In April, I read a blog that discussed how alarming the rate of young people that are leaving the Orthodox Church.
There were a lot of great points in the article. However, one point really stood out to me the most. It was the following:
three main factors that contribute to a young person retaining their religious tradition into adulthood
1. The young person’s parents practiced the faith in the home and in daily life, not just in public or churchly settings.
2. The young person had at least one significant adult mentor or friend, other than parents, who practiced the faith seriously.
3. The young person had at least one significant spiritual experience before the age of 17.
Later, they pointed out the most important of all three relationships are, “what the young person observes in the actions and daily life of his or her parents is the most decisive element by far.”
Now, the question that burdens my soul is how can we get this outcome in our churches, specifically in our mission churches? I know that as parents we are responsible for raising our children and to spiritually prepare them to face the world. So, I know what we must do as parents. And my husband and I are doing our best to live a holy life and live by example.
But, my husband and I are also responsible for our “church children.” Here in Africa, our children are surrounded by broken families, drunk mothers and fathers, abusive or absent fathers, adultery and so much more! I once asked a group of young teenager girls which of them had a father that gets drunk. And every single girl raised her hand. Every single one. Then they began to open up about the challenges they faced at home. Sad stories that I can never forget. Abandonment. Their mothers and themselves being kicked out of their homes by their dads and forced to sleep outside. Verbal abuse. Mothers telling daughters that she wished her daughter had never been born. Insecurities. Too ugly. Too dark. Too dumb. This was just an average group of young, beautiful teenagers. And they are so beautiful. Our average families.
How can we save our young people and keep them in our Churches when they have terrible examples of parents? (Don’t get me wrong, we also have wonderful, godly examples of parents).
Recently, God has put it on our hearts to focus on building our families. The family is the smallest unit of the church. When the family is strong, the children are balanced and healthy. The church is then strong. Therefore, we have started the Family Altar Ministries. We have Valentine’s Day events for couples, parenting workshops, family days, date nights, and Father’s Day events, to name a few. We are helping parents heal and at the same time teaching our parents how to raise a future of Orthodox children. We start with the Priests, Leaders, Deacons, Servants and then the rest of the church family.
We are still faced with a lot of broken, nonresponsive parents. For those children, we are trying to build a Mentorship Program. Many experts say that one of the most successful programs is Mentorships like Big Brothers Big Sisters. In our Mentorship program, a Servant takes under his or her wing one or more of these young ones. They establish a relationship, a spiritual rule, and follow up with them. I know the most ideal is having Godly examples at home. But, I have to have HOPE that God can still transform them and they can choose to love God at a young age.
“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Romans 8:25
A dear friend of mine and another Orthodox Priest’s wife gave me her wisdom once when I visited her. She said that “Modern Martyrdom” is when we intentionally and willingly sacrifice our lives for others. I have been trying to do my part of this little ocean that God has placed me in. It is not always easy. It takes times. It takes sacrifice. It takes Martyrdom.
Wherever we are, there is brokenness. Hurt. Abandonment. Fears.
I pray with ALL of my heart that YOU too can mentor and love a broken person. Or help build church families. Godly marriages. “Holy mommies and daddies,” in the words of my son.
The Church needs you.
Let’s Chat: I would love to get more ideas from you for our ministries! In what ways are you helping build families or mentoring someone?