Is it just me or does everything smell like pumpkin right now? Well, it’s Fall and that means harvest season and pumpkin spice everything (I refuse to try pumpkin spice hummus). I live in the great state of Illinois, so harvest season is a pretty big deal for us. Every other year farmers switch out corn with soybeans (one of them needs nitrogen in the soil and the other one puts it there, but I don’t know which is which).
So, sometimes in the soybean fields a few corn plants will pop up. We call them volunteer corn plants. The volunteer corn plants don’t last long. Soybeans are very low to the ground and that singular corn plant has no protection from nature (wind, storms, rain, etc.). I am always intrigued by the volunteer plants, especially the ones that stay alive and become strong.
OCF is very similar to a corn field, and we are like corn plants. As Orthodox Christians, we are the minority on campuses everywhere. We stand out. Our values and belief systems don’t match the other students around us because we recognize we are not of this world. Like the volunteer corn plants, we stand alone a lot of the time, being attacked by the unseen warfare (in the corn’s case it is the wind). Sometimes it’s easy to let the “wind” topple us over, to succumb to the world around us.
New studies have shown that farmers plant their corn fields with corn closer to each other. Why is that important? Well, the farmers plant the corn closer together so that when the wind comes, and the corn is attacked, the corn is able to stand upright because it is being surrounded by other corn, and they protect each other. When we as students are in the soybean field as volunteer corn crops, we are subject to lots of unseen warfare, and without people to support us it is easy to be overtaken.
That is why OCF is so important. It is important to establish ourselves in the cornfield with other volunteer plants. We must stay closer to each other and support each other. When I attend my OCF chapter’s meetings, I feel safe and at home. Everyone around me believes what I do, we are all volunteer corn plants.
As I said earlier, some volunteer corn plants survive all by themselves, but it is rare that they can withstand nature’s torments. Just because it is possible does not mean it’s easy. That’s why I encourage all of you to be a part of OCF, attend services at your nearest church, and find other Orthodox Christians around you, I promise you there is at least one other Orthodox student on campus, or one you can call to feel connected. If you are exploring the OCF page and happened to stumble upon this looking for a sign to join your local OCF chapter than this is it. Look at the chapter finder, reach out to surrounding OCFs and our Student Leadership Board. Having each other makes life on campus a little bit easier. So, join OCF. Be in a loving environment with people who are like you. You still may be a volunteer crop, but at least you have others holding you up. As it says in Isaiah, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations,” (Isaiah 61:11 RSV).
I encourage you to find your corn field and Orthodox support system. Know that the Lord has called you to be His volunteer crop to “spring up before all the nations” to show “righteousness and praise”. OCF is such an amazing ministry to be a part of, so join it. Be a volunteer crop that has other corn to help it stand upright.
I am Evyenia Pyle. I am freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I am majoring in Speech and Hearing Sciences with double concentrations in neuroscience of communication and speech-language pathology. This year I am the Central Illinois District Student Leader! I love to sing, especially byzantine chant. I play a lot of instruments including guitar, bass, piano, and more. I have two amazing dogs, they are my pride and joy. I am so excited to be contributing to the OCF blogs this year!
I’m going to boast on someone else’s behalf, for a second.
Last spring, the then-Chairman of the Student Leadership Board, Emma Solak (some relation, maybe), spoke at the Orthodox Youth and Camp Workers Conference. She was brought in to discuss what it meant to “Keep the Faith” in college, and why there was less to fear than we sometimes fool ourselves into believing.
That’s not really the boast part, yet.
Fast-forward to September: A Serbian church in Merrillville, Indiana–St. Sava–was looking to better engage the youth of their parish. The core group, that had helped establish the church and brought it through its growing years, was beginning to pass away or grow too old to continue carrying the torch. In order for St. Sava to remain a healthy, proud parish, the next generation would have to step up into the shoes of the one before it.
In effort to engage their youth, the parish sought speakers for their 103rd anniversary banquet–speakers geared towards addressing the younger members of the church. And, on the magical website called YouTube, they found one: Emma.
I was able to accompany Emma on her trip to Indiana, where we were blessed with the hospitality and passion of the Historical Society and hosts at St. Sava. Driving back to Chicago, two things struck me:
Firstly: youth in the Church is not all doom and gloom. You could see that at St. Sava. Some of the young members of the church received awards for their service to their parish, their dedication in fulfilling their responsibilities. In the massive banquet hall, children ran around at every turn. There were three age levels of Serbian dance, and a choir of adorable little munchkins that sang traditional Serbian songs.
We talk about the difficulties of retaining youth in the church because, frankly, it is important to retain youth in the church, and it can be difficult. That being said, it is important that we enjoy and recognize those youth that still staunchly remain in our parishes across the nation.
Retaining youth isn’t a numbers game, nor is it some sort of forced captivity–keep them in parishes long enough until they grow old enough to know they need the Church. We should spend intentional time appreciating the presence of youth in our church, no matter how small, and seek to understand why they enjoy and thrive in the Church as they do.
