Youth Say Yes! to the Poor of Kanasas City

kansas_city_briefingThis past weekend, a team of 20 youth participated in FOCUS North America’s YES Program (formerly known as OYO), serving our most needy neighbors in Kansas City.

They arrived from parishes in Wichita, KS, Oklahoma City, OK, and Kansas City, eager to be used by God to meet the fundamental needs of His people. They did not expect, however, that they would receive much more from the experience than they would give. After three intense days, the youth gained a new perspective on the poor and homeless: they came expecting to serve them, but, instead, found their own lives forever changed by the encounter.

“They are just like us,” one participant said. Another said, “I don’t know how anyone can come on a FOCUS North America YES trip and not be changed.”

Living out Matthew 25, the youth engaged in several social action projects throughout the weekend. They served and ate dinner with many homeless and working poor in the city, listening to their stories and enjoying fellowship with them. They distributed clothing to mothers who had no means to clothe their children. They walked around the famous outdoor Country Club Plaza in Kansas City with newly opened eyes, looking beyond the glamour to perceive and meet the needs of the homeless on the streets. But, as the youth realized, they themselves were fed and clothed by the face-to-face encounter with real living icons of Christ, with the poor of the city. As one participant said, “They really open themselves to you; they’ll sit and talk to you forever, when most people in school will never give their time to you like that.”

nicole_and_noraStaying at the Reconciliation Services building, a partner ministry of FOCUS North America, in the heart of inner city, proved to be a further blessing for the group. The experience of living in humble circumstances shed new light on God’s bounty in their lives and fostered their desire to share their resources and love for Christ with those in need.

The youth are now excited to return home and make consistent commitments to the poor in their own communities. This FOCUS North America YES trip not only equipped them with necessary tools to actively become living icons of Christ, but also to truly encounter Him in the poor they meet in their daily lives.

“I am constantly amazed at how God transforms those who have a pure desire to serve Him. It is through seeing themselves in reference to their Creator that these young people grew in their knowledge of who they truly are in God’s eyes. Instead of building their identity from unhealthy influences, the YES program of FOCUS North America provides them the opportunity to allow Christ to live through them and to experience the joy of being their true selves.”

–Katrina Bitar, YES Program Director

To bring the YES Program to your community, please contact Katrina Bitar- JavaScript required to view address.

As an expression of Christ’s love, FOCUS North America serves the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned by providing Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, and Shelter.

FOCUS-Release-YES-KC.doc and FOCUS-Release-YES-KC.pdf Versions

Teen and Youth Leaders Serve the Poor of Philadelphia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 4, 2009– Kansas City, MO

PHILLY_TRIP-_GROUP_IN_GARDEN

This past weekend, August 28-30, 2009, the Orthodox Youth Outreach Program (OYO), now called the YES Program of FOCUS North America (Youth Equiped to Serve), took its first trip as a ministry of FOCUS North America. A group of 16 eager teens and leaders said yes to the “cry of the poor” (Proverbs 21:13) and gave their time in service to the people of Philadelphia, PA.

The weekend began with orientation, led by Katrina Bitar, YES Program Director. The rest of Friday evening was spent in prayer, the team’s first ministry to Philadelphia. The group traveled around the city and prayed for it and its people. This prayer tour kicks off all YES trips, orienting the team to the past and present of the community they will serve and opening their eyes to the real struggles of its people.

Saturday was a fruitful day of ministry. The team spent their morning preparing and serving lunch to 75 homeless men and women. They then embraced the challenging task of weeding out a neglected garden that had previously been the joy of an impoverished community. Their work brought tears of excitement to the elderly in the community who did not have the strength and resources to maintain the garden themselves. The students concluded their day by bringing food, drink, and fellowship to the people who were spending that night outside in the rain in a Philadelphia park. The impact of this encounter was beyond words.

“Being face to face with the poorest of the poor opens a teenager’s eyes to the true meaning of Christian life. They come to see that God has equipped them for His work. They come to see that they have been given the resources to meet the fundamental needs of people. They come to love God in ways they never have before because they are deeply thankful for what they have been given. Most importantly, they realize what it means to be the Church; they become Christ for all people and learn to see Christ in everyone they meet in their daily lives,” said Katrina Bitar, YES Program Director.

The mission of FOCUS North America’s YES Program is training the youth to follow Christ’s example by dying to themselves. The program transforms them from observers into leaders through a four-step service learning process known as E4. They are Exposed, through interactive curriculum, to the reality of poverty in the world and in themselves. They are then Engaged in practical service to others, losing themselves in the encounter with men and women created and loved by Christ, striving to be flexible, available, and teachable. An intensive leadership training week further Equipsthose who have participated in at least two weekend YES trips to guide others in their service to the poor. Finally, the youth are Entrusted with continuing the mission of YES in their communities, to inspire, lead, and educate others.

The impact of this process was tangible in this weekend’s debriefing session. The students were asked to fill in the blank to this sentence: “My experience here has been ____.” These answers that were given are common to all YES participants: Amazing. Inspiring. Rewarding. Necessary.

The students’ weekend in Philadelphia is over, but their experience has committed them to dedicating their lives to those in need.

As one of the participants Christina Fakes said, “Now I don’t see the poor and needy as “poor people” or “homeless people,” but as actual people who have names and histories and loved ones, who need our help and compassion.”

