His Grace Bishop Aghathon spoke about his experience as a missionary in Brazil followed by a short word by Father Anthony Messeh.
On Mission in Brazil
On Mission In Brazil – His Grace Bishop Aghathon
St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church of Washington, DC
Originally Recorded: April 29, 2007
Transcribed from Mp3 file, Video starts at 2:34 mark of mp3.
After an introduction by Father Bishoy Andrawes, His Grace Bishop Aghathon discusses his challenges with and the growth of the Church in Brazil. Father Anthony Messeh concludes by reminding that all are called to fight, struggle and endure for the Kingdom of God.
Some Key themes: Endure, addressing issues with grace, God’s Mission and He will provide, Fight for the Kingdom of God.
Fr. Bishoy Andrawes [Introduction]:
His Grace Bishop Aghathon, he is the bishop of Mission in Brazil, who is visiting us and I’ll tell you more about his visit, and independently from that we’ve have actually a visit from our Coptic Church in Howloeney, NJ, Abouna Ishah and a group of the youth, and we’re very happy to have them and we’re welcoming them and it’s a great blessing today.
HG is going to give you a short word but before he speaks, Sayedna is one of the missionary who started something and mission in Brazil not only zero but his expression is “under zero”.
We read lots of stories and I’m sure most of you have read stories where missionaries have spent years and years in order to see fruits. One these missionaries that we talked about is His Grace, he served in Brazil since 1993, and it was really really really tough and hard from the beginning, I don’t know how he made it and waited, but now thank God, there’s a big Church, amazing church, and a big congregation from Brazilian who are Coptic Orthodox, and practicing, very strong in the Faith. [1:31] Just a blessing to have something like this, and Sayedna know that we have the mentality of mission, don’t we [asking congregation]?
You guys have the mentality of mission or you don’t? [asking congregation]
Tayeb, haga y’sha’ghawe [Arabic Translation Needed][1:35-1:39] [Laughter]
That’s why Sayedna came because he knows we have Mission Life Center and he knows we have missionaries went out from this church to Africa and to different parts of the world and that we’re very excited, and very very soon we’re going to announce a trip actually to Brazil at the end of December and beginning of January cause it’s really wonderful work that’s being done there, and His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was there actually a couple of months ago. So we don’t only have a Bishop but a missionary, and a actually a hero.
[2:15] Sayedna speaks in of course Arabic and Portuguese but we insisted to hear a word from him in English, so he’s going to give you a short word because we know that everyone will benefit from his Grace.
His Grace Bishop Aghathon:
[2:34][Video Starts] [Speaking Arabic] [Arabic Translation Needed]
…bil arabi ouwel, Abouna kol haga hayef [Laughter] sal wu yitani…Abouna Pishoy memen habiytu kol a haga, yani…
Anyway…Bis mil Ab, wa Ibn wa Rooh e Khoodos, sa illa wahid Ameen [In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen]
Yani…ana ha limkum kal item englis sa ilini a mission, wa badek keda a kooshek kimlet n’harda, ma’lesh [Arabic Translation needed] [2:55-3:05], excuse my English, yani, I was here in America for four years before I became a monk, l’Pourgugese h’lani, I forgot the English, yani.
Laken ma’lesh, mu kabeer, taten mahoona, taten mazil, tafad, yani [Arabic Translation needed] [3:15-3:23]
Ana, I start in Brazil 1993 I wasn’t prepared to for that place and I wasn’t a priest at that time, I was only a monk. And I was invited for Oridnation for Bishop Yohannes, the Secetary of Pope Shenouda in Egypt, in that night one of the bishops called me to wait and not go back to the monastery because the Pope would like to talk to me. In the end I heard a lot of words about Brazil, and one priest before me he start and he left the place, he can’t afford it anymore, but I didn’t say nothing because I always say that God, He chose my direction or my way, not me, I chose my life.
After that in short time, at the second time, sorry the second day, we had a meeting with Pope Shenouda and Anba Agathon the Bishop in that time of monastery of St. Paul and Ismaliya, the end, the Pope he decided to Ordain me as a priest on the second day.
