THE MAR THOMA MISSION BOARD
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts of the Apostles 1:8
Mission occurs when the church responds to the divine call to bring light to the lives of people so that they may experience the fullness of life. The very existence of the Church is to be the presence of Christ in the historic context she is placed. The Christian presence becomes relevant when the Church becomes a channel of grace and adds fullness of life to the world. The call and commission of the Church to be the “light of the world and salt of the earth” is a call to reach out to the unreached with the message of love and compassion.
The mission activities of the Diocese originated as a response to the needs of the community with the aim and intention of bringing the light of the gospel and the love of Christ to many. The current activities of the Mission Board are organized as five missions, namely Mexico Mission, Neighborhood Mission, India Mission, Native American Mission, and Light to Life. Each of these missions is coordinated by a Subcommittee appointed by the Diocesan Bishop.
The Mission activities of the Diocese of North America and Europe are coordinated through the Mar Thoma Mission Board which is a registered entity that has been approved as a tax exempt non-profit organization under section 501(c)(3) by the Federal and State government. The Mission Board engages in mission activities in five areas which are highlighted in the reports furnished below.
1. NATIVE AMERICAN MISSION
The Mar Thoma Diocese of North America and Europe has been actively involved in mission work among Native Americans in the United States for the past 18 years. The Native Americans are indigenous people who have lived in the Americas for thousands of years. They belong to over 500 different tribes, each with distinct culture, language, and traditions. Many of these tribes struggle with poverty, health issues, alcoholism, unemployment, and other challenges. They have a lack of leadership and resources. Only 20% of the total population is affiliated with any Christian church. Of these, only 25% of the churches are led by the Native American leaders. The aim of the Native American Mission (NAM) is to foster spiritual and holistic growth of the Native American communities and provide them with opportunities for direct involvement in the mission.
Volunteers from different parts of the Diocese join together for mission efforts among the Native Americans. The mission serves the Choctaw Native American community in Oklahoma and Alabama and also the Navajo Native American community in northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and the southern section of Utah. The Mar Thoma Church works collaboratively with these groups to deepen Christian faith, have fellowship in Christ, and encourage leadership. God’s love is shown in action through organized activities throughout the various mission sites, including seasonal camps, youth conferences, Bible studies, Vacation Bible Schools, medical clinics, team building sessions, community carnivals, basketball tournaments, building and renovation projects, and leadership training for future church leaders. There is also a scholarship program in place for students who wish to further their education.
In 2020, people all over the world were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Native American communities, along with many other minority groups and low-income communities, have been disproportionately affected by this virus. Basic CDC recommendations regarding social distancing and hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of the virus are difficult to achieve in these populations. In certain areas, clean water for basic hand hygiene is scarce. Nearly one-third of Navajo Land households do not have access to running water. Housing shortages on reservations make social distancing very difficult. Many Native Americans that rely on their small businesses and tourism for their livelihood were also greatly impacted financially.
Despite not being able to travel and to have in-person Native American Mission activities this year, limited programs were conducted and support was provided for the mission work in various ways.
Alabama Mission: In Alabama, a virtual Youth Retreat was arranged on Zoom for the first time in October. Native American youths from Alabama and Mar Thoma youths from all over the Diocese were able to spend time with one another in praise and worship, prayer, group discussion, and meditation on the Word of God.
Navajo Land: In Navajo Land, 100 siphon drum pumps were provided to the area. People were retrieving water from communal water barrels by using shared straws which was very unhygienic, especially in the setting of COVID-19. The pumps help people retrieve water in a more sanitary and safe way.
Oklahoma Mission: There was a need identified to renovate the bathrooms at the facility located in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Mr. George Mathew (Dallas) has taken the initiative to undertake this project. The work began in September 2020 and will be completed by the first quarter of 2021.
Scholarships: Native American Scholarship Program also continued in the report year. The scholarship program is in place in order to provide financial assistance to motivated students and to encourage the overall community to pursue higher education. Youths filled out applications with their qualifications and goals. Higher Education Scholarships were awarded to a total of 13 youths in the report year – three in Oklahoma, seven in Alabama, and three in Navajo Land.
Acknowledgements: We acknowledge the prayer, support, and guidance of the Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos (Diocesan Bishop), Rev. Manoj Idiculla (Diocesan Secretary), Mr. Philip Thomas (Diocesan Treasurer), other members of the Native American Mission Subcommittee, Native American Mission promoters, volunteers, supporters, and well-wishers.
Along with the Office Bearers of the Diocese, the following persons served in the Native American Mission Subcommittee: Rev. Jacob P. Thomas (Convener), Rev. Thomas Joseph, Rev. Blezin K. Mon, Mrs. Nirmala Abraham, Dr. Suresh Mathews, Ms. Sheeba Kuruvilla, Ms. Thara Mathews, Mr. Aby George, and Ms. Sara Pritha Varghese. The following persons served as coordinators of the missions – Ms. Sheeba Kuruvilla (Oklahoma Mission), and Ms. Julianne Cherian and Mr. Joby Mathew (Alabama Mission and Navajo Land).
