Monday, January 31, 2011

James Hargrave January 2011 Update

Dear friends,

Furaha na amani! Joy and peace!

And greetings once again from Mwanza, Tanzania. For two weeks in January I was privileged to visit Kenya, a neighboring country where I was raised from age three until age eighteen. It was a delight to visit with Mom & Dad in the Kerio Valley and taste some of our delicious Cheptebo mangoes. I was also able to see old friends and faculty at Rift Valley Academy, where I was a boarding student 5th - 12th grade. And it was a special joy to be in Nairobi at Archbishop Makarios III Seminary on the feast-day of St Makarios of Egypt, where the Liturgy was celebrated by Archbishop Makarios of Kenya.

But it's also very, very good to be back home in Mwanza, in my new home! I've been away since signing the lease, and so am just moving in this week. In a PS to this email, I'd like to tell you a bit about what house-hunting can look like in urban East Africa. In short, though-- it was a long and sometimes frustrating process, that took more than three months.

But now I have a place to live! In the three years since our Church moved headquarters from Bukoba to Mwanza, we have been searching for property on which to build a Cathedral and other Archdiocesan facilities. We have only just concluded negotiations and outright purchased property... yes, after three years of searching. My own housing search has helped me to understand and identify with the issues our Archdiocese faces as we develop an infrastructure in Mwanza. And it has helped me to identify with urban Tanzanians, who face similar stresses as they deal with the pressures of big city life.

I am grateful for your continued prayers, encouragement and financial participation. God is using you to care for me as I learn to see the world through Tanzanian eyes, and as I continue to study Kiswahili. Thank you for the many ways that you support my work here in our Archdiocese of Mwanza.

By your prayers in Christ,

James Hargrave

PS In mid September 2010, I began looking for lodging here in Mwanza. At the end of December of the same year, I finally signed a rental agreement. This is how it went:

When I moved to Mwanza in September of 2010, I began looking for a place to live the same way I would have done in the States. I went to the part of town I wanted to live in and started walking around, chatting with people, looking at houses. In urban Tanzania you don't see "For Rent" signs the way you do in North America. But there are "agents" who know the local situation, and who will help connect you with a landlord... for a cut. Unfortunately, in this part of the world white skin is seen as a sign of wealth, and so can attract possibly unscrupulous people. I would find that, by the time I actually looked at a house, there might be as many as five "agents" in on the deal, each expecting a cut. This means that I was being offered rather inflated housing prices.

And so it became necessary for me to conduct my housing search by proxy, with local leadership at the Archdiocese doing the initial work. It was a tough learning experience for me-- as a North American, I want very much to be self-reliant and not to have to depend on others. Learning to depend on local leadership is of course a very good thing, and local leadership is very dependable. But even they did not find the task easy.

Mwanza has a population of two million and rising, as it is one of the most rapidly growing cities in Africa. Although Tanzania is still about 85% rural, our country is undergoing intense urbanization, and cities are overflowing their resources with great speed. So there's a severe housing shortage. To find secure and adequate lodging near the Archdiocese office, with a trustworthy landlord, proved to be a time-consuming and difficult endeavor.

After many false starts and more than a few dashed hopes, in early December of 2010 my priest Father Paul was introduced to a local property owner. Mama Flora lives on the hill just above our Archdiocese office, and below Father Paul's house. She and her husband were expanding their compound to include two small apartments within its walls. She had heard that Father Paul had an associate looking for a place to live. So my priest and I climbed the hill to investigate the new apartment and to meet Mama Flora. It was still under construction, but I was assured it would be finished by Christmas. The initial rent offered was reasonable, and so we started negotiations.

Mama Flora and her husband proved to be trustworthy and kind, and construction proceeded apace. Every time I visited the site, I saw progress, and Mama Flora seemed eager for me to get to know her family. And so by mid Christmas, just before the New Year, Father Paul and I sat down with Mama Flora and her husband Bwana Sylvester to finalize negotiations and sign the rental agreement.

In North America, my experience with rental agreements is quite businesslike and efficient. I look at the place, meet the landlord, fill out the application. The landlord does a background check, and then might invite me to sign the rental agreement and pay the first month's rent. I sign, write out a check, and get the keys promptly. While we might exchange short pleasantries, signing a rental agreement does not really involve a relationship. In fact, I might even be doing business with a "property manager" who works on the landlord's behalf.

