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
”…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