This is a version of the talk given by James and Daphne Hargrave at the Pentecost Vespers OCMC Dinner 2016 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Spokane, Washington.
Since it’s Pentecost, we’d better start with a foreign tongue: Furaha na amani!*
And we’d like to tell you about Father Paul.
When Father Paul baptized our son in 2013, he and James had been working together for three years. They had similar roles at the Archdiocese offices—secretarial, clerical, and translation tasks. And they had complementary roles in daily services: Father served at the Holy Altar; James chanted. Father Paul is an intellectual with a quick sense of humor and infinite patience. He was our chaplain at the small offices in the big city of Mwanza.
Father was also a high school student.
Most Tanzanian clergy—like most Tanzanian people—have an eighth-grade education. A priest has also had one year of seminary and has apprenticed for several years as a catechist. This is enough education if your faithful are rural subsistence farmers, but in the cities there are middle-class Tanzanians, people with high-school or even university degrees. As our priest in the city, Father Paul needed more education.
Father had a tiny apartment in the cheap part of town. To get from Mwanza back to his family homestead, he had to spend a night sitting on a bench on the ferry across Lake Victoria, and then another day taking transit from the lakeshore up into the hills to his village. The last hour of the trip, from the village to the farm, would be on foot. That’s where his wife and kids lived, farming a little land next-door to the homesteads of Father’s siblings, cousins and other relatives.
Father Paul would visit his family about twice a year, and once James got to go with him. Like most families, the Kagoma family worked the land and ate what they grew: cassava, bananas and arrowroot for starch; spinach and amaranth for vitamins; beans and eggs for protein; and palm trees for oil. Many folks in the area also grow coffee as a cash crop. From selling coffee you can get money to put a roof on your house, to get clothes, schoolbooks for the kids, special treats like rice or black tea or sugar, and all the other things that only money can buy.
It’s not easy. But when the sun shines and the rain falls, if you work hard you will have good food to eat. The climate is balmy; the hills are green; the bananas and mangoes are sweet. Imagine yourself sitting on a green hillside on a sunny afternoon, snacking on fresh-roasted peanuts and sharing stories with good friends. A pretty good life!
But cash is scarce. Most clergy are, like their parishioners, subsistence farmers.
Are you a subsistence farmer? Perhaps you farm for a living? If you’ve done some gardening you can fathom what it would take to live off the land. I remember my own grandfather’s farm and how hard it was for him to take a day off. The livestock and crops don’t take vacations, so if Grandaddy wasn’t home to tend to his duties, he’d have to pay someone else to do the work.
So, you can imagine. Imagine that, instead of Spokane, Washington, we all live in Spokane, Tanzania—a small mountain village on the edge of the desert. Father Stephen is our priest. He and his family are subsistence farmers. So are the rest of us. We tithe from what we have—our crops and our labor— but we have little cash to give. Like all of us, Father Stephen has to work very, very hard every single day or else his family won’t eat. But Father also has to find time to be a priest. He has to serve at the Holy Altar, prepare homilies, catechize converts, minister to the sick, bury the dead, baptize the infants, manage parish facilities and ministries and do all the other things that a priest does.
Oh, and the area can only afford one priest. So Father Stephen is also the priest for the Orthodox congregations in Yakima, Ellensburg, the Tri-Cities, the Spokane Valley, Post Falls, and Bonners Ferry.
And he doesn’t have a car. Transit to and from any of his congregations can be a two-day round trip which costs ten per cent of his family’s monthly income.
Perhaps you can see the need!
There are great priests in East Africa, and there are great bishops. Did you know that the two newest bishops in Kenya were both supported as priests through the Support A Mission Priest (SAMP) program? Even their education was funded by folks like you, through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center. James is starting his Master’s of Divinity later this year at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, where both Bishop Athanasios and Bishop Neophytos received degrees.
People are eagerly seeking Christ. One of the Church’s great challenges is to receive all the potential converts who are beating down the doors of the Church to get in. The challenge is to receive them well, with good catechises and good pastoral care, but with very few resources.
This is where you can help.
We want to help as we can. That’s why we’re headed to seminary. Many intelligent and faithful East African clergy have little access to education. We want James to get the education that these fathers in Christ dearly wish they could get. We want Daphne to receive the spiritual formation that clergy wives in East Africa wish they could receive. And we want to share these gifts in every way that we can. But you all, living right here, can do even more to help.
Most SAMP clergy receive a stipend of about $50/ month. This money goes a long way. With it, priests can hire others to help at the farm while they make pastoral journeys. They can pay bus fare—or, in an emergency, hire a motorcycle taxi—to visit their congregations. They can clothe their families and educate their children.
Fifty dollars. Get five people together, commit to ten dollars a month each, and you guys are supporting… well, you’re supporting Father Stephen of Spokane, Tanzania, as he ministers to Holy Trinity African Orthodox Church and several other congregations in the area.
And now, as your SAMP priest proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the language and cultural idiom that his people can hear, as he brings the Body and Blood over the mountains and across the deserts, you—by your gifts and especially by your holy prayers and evangelical love—are receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and obeying the commandment, given at Ascension and enacted in our ongoing Pentecost: to be witnesses of our Lord “even to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
* “Joy and peace!” Taken from St Paul’s epistle to the Romans, this is the traditional greeting among Orthodox Christians in Tanzania.
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