4 February 2013 • On–Campus • Virginia Nieuwsma
With cups of tea perched on side tables in the inviting living room of Chancellor Chad Hatfield and Matushka Thekla's Crestwood home, members of the Seminary's St. Juliana's Society  listened as special guest Presbytera Renee Ritsi of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC)  described her life as a missionary in Kenya and Albania. Presbytera Renee and her husband Fr. Martin, the executive director for OCMC, ministered cross culturally in a life that, while difficult, "held great joys," she explained. When their son reached high school age, the Ritsi family moved to OCMC's home base in St. Augustine, FL, while continuing to work and travel on behalf of missions.
"Everyone has a unique, God-given talent," emphasized Pres. Renee. "As we go through our lives, we need to share our faith. We need to ask ourselves every day, 'Am I challenging myself to do God's will?' Don't hide your talents—let them come to fruition!"
Presbytera described how she and Fr. Martin sold their home and cars, packed up their basic belongings, and moved to Nairobi, Kenya with two small children. Serving the Archbishopric of Kenya and Irinopoulis, the Ritsis taught at the Makarios III Orthodox Seminary in Nairobi. While Pres. Renee worked with clergy wives, Fr. Martin served as the parish priest of the St. Anargyroi Cathedral and traveled throughout East Africa teaching and baptizing new Orthodox Christians.
"Africa became our home," said Pres. Renee. "We were impressed by the joy and peace of Kenyan Christians, and I have precious memories of our kids being part of many multicultural situations."
After the Kenyan years, the Ritsi family returned to their home state of California, where Fr. Martin earned a Master of Theology degree in Missiology from Fuller School of World Mission. Another overseas assignment beckoned and Father and Presbytera packed their bags again, this time moving to Albania. For six years they worked under Archbishop Anastasios to help reopen the Orthodox Church, which was just emerging from the repressive Communist era. Presbytera Renee taught ESL and Public Speaking, led retreats for clergy wives and teachers, and also home schooled her children during their elementary years.
"The rest of the world does not live with the same proximity to the Gospel as we do," emphasized Pres. Renee, as the future clergy wives listened intently. "We have a beautiful faith and this is a time of opportunity for this faith. Take what you've been exposed to at St. Vlad's, and use your voice to express your love for Christ."
Formed in 2010, the St. Juliana's Society exists specifically for the needs of future clergy wives, and hosts speakers and discussion topics that focus on spiritual and practical issues faced by families training for ministry in the Church. "In our meetings we create a venue for their questions about what happens after seminary, and try to equip them with the tools they will need," noted coordinator Matushka Thekla.