Articles on Orthodox Christian Charity
A new video from the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS) produced by award winning filmmaker Kevin Bryce, sheds light on American children who are hungry. Children in needy communities in America sometimes go a day or more without eating because their families can't afford groceries, and FOCUS is working to address that situation.
Katrina Bitar is the North America Program Director for YES, or Youth Equipped to Serve. A ministry of FOCUS North America, YES provides opportunities for junior high and high school students to participate in formative weekends of service in urban environments across the U.S. and Canada. A lifetime member of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Katrina began working with youth during her college years and eventually was tapped to head the YES program after graduating from St. Vladimir's Seminary in 2009. A look at her busy calendar for the first half of 2014 reveals that she will be involved with outreach efforts in Philadelphia, Montreal, Oklahoma City, Grand Rapids, Houston, Austin, and St. Louis. Antiochian.org asked her to introduce the work of YES and explain the impact it is having on the Church's youth.
What is your background, and how did you first get involved with YES?
I was born in Burbank, California, but spent most of my life in Little Falls, NJ. I discovered my youth ministry gifts while serving at the Antiochian Village as a counselor during my college years. In 2001, I took a job as a youth director for a parish in Phoenix, AZ that began my full-time youth ministry work. It was through my work as a parish youth director that I was introduced to the YES Program.
A January 24, 2014 story on the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program, "Jordan's Syrian Refugees," was produced by the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS). The report featured the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) humanitarian response to Syrian refugees living in Jordan. A PBS team visited Syrian refugees living in a refugee camp and in the city of Amman and offered a firsthand look at the struggles and the heartaches of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled their country's civil war.
IOCC Country Representative for Jordan Dimitrije Djukic, spoke with PBS reporter Kim Lawton about IOCC's role, and about the difficulties faced by the refugees, arriving at a rate of some 300 a day. "According to the UN High Commission for Refugees," noted Lawton, "almost 600,000 Syrians have officially registered as refugees in this nation of 6.6 million. But aid workers say at least the same number have not registered, largely out of fear of retaliation from Syria. The UN and international aid agencies have been working to meet the dire needs. Faith-based groups are actively mobilizing as well, and many religious leaders say they provide a unique contribution in the midst of the crisis." The United Nations, pointed out Lawton, has described the situation as “the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times.”
Syria! The name itself inspires awe and wonder. Archaeologists have proven that Syria was the cradle of civilization, and where agriculture and trade routes appeared for the first time. Its capital – Damascus – is widely considered to be the world's oldest city. Antioch was also part of early Syria and was invaded by the Roman armies in 64 B.C., making it the third-largest city in the Roman empire. Syria continued to grow and become a major center of trade and industry in the ancient world.
After the ministry, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ, it was in Syria where a young man named Saul (who later took the name Paul) was converted on his way to Damascus. It was in Antioch where St. Paul set off on many of his journeys to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Antioch, "the disciples were first called Christians" (Acts 11:26).
Joumana will never forget the day she, her husband, and two children abandoned their home in the war-torn Syrian city of Homs. "The situation was getting worse and worse each day, but we didn't want to leave our neighborhood," Joumana recalled. The need to flee came suddenly when they witnessed her mother-in-law killed right before them. After a hasty burial, they left for Damascus with few possessions.
The horrifying memories of war and personal loss continue to haunt Joumana and her family more than a year after they were uprooted from their home and once peaceful life. They, like millions of other Syrians displaced by the conflict, have suffered enormous material and emotional losses that have taken a heavy toll on their mental health. International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and its church partner, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA), are providing services to help affected families overcome their traumatic experiences and begin rebuilding their lives.
As temperatures across the Midwest and Northeast hit record lows this week, vulnerable populations—the homeless, elderly and working poor—are at particular risk of the dangers posed by the winter storm. Inadequate shelter or a broken furnace can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation. The arctic weather is being blamed for 20 deaths thus far, and emergency rooms have been flooded with cases of hypothermia and frostbite.
In response to the severe weather, Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS) Centers in St. Louis, Cleveland and Pittsburgh are on high alert, ramping up services and assistance. FOCUS Centers have had their doors open to help those in need with hot meals, coats and blankets.
International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) released a statement on January 8, 2014 mourning the passing of IOCC Honorary Board Member Dr. George Farha. Founding member and former Chairman of the IOCC Charles Ajalat said, "Dr. Farha played a critical role during IOCC's formative years with his wisdom, vision and commitment. IOCC owes a great debt to him."
From serving on the IOCC board of directors to supporting countless humanitarian works which assisted people in need of shelter, food or safety, Dr. Farha's tireless efforts to always "put people first" served as a spiritual cornerstone for the organization.
"Dr. George Farha was a man of singular vision and great stature in the Orthodox community and beyond," said Michael S. "Mickey" Homsey, Chairman of IOCC's Board of Directors. "This pious, humble and loving man's lifelong mantra of 'people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care' left an indelible effect on all who were blessed to know him.
Baltimore, MD (IOCC) — As snow and nighttime temperatures fall in portions of Greece, the country's most vulnerable – the elderly, people with disabilities and orphaned children – are at the greatest risk of succumbing to the bitter cold without adequate heat to keep them warm. Tax hikes last year by the Greek Government nearly doubled the price of heating fuel, making it unaffordable for the country's nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and orphanages already stretched thin to meet other operating costs such as food, wages and maintenance. Without government assistance, caregiver institutions struggle to protect the health and well-being of their wards this winter.
International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is providing winter relief with the emergency distribution of heating fuel to 35 social institutions across 15 prefectures in northern Greece. The aid is made possible through the generous support of The Jaharis Family Foundation, Inc., which has pledged to match contributions to IOCC for its efforts to address hunger and poverty in Greece. The institutions, which are home to 1,900 children and adults unable to care for themselves, will receive supplemental fuel to assist in keeping their facilities heated through the winter months.
The 2014 Run for FOCUS is a benefit organized by the Orthodox Christian communities of the San Francisco Bay Area to raise money and awareness for Operation Lace Up, a program of FOCUS North America (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve). The RUN is scheduled for Saturday, March 22, 2013 at Lake Merced in San Francisco, CA.
Through Operation Lace Up, FOCUS has partnered with a major American shoe company to distribute thousands of new athletic shoes to impoverished children in 28 metropolitan areas across the United States. Support raised through the 2014 Run for FOCUS will allow FOCUS to continue maintaining Operation Lace Up and similar programs that provide aid to children living in poverty stricken communities across the United States.
The impact that a pair of shoes can make in a child's health and educational development is pivotal, as many children are unable to attend school simply because of a lack of shoes. Through this program, and with the help of public school districts across America, hundreds of thousands of children affected by homelessness and poverty will receive two pairs of brand new shoes per year.
At the end of this calendar year, the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM) has published a report summarizing the activities of the ministry throughout the course of 2013. Titled "OCPM's 2013 Impact Report," it shows at a glance the many ways in which OCPM reached out to those behind bars during the last twelve months.
Their Website explains, "As 2013 draws to a close, we share with you our recent report highlighting the impact of OCPM's programs on those in prison and their families....We feel blessed to say that we have witnessed as one Orthodox community how the Lord Jesus Christ has transformed lives.
"We look forward to 2014, when we will launch some wonderful new programs that will involve your communities, families and churches. These programs will allow us to share the Faith with more people and draw new volunteers into our ministry."