[5:15] And they send me to Brazil in few weeks, actually I don’t know where I’m going, where I’m going to stay. The priest before me he gave me a list of names, that’s all, and he told me a lot of stories, really it’s a sad story, not encouraging but, he tried to tell me the facts, that’s all.
As I told Abouna Bishoy with a group of the mission yesteraday, I arrived in Brazil, there was no body waiting for me in the Airport, no one…and it was difficult to find someone to speak English, probably now it’s much better in Brazil than it was before, because now it’s fourteen years I’m in Brazil. So I start to look for anyone speak English in the Airport, there is nobody, the end I found one Lebanese guy, he congratulate me to be in Brazil, we start to let me know how to dial the telephone because there was system not like today. I was looking for somebody to pick me up and start to wait [7:00] more than two hours in the Airport until the people they came to pick me up. When my way, from where I’m going I don’t know, they start one saying one word ‘ortru’ [Portuguese] the other one, I’m speaking Portuguese too [Laughs], the other he starts speak to say another word.
“Why you came here? We are very afraid, who’s going to take care of you?” they start to give me names, Failan she said they never, we will never have a Coptic Church here in Brazil, where another person can go the Church, because he can’t pay the metro or the path train [7:54]. A lot of the story, we hear it’s really poor, here the people kill each other for nothing, they [the individuals who picked up Bishop Aghathon] start say a lot of things.
Actually I have a ticket for one way, that’s all, and I told yesterday this story, Pope Shenouda, everyone he sends him to any country he gives him a ticket for two ways, but they start, a lot of priests or monks, they go, they don’t’ like it, in few weeks, they go back, so Pope Shenouda doesn’t like this way, and he starts another system why was in this story, one way have to go and no to come back anymore.
I went, but I wasn’t imagine the situation was like that [9:00] in Brazil, I start think, if really I have the ticket to go back in the same day I will go, because this is not the way to receive the priest in the first day. Our Church is a respectful church, a Holy Church, but anyway I heard what they say, what they said, and I told them a few words, “we came here not for the money, don’t worry about this point, we came here to take care of you. We would like to see you very close or very near ti God, that’s all, but the rest don’t worry.”
After that, they took me to one church, Syrian church, but it was closed, the people, the neighbours they told me there is another church in the same area, go and see, who knows, maybe they’re still praying, it was Sunday. I went in this place, and I start talk to the priest. The priest he close the rest of the door in my face, he start “why you come here, the Egyptian they didn’t come to pray with us, and when one of our Bishop came here I take care of him, I pay this and I pay that” he start to say a lot of words not really nice, to say it but I tried to hear and not to talk, I said to him, “please I came and I’m very tired, it was a long trip, and we asking you for one thing, you have another church, it’s a closed church, if you like to borrow this church for us, we will be happy” and he told me “you can talk for the responsible people for that.”
[11:20] We talk together through one, he translate the language, because the younge people they didn’t speak Arabic, and that time I went to Brazil, I didn’t know one word in Portuguese. The End they took me to their house, we are in the Fasting of St. Mary, but was shame, the people they forgot St. Mary, they forgot the fasting, they forgot everything, they put for me a lot of food, meat and chicken and other things, and I said to him, [12:00] “I am fasting, St. Mary, and if you have some potatoe or some rice it will be fine,” I didn’t go through argument with him, why you forget, no. And I ate and they took me to one of the Catholic Monastery in St. Paolo where there left, where this was the end of the Egyptian people, is they left me and was no more. And I have a list of name I start to look for these people, to come because, the next Sunday was the Feast of St. Mary.
[12:48] Most of them, or all of them, everyone say something different where they start to skip from me in the conversation. And one of them, he told me “I don’t know God, I don’t know priests” and he hang up the telephone, this was a big shock for me that day, where I felt that these people, different people, not like other country.
