No “Missionary's Manual” for Sierra Leone: Fr. Themi Speaks at 1st Annual Missions Day
19 November 2011 • On-campus Lecture • By Deborah (Malacky) Belonick
There is no "Missionary's Manual' for Sierra Leone, a West African country of magnificent natural beauty deeply scarred by the meanest forms of human brutality during the civil wars that lasted from 1991 to 2004. The religious question in Sierra Leone is not so much the bourgeois "What Would Jesus Do?" as "Where Is Jesus at All?".
How does one bring the "Good News" to a little boy who was forced by rebels to shoot his own father with an AK47 while his little sister was required to "dance" during the bloodshed? How does one bring healing to young man who has had his hand (or arm) amputated as punishment for casting a vote in a local ballot box? How does one bring hope to families that live on less than $1 per day, or to women who must choose between "soap or bread" at the market, to care for their children? How does one bring clean water and sanitation to areas in which 20% of children under the age of 5 are dying of dysentery?
"Orthodox Christians are pioneering a new chapter in missionary work in such post-conflict, post-war zones," said Fr. Themi (a/k/a Themistocles Adamopoulo), guest speaker at our seminary's first annual "Missions Day," who has ministered in Sierra Leone since 2007, and before that, in Kenya.
"In the Holy Diocese of Sierra Leone, there are seven West African nations, and in all of them, we are dealing with post-conflict situations," he continued. "We are adapting our mission strategies in each contextual situation. We are encountering the crucified Christ—the Christ without legs or arms, the beggar, the hungry. We are spreading the message of Christ in verbal and practical forms. Jesus is powerful in all cultures; I tell them about Jesus and from there flow all other gifts."
Indeed, many "gifts" are evident in "Freetown," the mission post city developed by Fr. Themi in Sierra Leone: an elementary school, a cottage industry for former women inmates, a church with four native priests and a deacon, and a supply of wheelchairs and prosthetic arms and legs for amputees. Compared to the post-war wounds he witnesses however, these fruits of his labor seem "like a drop in the ocean." "But," assured Fr. Themi, "one drop is better than no drop."
The seven African nations currently open to Fr. Themi's work are Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Gambia, Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau, and he has developed a general plan to initiate a mission in each. "The first thing I do," he noted, "is to meet with the President of the nation and the embassy leaders. I say, 'I want to help your nation. I will give you schools, clinics, and care for you amputees. Now, what will you give me?' And, they usually respond with a deal for tax-free land and security to protect the mission compounds. I am in constant dialogue with the governments."
At the conclusion of his absorbing lecture—which was sponsored by the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity, based at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts—Fr. Themi alluded to his personal spiritual journey: from atheist to seeker to believer in the Crucified and Risen Christ; from rock musician to academic to missionary. He also reminded his audience that he had taught a semester at St. Vladimir's Seminary, under the guidance of retired Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Dr. Veselin Kesich.
Lastly, Fr. Themi reminded his audience that all the mission fields now open to him require laborers. In response to his plea for support and future missionaries, two Trustees of the seminary, Tony Kasmer and Anne van den Berg, pledged the support of the Board of Trustees in sponsoring a seminarian from West Africa interested in a seminary education at St. Vladimir's.