Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A special missionary effort in Oklahoma

Recently I became aware of a singularly fascinating missionary effort underway in Oklahoma. The approach these two gentlemen are taking has been labeled by local clergy as "unheard of" and "revolutionary." They were nice enough to answer a few questions about the state of their mission today and where they hope it will go in the future. Any help you can provide in the form of prayers, material contributions, or even reposting this interview will I'm sure be appreciated.

How did the idea for St. Basil’s Mission come about?

Nick: As I noted on the video on the web site (see below), I was impressed with the area when I drove through to see the farm that was so central to my wife's growing up. The combination of university and businesses, ethnic and economic diversity in the Bible Belt fascinated me. What I didn't mention on the video was being surprised to find no Orthodox presence of any jurisdiction within 100 miles in any direction - and mostly much more than that. And what frustrated me when I inquired was the same answer I would hear often: “There's no one out there.” In other words, no Orthodox people - or any that could be a core to build from.

Joel: Well it was already an idea before I came along. Nick has been talking about his hopes to start a mission in Western Oklahoma since I met him at St. Tikhon’s.

After the second year at St. Tikhon’s, it’s up to the seminarians to find an internship opportunity for the summer. I spent the first few months of the year asking around but hadn’t found anything. After a conversation with Nick one day, I was inspired to join him in his efforts here in Oklahoma.

What are the current and future plans for St. Basil’s Mission?

Nick: For the summer I'm planning to do daily Matins and Vespers, seminars on Tues. and Wed. evening and to be visible in the community and involved with the local food pantry - which is kind of a ministerial hub in this area.

My plan for the future is to finish my M. Div. studies at St. Tikhon's next year and (God-willing) be ordained next summer and return as a priest to the mission to continue to build on the foundation we're laying this summer - one person/family at a time.

My long term plans are to work to change (in every and any opportunity I'm given) the un-Apostolic approach to missions that's part of the Orthodox culture in this country. That is, to wait until a core group arises (or is discovered) and then supply a priest and support. Rather than developing mission teams - with priests at the lead - who will move into an area and establish a mission...and support themselves. In other words, I intend to work and use whatever voice and influence I'm given to have the "no ones" seen as "someones" worth sacrificing for.

Joel: My wife, three kids and I will be here until the middle of July but I know Nick will be here until the end of August to continue the Reader’s services. As far as publicity is concerned, we’ve created a website, business cards, flyers - the usual - to try and get the word out. We’ve also been walking around town in our cassocks, which seems to turn more heads than anything else. Getting attention only carries you so far though. So for the foreseeable future the goal is to lay a foundation of prayer for the mission, to be visible in the community and begin reaching out in whatever way we can. We’ve made several in-roads already.

What sort of support are you getting?

Nick: I have many people praying for the mission and a supervisor in TX that is advising and overseeing our work this summer. A week or so ago one of the monasteries we have a relationship with donated a very important set of liturgical books to the mission. As of about two hours ago we had received no financial support aside from a fellow seminarian tithing to the mission for the summer, but we just received a wonderful, anonymous $1,000 donation in the mail.

I should clarify that we knew going into this we'd receive no financial help, so anything we do get is a great blessing. Joel and Tessi Wilson (who are here for a month) have made the same decision. Joel (as an experienced subdeacon) had his pick of parishes to work in this summer that would have paid him the expected $1,500/mo internship - and very likely much more. Instead he and Tessi have chosen to forego that and work with us in the mission.

Joel: We have many people (and communities) praying for us. There are actually a lot of people who are excited about it because it’s different than the usual approach to missions within the Orthodox Church (as Nick mentioned already). We’ve been told that we’re kind of a test-case and what happens here this summer may have an impact on the future of Orthodox missions in America.

How can people help?

Nick: Pray! first and foremost - pray. Prayers offered at the Eucharist, of course, but also akathists and canons for the people ministering and those who God is preparing to encounter the Church. My strong belief is NOT that people don't really care about missions and bringing Apostolic Christianity to America but that they are not praying - and therefore are showing that they don't care.

I am absolutely convinced that the person (or group) that prays a weekly akathist or any supplicatory prayers of the Church for a specific mission will be convicted in whatever way God is calling them to support that work… And that will be as diverse as the needs of the mission and the resources and personality of the person… Everything from traditional financial assistance to help with web design and other technology that is increasingly important.

Joel: Like Nick said, pray. Everyone knows these types of endeavors need funding too though - God has provided at least two donors to this point. If you feel so inclined, we’ll have a “Donate” button set up on the website soon. Oh, and if you know anyone in Oklahoma, tell them about us!

How can we stay abreast of this mission's efforts?

Nick: With the internet options of web sites and blogs there is simply no reason a mission can't keep everyone informed on a very, very regular basis unless they don't know how to do it or don't have the means to have it done. I'm blessed to have Joel doing this and guiding me through it so I will be posting very regularly.

Of course not all information should be posted and that's where a "go to" person representing the sending parish or a group of supporters is invaluable - this is what Evangelical Protestant congregations do to great effect. Each congregation or support group has a person who is in close communication with the mission team and keeps them abreast of what is happening. The mission team feels connected and supported (isolation is a huge problem) and the supporters have a very real stake in the work - especially if they are also praying… That's what I would love to have and what I would love to see other mission teams have in the future.

Joel: Check out our website, www.saintbasil.org and look for us on Facebook as well. We’ll have an email list soon, so subscribe to that when it’s up for effortless updates.

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