Not so here on the hill in Mwanza. By the time we sat down to go over the rental agreement, I already had a relationship of several weeks with Mama Flora and her family. When Fr Paul arrived, we were invited to sit in the courtyard with Mama Flora and Bwana Sylvester. Their teenaged daughter brought us sodas, and as the four of us sipped we talked about the weather, about sports, about the economy, about the recent electricity problems, and about many other things. Eventually, Bwana Sylvester asked a two-year-old daughter to bring out the rental agreement. She handed a copy to each one of us (written in Kiswahili of course), and together the four of us went over each point, with much tangential conversation around every piece of the rental agreement.

The young daughter then carried one copy of the rental agreement, with a pen, to each of us. I signed as the tenant, Mama Flora signed as the property owner, and Father Paul and Bwana Sylvester signed as witnesses. Bwana Sylvester then returned the signed rental agreement to an envelope, and proposed that we go look at the apartment.

So we did, and there was much conversation about the window screens, and the paint on the walls, and the neighborhood in general. We then went back to our seats in the courtyard and conversation began afresh-- about social problems, employment, water, the weather, the economy...

After another hour or so of visiting together, the three Tanzanians all-- seemingly at the same moment-- looked at one another and said, "Haya." ("Alrighty then.") This was the signal for me to pull out my money pouch and hand over rent for the entire year.

The largest denomination of Tanzanian currency is worth about $7.00 in US money. Most transactions are done using cash. Housing prices in Mwanza are much lower than in an equivalent North American city-- Atlanta, for example-- but still. Can you imagine paying an entire year's rent in five-dollar bills?

First I counted out the money in stacks of ten, and handed each stack to Bwana Sylvester. He counted, and handed the bills on to Father Paul. And Father Paul counted, then passed the money to Mama Flora who placed it all in an envelope after counting it herself. This took maybe twenty minutes, and then our negotiation was concluded. Now I have a real relationship with my landlady and her family, and know that here in my apartment I will be part of a small community in this neighborhood.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Let Each Esteem Others Better Than Himself (Phil. 2:1-4)

1 Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

In the latter verses of the previous chapter, St. Paul had spoken of the importance of unity in the face of persecution. Now he eloquently urges the Philippians to have this unity among themselves. He implores them that if they get any benefit at all out of Christ, such as consolation (Gk. paraklesis, also meaning encouragement or strengthening), comfort, fellowship (koinonia) or sharing in the Holy Spirit’s power, affection (splangchna, meaning literally “kidneys”, and figuratively deep, heartfelt love) or mercy, then they should be unified. The Holy Spirit in and among them makes unity possible, but it is their responsibility to maintain it. If they do this, they will fulfill or make complete, St. Paul’s joy.

And what exact steps must be taken to preserve unity? St. Paul spells these out in the verses 2-4. First, they need to be “like-minded” (FF translates this as “minding the same thing”). They must be “on the same page”, to use modern slang. This in turn cannot be done without having the same love, which is love for Christ and his Church. If each of us does not have a deep and fervent love for Christ, if Christ is not the center of our lives, then Christian unity is not possible.

We must also be of one accord. The Greek word translated as “of one accord” in the NKJV is sympsychos, which literally means “joined in soul.” This means we must have a common purpose and goal in life, namely that Christ be glorified in everything we do. St. Paul then repeats the word “of one mind”, including being committed to the preservation of unity.

Having told the Philippians what they need to do to maintain the unity of the spirit, St. Paul now in verse 3 tells them something that they must not do: act out of selfish ambition (or “opportunism,” of which St. Paul accused his opponents in 1:17). They should not seek to advance their own interests or ambitions at the expense of others. Nor should they do anything out of conceit, so that their own egos would be fed or so that others will esteem them as great. These are motivations that the Bible consistently condemns.

Instead, every Christian is to “esteem others better than himself.” This does not mean that others literally are better than we are, since all people are of equal worth in God’s eyes and are equally loved by Him. But we are to treat others with great value, respect, and even deference, as if they really were better than us. This is true humility, or as St. Paul states here, “lowly-mindedness”, and it includes the radical step of looking out for the interests of others rather than only our own.

