Hannah Valentine – April- May 2016- OCMC
OCMC recently sent its fourth mission team of 2016 to San Esteban, Mexico, to support the faithful by offering simple catechism and the life-giving services of the Church. OCA Archpriest Antonio Perdomo of Pharr, TX, led the team of seven: Fr. David Moga (WI), Sbdn. Basil Almy (KS), Art Dossey (CA), Susie Almy (KS), Hannah Valentine (IA), and Fernando Arango (FL). This Pan-Orthodox group soon melded together in the warmth of shared vision and experience. I know without my team I would not have mastered the art of “shower in a bucket” or sleeping on wooden planks! It was made easy by the bright eyes and smiles of the children and their parents; never have I shaken so many hands nor met such polite, friendly people.
San Esteban lies tucked away in the green mountains of the state of Hidalgo, not exactly the first place one might look for the Orthodox Faith. Mexico is known for its history of Roman Catholicism, brought to its shores by the Spanish in the 1500’s. Indeed, the influence Catholicism has had in the Mexican culture reveals itself through streetside shrines for the Virgin and small statues of Christ in public buses. When meeting with Archbishop Alejo of the OCA in Mexico City, I was amazed to hear that people in San Esteban had been under the OCA for over forty years. And yet, as His Grace continued the story, the need for our team’s work grew clear. Though these people would answer the question, “What kind of Christian are you?” with the response, “Orthodox,” they had little knowledge of the Church, her history, traditions, and creed. Remote as the town is, any priest wishing to visit the faithful faces a considerable challenge. Until recent years, a bridgeless river forced visiting priests to brave small boats in order to cross. And unless the priest had his own car, he would travel by foot or atop the swaying gait of a burro. The priest serving them, Fr. Serafim, now finds himself in this position. Not owning a car, he has traveled as he can to visit the faithful in San Esteban and nearby villages with Orthodox Christian communities. Well-loved by the people, Fr. Serafim awaits the completion of a permanent home for himself within the village. Our team’s goal was simple enough: to lay a foundation for the faithful so that when Fr. Serafim’s residence is finished, he has something upon which to build.
We reached San Esteban on Monday night of the trip, and remained through Friday morning. Our team offered activities for the children each morning related to the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. Working with varying abilities to speak the Spanish language, each member of our team embraced the children with the love of Christ in words as well as in action. The church’s walls rang with children’s voices as they colored their images of the Cross, and the courtyard just outside the church echoed with laughter as they learned how to throw frisbees. In the evenings, Fr. Antonio, Fr. David, and Fr. Serafim led the Service of Thanksgiving or Vespers. The pews filled with the smallest of babes and the grayest of grandmothers. I could see their love for God reflected in their eyes; at no moment was this more evident than when all lined up to receive the Eucharist on Thursday morning.
Only so much can be done in three days. And yet, God is not limited by time as we are, so the effects of our humble work go beyond what we saw. Through the generous support of friends and family, each team member had the opportunity to spend a week of this Great Lent in a special kind of self-denial and servitude. Now I ask for your continued prayers for our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Mexico, that together one day we might all stand in the Light of our resurrected Lord in Paradise.