How are They to Hear Without a Preacher? (Rom 10:14)
A reflection on a recent Mission Exploratory Trip to Mexico By Fr Ted Pisarchuk and Fr Antonio Perdomo
On behalf of the Department of Evangelism at the invitation of his Eminence Archbishop Alejo, Frs. Antonio Perdomo and Ted Pisarchuk made a mission exploratory trip to the Diocese of Mexico to visit the remote Orthodox village San Esteban, Vera Cruz, Mexico in mid-January 2013.
San Esteban is a village of approximately 1000 native Aztec Orthodox Christians northwest of Mexico City. Surrounding San Esteban are 10 other Orthodox villages some of which are only accessible by foot or burro. The total number of Orthodox Christians in the surrounding area is estimated at 5000. Because the villages are so remote and there is no rectory the village is visited by a priest only two or three times per year.
We traveled to San Esteban with the priest-in-charge, Hieromonk Serafin Mendoza Segundo and Novice Fidencio Ulises Barragan, who is a student at the Cathedral seminary and from the nearby community Pisaflores.
When we arrived we were greeted warmly by over 150 members of the church community on the outskirts of the village. Together we processed to the church and celebrated the service of Thanksgiving. The church was full. The people were enthusiastic in their worship. The church was full for all services. These people are hungry for the Word of God. They strongly desire to have a priest in their presence. They were very thankful for a visit which was manifest by their tremendous hospitality.
Because of the economic realities of Mexico, resources are hard to come by. San Esteban is a subsistence village and for the most part the people live off the land. They grow their own corn, black beans, and fruit. Everyone has chickens for eggs and poultry. The homes are of simple concrete block construction with corrugated metal roofs and do not have running water or indoor bathroom facilities. Because very few people have cars, horses and burros are used for transportation. The people dress modestly maintaining local traditions and often have very callused hands. No one smoked and a cell phone was a rare commodity. Not all homes have refrigerators. They definitely do not struggle with the material temptations that we do. They are being proselytized by evangelical Protestants who have set up churches in town.
What struck us is how similar the Mexican church is to the Alaskan church. Both are native people, both speak a national language and local dialect, both share a beautiful simplicity and beauty of life, both live by subsistence, and most importantly both lack clergy for similar reasons. Even though a great distance exists between them, the similarities are astounding.
Archbishop Alejo, being a true missionary bishop cut from the same fabric of His Eminence Archbishop Dmitri of blessed memory, is raising up mission minded native clergy. Even still, the process is long and arduous. As a result, the villagers of San Esteban have not had a priest in residence since accepting Orthodox Christianity decades ago. His Eminence has chosen Hieromonk Serafin to serve the community and the surrounding villages. There is no rectory in the village for priest but there is a big beautiful church. The surrounding villages also have churches but there are no clergy homes.
Using the labor of local people, Archbishop Alejo plans to build a rectory in San Esteban. Because of economic realities of Mexico help is needed in this missionary endeavor. The OCA Department of Evangelism has awarded a one-year $15,000 church planting grant to the diocese of Mexico to purchase land and material to build a rectory.
The work in the area is fantastic and the potential is even greater. The people need to be fed spiritually. After visiting in these villages one can only have love and compassion for them.
Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for someone who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by strong desire to alleviate suffering. The suffering here is due to the lack of a shepherd and all that comes with not being nurtured by having that kind of ongoing support.
The word compassion in Latin is a compounding of two words, com meaning with, and passion which means suffering. To be compassionate in a sense is to suffer with the other. To have compassion is a virtue. We North American Orthodox must engender a compassion for our brother Aztec Orthodox.
“How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14)
A problem we have in the States is that we expect someone else to do it or we write a check. To have compassion to suffer with the other, we are to share in their suffering somehow also.
My prayer today is that we have compassion upon the Aztec people who are thirsting for the Word of God, who hunger for the Body and Blood of Christ, who because of poverty are sheep without a shepherd. They are innocent sufferers.
Presently we are making plans to better serve and undergird our Orthodox brothers and sisters in San Esteban and the surrounding communities in Mexico. More news to come.