And after that Sunday came, seven people they pray with me at that mass, and we [13:34] start every week less and less and less until one of the Sundays I prayed the Mass alone. And I send all the story to Pope Shenounda as report, because it's not right the priest to pray the mass alone, but I say, I apologied to Pope Shenouda "this is the only way to pray, I came here to sleep? no" and the mass it's a blessing for me for my life, so I can't afford to stay without mass, even anybody came, nobody came, it doesn't make difference for me, I have to pray.
[14:40] And after that I told one of the Egyptian, please, I was praying in almost in one chapel in the monastery of the Catholic Church, but I wasn't satisfied in that place, and I said for one of the Egyptian for talk to the people to give us an answer about their church. The end they said to agreed to leave the church according to split the money which entered the church, between their church and other, or our church. I said to him this is not the main point, if you like to take everything this is normal, we like to pray that's all.
We start like five weeks, first a little people they coming to pray, and there is no money there is no nothing, and the people they start to complain, they need thier money. And they said to us, starting from now you will have to pay like twenty dollar in every mass we have to pay in their church, and we have to pay $100 for that five weeks, we use their church.
[16:12] We start like that and I start to know people from the street, the supermarket, from alot of places, and from the monastary too because at night the monastery they have a school, this is called the, they used it as a college at night, so it was a big change to learn the language, some of the students in this place, I speak with them in English and they explain for me in Portuguese. I had a course, a little course, for one month, in one school, I remembered I paid like six hundred dollars and I didn't learn nothing, just "good morning," "good afternoon," "what's your name," because our country in Brazil is a big corruption country but we handle it, I said no, I said I will take of that alone and I start struggle to know the language.
[17:31] In that time there is a woman, she had a child like nine months, and this is the first child I baptized in the church in Brazil, and his mother and his father too. they allways coming very early in the morning, one day I talked to them, I said "I feel guilty, I feel sorry, how come they afford three hours, they didn't understand one word" but they said to me, "don't worry father, we feel the praying, there is no problem"
From that point I start to struggle to learn the languge of this country, and I start to stay with the monks of th monastery to teach me. It was translated through this monk in this monastery before I came, because there was another priest who was serving for eleven months and he didn't go any more to Brazil. So I start to learn a little paragraphs for few months until I be fine to pray with it, i start another paragraph until I finihsed the whole mass in Portuguese , and now even...hatal waza [Arabic Translation needed]...I explain it in Portuguese.
[19:19] The language helped us, for alot of people to come to our church, our church is a big church, an old church, and it's a rich church too. I don't mean a rich chuch with money I mean a rich church ...il ahan wala keeda, wa hana helwa ibela kenesit [Arabic Translation needed]...Anyway I start to baptize alot of people, and I start the many of the Brazilian people enter the church, and the Egyptian dissapear in this atmosphere. I start to visit them, to call them, to talk to them, but it wasn't easy, to touch their hearts, we still praying for them, who knows one day they will come back to their church. But anyway, the church start to grow up more than the others, until in 1997 one of the readers of the church [the church that was being rented?], it was a woman...t'arfe ma'toshet, sheb muheb haga? [Arabic Translation needed] ....no way, it changed her mind. "Father you have to leave the place, we are going to recieve our priest from our coungry and we have to paint, to renew our church, so you will have to leave soon." I start to talk to her with many ways, but there is no solution, even I told her "if you want more money I will pay" she said "No, you have to leave."
[21:40] I left the place, I was very upset, didn't know where I'm going. In that time in 1997, because in the first after one year, I went to Egypt and I talked to Pope Shenouda, I explained the situation but I didn't say I don't like to go back anymore, I didn't say that for him, but I said I will explain and he will decide. He told me father, go step by step, I told him I don't feel okay in the monastary. He told me go and rent a house or an old apartment and we will take of that, so I rent like a studio, b'tul studio hena oulu, fi brazil cathenete, studio yani kat haga tayeb betreen, wa 3at makanda [Arabic translation needed]....I stayed and I lived and I start to pray the mass in this place, but I lost alot of people in this time, where we were in the fasting of Easter I told one of the church, Catholic Church, Lebanese church, Catholic, to borrow their church to just pray the Easter, the night of the Easter, they agree but before the Easter two days, they cancelled thier word with me, and I start to go back to the chapel of the monestary to pray the Easter.