“The mission of YES fits perfectly within FOCUS North America because its program guides and equips the youth to love and serve others, giving them the tools to create opportunities for service in their own parishes and, hopefully, to inspire future FOCUS North America leaders to dedicate their lives to Orthodox Christian social action,” said Fr. Justin Matthews, Executive Director, FOCUS North America.

or checks can be made out to “FOCUS North America” and sent to:

PO BOX 30117, Kansas City, MO 64112

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FOCUS-PHILADELPHIA-PR.pdf

SCOBA gives FOCUS Warm Endorsement, Calls it a “Welcomed Initiative”

 

For more information contact: Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director & CEO 816.399.0909 JavaScript required to view address

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 11, 2009 – Kansas City, MO

FOCUS North America made a successful 20-minute presentation on Thursday June 25th, 2009 to the STANDING CONFERENCE OF THE CANONICAL ORTHODOX BISHOPS IN THE AMERICAS (SCOBA) at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral during its Spring 2009 session.

During this important meeting, although not granted immediate agency status as requested, a resolution was passed by all the Hierarchs in support of FOCUS North America stating: “SCOBA gives FOCUS North America a warm endorsement for this welcomed initiative.”

“As FOCUS North America seeks to grow the direct ministries we are operating and the Pan-Orthodox philanthropic ministries that we propose to engage in on behalf of the whole Church, we are grateful for the warm reception of the Hierarchs and the prayerful guidance of the Study and Planning Commission of SCOBA,” said Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director.

“The Board of Directors, staff and many partners of FOCUS North America who have labored for years on behalf of the ‘least of these’ here at home are sincerely grateful for the opportunity to have presented its exciting operations and plans to the esteemed Hierarchs of SCOBA,” said Mr. Charles Ajalat, Chairman of FOCUS North America.

After the meeting all of the Hierarchs and others present enjoyed watching the new FOCUS North America video highlighting its domestic mission and ministries to reach the poor in North America.

FOCUS North America is an Orthodox domestic social action agency formed to serve the poor and needy on behalf of the Church in North America, to support existing Orthodox ministries doing so effectively, and to help welcoming parishes initiate new social action ministries in their own communities. For more information and to watch the FOCUS North America video please visit to focusnorthamerica.org.

FOCUS Launches Domestic Social Action Network

FOCUS North America established to support and build up domestic Orthodox social action ministries. [KANSAS CITY, MO] April 7, 2009—In early 2009, FOCUS North America (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve) launched as a network of Orthodox Christian social action ministries that express Christ’s love in North America for those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick or in prison (Matt. 25:35-5). In its first 60 days of operation, FOCUS North America has partnered with dozens of Orthodox agencies and parish initiatives and awarded more than $30,000 in grants.

FOCUS grew out of the need for an Orthodox Christian effort to address the persistent and pervasive needs of the suffering, impoverished or vulnerable in North America. It is a staggering reality that over 40 million people live below the poverty line and the unemployed rate exceeds 11 million people in North America and is increasing. While there are a variety of Orthodox Christian agencies within all jurisdictions effectively engaged in addressing these needs, a coordinated effort with national support and encouragement could be much more effective.

In January 2009, an historic meeting of twenty leaders, staff, academics and patrons of leading Orthodox Christian domestic social action agencies, with members representing a variety of Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, was sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Charles and Marilee Ajalat and the Orthodox Vision Foundation. That meeting was the catalyst for the creation of FOCUS North America and the refining of its vision, which is to make a significant and sustainable impact through Orthodox Christian social action initiatives in the lives of suffering, impoverished or vulnerable persons of any age, race, creed or color in North America, especially in, but not limited to, ministries providing immediate relief in the areas of Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding and Shelter.

FOCUS is compelled by Christ’s mandate to serve those in need through:

  • Education in faith communities of the Scriptural mandate, historical precedence and urgency forliving out the Christian faith and witness through personal involvement in social service
  • Support of existing social action agencies through training, coordination and funding from significant private and public sources
  • Initiating the creation, and nurturing the healthy growth and funding, of new locally-based social outreaches and their leaders
  • Collaboration with individuals who want to support social ministry through volunteerism or funding of these initiatives

Orthodox agencies and parishes with social service initiatives or plans for future projects are encouraged to become part of the FOCUS North America network. For more information about FOCUS North America, go to focusnorthamerica.org or contact Fr. Justin Mathews at 816.399.0909 or via email at JavaScript required to view address.

FOCUS LAUNCH PRESS RELEASE PDF FILE

Obadiah: A Story of Struggle

obadiah-version2”…And by calling a homeless rover…” – The Way of the Pilgrim

St. Theophan the Recluse taught that, if we are to be Christians at all, we must struggle: no podvig, no progress. Who would see this more clearly than a homeless man?

The news media is full of stories of real struggle: homeless families on the streets, homeless students flooding American schools, shelters full, food pantries empty… In the midst of all of these “stories” its often still hard to see the real people in them – real hunger, real pain, real struggle, real faith.

Obadiah is one such real homeless man. Obadiah is now an Orthodox Christian but his story of struggle is all too real. I know him from the streets outside St. Brigid’s Fellowship (an Orthodox parish homeless outreach) in Santa Barbara,CA.

Obadiah has often had no place to lay his head, but in his daily battle to survive on the streets perhaps appreciates, even better than I, where his home is.

Obadiah has been homeless and living on the streets for years but he was charismated in 1986 by Fr. Michael Evans in Tucson, AZ. It was there that Obadiah fell in love with the beauty of the Lord’s house. For three years he has been our neighbor, coming not only for services often, but for food, clothing, guidance and friendship.

Our neighbor, Obadiah, says, “The friendship at St. Brigid’s connects the Church to the streets.”

For his friendship I am deeply grateful. To have, in some way, become his companion has brought my own struggles into focus. I have learned more from him than I have taught. Pray for our sakes this pilgrim, Obadiah, will tarry with us in the neighborhood!

And pray for and, if you are moved, please contribute to the efforts of FOCUS North America as it supports works like St. Brigid’s where, as one has said, “Christ has come to make the rich poor and the poor holy.”

“Notes from the streets” by Fr. Jon-Stephen Hedges