Blessed Summer Events
This past month of July, we had two very special events in the life of our Church occur. First, we had our 13th annual Vacation Church Camp. This is always a highlight of the year for the children of our Church Family. For one week, we get together every night for three hours, and several days have special events which keep us together for six or seven hours. It’s a time of wonderful fellowship and fun combined with Christian education. Our children learn about Jesus Christ and our Orthodox faith, but in a setting where they get to know one another better and really enjoy one another’s company.
Our theme this year was “Missions Around the World” and each day our kids “traveled” around the world visiting 10 different countries, learning about missionaries who serve in some of those countries today, as well as learning about various missionary saints. Yet it was all done in a creative way that made the learning fun. We traveled on a plane, watched videos from the different countries, and combined our learning with music, arts and crafts, recreation and some other special activities!
Our VCC is also a very special time when so many parents offer their time and talents in creative and beautiful ways by putting together a great program, while having a week together of really getting to know one another better.
From the first year we started VCC in the summer of 2005, we have seen how this time of fellowship was something that created and solidified friendships between parents, children, and families. Thank God, this continued once again with a new generation of younger children and parents!
I want to thank Sara Darlagiannis for overseeing the VCC this year, for Pres. Faith for putting together the educational program and for all the other parents and teens who helped to teach, who ran the Arts and Crafts, kept the kids having fun with recreation, taught the music, and who offered great meals each night. A special thanks to Eleni and John Sgouritsas for donating and preparing much of the food throughout the week.
Five key characteristics of being a healthy, vibrant church are WORSHIP, FELLOWSHIP, EDUCATION, SERVICE, and MISSION/OUTREACH. It is beautiful how we could see our children take part and learn in each of these significant characteristics throughout VCC!
The other very special event which highlights all these Christ-centered characteristics in such a beautiful way is our mission trip to Project Mexico!
This is the eighth time that our Church has sent a team to Mexico to build a home for a family in need. The first time, in 2006, I think we sent six volunteers. Each year we went our teams grew. Last year we had our largest group ever of 27 go, and this year we sent another 26. Over the years our Church has sent out more than 100 volunteers, many from our Church family, but we’ve also made it possible for people from other local Orthodox churches to join us, as well as a few non-Orthodox to come along.
Everyone who has ever gone to Project Mexico has been inspired by the experience. Living in a developing country for one week, sleeping in a tent, surrounded by dirt, eating beans every day, and participating in sometimes hard labor in building a home, all the while getting the great feeling of doing something life-changing for another family. What an experience!
I remember the first year we went, we actually had some of our parish council members who were dead set against our Church sending a group to Mexico. They didn’t understand why we should send people to Mexico, and felt strongly that we shouldn’t go. I remember how I literally spent five months in our parish council meetings explaining why, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to go to different countries to share His love and Good News in concrete ways. I explained it theologically, biblically, historically, and practically. I tried to give a very concrete explanation to why we go. And yet, some still couldn’t accept us going. But we went anyway, and it has proven to be one of the most beautiful ministries of our Church!
And for those who would say, “Well, why don’t you do some good deed locally? Why do you need to travel to other countries when there are so many needs here?” To these comments we respond by reminding people that our Christian faith is never limited by any boundaries, but that we are to share God’s love in concrete ways locally, nationally, and globally. All simultaneous outreach, never one or the other.
Thus, many of those who have gone to Project Mexico have often been the very ones who are ready to help out locally - at the homeless shelter we used to support in Southbridge, or with Habitat for Humanity in Worcester, which we have done several times, or with the Red Cross Blood Drive, which we do annually at our church, as well as with volunteering for our monthly Living Bread Luncheon, which serves the needy and the elderly in our community.
When one discovers the joyful beauty and deep meaning of loving others through humble service, there are never any boundaries or limits. We just see people who go learn to give more and more, serving others wherever they may be!
One example of the great fruits of Project Mexico is to see how this experience has inspired two young members of our Church family to do something even greater. Olivia Neslusan and Theodora Veronis each experienced Project Mexico first when they were 14 years old. They traveled three times to Mexico and were so touched by the experience that they decided to not go to college immediately after high school, but instead to do a GAP Year of Service. It was from participating in Project Mexico that they got the idea to do other cross-cultural service projects. Thus, they are presently spending three months in Mexico, and then will travel and serve others in diverse ways in Uganda, Kenya, Costa Rica, Albania and Greece over the next year! This is a direct fruit of Project Mexico!
I thank God for these two very special and blessed events that took place in July - VCC and Project Mexico. In a small way, they reflect who we are as the Church. We are the people of God who worship our Lord, who share in loving fellowship with one another, who constantly learn and grow in our faith, while we serve one another, and share God’s love and light to all people everywhere—here in Webster, in Central Massachusetts, as well as to places outside our country like Mexico and beyond!
With love and gratitude in Christ Jesus,
The Holy Apostle Thaddaeus; The Holy Martyr Bassa and Her Sons: Theognis, Agapius, and Pistus; Afterfeast of the Dormition of our Most Holy Lady the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary; Athanasios Patelaros, Patriarch of Constantinople
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