails from Atlanta, GA, and is a member of the Diocese of Southwest America of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. He has given lectures and led youth retreats and other events at Malankara Orthodox parishes around the U.S. and Canada. Joining Amal on the OCMC trip to Uganda were members of the graduating class of 2018 Rev. Fr. Christopher Moore (Team Leader), Dn. Simon Menya (a native of Uganda), Dn. Gregory Potter and his wife Faith Potter, Dn. Larry Soper, and Dr. Tracy Gustilo, and current seminarians Dn. Herman Fields and Cornelius Schuster.

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