FF makes the following comment: “This lowly-mindedness is not a morbid or pathological lack of self-esteem. Rather, it is the healthy determination to serve one’s neighbors before oneself and to make their needs a higher priority than one’s own. It refers to the unassuming modesty of the servant, who finds joy in giving—of the one who looks out for opportunities to serve. If they will cultivate these qualities among themselves, St. Paul says, his joy will be complete!” (36).

And if we will do likewise, our joy will be complete as well. Paradoxically, joy is found not in being served, but in serving. It is obtained not by looking out only for ourselves, but in putting others ahead of ourselves.

Friday, January 28, 2011

NASA Releases New "Black Hole" Image

Here at St. James' Kids, we try really hard to not copy things from other blogs. But this photo was so funny, we just couldn't resist. Those of you who use Facebook will really appreciate it. Enjoy.

Another great production from Pithless Thoughts.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just for Fun: Altered Words

The Washington Post's  Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the  dictionary, alter it by adding,  subtracting, or changing one  letter, and supply a new definition.  
Here are the  winners: 
1. Cashtration (n.): The act of  buying a house, which renders the  subject financially impotent for  an indefinite period of time.
2. Intaxicaton : Euphoria at  getting a tax refund, which lasts until you  realize it was your  money to start with.
3. Reintarnation : Coming back  to life as a  hillbilly.
4. Bozone ( n..): The substance  surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The  bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the  near future. 

5.  Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high  
Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic  wit and the person who doesn't get it. 
 7. Inoculatte : To  take coffee intravenously when you are running  late.
8.  Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got  extra credit.)
9.  Karmageddon : It's like, when everybody is sending  off all these  really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth  explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.  
10.  Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting  through the day consuming only things that are good for  you.
11. Dopeler  Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter  when they come at you rapidly. 
12. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The  frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a  spider web.
13.  Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito,  that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast  out.
14.  Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding  half a worm in the fruit you're eating.
The Washington Post has also published the  winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to  supply alternate meanings for common  words.

And the winners  are:

1.  Coffee, n.. The person upon whom one coughs.  
2.  Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much  weight one has gained. 
3.. Abdicate, v. To give up all  hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4 esplanade, v. To attempt an  explanation while drunk.
5..  Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door  when wearing only a nightgown.
6. Lymph, v.. To walk with a  lisp.
7.  Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored  mouthwash.
8.  Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up  someone who has  been run over by a  steamroller.
9.  Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding  hairline.
10.  Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted  by proctologists. 
11. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian  proctologist. 

12.  Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation  with Yiddishisms. 
13. Frisbeetarianism, n. The  belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck  there.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The christening without much Christianity: Anglican church offers 'baptism lite' to attract non-worshippers

By Steve Doughty
Church of England baptism services may be re-written to remove some references to Christianity.

The plan for a new ‘baptism lite’ service designed to make christenings more interesting to non-churchgoers will be considered next month by the Church’s parliament, the General Synod.

Supporters say the baptism service should be ‘expressed in culturally appropriate and accessible language’ that is readily understood by ‘non-theologically versed Britons’.
But traditionalist clergy said the idea amounted to ‘dumbing down’.

The plan for a new 'baptism lite' service which uses 'accessible language' and makes christenings more interesting to non-churchgoers will be considered next month by the Church's parliament

The new service would be used at 150,000 christenings each year. If the plan is accepted, it will be the third full re-write of the baptism ceremony in around 30 years – the version in the Church’s Book of Common Prayer went virtually unaltered for more than 400 years until 1980.

Complaints centre on three sections of the baptism service from the Church’s latest prayer book, Common Worship, authorised for use in 1997.
In one, parents, godparents or an adult being baptised are asked to ‘reject the devil and all rebellion against God’ and to renounce ‘the deceit and corruption of evil’. They are asked to ‘submit to Christ as Lord’.

The Reverend Dr Tim Stratford, from Liverpool, who is putting the plans before the synod, said in a paper that ‘there remains some unhappiness about the language not being earthed enough’.
He added: ‘The concern is one of the language not making strong enough connections to life choices in such a way that it can be heard.’

