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.
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In the “tree-church,” an intricately hand-woven and grown-together dome that hosted a plastic holy altar table, we were seated on the split-log benches. We too were inter-woven with the native peoples. It was the middle of the desert, the outskirts of the Turkana state of Kenya, and it was close to a hundred degrees out, not all that hot. In the Light of the Holy Spirit, a little boy found me. His three tooth sleepy smile was all it took and we were friends. Meshach was his name, one of the three Jewish boys thrown into the fire (Daniel 3:16-18). Meshach had the classic potbelly of malnutrition, (which I would not have noticed as such if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me) skinny little arms and legs, dirty orange swim-trunks, a torn lime green t-shirt, and the stance of a poised sixty-year-old man, until a water bottle wrapper went rolling by in the wind. He loved water bottle wrappers as any child loves their new toy. From that day forward, even though we are really not supposed to, I snuck Meshach my hard-boiled egg from breakfast. I learned very quickly that Meshach was not sleepy at all. In fact, I could see his energy increase every day, just from one egg and maybe a banana. Before long he was helping me load little cinderblock scraps in the wheelbarrow around the construction site. We were sent as short-term missionaries by OCMC to Lokichar, Kenya to work on the construction of what would become St. Nicholas Cathedral. I also learned that little Meshach would most likely run off into the bushes with diarrhea, as his little malnourished belly could not handle food, while his little sister wailed from hunger, and his pregnant mother coddled her with a glazed look in her eyes. My “deeds” were not really the source of anyone’s aid but my own, especially since I would be leaving shortly thereafter.
Now certainly the question is, what does any of that have to do with Dr. Bill Black? Well, it is people like Meshach, his family, his village, and all the Orthodox Christians of Kenya at large, that Dr. Joseph William Black has been called to serve, as an OCMC missionary. He provides them with hope, if not in this life, then in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Black is currently in Nairobi, Kenya serving under the Omophorion of Archbishop Makarios of Kenya. He is a lecturer at Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary and a Senior Lecturer in History and Theology at St. Paul’s University in Limuru and Nairobi. He was born in Winston-Salem, NC, grew up in Anderson, SC, and attended Duke University (OCMC). “That I would end up an Orthodox missionary was not an option on my event horizon when I first began to formulate a plan for my life.” Dr. Black continued, “First of all, I grew up in a Protestant home – Presbyterian to be precise. While family interests biased me towards medicine or the sciences, my fascination and training, however, was in history which, however interesting, does not make for an easy career path. And I was a musician to boot, playing the viola in orchestras and ensembles (Pemptousia).”
In 1980, Dr. Black went to Kenya with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on a three-month program, this was his first experience with missions and a portion of the road that led him to Orthodox Christianity and his work with OCMC. His conversion would come many years later, in 2011 (OCMC). Dr. Black stated, “I met an Orthodox priest early on during my studies in Cambridge and, during tea time breaks at the research library where we both were studying, I began to hear the story of the Orthodox Church. I was astonished, as I had never been exposed to the history or the theology, and the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. The process of my converting to Orthodoxy from having been an Evangelical, Reformed pastor, scholar, and missionary took 14 years (Pemptousia).” Dr. Black’s baptism took place on January 8, 2011 at Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary in Kenya where he was baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church of Kenya by His Eminence Archbishop Makarios.
In 2012, Dr. Black was tonsured a Reader by His Eminence. Since then he has preached at the Cathedral of St. Anagyroi in Nairobi and a number of Orthodox Churches in the surrounding rural areas, as well as different pastoral visits to western Kenya, seeing firsthand the needs of rural priests and parishes. As a result of these trips, Dr. Black developed a plan for a continuing education program for the more than 250 priests in the Archdiocese. These are merely small highlights of the God inspired life of Dr. Joseph William Black who also sings, plays the viola, gardens, and likes to run. While his two adult daughters have both gone on to marry men with the respective names of William and Will (OCMC). To read more about Dr. Black’s life or contribute to his missionary efforts click here.
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