[23:55] I sent message to the Pope, I said please, we have two ways, we have to build a church here in Brazil if we like to continue or I would like to go back for my monastery. The Pope he has big mind, and he take care of all of us everywhere, he didn't sleep, anyway he gave permission for one of the priests here in America to take care of this point and he told me "father go look for a house for a church, for land, whatever, we will buy for you." We bought a big house and I started to pray in this house, and I start to move to this house to live too. The Church was growing up day by day, and one day I told the Pope, "Please we need to build a church for us here like the other religions who are not listen this people," and he encouraged me to start say "what is the cost" and we start to build our church, but I built it in two parts because I don't like to go through what I went before, so I built a house and after they finished I start to pray...fi psala...b'tat'l house idawan wo badain [Arabic Translation Needed]...il house... and they start to destroy the main house to build the church.
[26:25] In the end we finish the church, we start to pray in the church, in our church, in 2002. We went through alot of suffering for sure in this country, the rules are really not easy, but the Hand of God always give us energy to solve everything. The church now, thank God, we baptize alot of people, even not every mass they are in the church but they appear in the church. Some of them they always in the church, the rest at least once a month they come in the church.
[27:26] Every month we have baptize in our church in Brazil, the people they like our church, of course it's very ancient church, we serve these people and we still need to take care of them more and more. These peole ikn brazil and in latin amarica generally majority don't know whereeis the right hand, where is the left hand.
We have some peole like 26 years didn't know how to pray...aben la'azi [Arabic Translation needed]...it's a big country like two hundred million people..il a economic...economy is not really good. They struggling, and they suffering,there are many problem in this country, but anyway, their souls are pure souls, they need who take care of this, who to encourgae them, so the mission is a beautiful work for all of us.
Yesterday I said for Abouna Bishoy, the Heaven is open for the whole countries, the whole kinds of people, the heavens is not only for us, for the Orthodox, we have to look for these people, we have to take care of them, even God knocks the doors of all of us, of this kind of people to, they need everyone, and he gives a chance to everyone. It is written in the Bible, who can make chance to make something good and he doens't make it, it's a big sin.. So we'd like to try to do something in our life, and our life is not to only eat and to work and to enjoy ourselves, I think the mission it's a big blessing, the people who work in this field, I'm quite sure they know how they feel happy, what they win everyday in the mission, and I felt soo happy here when Abouna B, Abouna A, when they told me here in your church, alot of groups, they work in this field, and they went in South Africa many places and Mexico. It's is good for us to feel the others what they need. It's good for us to win one soul for God, even it's written, [Sayedna quotes bible verse Luke 15:17 in Arabic] [Arabic Translation needed], the Sky or the Heavens will be happy with one sinner he came back to God, more than ninety nine they are saints.
[32:16] [Arabic Translation Needed] [Sayedna mentions something about Divine Liturgy] [33:08]
Fr. Anthony Messeh:
Don't worry I'm not going to take long, just want to talk for two minutes here.
First of all we are very very very blessed today, probably more than you realize to have Sayedna here with us. And it's not like, God doesn't do things by accident, so Him sending Sayedna here on this particular weekend, I think is very very very critital and very important. When Sayenda was talking he was being, yani, very, he was speaking quickly, he didn't want to speak too much to tell you what he went through when he was going over there to Brazil, he told us a little bit more yesterday, and all I could think about I hear someone who 's saying I want to serve God, sent halfway across the world with a one way ticket, without any money, with knowing anything, and you get there and there's no one in the Airport waiting for you, no one who cares about you, and no one asks about you, all that i'm thinking is I want to go back. Why would anyone stay in something like this? Sayenda said he's been there, I think he said since '93, so that's fourteen years, why would someone stay in fourteen years suffering and miserable like that? Why? why would someone go to a place where no one cares about them? He was very happy in the Monastery, praising God, Tasbeha every day, liturgy every day, monks, he was very happy. why would anyone, why would any missionary leave to go and end up suffering like that?