Dr Stratford and his supporters have also called for a new version of prayers that refer to the symbolic role of water in baptism.

He said that among clergy from poor and inner city parishes ‘there was a strong plea for a shorter prayer in direct but poetic language that allows the Gospel to resonate better with people’s experience of life’.

He added: ‘This was not a plea for a prayer in Scouse, but for a prayer that the majority of non-theologically versed Britons would understand.’ A third part of the service was condemned as too long and not ‘direct’.

Stephen Parkinson, of the Anglo-Catholic Forward in Faith organisation, said there were problems with the 1997 service, but added: ‘Simply dumbing it down is not the answer.’
Bishops indicated yesterday that if the Synod accepts the argument a committee will be instructed to begin writing a new baptism service, but they warned that such re-writing would raise arguments over faith and doctrine.

William Fittall, secretary general of the synod, said that bishops are ‘clear that now is not the time to embark on the long and complex process involved in such a revision or replacement’.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The 1,700-year-old Christian monastery hidden deep in Egypt's desert

...The founders of this monastery were disciples of St. Anthony the Great, widely considered to be the Father of Monasticism because he initiated Christian monastic life as we have come to understand it today.

Our guide was Father Ruwais Antony who helped us understand how this 4th century monastery made Egypt the origin for a movement that spread throughout Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia and ultimately Europe...

Read more here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Let Your Conduct be Worthy of the Gospel (Phil. 1:27-30)

27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.

Having comforted the Philippians by assuring them that he will see them again, St. Paul now makes a request of them. He asks them only one thing: that their conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. This conduct includes not only living impeccable moral lives but also being unified.

FF sheds light on St. Paul’s command for them to let their conduct be worthy of the gospel, pointing out that the verb translated in the NKJV as “let your conduct be worthy” literally means to “conduct yourself as worthy citizens.” In other words, St. Paul is urging them to live as citizens of God’s kingdom. He goes on to point out that “Philippi was a Roman colony, and its Roman citizens took great care to conduct themselves as befitted Romans, cherishing their Roman citizenship. In the same way, St. Paul exhorts them to cherish their Kingdom citizenship, living worthily of their true King” (33).

St. Paul desires that his audience stand fast and not be afraid of their adversaries. The Greek verb translated as “stand firm” literally means to “stand still, to wait steadfastly,” like a soldier in a battle line, awaiting a charge from the enemy. For the Philippians would have many enemies coming, including both temptation to sin from within and persecution from without. But they must not allow these assaults from the world and the evil one drive them apart. For as FF points out, “Persecution and fear tend to divide, as each one looks out only for himself and flees away from the others…St. Paul’s desire is for them to remain united in motivation spirit) and in purpose (soul..). They are not to back down in fear, startled and unnerved, each man deserting to his post and abandoning the others. They are to share the same desire to keep the Faith, the same purpose of confessing Christ, even in the face of suffering” (33).

In urging them to strive together for the Gospel, St. Paul uses an athletic metaphor. The Greek word he uses is synathleo, which literally means to “co-compete.” Christians are in this battle together, not competing as individuals, but as a team!

St. Paul assures the Philippians that if they would stand firm and stand together against their enemies, this will be a demonstration that God is with them. Their enemies will be convicted that they are doomed to destruction, while the Christians whom they are persecuting are on their way to salvation from God. FF summarizes St. Paul’s message in this way: “This is how important your courage is, he tells them—it is the sign God gives to the world, to call them back to repentance!” (34).

Then St. Paul reveals a very important truth—a teaching that is much negected today: “To you it has been granted…not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.” Note that the verb translated here as “granted” is a form of charizomai, the same word used of God giving spiritual gifts. Suffering is just as much a gift from God as are the gifts that we would consider “good.” As FF writes, “They have recognized God’s grace and goodness in their believing Him. They must see His goodness to them in this experience also. Their suffering is a great gift from Him, for it is through this that they will win their victor’s crown of imperishable glory (see Rom. 8:17)” (34).

