In October of 2008, I got that call and was invited to an “evaluation retreat” (ER) in St Augustine at the Orthodox Christian Mission Center. Daphne got the same call last year, and came to OCMC in February 2012.
ER is a chance for missionary applicants to get familiar with the mission center, to meet the staff, and to evaluate OCMC. It is very, very, VERY important to ask yourself the question, “Do I want to work with these people?” And if your answer isn’t a resounding “yes,” you should probably think twice. If you have questions and concerns, ER is the time to ask them.
And of course you’re also being evaluated. This is a job interview. It includes psychological evaluations and meeting with a counselor. Missionary service is a psychologically tough job. The demands of church work, in a foreign language, in a foreign culture, often in physically difficult environments, can really take a toll. Our standing joke is that you have to be crazy to want to be a missionary, but it’s important that you’re the right kind of crazy.
For me, the most important aspect of these evaluations was taking to heart the fact that I was signing up for something difficult, and that I would need good support. The most important support is found in Christ through the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church, and there are layers of support around that as well. Lots of prayer. A sympathetic and supportive spiritual father. Good friends, including a few close friends who I could confide in about anything. Mentors who know something about missions and life in Africa, and who can help walk me through the more difficult aspects.
You leave the Evaluation Retreat with a pretty firm idea of whether you want to be a long-term missionary. It’s probably quite clear to you at this point whether it’s a good fit. If you still want in, and if in all humility you are willing to work very hard together with the staff of OCMC in service to Christ in the Orthodox Church, then you’ll start preparing for candidacy.
In the months between Evaluation Retreat and becoming a Missionary Candidate, you’ll start making tentative plans. You’ll begin to have a solid (ish) idea about the mission field and capacity where you’re called to serve. You’ll be talking with friends and family about this upcoming transition. You’ll start making plans to downsize your life, and you’ll start thinking about how to best leave your current job. You’ll stay in touch with the mission center, and you’ll keep praying. Pray hard.
In the meantime, the mission center is putting your candidacy package together. Your candidacy is presented to the OCMC Board for approval. Approval by the board is by no means a rubber stamp, but if the missionary department has brought you this far it’s because they have faith in you, and their faith in you will show clearly to the board.
After board approval, OCMC contacts the bishop in the field you’re being considered for, and presents him with your candidacy. If the bishop blesses it, then you become a Missionary Candidate for that field.
Now you start getting ready to become a missionary. The first step is New Candidate Orientation at the mission center, and I’ll talk more about that next month.