It’s Thursday, Day 3 here in St. Tammany West. In the middle of our trip, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask the workers about their experience on the trip so far. So, this is Real Break New Orleans, as told by Eyvonnka Rizkallah, Maria Nasser, Meredith Ashton, Rose Ansara, James Jabbour, and Ben Solak.
“It’s a really good mix. You get to do service but you also get to learn about an area I feel like a lot of people know about but not the extent that people should. I know I’ve learned a lot about Katrina and the people here and how it affected them even though it was so long ago.”
“You’re not going internationally. You’re helping people who are in your country who may have been hidden in the dark.”
“Seeing as though I don’t have an OCF at my local university, this was my opportunity to get involved.”
“It’s a nice time to reevaluate where you are in your semester, by serving someone besides yourself. You also have the opportunity to enhance friendships and create new ones through the dioceses. Meeting new people through our faith can be difficult—we only have a few events throughout the year. But this is a unique, intimate setting. The group is small and you’re serving where you are. It makes it different.”
“It’s really like eye-opening, because I had no idea. Like seeing pictures and hearing things are one thing, but if you come down and you see all the damage in person that’s still here…it’s ridiculous.”
“I really liked using the electric screwdriver. No, wait. That’s not what it’s called. I don’t know what it’s called. The screw thing.” (drill)
“It’s an intimate way to get to know a community that isn’t yours, and to be an Orthodox presence in that community is really cool, to share your faith. It’s much different than just going to New Orleans and going to restaurants and going to a party. You get to be directly in the neighborhood, be with the people who live here, get to know them and what matters to them. And that’s a really different experience than you’d get on a more traditional spring break trip.”
“The culture is so much different here from where I lived.”
“I thought it would take the mission trip aspect of things I’ve done in other places around the world and put it in my own country, so I could help people where I live, and I really liked that.”
“I was really excited about building homes for people who really need them. Putting our blood, sweat, and tears into everything we do. It’s a great way to bond with people who are from New Orleans. At the end of the day, you know that your hard work was going to contribute to something even bigger.”
“I’ve really loved eating the food. I’ve probably gained like ten pounds. But overall, great experience. I’d definitely do it again.”
“I wanted to go to Real Break New Orleans. It’s more fulfilling than going to Miami and partying. This is definitely real stuff. That’s why it’s called Real Break.”
If you want to follow Real Break NOLA, or any OCF event, be sure to follow OCF’s Snapchat @OCFMinistry. My caption game is fire.
Before I begin describing my experience in New Orleans, I would like to express my deep gratitude for what Real Break allows for Orthodox college students. It gives us the opportunity to serve and to witness the lives of those in need, spiritually and or physically. It has been an experience that I have been craving as I have felt that I have not been putting all of my efforts to serve God during my free time. Through prayer and trust, it actually happened. Glory to God for all things!
When we arrived in New Orleans, I knew a few of the members coming (including my UNCC chapter co-president Isabella Calpakis) but was also surprised by the amounts of connections the other members had with me! This includes our trip’s priest and fellow Jersey Shore boy, Father Stephen Vernak. By then, I knew that this was going to be a great week. Our mission to serve with IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities) began quickly through the exposure of the distraught neighborhoods of damaged and demolished properties that align the highway. Hurricane Katrina has still left a mark on the city, which had given us the incentive as to why this trip is more than a vacation. Visiting the Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood that experienced the most flooding, felt like a scene from a movie because of the destroyed properties and learning how the government had to step in to discover deaths within each home (marking the numbers on the front doors). Glory to God, not all of the neighborhoods had suffered much, such as the Downtown and thriving French Quarter, but the pain that the citizens had experienced was evidently traumatizing.
