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Missionaries' travels to India lead to tsunami aid
by Jean Blum
Source: Lemont Reporter/Met, January 28th, 2005

When the Rev. Andrew Harrison and his wife, Pat, of Lemont traveled to India last fall, little did they know their experience as missionaries would lead to another calling - raising funds to assist victims of the devastating Asian earthquake and subsequent killing tsunami on December 26.

Father Harrison is pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Luke the Evangelist located in Cook County forest preserves in east Lemont. He is an active member of the Lemont Christian Clergy Association.

Harrison said, "The Lord Jesus Christ promised he'd be with anyone serving on a mission. Indeed, Pat and I always felt God was with us during our journey working with the Orthodox Christian Mission Commission (OCMC) in India."

"Returning home I kept asking myself what did I learn as a missionary? Am I applying my vision as a missionary priest in America? Would my caring and generous parishioners be willing to increase their philanthropic activities and publicize them?"

He soon found answers.

"I shared my missionary experiences with St. Luke's congregation who are always willing to serve others with their talents and treasures. Yet in early January I was overwhelmed by their generosity donating $2,500 in a special collection to help victims of the destructive Asian tsunami. They did not know the people they would be assisting but wanted to help because they cared."

Fr. Stephen Callos of Ss. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland traveled with the Harrisons. The two pastors taught seminars attended by 455 Christians. Fr. Stephen's centered his lessons on the feasts of the church emphasizing the significance of Christ's life while Fr. Harrison focused on theology of the creed.

Pat Harrison said the Orthodox Philanthropic Society in Calcutta feeds street children every day and approximately 1,000 adults each week. During her mission she worked in an orphanage caring for 183 girls, finding it heartbreaking to see how needy they are.

The orphanage appeared to have administrative difficulties, the nearby community in great need of housing for the poor. Two projects had been started in the area - a girls' vocational school and a school for the visually impaired and the blind. She prays the projects will reach planned goals.

"Our days started with 7:00 a.m. Matins (morning prayer), breakfast, then teaching until stopping for a late lunch," Fr. Harrison said. "Classes continued till Vespers (evening prayer) followed by a period of questions and answers. Bengali linguists translated our discourses."

His Eminence Bishop Metropolitan Nikitas of Hong Kong visited India during the time the Harrison's were there, a highlight in their missionary journey. As head of the Southeast Asian diocese the Bishop is dedicated to missionary outreach.

"His Eminence pointed out that the world's largest population is in his diocese but it has the smallest presence of the Orthodox Church. He would like to see missions and churches established in Pakistan, Thailand and Singapore needing clergy and catechists to staff them," Harrison said.

Bishop Nikitas also heads OMHKSEA (Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia) an outreach relief service organization.

OMHKSEA has set up a special relief fund acting as an intermediary between those who have suffered great loss from the Asian tsunami and those wanting to help them recover. It is the organization St. Luke's chose to send their donations.

Comparing his experiences working with the struggling Orthodox mission in Calcutta, Fr. Harrison felt he was walking through the pages of the Acts of the Apostles as well as the Epistles of St. Paul in the Bible - learning lessons the early apostles had to learn.

"One thing I realized is that missionaries do not cause conversions - they cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit. Pat and I found it hard to leave behind the friends we made and the work we were doing."

"But we also had a mission at home - St. Luke's."

Fr. Harrison said all missionaries provide "a candle of light in the darkness of human suffering". He feels blessed to be to be pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Luke the Evangelist, very aware all his parishioners are Christ-minded parishioners.

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