[34:38] This is a very very important principle that we have to understand here, which is actually somehting that another missionary Bishop from Africa taught me, Anba Bolous, and he always used to tell me, Abouna Anthony, you have to fight for the kingdom of God, you can't expect the kingdom of God to fall into your lap. I'm afraid, that if any one of us would have been in that position, you know exactly what we'd have done? Gone over there, "I'm ready to serve God, and we're going to do this for God, and we get there and there's no one there...OKAY...God closed the door! The will of God is not for me to do this! I tried to serve God but if He wanted me..." right? we do this all the time..."If God really wanted me, He'd have made it easy for me, He'd have opened the door" so "if it's not the will of God, so I'm going to obey the Will of God, and go back to my home."
[35:25] We do this ALL the Time. And I know my neighbour needs something and I'm going to tell them, but..um...they turned this way so therefore it's probably not the will of God for me to speak, therefore let me just turn around and go back to my house.
The Will of God is not something that falls into your lap, it's something that you'll have to fight for, okay? The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, it's what our Lord said when speaking about St. John the Baptist, because the Kingdom of Heaven and the Will of God is not something that just comes easy to you like that. I remember when we were in Africa last year, I'll tell you a story, which I definately would not have told you at the time, but I brought you kids back safe, I can tell it to you. We were going to, we were in Zambia, and we were going to take a trip to Congo. Those of you who know anything about anything know that Congo is not the safest place in the world, there's like a civil war and stuff, and we were strongly advised by the United States Embassy "Don't Go there." We were strongly advised by the Bishop over there "that we're Going over there" [Laughter] So we start going over there and it appears like some doors start to close. Little problem with the car here, problem with the visa there, and of course you know, we had some more time to think about it, some people read the news, of course talk to their parents, this and that, some people start to get hesitant. I was one of the people who started to get hesitant [Laughs], I'll be the first one to admit it. So I started to say, Sayedna, you know what it looks like God is closing the door. Of course he just looks at me and laughs, okay. "We're going to Congo." And I won't go into all the details, but there was one thing after the other and I kept saying Sayedna, lets not push it, this and that. He told me very simply, "look here Abouna Anthony, it's never going to be easy to do the will of God." Like it's never going to be somthing that falls into your lap, if you want it, you gotta go get it, and you gotta fight for it. It's not something that's easy, and it's gonna, just wake up one morning and everything works out smoothly for you. If you want the Glory, and if you want the Will of God, you got to go get it. No one is going to wake up one morning and have an olympic gold medal around their neck, or have the championship in a super bowl or something like that. If you want it, you gotta fight for it. And the same thing with the Will of God.
[37:40] The reason why I'm saying this is very relevant right now. If you were paying attention during the Gospel reading today, our Lord Jesus Christ is speaking and saying "I am the Bread of Life, come to Me and you'll never hunger. Come to Me and you'll never get thirsty." And He's saying all these beautiful things, and then if you know the background of the Gospel, it was John chapter 6, verse 35 to 45. We read for Matins this morning John chapter 6 from before that, and we read Vespers last night, John Chapter 6 before that, so we read pretty much the entire John Chapter 6, which concludes with this. John Chapter 6 starts with the feeding of the five thousand, when all these hungry people came to Christ, and they didn't have anything and He fed them. And then the next part of it, is that there was the storm, and the Apostles were in the boat, okay, so the people all saw Christ leave, they saw the Apostles leave in the boat, okay and they saw Christ sitting here on this side of the water, and no more boat. They all go the next morning and they see Jesus is on that side and there's no more extra boats, so they figured out that He somehow walked on the water. Okay, so they know, number one, that He fed the five thousand, and number two, He walked on water. And now He's coming saying "I'll give you Bread of Life and Water that never makes you thirsty again."
