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BUILDING THE ALL SAINTS CHURCH AT KASIKIZI

WHEN FR. GEORGE LIVANOS of All Saints Orthodox Church in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, received the OCMC magazine in May, 2002, he had no idea that reading it would be the first step on his path to building a church in Africa. During his sermon for the Sunday of the Blind Man, Fr. George preached about how “sometimes we don’t really use our sight as we should” and that often times we don’t even see the poor man next to us. Then on the spur-of-the-moment, Fr. George used the OCMC magazine caption as an illustration and told his parish that for just $20,000 a church could be built in Africa. “It just slipped out,” Fr. George said. The response to this spontaneous example was immediate. At coffee hour after the sermon, the president and vice president of the Philoptochos society told him if he built a church in Africa, the Philoptochos would support a priest to serve there through OCMC’s SAMP program. Then two mothers came to him individually—one a single mom—and said they would like to volunteer to go with him to build the church in Africa. And later that week he received a letter from someone who was visiting the parish that Sunday with a check enclosed for his church in Africa. This overwhelming response shocked Fr. George—most of all because he didn’t remember saying anything about building a church in Africa.

Then a few weeks later at a Leadership 100 Conference, he spoke to Helen Nicozisis. He told her he was looking for something to “spark [his] church…maybe I’ll build a church in Africa.” It just “popped out of my mouth,” Fr. George said. Nicozisis had recently been elected as the President of OCMC’s Board of Trustees. She immediately called OCMC and found out that there were plans to build a church in Tanzania. This news stunned him, and he began to think that perhaps he was supposed to build a church in Tanzania. “I wonder[ed] if God [was] telling me to build a church in Africa,” he said.

Soon after that, Fr. George received a phone call from OCMC asking if his church would host an event as part of the fall Lecture Tour. The guest speaker was Bishop Jeronymos of Tanzania. Fr. George said when he asked the parish council about hosting Bishop Jeronymos, “no one argued, so then I went for the gold.” He told them about the idea to build a church in Africa. The council voted unanimously, not only to build the church, but to offer $5,000 as an initial donation. As people in the parish heard about it, donations started coming in. After Sunday Liturgy with Bishop Jeronymos, All Saints parishioners presented the bishop with a pen and ink drawing of the church they had pledged to build—All Saints Church of Tanzania, a sister church to their own. Fr. George said the presentation was very emotional. “Everyone started crying,” he said.

Fr. George and three of his parishioners applied for OCMC’s 2002 team to Tanzania to help build the church. It was to be a life changing experience for him, as he chronicles in the article below, written originally in 2004 for the OCMC Mission Magazine:

I write this article having just returned from my second mission trip; from a trip which took me back to places I visited only two years ago. I was blessed to travel with my 15 year old son, Micah, my friend and classmate, Fr. Martin Ritsi, Executive Director of OCMC, and two wonderful ladies (who prefer to remain anonymous).We were invited by His Grace, Bishop Jeronymos, of Bukoba, Tanzania, to attend the consecration of three churches built through OCMC, one of which was donated by my parish. I would have never expected to return to Tanzania so soon, but the Lord had other plans for me and my parish.

In 2002, I was blessed by the Lord to represent my parish of All Saints in Canonsburg, PA, to lead an OCMC Mission Team to Tanzania. This was my first ever mission trip and I was both nervous and excited. The Team was assigned the task of joining local residents of the village of Kasikizi to build a new, larger church. I had no building skills, but I did have the drive within me to see this project to its completion.

As published in the 2002 Vol.18, No.1 issue of the OCMC Mission Magazine our parish’s journey into the mission field was most unexpected. It all began with a spontaneous mention in one of my sermons of how it only costs $20,000 to build a church in Africa. My parishioners latched on to the idea and began volunteering their time and money to build a church in Africa. I didn’t even intend to build a church; I was just using it as a comparative example, but before I knew it, donations came pouring in. Our involvement in missions was life-changing, not only for my parish but for the people in Kasikizi, Tanzania, and the members of our 2002 OCMC Mission Team which undertook part of the physical labor. Our parish raised $35,000 for this sacred task. We not only raised money for the actual church building, but we were able to cover the cost of the items needed for its consecration as well. I am so proud of my parish.

On this recent trip, as we traveled through Tanzania, I dreamt of the moment when I would return to Kasikizi, a place written in my conscience forever. It is a place that God has touched, and the faithful are reflections of His Love. I know that the people of this humble village are some of the warmest, loving people I ever met. They are servants of the Most High. The building of the church dedicated to All Saints was for them as vital as fresh water. Their identity as members of the body of Christ was imprinted on each brick, on every stone broken by hand, on each shovelful of dirt scooped into a bag to be carried and dumped yards away on foot.

As we arrived in Kasikizi, I felt as though I had come home. I fumbled out of the van and was quickly surrounded by young and old alike. Smiles, tears, hugs, Swahili words of welcome (Karibu sana!) filled my space. They took me by the hand and ran with me to the now finished church. It was beautiful! It was magnificent! And once inside, I broke down again and cried. I saw in my mind’s eye all who had worked side by side standing around the walls of the church. The large laminated Icons that I brought with me two years before were wrapped around the whole building. There was electricity in the church and that was incredible in itself because, when we had started construction two years ago, the village itself did not have electricity.

I was shaking with joy as I stood in the Holy of Holies and saw the Holy Table which awaited the sacred relics to be placed in it and to be washed with Holy Chrism. Even now as I write this article, tears start to form in my eyes as I relive this experience. Micah began shooting many pictures with one hand, while he videotaped with the other. He documented the whole trip for us and the OCMC. He never felt like a stranger in a strange land. He was constantly drawing the attention of the young who asked him about life in America. Micah made new friends and looks forward to one day returning to these places when he is older in order to help them in whatever capacity he is able to. A father could not be more proud of his child than when they share the same walk together. I will forever be thankful to the Lord that Micah and I walked together in the same footsteps, where only two years ago, I had walked alone.


Bishop Jeronymos of Bukoba with Father George Livanos at the consecration of the All Saints Church in Kasikizi

We spent Saturday night and Sunday morning (August 14-15) celebrating the consecration services for our sister parish. The Sunday services lasted for hours; but I had wished that it would never end. The nave was full of faithful. There were so many children that I wondered where they all came from. The crowds poured out of the church and onto the surrounding grass field. Everyone wanted to be part of this day. Afterwards, as we ate our afternoon meal, I began to feel sad. I looked around the table and knew that I would have to leave. In my heart I knew that my parish’s mission here was finished for now. We were called by God to come here and offer the good people a church which would be used by the villagers and the seminarians who study here, who one day will become the future indigenous leaders of the Church.

Fr. Gerasimos, the priest of All Saints, is a true man of God. He spends days away from his family who live many kilometers away in order to minister to his flock. He serves the parish and various local communities, which for the time being have no church building to worship in. He is not as young as he moves. Being one of the four senior clergy of the Diocese, his face reveals the many long days and nights he has spent bringing the Gospel to all. His family is very supportive of his ministry. We laughed together for many days when we realized we are both fathers of seven children. When we left, I told him that we will pastor each other’s parish through prayer.

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The faithful put on a grand party for us all before we left. We knew that we could only stay a little longer. They danced and danced. We rejoiced with them. When it was time to go, there was a bit of silence. We hugged and cried again. Two years ago I said, “I will see you soon.” This time, I said “Goodbye.” I do not know what is in store for our parish and the Kasikizi community. If the Lord wills, we will never abandon them. They are one of us now. We are one of them.


The All Saints Church at Kasikizi, Tanzania