Since 1987 over 1,000 people have offered a living witness to the Orthodox Christian faith through their participation in an Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) Mission Team. These Team members have taught catechism, built churches, schools, and hospitals, offered healthcare, worked with youth, and provided outreach in 27 countries around the world.
There have been exceptions, but for reasons that include liability, the risks and rigor inherent in serving abroad, and the specialized nature of mission work, Team members have traditionally been at least 18 years old. Over the years, OCMC has heard from many sources including past Team members, missionaries, board members, staff, and supporters about the importance of enabling youth participation on OCMC Mission Teams.
With board approval, OCMC has opened up four of its 2010 Mission Teams to youth participation with the condition that Team members would not be under 13 years of age and that they would be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
“The motivation behind this decision was to expose youth to the work of making disciples while giving eligible families the ability to experience service for the Church in a cross cultural setting,” offers OCMC Mission Teams Director Andrew Lekos.
The Teams in 2010 that are open to youth and families have been carefully chosen to allow youth to develop relationships with their Orthodox peers and learn about new cultures. “It is hoped that language barriers melt and horizons are broadened as families put their faith into action and share their Orthodox faith,” adds Mr. Lekos.
The Eklutna Team will travel to the oldest continuously inhabited Athabaskan Indian settlement to work on light general maintenance to the church of St. Nicholas (cutting shrubs, trimming grass, painting the cemetery, and fence and walkway repairs,) and by offering historic tours of the Church. The Albania Team will assist in the daily activities and ministries of the Children’s Home of Hope in Albania. The Romania Team will join ASCOR (the Student Association of Orthodox Christians in Romania) in offering a Youth Camp outside of Cluj to middle school-aged youth. The Team to Old Harbor will participate in the annual Family Camp offered to youth and adults on Sitkalidak Island. The theme of the camp will be “Christ in the Eucharist, Truly a Subsistence Food.”
The future of youth participation on OCMC Mission Teams is not certain. “This year is very much aimed evaluating the feasibility of growing youth and family participation on Teams,” states Mr. Lekos. It is hoped, however, that the witness offered by families serving together will shine with a whole new vibrancy and that families exposed to missions as part of an OCMC Mission Team will someday prayerfully consider service as long-term missionaries abroad.