Secondly, I was struck by that service that OCF could render: providing a speaker, fresh out of college, to a church seeking such an individual. We talk at lengths regarding the manner by which OCF serves us–what programs OCF offers, how it can help us. We also sometimes consider, “What we can do, through OCF, that serves others.” Real Break, YES College Days, these programs in which we tell OCF we want to give back, and OCF points us at people in need.
But we, as members of the Body of the Church not just OCFers in a program, regardless of age and occupation and schooling level–we have talents to give to the Church. Emma spoke to St. Sava’s church, in part because of her experience with OCF, but not as representative of OCF–she spoke as a young woman who was strong and active in the Church. We can all be that! We all should be that.
The further away OCF floats from that pure idea–forming persons who are strong and active in the Church–the more it becomes just another student organization. It loses its true purpose: equipping us, not for being OCF members, but for being real, live, actual Christians.
Hello friends! For those of you who followed the blog last semester, hi again! It’s good to see you, and I hope that midterms haven’t been too terrible. And to newcomers to the blog, I AM SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE.
Ben has been kind enough (or maybe I conned him into it . . . we may never know) to invite me back as a Blog Contributor for this semester! If you remember from spring (and absolutely no worries if you don’t), I was a senior, which means that I’ve now (gasp) graduated. But isn’t OCF just for college students? Au contraire, my friends. OCF is for students under the age of twenty-five, so I’m not-so-stealthily sneaking by.
This is a bowl Kiara made for me (it’s Ben). It is now my sugar bowl. I love it lots.
Anyway, having graduated in May, I’m now working on a master’s degree in art therapy at George Washington University (don’t be fooled, I’m not really that smart—God definitely had a hand in getting me accepted). Though I’m no longer an art major, you can still frequently find me covered in clay, and my love for wandering in the woods, writing poetry, and knitting hasn’t changed. Write me a poem about ceramics, and I just may love you forever.
[Ben Note: can confirm.]
If you recall from my posts last semester (or if you don’t), the university I attended was pretty intensely secular. No OCF, the nearest Orthodox church was an hour and a half away, and I was the only practicing Orthodox student on campus. Not exactly the thriving community you’d hope for. Things like this blog, College Conference, and OCF retreats were some of the only lifelines I had to our faith, and staying connected was more than a bit difficult. To be frank, it was lonely and hard and very definitely not fun. 10/10 would not recommend.
Fast forward to today, aaaaaaand the school I currently attend doesn’t have an OCF either. I know, I know, I can hear you guys are shaking your heads and asking why I don’t learn from my mistakes. But hear me out; it’s not as bleak as you think. I’m now sharing living space with another young Orthodox adult (shout out to Rose for being the best Dox roommate I could ask for), church is only thirty minutes away (!!!), and GMU (which is about fifteen minutes away from my house) has a budding OCF! Being in the D.C. area, there are a TON of college-age Dox people, and we’re carving out our own little community.
The moral of this story is, whether your school has a massive, flourishing OCF or you’re the only one on campus, there’s hope. And OCF is here to lend a hand and a hug if you’ll have us.
One of the things my professors stress (over and over and over) in class is that 90% of being an art therapist is listening. It’s not about giving advice, and it’s not about you being omniscient and solving people’s problems. Just listen. Reflect back what they’re saying, and be the sounding board that lets them find their own solutions.
I think there are any number of parallels here, both with OCF and with our relationship with God. (I know it’s a little ironic for me to be going on about listening when I’m doing all the talking, but bear with me.) First of all, how frequently are we called to be still, or to be silent, and to seek God that way?
At the risk of being cliché, think of Elijah; the voice of God wasn’t in wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the gentle whisper after. No matter the tempests of our life, help does come. And it comes when we take time to listen.
Relating that idea to OCF and to this blog, it’s our job to listen to and for you. I can blather on all I like about whatever pops into my cluttered mind, but it’s of no use to you if it isn’t something you need. So please, reach out to us—to Ben, to Mark, to Nick, to me, to anyone you’d like—and tell us what you need, what’ll be beneficial to you. At the risk of speaking for my fellow Contributors, I think it’s safe to say that none of us took this position because we think we have earth-shatteringly good ideas; we took it because we want to walk with you as we all try to walk in faith. So if you’ll have me, let’s walk a little farther together.
Kiara (her Arabic-speaking friends like to call her cucumber, because apparently a khiara is a cucumber in Arabic—who knew?) Stewart is a first-year grad student at George Washington University. When she’s not reading endless art therapy texts or busy making art, Kiara likes to spend her free time reading, hiking, and hanging out with the Amish.
If you’ve been keeping a weather eye on the OCF Events page (highly recommended) you’ll notice it’s speckled with the most recent addition the family of awesomeness that OCF offers: YES College Days. If you’ve been around the OCF halls for a few years, you’ll know that this is something we rarely offered in the past.