St. Paul concludes this section of the epistle by assuring that the struggles that the Philippians are going through are shared by him. He tells them that they have “the same conflict” (Gk. agona, a word normally used for gladiatorial games or other athletic contests). For the Philippians saw how St. Paul was thrown into jail for preaching the Gospel, and they now hear about his stuggles in Roman captivity. And they will soon share in that persecution, being with Paul in at least a limited sense. But again, as he will soon urge them, they must not let their struggles break their unity.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Egypt's Muslims attend Coptic Christmas mass, serving as "human shields"

Muslims turned up in droves for the Coptic Christmas mass Thursday night, offering their bodies, and lives, as “shields” to Egypt’s threatened Christian community...

Read more here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

To Live Is Christ (Phil. 1:19-26)

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.

St. Paul continues to encourage the Philippians, assuring them of his conviction that he will not yet die, but rather be released from prison.  He tells them that this (i.e., his imprisonment) will turn out for my deliverance (Gk. soteria, literally “salvation,” a word used to mean many things, and not just the salvation of one’s soul on the Last Day).  This deliverance comes through two means: the prayers of the church in Philippi, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  These two sources combine in what the Church calls synergia, or synergy.  FF explains this well:

“[God] provides the Spirit, but we must make our supplications.  His grace and help work side-by-side with our own willing efforts, so that divine grace perfects created nature.  God will not override or dishonor the human will, for it is the crown of His creation” (30).  Or, in St. Augustine’s words, “Pray as if everything depended on God.  Work as if everything depended on you.”

St. Paul does not merely want to be released; rather, he wants to be able to witness about Christ to Caesar himself.   And his fervent hope is that he will be able to do this with boldness and without being ashamed.  Above all else, he wants Christ to be magnified in his body.  (This should be the utmost desire of all of us!).  FF: “His trial before the great Caesar is his great opportunity to magnify the Lord Christ, and he prays that he will be equal to the opportunity” (30).

In verses 20-24, St. Paul expresses ambivalence about whether he wants to remain on this earth or meet martyrdom.  For as he says “to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”  Think about that for a minute.  St. Paul’s life was so totally consumed by Christ that he totally identifies his life with Christ.  As he wrote to the Galatians, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  This is a state of being that all Christians must strive for.  Christ must be our reason for living, indeed, our life itself.

For the apostle, remaining in this world has several advantages, including being able to continue his ministry and thus see more fruit (v. 22) and being able to spend more time with his beloved spiritual children, especially those in Philippi.  But to die, as he says in verse 21, is gain.  For all the benefits of remaining in this life, dying would mean being in the presence of Christ, which is far better than anything this earth has to offer.

Despite the superiority of departing this life and being with Christ, St. Paul is confident that for now at least, he will remain in this life so that he can work among them for their continued progress in their faith and joy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Christ is Preached (Phil. 1:12-18)

12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.

St.  Paul had been imprisoned by the Romans, and it would be natural for his dear friends to think of this as a calamity.  After all, if he were in prison, how would he continue his evangelistic ministry?  How would the gospel be preached?  But St. Paul now assures the Philippians that “the things which happened to me” (i.e., his imprisonment) was not a bad thing.  Not only was it not a bad thing, it was a good thing!  For as the Apostle writes in verse 12, his imprisonment actually “turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”

How was this possible?  St. Paul was under house arrest.  That meant that he was able to stay in a rented house and to receive visitors as he wished.  At the same time, however, he would have been constantly chained to a Roman soldier.  The specific guard assigned to Paul would have rotated, with a new soldier taking over every day or so.  St. Paul, naturally, would have used this opportunity to share the gospel with the soldiers, so that much of the palace guard had heard the message within a few months.  Undoubtedly, the soldiers would have spoken among themselves and to others about this strange new teaching, and before long, there is little doubt that the word had spread around not just among soldiers, but among other residents of the palace as well.  The Roman officials would have soon discovered that St. Paul was not imprisoned for any treasonous or other criminal offense, but merely for preaching Christ. 

And there was another benefit of St. Paul’s imprisonment.  Word about Paul’s preaching of the Gospel to the Roman soldiers had leaked out into the general public, including the Christians in Rome.  When the Christians heard about St. Paul’s boldness, they were themselves emboldened to become more active in sharing their faith with the world around them.