[38:53] What happens at the end of the Gospel? The most pathetic and saddest part in the entire New Testament, in my opinion. He says all these nice things, people believe in the Son, they have everlasting life, I'll raise them up on the last day, "then the Jews murmured against Him" because He said "I am the Bread of Life" and they said, is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph. And then they started to complain, and they started to say like "how come?" and all this kind of stuff.
With all do respect here...if I'm advising Christ, "leave these people alone" "Enough!" "You fed them! You gave them drink! You showed them You could walk on water! You tell them I'm here to raise you from the dead! And they say ummmmmm....but I'm not...I'm murmuring and complaining this feat...Forget about them!" Right? Just leave them, they're worthless, these people are not worth a nickel. After all You've done for them and they murmur against You, they're not worth two cents, in my opinion.
What did Jesus do? Did He say, "God closed the door on these people?" did Christ say, "well the doors closed on the Jews, I tried"? "Will of God," go back to heaven?
No, He fought for it and He went the next day, and they rejected Him, and He went the next day, and they Rejected Him, and He went, and He went, and He went, until they finally killed Him and He couldn't go no more. He did everything He could.
I'm scared that God's going to look at me at the Last Day, and I'm going to say "Lord, I was a great priest, and a great missionary, and I served You." And He'd say, "What? you took one step, you got scared and you took a step back. You're not a missionary, missionaries don't take a step back"
Look here, sometimes we get confused and say, "we should be patient and wait on God," YES you should be patient, you should wait on God when you don't know what God wants. But when God very clearly says "Go to all nations and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," and He says "preach the Gospel to every creature" there's no guessing. You don't need to sit and fast and pray for six months whether you should go on a mission trip. You don't need to say, when my work gives me three month's off work, there's no job that gonna give me three month's off. If you want it, go fight for it, and go get it, but don't expect it to fall into your lap.
The reason why this is very important today, this past Monday, very bad day, many people sad, the shootings all that kind of stuff. [Abouna is referring to the The Virginia Tech massacre which occurred April 16, 2007 on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States. 32 people were killed.] In a nutshell, we should be sad by what happened on Monday, but we are not sad because 32 people got killed, we're not sad for that, because I've news for you, if 32 people was ready to die, and 32 people got killed on Monday, then the Kingdom of Paradise, has now 32 more member than it didn't have before, and that's a great day. And those 32 people, if they were ready, are not weeping, they're not crying, they're laughing at us, because they've attained what we hope to get, that's not why we're sad.
What makes us sad on a day like Monday, the devil, when he plans stuff like this, it wasn't to kill 32 people, it's to kill 32 million people, or how many billions of people in this world. And what he want's to do right now is to shake our faith, that's what he want's to do, his plan is not for those guys, those guys are dead, they were ready, they have the resurrection, that's what we talked about right here, his plan is for us, that we would now murmur, that we would now say "yeah, Jesus said He's the resurrection, He said He's the Bread of Life, but how do I know? how can I be sure? and if so, why didn't He? and how come this and that?" and Murmur and Murmur and Murmur, because at the end of this Gospel, the devil was smiling, and what happened with the Jews? He was very...success, victory, when it comes to those guys, battle won, because he got them to murmur. Look here, on Monday, the kingdom of evil...there's two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of devil, the kingdom of devil, had a little victory on Monday, so now if you're a boxer or you're a soldier whatever, and the Enemy swings and hits you, what are you going to do?
I hope you're going to swing back even harder, and that's what it's time to do, and that's why God sent us Sayedna right now, to tell us that it's time to swing back, it's time to stop being passive, and hope and this and that. We must fight for the Kingdom of God, and it's our duty to swing back, and not just sit passive, "and if God had wanted me to win, God would give me victory," forget about that kinds of nonsense. If you want to WIN, and you want the Kingdom of God to Win, STAND UP, Roll up your sleeves, and Fight for the Kingdom of God. That's our message today, that we need to Fight for the Kingdom of God in whatever way possible. Glory be to God Forever.
[43:29] [End of Sermon]