"Following the Crucified Christ into War Torn Africa: Fr. Themi Adamopoulo"
FOLLOWING THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST INTO WAR TORN AFRICA:
FR. THEMI ADAMOPOULO
By Fr. Luke A. Veronis
As a former existential atheist and Rock and Roller, whose band The Flies played with the Rolling Stones, and even hit the Australian Top Ten back in the 1960s, it seems incredible to think how the Rev. Dr. Themistocli Adamopoulo now serves the poorest of the poor in war torn Sierra Leone. What compelled someone who grew up in a Greek Orthodox family to delve into the cultural abysses of his generation, not only tasting the fleeting fame of pop music, but searching for meaning and truth through music, drugs, Hinduism, Buddhism, Hara Krishna, and anything but Christianity, then to study in the halls of Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, only to end of serving God as a humble Greek Orthodox priest in one of the poorest countries in the world?
Fr Themi, as he is known, represents a unique, dynamic, charismatic, and extremely inspiring Greek-Australian priest who has served God in Africa since 1999. When I asked him how, in his wild journey of life, he eventually found Christ, he simply responded, “I didn’t find Christ, but Jesus found me. I wasn’t even looking for him at all. Christianity would have been the last thing that interested me. And yet, Jesus found me. And what I thought would have been the most boring life in the world, in fact led me on the most exciting adventure of faith!”
Fr. Themi wanted to study further his new found faith and came to the States and received degrees from our own Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as from Princeton and Brown Universities. He then took his academic brilliance back to Australia, becoming a professor and an academic. Yet one day as he reflected on the life of Mother Teresa, and compared it to his own work of explaining some minute detail of theology to his students, he asked himself, “What am I doing here, while Mother Teresa and her missionaries work among the poorest of the poor? I want to encounter the crucified Christ in the poorest places on the planet.” He heard God’s call and went off to Africa, beginning a 13 year missionary ministry, first in Kenya, then since 2008 to the then poorest country in the world – Sierra Leone.
By the grace of God, Fr. Themi has accomplished amazing work over the past four years. On the outskirts of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, he has established what the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Theodoros II, called in his recent visit, the “pride of the Patriarchate” – the St. Moses Village. This three acre compound provides free shelter, food, medical care, and chaplaincy services to 100 of the most defenseless people in the country, the disabled homeless and their families. The recent 15 year civil war, combined with the scarce medical help for those with polio and other diseases, have left countless people with amputations and disabilities. These people, traumatized by their condition and stigmatized by their society, simply struggle to survive by begging on the streets. Terrible memories of war have left many with deep anger and serious psychological problems.
“When I arrived in Sierra Leone,” Fr. Themi shared, “I realized these were among the most victimized people in greatest need, and we began reaching out to them with Christ’s love. Yet this wasn’t a “normal” missionary setting, like when I served in Kenya. These people have been devastated by war. Since this is a new field of missionary practice, we had to come up with creative ways to fulfill the needs here.”
Along with an Orthodox kindergarten and primary school for the children of the disabled at St. Moses village, Fr. Themi has established the Freetown Orthodox Christian Primary and Secondary School. This school educates 1600 students, and is situated along one of the major boulevards in the middle of Freetown. The St. Eleftherios Orthodox Cathedral also finds its home here.
A third initiative that will open its doors in September 2012 is a post-secondary College, which will offer studies in Early Childhood Education, Journalism and Media Studies, and IT (Information Technology) and Computer Studies. Early next year, they will add a full Nursing Program, which will have as an added specialty a focus on a unique Amputee/Prosthesis Clinic. Through this College, Fr. Themi hopes to train people in Sierra Leone with the Jaipur Foot System, a very effective, yet cheap method of producing prosthesis legs for amputees. This system was first developed in India. Presently, Fr. Themi has sent a nurse to a training center in Uganda to learn more about this system. “It’s an extremely important project because it gives hope and life to people who can’t do much right now with their disability and the social stigma that comes with this disability. This system can produce long lasting legs that cost only $120, a fraction of the cost to produce such prostheses in the West.” A fifth program of this new College will hopefully be a Theological Department, scheduled to begin in the Fall of 2013.
Fr. Themi, as a graduate of Holy Cross, inspired a new generation of students this past Fall during HCHC’s Missions Week. He offered the annual Missions Lecture, sponsored by the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity and the Endowment Fund for Orthodox Missions, and spent a week on campus interacting with students. Fr. Themi profoundly touched the entire campus community with his words and videos, challenging every listener to reflect upon how we all can reach out to the “crucified Christ” in the world around us. He vividly showed, through his stories and life, how sharing God’s love with those in desperation and need, with the “crucified Christ,” gave his own life it greatest meaning and purpose.
Those who want to learn more about Fr. Themi and see videos of his work can find it on his website “Paradise Kids for Africa” at www.pk4a.com.
Fr Luke A. Veronis is the Director of the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity, an Adjunct Instructor at HCHC, and the pastor of Sts. Constantine and Helen Church in Webster, MA.