Unfortunately, not all Christians preached (literally “heralded,” from the Gk. kerysso) the Gospel from pure motives.  Some of them were strong supporters of St. Paul, and these shared the gospel out of goodwill and love, “knowing that I am laid here for the defense of the gospel” and “appointed for the defense of the gospel.”

But there were also many who did not like Paul.  Perhaps they saw him as a “Johnny come lately,” a troublemaker, a self-promoter, or a would-be boss (none of which were, of course, true).  For them, Paul’s imprisonment served him right.  They hoped to cause trouble for Paul and preached out of opportunism.  FF makes an interesting observation here, writing “The word translated opportunism meant originally simply ‘working for pay,’ but came to imply being a hireling and having selfish political ambition.  Its use here indicates that some Christians in Rome considered Paul to be a rival.  They envied him his success and fame and wanted to detract from him whenever they could” (28).

But St. Paul doesn’t care about this.  Rather than attack his opponents or worry about them not liking him, he rejoices that they are sharing the gospel.  Regardless of their motivation, the gospel is being preached and people are coming to know Christ.  The gospel is advancing through the heart of the Roman world.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hope for Happiness

Beth Early, June 2009

My 9-year old daughter Beth has a deep love for God, a love that is increasingly issuing forth in a desire to help those less fortunate than her.  Yesterday, she had two friends from school over.  She and her friends spent a good part of their time together putting together care packages for homeless people.  (She did this completely on her own initiative; no one asked her to).

Beth has also recently started a new project that combines two of her main loves:  drawing and helping others.   The project is called "Hope for Happiness."  Here is a description of the project in her own words:

"Who can?" is most. "Who will?" is little. But I am one. I will help. I will help the poor. They need our help. If you are reading this on your electronic device, be thankful you have it. I need your help to bring up the downs. To satisfy the unsatisfied. I can do it. You can, too. If you donate five dollars or more (cash only, please) I will send you a drawing. A piece of art created by me. 100% of the money goes to IOCC. (International Orthodox Christian Charities) I hope you can participate.

I am calling this project "Hope for Happiness." May God's richest blessings be upon you this Christmas season.

If you would like to make a donation and receive an original, signed drawing from Beth, send you contribution to me at my parish address:
Fr. James Early
St. Joseph Antiochian Orthodox Church
10644 Hammerly Blvd.
Houston, TX 77043
You don't have to send much; even $5 will help.  In doing so, you'll not only help the ministry of IOCC, but you'll provide much encouragement to a little girl who wants to help others.
In the mean time, please check out Beth's own blog, Story Corner, where she is pursuing another of her loves:  writing.  It would greatly encourage her if you would leave her a comment.
May God bless you all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The St. Dimitrie Post - from OCMC Missionary Floyd Frantz

Greetings, and I hope that this finds you well today, and in good spirits on this most blessed day of the Theophany, and for those of the old calander, Christmas Day.

A few weeks ago I promised to write about Botosani, and what we were doing up there. Actually, I almost did not write about it at all, as it all felt sort of "routine" for our work here in Romania. However, many people even today do not really know what our primary goals are for the St. Dimitrie Project. Botosani was a good example of how we are working to meet those goals and so please allow me to use it as an example of what we are about over here.

About 3 years ago Fr. Iulian Negru and I did short class in addictions and alcoholism for a group of priests in Botosani. Basicly, it was explaining the disease concept of addiction, how Alcoholics Anonymous can help (although at the time it was non-existant in Botosani) and also the basic spiritual principals that are used in helping alcoholics. This spirituality is easily found in our faith, and is commonly referred to as the process of repentance, remembering that repentence also involves not just remorse, but a firm decision to change one's life with God's grace as the foundation and strength of the change. We throw in the disease concept for the obvious reason that it is necessary for them to know that for very objective and proven biological reasons the alcoholic/addict cannot "learn" to drink successfully. This is also what we are teaching the psycholigist's and social workers over here, and also about AA and what treatment centers are about. (When we started here 10 years ago there were no treatment programs here in Romania, as you would know them.)

