Baltimore, MD (IOCC)--When long-time Oklahoma City attorney and former judge Michael S. "Mickey" Homsey was named as the new Chairman of the Board of Directors for International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), one of his top priorities was to see firsthand the impact of IOCC’’s humanitarian relief and development work around the world. On January 22, 2012, Homsey fulfilled this wish as he embarked on a one-week tour of IOCC programs in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, accompanied by his wife and by IOCC Executive Director Constantine Triantafilou.
Syria held particular interest for Homsey because of its recent visibility in the world media and IOCC’s response to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian families internally displaced by conflict in the region. Since its founding in 1992 and as an expression of solidarity with the church to continue its witness in the cradle of Christianity, IOCC has collaborated with the Patriarchate of Antioch, supporting education and distributing equipment to diaconal institutions. After the war in Iraq, IOCC partnered with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) to support Iraqi refugees living in Syria. This program has been implemented from the very beginning in full partnership with the department of Ecumenical Relations and development (DERD) at GOPA in coordination with IOCC regional office located in Beirut, Lebanon.
Arriving by car from Beirut late morning in Damascus at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA), Homsey and Triantafilou were warmly received by His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. During their 30-minute private audience with His Beatitude, Homsey says they were humbled by His Beatitude’s gratitude for IOCC’s ongoing humanitarian work in Syria and for His Beatitude’s praise of the organization serving as a beacon of hope for so many struggling families. Then the conversation took a more personal turn for Homsey.
“I asked His Beatitude if he remembered a trip, long ago, to Oklahoma. His Beatitude got a quizzical look on his face, but did not remember, politely saying he was too old to remember. We continued our discussion, and a little time later, His Beatitude looked at me and smiled, with understanding in his eyes. After reflection, His Beatitude did remember his trip to Oklahoma and meeting my family at our home in Oklahoma City. That moment of recollection and His Beatitude’s smile of understanding deeply affected me, and is an experience that I will never forget.”
At the conclusion of their audience with His Eminence, Homsey and Triantafilou were greeted by DERD Director, Samer Laham, who guided them to the Holy Cross Orthodox Church hall where vocational art training classes are held for Iraqi refugees. As they observed the meticulous craftsmanship of mosaic icons and tabletops in the making, the duo from IOCC were approached by close to 100 refugees who thanked them repeatedly for giving their families a chance for a fresh start. “There comes a time in life when you truly understand that you are a part of something bigger,” says Homsey. “When I entered the Holy Cross Orthodox Church Hall and was greeted by the Iraqi refugees, I was overwhelmed. Looking at the mosaics and artistry, but more importantly, seeing the hope on their faces, was spiritually uplifting, and a special moment of the trip. After seeing these people and being a part of their gracious response, I knew, deep down, that IOCC has real meaning. I am sincerely grateful for being part of this wonderful organization.”
Back to the Patriarchate they went to meet the 40 members of the GOPA/IOCC team in Damascus, followed by lunch with His Beatitude and attending hierarchs. Homsey had an opportunity to address His Beatitude and guests about the emotional and spiritual impact of what he had witnessed so far. “I have been speaking in front of groups, and especially large groups, for a long time. But when asked to speak to this highly esteemed group, I have to admit to being a little nervous. Then I remembered a piece of advice from my father, ‘speak from the heart and you will speak true’. Thanks to George Antoun’s language skills, he was able to translate my sentiments from English to Arabic. The first order of business was to impart a special thanks to His Beatitude for the support and cooperation in all of IOCC's efforts under his jurisdiction. Without His Beatitude’s grateful assistance, IOCC's efforts in this region would not be fully realized. I further wanted to relay that throughout the year we do hear about the good works being done by IOCC members, but there is a special significance to actually seeing the bounty of their work. It takes all of us, and to see the results of all the work performed at every level of this great organization was a special treat, which has left me spiritually uplifted and emotionally sated. Lastly, I told this esteemed group the story about the Good Samaritan, as it was this basic belief that drew me to the IOCC. This mission to give aid to those who are metaphorically dying in a ditch as people pass, but like the Good Samaritan stops to give food, water, money and shelter. It is from all of our efforts which make IOCC the success that it is, and I am proud to be but a small part of an organization which acts as the Good Samaritan.”
After lunch, Homsey and Triantafilou visited GOPA offices at the Patriarchate to meet with IOCC staff, as well as some of the Iraqi refugees and disadvantaged Syrians who upon completing vocational and business training courses, had successfully opened small businesses such as beauty salons, tailor shops and auto repair garages.
Late afternoon came quickly as Homsey and Triantafilou thanked their host for such an inspiring and purposeful visit, and the pair settled in for the three-hour drive back to Beirut. Homsey reflects, “This trip has affected me in ways that are difficult to put into words. What I saw, heard and felt truly inspired me. It's like seeing the sun and feeling its warmth on a cloudy day. Experiencing firsthand the work that IOCC does has given me a better appreciation of the people involved, and a new found enthusiasm for making the IOCC the best it can possibly be. It takes all of us, and I send a wish to all IOCC members to re-dedicate yourselves to our mission and embrace the people we help every day."