I arrived at the University of Florida as a Linguistics graduate student in the fall of '05 and immediately got involved with OCF. While I had heard of OCMC previously-- had met Fr Martin in South Korea in 2003 and visited the office in 2004-- it was through OCF that I came into a closer relationship with Orthodox Christian missions. At OCF I met Fr Martin and Pres Renee Ritsi's kids Stephanos and Nicole, as well as our chaplain Fr Ted Pisarchuk who serves on the OCMC Board.
The faithful Orthodox Christian community at the University of Florida was quite small at the time, but committed to one another and to Christ. We had few official functions, but gathered frequently for informal prayer, fellowship, and book study. I found myself having a leadership role in many of these "unofficial" activities, and when our president graduated in 2007 I was asked to take on that role.
As president of OCF at the University of Florida I began to learn about leadership. I was surrounded by prayerful officers who took their role seriously and have become great friends. Together with OCFs in Tampa Bay and Central Florida, we helped put together a statewide retreat for Orthodox Christian college students and young adults which has since become a yearly event. At UF we continued to pray regularly for our campus and to develop a vision for the future.
We also started to bring in as a regular speaker Father David Rucker, who had just accepted a position as Associate Director of OCMC. And Deacon James Nicholas, Assistant Director of OCMC's Missionary Department, became our OCF chaplain. Through Fr David and Dn James I learned more about Orthodox Christian missionary work and began to seriously consider this as a possible vocation for myself.
When our priest of blessed memory, Father Peter Kastaris became ill at the beginning of Lent 2008, I was asked to call Fr David to serve us during the emergency, a task which he accepted with grace and love. As Father Peter suffered and died during that Lent, I saw Fr David and the whole Rucker family doing true missionary work in our midst-- loving us first, suffering together with us, bearing our burdens and being available. And only after establishing that relationship of love did Father David begin to work positive change and gently correct our errors.
It was thus through relationships with OCMC staff that I made the decision to apply for long-term missionary service, and those relationships were established in OCF. Now here in the Holy Archdiocese of Mwanza I have been asked to develop an Archdiocesan youth program, and am looking back to my positive experiences of OCF at UF as one guidepost in this process. I am very excited by the opportunity to share here in western Tanzania the good gifts I received as part of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship there in the United States.
Additionally, I am blessed to have the prayers, encouragement and even financial partnership of OCFs in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, California and British Columbia. When I was on the road raising support last fall, my favorite moments were on college campuses with young faithful Orthodox Christians. I visited OCFs not because I expected money from college students, but simply because I love being with OCF. Surprisingly, some of my most consistent and generous financial support has come from people I met during OCF visits.
The most important thing we did in OCF @ UF, a tradition which continues to this day, was to pray. Three times weekly, a few students would meet together for short midday prayers in the basement of the union building on campus. There were periods when "Midday Prayer" was the *only* thing OCF did, and when Midday Prayer might be attended by two people at most. But it was and continues to be the heart of Orthodox Christian spiritual life on the university campus. While other programs, functions, etc succeeded or failed to whatever degree, this core of faithful consistent prayer is what sustained us and is what has led, I firmly believe, to the tremendous growth OCF @ UF has experienced in the three years since my service as president. Even here in Tanzania, I know that every time I pause in the day to remember my God, I am joined in this prayer by my fellow Orthodox Gators.
By: James Hargrave - October 2010