Now, I'll try to shorten this, as I can be wordy about my work, loving it as I do.....Ok, so then about one year ago, through another AA group, AA did get a start in Botosani. Then, 6 months ago a social worker from Botosani found out about us and our training program. She came to Cluj and spent 3 weeks with us, learning about the basic model that we use. She works with people who have mental illness, many of whom are alcoholic, and some of whom would have no symptoms after some period of sobriety.

What we were doing in Botosani the other day,(now about a month ago), was to host a small conference with the priests, (we actually held it at the "Protopropriat" or headquarters for the archdiocese in Botosani. We invited the priests in town, about 20 of them, the AA member(s), the social worker, and other professionals who would have an interest in this sort of thing. We essentially processed how everyone can work togather to help the still suffering alcoholic, and what the role of each profession could be in this process. Giving this sort of information to the priests and professional community is very new in Romania, as here in Romania there is no tradition of "multidisiplinary" support of the alcoholic/addict.

Ok, enough for today, and about Botosani. I have other things to write about, but not today. Please do pray for us here in Romania, and feel free to write to us with your prayer requests as well. God works the miracle!!

In His Love,
Floyd & Ancuta Frantz
OCMC Missionaries in Romania

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

That Your Love May Abound Still More (Phil. 1:9-11)

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Now St. Paul reveals exactly what it is that he prays for the Philippians.  First of all, he prays that their love may abound and increase.  The Greek word translated as “abound” is used to imply a “great overflowing, reckless bounty”; St. Paul uses it in Ephesians 1:8 to refer to God’s abundant grace.

Note that St. Paul does not merely pray that their love may abound and increase; he wants it to also abound in knowledge and discernment.  The word translated as “knowledge” is not just gnosis, the regular word for knowledge, but epignosis, which indicates a real, deep and intimate knowledge.   As FF writes, “St. Paul in fact doesn’t want them to live and love indiscriminantly.  Their love must grow, but it must mature as well.  Without this maturity, they might well be deceived by spiritual counterfeits, abundant in those days, who claimed to teach the way of love, while in fact walking in sin and error.  It was too easy for the immature to confuse license with freedom!” (24).

Rather than just loving and accepting everything that comes their way, St. Paul prays that the Philippians would “approve the things that are excellent.” This approving (which can also be translated as “proving” or “testing”) is recognizing and acknowledging “true moral excellence and distinguishing it from spiritual laxity and decadence.”  It involves finding out what it truly pleasing to God and then doing it (compare Eph. 5:15-17).  Only in this way will they be sincere and without offense—i.e., pure and simple of heart—persevering in this state until the Day of Christ, that is before the Dread Judgment Seat after the second coming.

Continually learning about, and then doing, the will of God is the only way that we can be filled with the fruits of righteousness and so glorify God.

FF closes his commentary on this section with an outstanding observation, which merits our full attention:

“St. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians provides an antidote for the deadly modern notion of ‘religion as niceness.’  The only virtue enthusiastically applauded by secular society is ‘tolerance,’ and any form of moral and ethical discernment, any condemnation of a behavior as sinful and wrong, it itself condemned as ‘not nice’ and as ‘intolerant.’  The Lord’s teaching has been reduced to the maxim (misunderstood by the world), ‘Judge not.’ In opposition to this counterfeit version of Christianity St. Paul warns that true love must be critically discerning, able both to approve and embrace the morally excellent, and also to denounce and reject the morally objectionable.  Only so can we hope to stand before the Lord our Judge at the dread and glorious Second Coming and endure the full sunlight and scrutiny of His gaze” (25).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Home for Christmas - James Hargrave

Dear friends,

Mungu yupo! God is with us!

In this Christmas season, as we remember how our God made his home here with us, I have also been given a home here with the people of Mwanza. After more than 100 days of searching, I have at last signed a rental agreement and am beginning a transition from temporary lodging into a new apartment. This is an answer to your many prayers on my behalf. The apartment has a spare room, so now I can offer hospitality-- Karibuni! Welcome!