Our work as a team was done in the Mandeville suburb across Lake Pontchartrain, the body of water on the New Orleans edge. Before each workday, we began with prayer with Matins service and ended each day with Vespers, unifying our team as one body of Christ. We, with IOCC, worked with Habitat For Humanity to continue construction of two houses for low-income residents. Even though I was skeptical that I would be of any help, we all developed a good system to construct efficiently, encouraging each other along the process. What Habitat For Humanity does for these residents was also amazing to hear. Instead of offering the homes as a handout, they educate residents with classes that range from budgeting to landscaping. I saw this as a Christian virtue, to raise those who are in need by teaching responsibility. Seeing the change from our arrival to the last workday was a beautiful product of our labor through Christ’s love.
What also brought perspectives of the remnants of Katrina to New Orleans were our three visits to the city. The Katrina exhibit at the Presbytere Museum showcased the local stories of trauma and resilience. Another night, we visited St. Basil Antiochian Orthodox Church and heard from Father Paul Nugent as to how the Faith was tested but yet defined the trust and hope for the growing community. Our last visit included visiting Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Here, we listened to parishioner, Maggie Mag, about the history of Orthodoxy in the United States and how the New Orleans parish was the first established church in the lower United States (not including the earlier churches on the West Coast/Alaska). She, along with Father George Wilson, discussed the impact of what Katrina had done to their community, but how the grace of God had brought them back to a beautiful large community.
Hearing the pain and resilience of the citizens, especially the Orthodox residents regarding the Faith during those times, brought me hope for their community. It is incomprehensible for us as humans as to why these events happen, but it is our trust in the Holy Trinity that we all could overcome the battles that we face in this life, in order to reach salvation with Him. Katrina has also affected me after this experience. It has allowed me to serve God by aiding to those who need the work of our hands.
Nicholas (Niko Wilk) is a senior studying Architecture at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. He is the chapter co-president for OCF at the university. He loves exploring cities and regions, as well as singing and keeping active. His goal to study Urban Planning in grad school.
With #GivingTuesday just around the corner, we thought we’d help you learn more about some of the great Orthodox ministries that need our support as a Church to keep doing the great things they’re doing! Consider making a donation to one or more of them this year! Click on the logos to go directly to their online giving sites.
Ancient Faith Ministries
Ancient Faith Ministries started as an online radio program streaming Orthodox music and has grown to include a plethora of audio and video podcasts, blogs, a publishing house, a store, and a film production division. Ancient Faith provides a constantly growing and updated library of Orthodox resources on topics ranging from dogmatic theology, spiritual growth, marriage and family life, philosophy, ecumenical dialogue, fasting, saints lives, daily readings, and more. OCF is proud to host our own campus ministry podcast through AFR, and we are so appreciative of the support and guidance they have provided us in our own media outreach.
Many of you, I’m sure, are very familiar with Antiochian Village and its camping ministries. OCF houses our College Conference East there every year! We’re also proud to say that many of our OCF leaders give back to AV as counselors every year. Donations to AV help maintain its facilities as well as provide scholarships to campers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.
This ten-day academic institute is designed to help high school juniors and seniors connect Orthodox theology and spirituality to the big decisions they are preparing to face–like going off to college! We’re so proud to say that over the years, many, many of our OCF chapter presidents and Student Leadership Board members have been alumni of CrossRoad. We know they’re doing it right when it comes to preparing young people for the challenges of college and beyond!
FOCUS North America
FOCUS North America is a US-based charity that provides food, occupation, clothing, understanding, and shelter through a number of community-based FOCUS centers as well as programs like Operation: Lace Up which provides shoes to school-age children in need in various cities across the country. They also run a youth program (YES) to help youth and young adults better understand poverty and get involved in serving their communities. OCF partners with FOCUS North America to run Real Break Cleveland where we volunteer at their center there, St. Herman’s House (a men’s homeless shelter).
Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society
Philoptochos is the largest Christian women’s philanthropic organization in the US, providing services to local communities as well as through national initiatives to those in need. Their focus is charity to the poor, preservation of the family, and perpetuating and promoting Orthodoxy, and they support programs as broad as aid to Greece and Cyprus, Hellenic College/Holy Cross, health related organizations, IOCC, and a variety of local social service organizations. OCF has been blessed to receive Philoptochos support, especially in regards to the First Forty Days Initiative and the Summer Leadership Institute.
