Following Bright Week, 30 Orthodox teens and chaperones gathered in Oklahoma City at St. Elijah to participate in the YES program . (YES stands for Youth Equipped to Serve and is a program sponsored by FOCUS North America that gives Orthodox youth the opportunity to participate in hands on ministry in cities across the United States.) Facilitated by Katrina Bitar, Director of the YES program, and Christina Saad, YES intern, this weekend gave teens from St. Eljah and St. George Cathedral a chance to see a different side of Oklahoma City.
Our group gathered on a rainy Friday afternoon to learn more about the homeless population in the United States, as well as Oklahoma City. We discussed common stereotypes about homeless people and learned some staggering statistics that opened our eyes to the truth. After our briefing sessions, we split up into groups, loaded into vans and headed downtown with one mission: find a homeless person, and ask if you can buy them dinner. Each group returned from this “dinner search” with a different kind of story. Some sat and talked with people for more than an hour, some groups couldn’t find anyone that wanted to go to dinner, and one group met a man and sat down only to be interrupted the manager of the restaurant who refused to let the man sit and eat with them.
Following our dinner search, we took a “prayer tour” of Oklahoma City, stopping at significant spots such as the Bombing Memorial, the City Rescue Mission and the state capital building to learn about the city’s history pray for it’s residents and lawmakers.
The next day was spent in service to the community. Our group spent several hours at the City Rescue Mission volunteering in the kitchen, sorting through clothes and playing with homeless children in the gym. After that we hosted a lunch with Sister Barbara Joseph’s Pantry. We grilled hotdogs and hamburgers and fed nearly 400 homeless people!
As participants in this amazing program, we not only learned about the vast need right here in our own community, but also experienced the joy that comes from living as we were instructed and even created to live: as servants.
Understanding Sex As God Intends
On April 24th and 25th, St. Elijah hosted a seminar entitled, “Understanding Sex As God Intends.” St. Elijah youth in grades 5 through 12, attended age appropriate discussions with their Orthodox peers. The goal of the seminar was to provide a safe, Christ-centered environment for them to learn about the gift and responsibility of sex.
Fr. Jeremy Davis addressed each group regarding the Orthodox Church’s teaching regarding sex and its use, highlighting the essential goodness of sex as a gift from God, the natural feelings of attraction and curiosity adolescents experience and the importance of making good choices. Following Fr. Jeremy’s presentation, Drs. Monique Naifeh and Michael Morrow led the groups in a biological discussion and about the changes of puberty and the mechanics of sex and the male and female reproductive systems.
Finally, the boys and girls were separated for more in-depth discussions and question and answer sessions. St. Elijah Youth Director Erin Learned joined Dr. Monique Naifeh and the girls, and Brandon Baca joined Dr. Morrow and the boys. These small groups helped foster a confidential environment to discuss the advantages and difficulty of pre-marital abstinence and also offered some practical advice for staying true to God’s commandments.
While the children and teens were in their discussions, Deacon Ezra offered a program entitled, “Talking to Your Kids About Sex.”
Our Orthodox youth learn about sex from many different sources: their parents (hopefully), their friends, their schools, television, the internet, movies, music and magazines. This seminar offered the youth of St. Elijah the opportunity to learn about sex from their Church, offering practical, biological and theological answers to their questions.
St. Elijah hopes to make this an annual event.
-Erin Learned, St. Elijah Youth Director