Modern Day Apostle - Fr Themi Adamopoulo
As we celebrate today the feast of St. Andrew, the first called Apostle of Jesus Christ, I want us to reflect not only the apostles who lived 2000 years ago, but on modern-day apostles! Who are those who leave their homelands to live in foreign cultures around the world, offering a witness of love and hope to those in need?
Well, three years ago some of you may remember one such apostle who visited our community - Fr. Themi Adamopoulo. Fr. Themi was the former existential atheist and Rock and Roller, whose band The Flies played with the Rolling Stones, and even hit the Australian Top Ten back in the 1960s. Remember how inspired we were when he shared with us his incredible journey from the abysses of the 1960s era - where he tasted the fleeting fame of pop music while searching for meaning and truth through music, drugs, Hinduism, Buddhism, Hara Krishna, and anything but Christianity - to his eventual conversion. Fr. Themi then studied in the halls of Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, only to end of serving God as a humble Greek Orthodox priest and missionary in one of the poorest countries in the world – Sierra Leone. And today, he is on the front lines of battling the EBOLA crisis.
Several weeks ago Fr. Themi wrote in his blog: “The rainy season is here in West Africa. While we do need rain here for the nation’s water supply during the dry season, nevertheless it comes at a bad time – in the midst of the Ebola outbreak. You see the Ebola virus survives very well in fluid, so the risk of Ebola contaminated water rises. The news here is unfortunately not good at the moment. In a very real sense the epidemic is out of control. International medical help has been very slow in coming. They are now expecting that the death toll could soon rise up to 1000 per week. Some mornings when I wake up with a sniffle or a symptom of any type, I think to myself “This is it, I have EBOLA” and then laugh it off wondering if I make it to Heaven, will I be put in quarantine for 21 days before our Lord lets me in? hehe.
Serious though, I am ready to die. Bodies are being left in the streets. Near our compound in Waterloo (on the outer fringes of Freetown) a family died of Ebola. Most of the neighbors ran away in fright. However the bodies of the children remained in the house for several days. It was our chief nurse’s telephone call that eventually alerted officials to pick up the corpses. Part of the rapid spread of the infection is due to these bureaucratic rapid response lapses. The international community has let West Africa down, I listen to the BBC radio every-night and as close to 5000+ West African’s die of EBOLA it hardly rates a mention, but when two or three westerners die its headline news every hour on the hour, every day continuously.
The government here in Sierra Leone is doing its best, but they have neither the funds nor the experience to handle this evil EBOLA. A few weeks ago, in my meeting with the President his words were so sincere in thanking us for our small and insignificant help, I could see in his eyes the compassion for his nation, knowing the tidal wave that was to come and been helpless to protect his people of Sierra Leone.”
Fr Themi represents a unique, dynamic, charismatic, and extremely inspiring Greek-Australian Apostle who has served God in Africa since 1999. When I asked him how, in his wild journey of life, he eventually found Christ, he simply responded, “I didn’t find Christ, but Jesus found me. I wasn’t even looking for him at all. Christianity would have been the last thing that interested me. And yet, Jesus found me. And what I thought would have been the most boring life in the world – the life of a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ - in fact led me on the most exciting adventure of faith!”
After Fr. Themi came to faith, he wanted to study further his new found faith and came to the States, receiving degrees from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as from Princeton and Brown Universities. He then took his academic brilliance back to Australia, becoming a professor and an academic. Yet one day as he reflected on the life of Mother Teresa, and compared it to his own work of explaining some minute detail of theology to his students, he asked himself, “What am I doing here, while Mother Teresa and her missionaries work among the poorest of the poor? I want to encounter the crucified Christ in the poorest places on the planet.” He heard God’s call and went off to Africa, beginning a 15 year missionary ministry, first in Kenya, then since 2008 to the then poorest country in the world – Sierra Leone.
By the grace of God, Fr. Themi has accomplished amazing work over the past six years. On the outskirts of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, he has established what the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Theodoros II, called in one visit, the “pride of the Patriarchate” – the St. Moses Village. This three acre compound provides free shelter, food, medical care, and chaplaincy services to 100 of the most defenseless people in the country, the disabled homeless and their families. The recent 15 year civil war, combined with the scarce medical help for those with polio and other diseases, have left countless people with amputations and disabilities. These people, traumatized by their condition and stigmatized by their society, simply struggle to survive by begging on the streets. Terrible memories of war have left many with deep anger and serious psychological problem
“When I arrived in Sierra Leone,” Fr. Themi shared, “I realized these were among the most victimized people in greatest need, and we began reaching out to them with Christ’s love. Yet this wasn’t a “normal” missionary setting, like when I served in Kenya. These people have been devastated by war. Since this is a new field of missionary practice, we had to come up with creative ways to fulfill the needs here.”
Along with an Orthodox kindergarten and primary school for the children of the disabled at St. Moses village, Fr. Themi has established the Freetown Orthodox Christian Primary and Secondary School. This school educates 1600 students, and is situated along one of the major boulevards in the middle of Freetown. The St. Eleftherios Orthodox Cathedral also finds its home here.
A third initiative is a post-secondary College, which offers studies in Early Childhood Education, Journalism and Media Studies, IT (Information Technology) and Computer Studies, a full Nursing Program, with a specialty focus on a unique Amputee/Prosthesis Clinic. Through this College, Fr. Themi trains people in Sierra Leone with the Jaipur Foot System, a very effective, yet cheap method of producing prosthesis legs for amputees. This system was first developed in India. “It’s an extremely important project because it gives hope and life to people who can’t do much right now with their disability and the social stigma that comes with this disability. This system can produce long lasting legs that cost only $120, a fraction of the cost to produce such prostheses in the West.”
In addition to all these efforts, he has now been confronted with addressed the urgent needs of the EBOLA crisis!
Fr. Themi, as a modern day apostle, offers a witness through his life, how sharing God’s love with those in desperation and need, with the “crucified Christ,” gave his own life it greatest meaning and purpose. Those who want to learn more about Fr. Themi and see videos of his work can find it on his website “Paradise Kids for Africa” at www.pk4a.com.
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