The process of finding a place to live has been very interesting, and has helped me to understand better the realities of urban life here in Mwanza. I hope that it has taught me to identify more closely with my neighbors here in the city. In the coming weeks, I hope to write a bit more about what this process has looked like and what it has taught me about East African urban reality. But in the meantime, I'd like to leave you just with this thought:

When our God made his home among us, in the flesh of a little child, even his ancestral hometown offered him no hospitality. Christ was born into a cave. But here in Mwanza, far from my ancestral homeland, I have been welcomed as a native and have received a home to live in; a home that has ample space even for guests. I am now faced with the same challenge shared by all of us who are not homeless. Will I make room for Christ, will I offer him hospitality? Will I make room for others in the name of Christ? Or will I be like the many householders of Bethlehem who were too preoccupied to receive even their native son?

I ask your prayers that I may learn to welcome others, and to receive Christ, even as I have been welcomed here. And I thank you again for your many prayers in the past months. God is with us!

In Christ,


If the motive for giving is the love of God - the desire to help any of His children who need help, then the way in which the help is to be used should not form a condition of the giving. As long as the need is there, and the opportunity to help is there, the results can safely be left to God.

- Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, first President of Tanzania

Friday, January 7, 2011

He Who Has Begun a Good Work in You (Philippians 1:3-8)

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; 7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. 8 For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.

When St. Paul thought of the Church in Philippi, who had shared in his evangelistic ministry through much prayer and financial giving (this is what he refers to in the phrase “your fellowship (Gk. koinonia, better translated as “sharing”) in the gospel”,  he could not help but give thanks for them and pray for them.

Note that St. Paul does not simply pray for the Philippians; he does so with joy.  Joy, as we will see, is one of the main themes of this epistle.  The joy that God gives does not depend on our circumstances.  It can abound even in circumstances of suffering, distress and imprisonment.  Even though St. Paul was in prison, he was still filled with joy!

In verse six, St. Paul expresses complete confidence that would have provided the Philippians with great comfort: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  God is the one who initiates the process of salvation in us, and he is faithful to continue to do his part to bring us to final salvation.  He will not abandon us, even though we can abandon him, as St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:12).

FF brings out something in St. Paul’s language that I had never noticed before.  The following quotation is quite long, but it is well worth reading in full:

“The words translated began (Gr. enarxomai) and perform (Gr. epiteleo) are the technical terms used to describe the beginning of a sacrificial ritual and its completion.  His description of God’s work in their lives breathes this atmosphere of sacrifice.  By using such language, St. Paul indicates that our lives are meant to be a living sacrifice to the Lord (see Rom. 12:1).  In offering ourselves to the Lord, however, we are not left to rely solely on our own strength.  Rather, God Himself aids us, for He is at work within our hearts “both to will and to act for His good-pleasure (2:13).  Between now and the final day of Christ Jesus, there will be many temptations and trials, much persecution to undergo, and many battles to fight.  Nonetheless (as the Church sings at Great Compline), “God is with us!”  He began this good work of making us a living sacrifice, and He will not abandon us until His work is done.  The Philippians can therefore face the future fearlessly, with joy and confidence, knowing that God will be with them in their trials to complete His work in them.  St. Paul has full confidence, he says, in their final salvation” (22).

St. Paul continues by affirming that it is right and proper for him to think this way (i.e., to remember them with joy and prayers and to be confident about their final salvation) toward his beloved congregation.  This is because they have permanently found their way into his heart because they are partakers (Gk. sugkoinonoi, literally, “co-sharers”) with him in two ways.  First, they are co-sharers with him in his chains: not that they are literally chained up in prison as he was, but they also share in many sufferings as he did.  And they worry about his being imprisoned and his upcoming trial and defense of the Gospel. 

But they also share with him in his receiving of God’s grace.  As FF writes, “the Philippians share with St. Paul in helping him preach the Gospel (giving him money), and in return they are sharers with him of divine grace” (23).

The Apostle goes on to remind the Philippians of the great affection that he has for them, calling God as his witness.  But the affection he has for them is not just his own feelings.  Again, FF’s comments on this passage are worthy of quoting in full:  “St. Paul here says that he loves the Philippians not with any ordinary affection, not with any merely human emotion, but with all the boundless, overflowing, heartrending compassion of the Lord Himself.  It is, in fact, not that Paul loves them, but that the Lord loves them through Paul.  Our love is meant to be the conduit for the Lord’s love and our lives the expression of His life.  As the apostles said elsewhere, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20)” (23).