Dean Franck is a first year student in the Master's of Divinity Program at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is also a participant of our Digital Disciples Program.
Inspired by FOCUS, the Orthodox Christian Network will be featuring the outstanding missionary outreach of this organization who, in the spirit of Christ’s love, offers Christian acts of almsgiving throughout North America, without discrimination, and strengthens the capacity of the Orthodox Church in responding to the missionary calling. Please join us in raising awareness for their countless endeavors, and we invite you to learn more about FOCUS.
FOCUS Minnesota served its first meal in June 2010, and has been busy serving the Twin Cities’ community ever since. They provide basic food and clothing assistance to those in need around the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. FOCUS is a national Orthodox Christian charitable non-profit organization which directly serves domestic urban poverty. The acronym FOCUS has two meanings: Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve, and Food Occupation Clothing Understanding and Shelter. FOCUS officially became incorporated in 2009, and it now has seven full-time service centers in Minneapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Orange County-California.
In the Minneapolis FOCUS center, every action started with a meal and it has become much more than a full-time job since they opened their center on Lake St. in Minneapolis, which Presbytera Vera Proctor dubs a “very iconic social services location.” Presbytera Vera is the Director of FOCUS Minneapolis and she reminisced,“the first meal we provided was in a small church in a bad neighborhood in St. Paul. A very local church of the Evangelical nature.” Presbytera also said their FOCUS group’s duty is to respond at the most fundamental level. She stated, “If people are cold we get them a blanket. It gets quite cold here in Minnesota.” All of the work they do is Minneapolis-centric, to provide for those who are on the streets or who are working three jobs to feed their kids and can just barely stay off the streets.
FOCUS Minneapolis cooperates with another youth shelter called Safe Zone, which interacts with youths primarily of the ages 14-21 years old. They provide, food, snacks, and a safe place for the youths to go. The shelter is open and completely voluntary for those who have nowhere to go after school. One of the beautiful things that Presbytera Vera has seen and made mention of is:
There is a very affluent private school in town and the students from that school come and make sandwiches for their impoverished peers. It is peer to peer, even though they don’t know it, some of the most affluent students in the area are making lunch for the least affluent. There is a beautiful synergy with this group of kids. The kids may or may not see it and know it, because they do not come from the Orthodox Christian faith, but they are doing what us Orthodox Christians call engaging each other to do this work for the salvation of our souls, where helping is not a burden.
Recently, FOCUS Minneapolis purchased a 40 ft. freight container that can be made into a mobile medical clinic. FOCUS can now provide free medical care for the underserved, uninsured, or underinsured. The volunteer medical director will be a cardiologist from the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Presbytera Vera mentioned that in all this work, “You have to be sensitive and open to where God is leading you. We have to listen to where the help is really the most needed. It is really a huge commitment and responsibility to invest in location. Once you do so, you exist to serve the poor.” A huge parallel in the work that FOCUS Minneapolis does is obviously because of the ethos of the Orthodox Church. They exist to be obedient to the gospel. Presbytera Vera stated that they “endeavor to blunt the sting of poverty.” She continued, “We cannot reach everyone, solve all their problems or fulfill every need, but we pray to blunt the sting a little. Everything we do revolves around the ethos of the Eucharistic life. So many times we receive the mercy of God without even asking for it. If you are filled with Christ’s Love after the Eucharist you must share it, love is spilling out and you must share it. There is nothing religious in exchange for services. There are icons and people praying everywhere, but we never push religion on anyone. The best way to bring people to Christ is to act like him. We are called to serve, it is the serving that is the most fundamental step in what is happening. We are who are we are (Orthodox Christians), and we respond when people ask. We run our program as actives, as predicated on love. The culture of helping is a pleasure instead of a burden.”
This is just a small token of journalistic gratitude for the magnitude of almsgiving and mercy which FOCUS has expressed.
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