Funny how just when you think you have things all mapped out, God changes stuff. I have been blessed to work as the Education Support Specialist at York River State Park for over a decade now. Because it is not a full time position, I can be a bit flexible with my hours and days. My plan was to work at the park every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and all but one Saturday of the month.
To boost my income, I was blessed to work a little over a year for the Proclaiming Grace Outreach Thrift Spot. Assisting with sorting through donated goods is not a glamour job. But, the commute was a few minutes from home. The overall mission of the organization was very good, I worked with some very nice people, and that $110+ a week was kinda nice. My plan was to stay there on Tuesdays & Thursdays until God led me to something else.
And then there was the East End Beach Keeper’s Fellowship. With the help of my Teen SOYO, we were able to get a name for ourselves with beach clean up along the urban shorelines of Newport News’s Anderson and King-Lincoln Park last fall. Okay, I had to make money. But, I figured and scheduled to have one Saturday a month to continue shoreline work and provide a watershed education experience for kids who didn’t get a chance to go to a state park. I had contacts and was going to make necessary plans.
The COVID-19 shutdown in Virginia has taken my plans and used them like a handkerchief. The EEBKF was put on hold as getting the church youth and young adults together couldn’t happen as everyone had to keep six feet apart and church services were reduced to only five people. Getting together with NN Parks & Recreation wouldn’t happen anytime soon. My job of educational programs at York River came to an end as well. I have been reduced to working only three workdays a week and of those days, one would be spent working with maintenance and another collecting parking fees from park guests. With no one making donations of clothing and other non food items to the Thrift Spot, my job there was put to an end.
Yet, I can’t help but to feel excited about this time. Now, I am forced to take on a ministry that I had been avoiding like a bad virus. A couple of friends in the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black suggested that I start a podcast. “John, you have the voice for it,” the said. This was in 2016 and I had a ready excuse not to do it; “I haven’t finished the Antiochian House of Studies.” Well, I earned my St. Stephen’s Certificate in Orthodox Theology in August of 2018. “Now, John,” they asked.” “Leave me alone,” I said. “I’m not a member of the clergy. Who wants to hear what I have to say?” I was ordained Reverend Deacon by Bishop Thomas of the Antiochian Archdiocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic. “John, what are you waiting for now?” “Dude, I still have to work two jobs. I have to work six days a week.” Well, thanks to COVID-19, time is no longer an excuse.
I threw something out on Facebook on April 12th just to test the waters. The topic was being cautious and vigilance in the spiritual life. I didn’t even bother putting it on YouTube, thinking that no one wanted to hear what I had to say. The video had 179 views. I had been trying to get a mere steady handfull of people to come to the West Point Library on a regluar basis to share the Orthodox faith with with no success. But, 179 views with about 50 “likes;” I wanted to wait until after Holy Week before making another video. April 25th is the feast day of St. Mark the Apostle and Evangelist. This was the man who brought the Christian faith to Egypt and established the Church on the African continent that still exist today as the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Coptic Orthodox Church. No other black preacher was going to tell anyone about St. Mark. I had to do and did it on Facebook and YouTube. Three hundred and fifty people saw the video. There were 100 likes and it was shared 30 times! I think I may have found my voice.
So, now my job is to make videos promoting the Orthodox Christian faith to African-Americans and anyone else who is willing to listen. This is no easy job. I must make sure that my words are historically accurate and spiritually in line with the 2,000 year old teachings of the Church. My stuff can’t be some sort of “new revelation of a fresh birthing of the next level of God shifting His favor.” Plus, my spiritual life must be on point as well. Satan strikes even harder at those committed to do his will. Unfortunately, I have my struggles with any demon any other man has. Despite the challenges, I am ready to take on this task.
In 1987, I was turned down for an internship with an agribusiness firm. One of my fraternity advisors, a Presbyterian pastor, walked with me a little ways to hear my troubles. He asked me, “John, what did God call you to do?” “He called me to preach,” I replied. His words changed the course of my life. “Perhaps you should pursue your calling first and let everything else fall in place.” Come to think of it, someone else said something similar: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). His advice was golden. I never looked back then. I doubt if I look back now.