By Helena Geeza
The theme reiterated at the 8th All-American Council in August 1986 was Evangelization. At the end of the conference, participants felt encouraged to evangelize and to share their faith with others. Many of the lectures and discussions focused on reaching out to the poor, homeless, handicapped and chemically dependent. Most of the emphasis, however, seemed to be placed on reaching out to those who were already Orthodox and members of an established parish, even though they may have drifted away. That aspect is certainly a part of Evangelization, but another important part of it is reaching out to others who are not Orthodox. The goal might not even be to convert them ultimately to our faith, although that might come as a result. But the idea is to be proud of our faith and of what it has to offer, and to willingly share it with others.
Of course, there is a distinction between sharing something with someone and “shoving it down his throat.” The latter can result in a total turn-off. But if a relationship is established that is based on the principles of acceptance and friendship, then most people will not be “turned off” by religious talk, and might even discuss their own interest in and curiosity about other spiritual beliefs.
A perfect opportunity to challenge the extent of our own faithto show how important it is in our own livescan come through volunteering. I have been involved in various on-going volunteer jobs in Milwaukee. These volunteer jobs have resulted in some of my most enjoyable and rewarding experiences. I would like to elaborate on one of those experiences, and introduce my friend, Vee.
A few years ago I decided to stop and inquire about a home for the blind which I had frequently driven by. I was routed to the director of volunteers who eagerly told me that volunteers were always needed to be readers for blind folks. I was given the phone number of Vivian.
Very quickly we set up a weekly time during which I would help her out. Vee is a 78 year old grandmother who has been gradually losing her vision over the past 21 years. She sees only large figures directly in front of her, and has totally lost her ability to use her peripheral vision or to see small details. I quickly took over the responsibility of reading her mail, paying her bills, and taking care of personal business and legal matters. Very soon our relationship developed into much more than a volunteer job, and I now fondly refer to Vee as my adopted grandmother. Vee is one of the most humorous, cheerful and “with it” people I know and she’s become as close a personal friend as many my own age. When I visit her now, we quickly get business out of the way, and make time for visiting. We also make frequent dates to go shopping, out to dinner or to a concert.
Many of our discussions have centered on religion and the role that God plays in each of our lives. Vee was raised a Christian Scientist and now involves herself in Robert Schuller’s television ministry. She embodies for me the essence of Christian love. A woman of strong morals, she is truly loving and giving, yet rarely judgmental or condemnatory. When I first met Vee, I was reluctant to discuss religion. But I soon realized that she was asking a lot of questions about my religious background and often would initiate discussions of a spiritual nature. In my fear of talking about religion, I had even, for a while, missed or overlooked her desire to have me read the “Daily Word” to herout of one of Robert Schuller’s publications.
Vee has taught me to be proud of my faith and encouraged me to learn more about it when she presented me with questions I couldn’t answer. And she’s taught me to recognize when someone is receptive to learning about and expressing feelings about her faith. She’s not yet had a chance to visit our church. It was set up several times, but her various medical conditions precluded it each time. We hope to make it happen in the future.
Witnessing to others does not seem to come easily to us Orthodox. Many of us feel awkward discussing our personal relationships with Christ. I don’t know why this is so, but I do know that part of our Christian duty is to proclaim our faith and belief in Christ, and to demonstrate that faith by the way we live and in our relationships with others. This requires an acceptance of others’ spiritual beliefs as well as a keen awareness of their receptiveness to Christ’s word. If we can develop these, none of us should ever be afraid or reluctant to discuss religion with another person. Only by doing so can we discover what evangelism really means.
1) Have you had a personal experience sharing your faith with another person? What were the circumstances? How did you feel about the encounter?
2) What are some of the difficulties we might encounter in sharing our faith? How can they be overcome?
3) In this article, the other person took the initiative to talk about her faith. If you wanted to make the overture, what might be some of the circumstances or signals that would lead you to begin sharing your spiritual thoughts with another?
Helena Geeza is a member of and directs the choir at SS Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church in Milwaukee. She works as a music therapist with adults and adolescents, and is a Special Ed. teacher of learning-disabled and emotionally disturbed children.