Hogar Rafael Ayau
Hogar Rafael Ayau (San Miguel del Lago) is an Orthodox orphanage outside of Guatemala City, Guatemala run by the nuns of the Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Trinity. The children are educated and cared for all within the context of the Orthodox life. OCF partners with the Hogar to run Real Break Guatemala where our students play with the children and work on repairs and other projects needed by the monastery.
International Orthodox Christian Charities
IOCC is perhaps the most well-known and respected Orthodox charity, providing communities around the world with immediate disaster relief as well as long-term sustainable, community-oriented solutions to poverty, housing, education, and health. IOCC provides assistance without discrimination in places as diverse as Syria, Greece, USA, Haiti, Camaroon, and Bosnia. OCF partners with IOCC to run Real Break New Orleans where we work with them and with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes.
Ionian Village offers young people an opportunity to not only attend a great summer camp, but to go on a spiritual pilgrimage to encounter the saints, deepen their faith, and experience the life of the Church in a way that is unique among camping programs. We’re so proud to say that many of our OCF leaders are IV alumni and often go back as staff to minister to the next generation of Orthodox young people.
Orthodox Christian Fellowship
Yep, that’s right. Did you know our own ministry is entirely supported by donations and grants? We’re blessed to be able to able to provide you with things like free retreats, the Summer Leadership Institute, all sorts of chapter resources, and College Conference scholarships thanks to the generosity of our supporters. And we’re always trying to come up with new ways to help your chapters grow, connect more college students to the Church, and give back to the student leaders who make OCF the amazing ministry that it is.
Orthodox Christian Mission Center
OCMC is an agency of the Assembly of Bishops that helps send missionaries around the world to share the message of the Gospel to those who have not heard it. They currently have long-term missionaries in Albania, Guatemala, Kenya, Mongolia, Romania, and the United States.
Orthodox Christian Network
OCN provides news, radio, blogs, and other resources for Orthodox Christians of all ages. They even have a live-stream Bible study on Wednesday evenings!
Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry
A newer agency of the Assembly of Bishops, OCPM ministers to men and women, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike who are in prison or have been recently released. They provide spiritual guidance and catechism to those who are interested as well as train clergy and lay people on prison ministry. OCPM currently ministers to over 1,000 people in prison including five who have become monks and over 300 catechumens.
Project Mexico & St. Innocent Orphanage
Located in Tijuana Mexico, Project Mexico helps build homes for families in need while St. Innocent Orphanage cares for and educates orphaned boys in a loving, spiritually-rich environment. OCF has partnered with Project Mexico in the past to run Real Break trips where students worked on home builds and served at the orphanage. In addition to giving, you can always sign up for a summer team with your family, friends, or parish to volunteer.
St. Basil’s Academy
Located in upstate New York, St. Basil’s Academy takes in orphaned and at-risk Orthodox children where they can live and be educated in a safe and nurturing environment that addresses all of their needs. In existence since 1944, they take in children from all Orthodox backgrounds and care for them with Christ’s healing love.
St. John the Compassionate Mission
St. John the Compassionate Mission offers a variety of social services to the needed of Toronto, Canada. Their work includes weekly community dinners, kids programs, a thrift store, a community house for those in need of subsidized housing, an organic bakery staffed by those who would otherwise find it difficult to find work, counselling services for individuals and families, an Orthodox mission parish, and a lived theology school. OCF has partnered with St. John the Compassionate in the past to run Real Break Toronto, and we encourage our students to check out the lived theology school.
ZOE for Life!
ZOE for Life! is a pan-Orthodox outreach ministry that provides services such as counseling, housing assistance, medical assistance, prenatal care, adoption assistance, and a variety of other services to women in crisis pregnancies.