YES College Days are the result of a partnership between OCF and FOCUS North America. FOCUS (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve) North America is an Orthodox organization focused (see what I did there) on addressing poverty across the United States. They’re stationed in over 20 cities across the country, and they offer a ton of different programs and service opportunities.
One of the most widespread and successful of the FOCUS programs: YES (Youth Equipped to Serve). YES trips are available for youth from a junior high through a college age, and endeavor to provide those students with perspective, as well as an opportunity to grow as young leaders and stewards of the church, through their interaction with the poor and needy in a certain area.
College students, you say? Enter OCF.
So OCF and FOCUS paired up to create a ton of YES College Days–a ton of YES College Days–through OCF networks and as OCF events. The infrastructure of District Student Leaders and Regional Student Leaders already exists. The chapters and friendships already in place help students arrive in waves. The mission of the YES College Day aligns with the mission of OCF.
Already scheduled for the upcoming months are YES College Day in New York, Oklahoma, Philly, and more–but don’t worry if you can’t access any of those places, trips for you are gonna pop up soon. Now, if you can get to these College YES Days…why should you go?
I mean, I can rattle off a billion reasons for you right away if you like: serving Christ, helping the poor, helping another Orthodox organization, getting a break from school, meeting OCFers in your immediate area, taking a road trip with your OCF chapter members, gaining leadership skills, working with a FOCUS trip leader, etc…
But if all of those don’t do it for you, I’ll tell you one of the biggest reasons I’ll be attending my YES College Day.
I go to school in the south side of Chicago: Hyde Park. Whenever old people hear I go to school in south Chicago, they kinda lose the minds. Their memory of south Chicago illustrates a violence-ridden, gang-run area. The reality today is that, though south Chicago isn’t nearly the place it once was (I promised I’m safe, Mom), the shades of those days remain.
And there is infuriatingly little I can do about that.
I hate walking my streets and seeing people that I want to and should help, but then I remember my tenuous financial stability as a college student, and I feel limited in my utility. Do what you can, sure–but what I can do is too little. Unacceptably little.
YES Days provide college students an avenue for work that they may be unable to achieve on their own. Some things, like prayer and education, I may feel I can do in my dorm, by myself, using the resources available to me–and there’s truth to that, though there’s also immense value in doing it with the body of the Church that is OCF. But this level of service work, to which we are called, for which we are responsible…I’d wager it’s incredibly tough to do it alone.
So again, here’s the list of current College YES Days scheduled. Reach out to your Regional Student Leader for more information on when one in your area might be.
Sup team! My name is Benjamin Solak, and I’ll be your Publications Student Leader for OCF 2017-2018!
Wait…didn’t you do this job last year?
And they gave it to you again?!
I’m as surprised as you are, dear reader.
Okay, so what’s the plan for the blog this year?
A lot of super cool stuff. After our Blog Contributor program went super well last year, we look to be reviving that this year, starting in October, with a couple familiar faces, and some new ones too. If you’re interested in being a Blog Contributor, or if you’re unfamiliar with the program, you should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll be looking to engage the community in an even bigger way this year. The loveliest part of the OCF Blog is that it is an ongoing, national effort of OCF. It allows OCFers from Nebraska and New York to connect with those in Nevada and North Carolina. Anytime there is a College Conference, Real Break trip, Regional Retreat, District Retreat, Day of Prayer activity, Day of Light activity, OAM challenge–anything–I want to hear about it! If your chapter has done something cool and you think the blog should know, you should email me at email@example.com.
Are you just thirsty for emails because they make you feel important?
Oh, most definitely.
Do you have anything else in the works for us to know about?
Okay, what else CAN you tell us?
I’m a third-year student at the University of Chicago (which is in Chicago. Sometimes people ask me that.) studying Comparative Human Development. I’m an unhealthy football fan, and I cover the Philadelphia Eagles for a site called Bleeding Green Nation, and college football and the NFL Draft with NDT Scouting. I run when my knee doesn’t hurt and complain when it does. Sometimes I pace myself, and eat the entire package of Chips Ahoy Chewy in two sittings.
I can also tell you that the mission of this blog is to magnify exposure. Whether it’s something done in the OCF that merits the eyes of the national body, or if it’s you, and how the OCF blog can assist your spiritual growth and enrich your college life. The four pillars of OCF are fellowship, education, worship, and service–and all four of those will be highlighted throughout the year, that the multiple and international efforts of OCF may always present to you a full body of the church.
I run the blog, but the blog isn’t about me, it’s about you–and, not unlike Horton the elephant, I mean what I say and say what I mean. As your OCF year enters full swing, I’m excited to be right there with you.
What a guy.
Oh stop, you.
Read on for a post about chapter meeting and activity ideas that incorporate the four pillars of OCF!