2. NEIGHBORHOOD MISSION
Neighborhood Mission is one of the missions of the Diocese that coordinates local mission activities. The parishes are encouraged to engage in local mission activities and to join with the local parishes and organizations to reach out to the poor and needy in that area. Most of the parishes in the Diocese are located near a major city with impoverished communities. The people in these communities are victims of drugs, crime, broken families, and homelessness. Neighborhood Mission strives to bring awareness of these challenges to our church members and respond with the power of Christ’s love. Urban Mission trips are usually organized each year, but due to the pandemic such a trip was not feasible.
The following served as members of the Neighborhood Mission Subcommittee: Rev. Larry Varghese (Convener), Dr. Ron Jacob, Ms. Beena Philipose, Mr. Mathew Thomas, Ms. Yasmine Karavattuveetil, Mr. Jorge Wilson, and Ms. Suja Thannickal.
3. INDIA MISSION
India mission serves to connect the people, especially the youth of the Diocese, to the mission endeavors of the Mar Thoma Church in India. This mission helps to create mission awareness and enthusiasm in the youths by helping them to have firsthand experiences of the life and work in the mission fields. Participants are able to take part in worship and Holy Communion services of the Christian communities in various rural villages and are able to closely observe the life of the evangelists, understand the methods of mission work, and are even able to witness the changes in the lives of the people as a result of the mission work that is being conducted. The Subcommittee usually organizes an annual ten-day mission trip to India, of which part of the expense is shared by the Mission Board to reduce the financial burden of the volunteers. However, due to the pandemic, the trip was not possible.
The India Mission Subcommittee consisted of Dr. Joe Mathew George (Convener), Ms. Thara Mathews, Mr. Binu Korah, and Dr. Annie Lincoln.
4. MEXICO MISSION
Mexico Mission was first established in 2003. The mission field began catering to the needs of a community living about sixty miles away from the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on a small group of islands off the eastern coast of Mexico. The first effort was to build houses for the fisher families in the Puntilla Norte and Fantasia islands to replace the temporary shacks that the community inhabited. House keys were handed to the residents in a public ceremony in 2004. In July 2005, Hurricane Emily, a Category 4 storm, made landfall in the Yucatan peninsula and devastated the Puntilla Norte and Fantasia islands, thus destroying many of the houses that the Mar Thoma Church had built. Eventually, the Diocese purchased two parcels of land further inland. A housing project was completed on the first parcel as part of the Valiya Metropolitan’s Navathy celebrations and was inaugurated in May 2008. This housing development was named Colonia Mar Thoma meaning Mar Thoma Community.
In 2010, Rt. Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Theodosius constituted several subcommittees to study and develop long term plans for enhancing the Diocese’s mission work at Colonia Mar Thoma. Focus areas for the mission work included: infrastructure & housing, education, food assistance, spiritual development, medical assistance, and economic development. In 2016, the Diocesan Episcopa, Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos visited the mission field and began to put plans in place for its continued growth and development.
By the grace of God, the mission field continues to grow and thrive. The following is the report of the ongoing and yearly initiatives of Mexico Mission.
Activities for Ongoing Programs: There were no visits to the Mexico Mission site during the 2020 year due to travel restrictions to Mexico and due to health concerns. Mr. P. T. Abraham has reported that there have been no COVID cases at Colonia Mar Thoma. We thank God for protecting our brothers and sisters in Mexico. We are working on starting visits again to Colonia Mar Thoma.
Manna (Food Assistance) Program: The Manna program has been in place to distribute food and hygienic essentials to families in need within Colonia Mar Thoma. The general health of the residents has continued to improve due, in part, to this program. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not been able to distribute Manna as previously scheduled. We are working on implementing this program as soon as possible. Special thanks to the administrators of the Manna Program.
Education Program: The education program continued within Colonia Mar Thoma. For lower level, elementary education, a school was run at the Colonia Mar Thoma compound in conjunction with the local government. Tuition expenses, for students attending higher level elementary, middle school, and high school, were covered. Through the education program, a number of Colonia Mar Thoma children completed their college education in the fields of engineering, nursing, IT, and medicine. These individuals are securing jobs in the local communities and returning to help their families and others who remain at the Colonia Mar Thoma compound. Mr. P. T. Abraham manages the administration matters pertaining to the education program.
Accounts: Accounts/finances for Mexico Mission were handled by Mr. George Samuel (Trinity Mar Thoma Church).
Summary: Enhancing ongoing programs, such as education, Manna project, spiritual growth, and medical assistance, require continued support and development. Mexico Mission Committee asks for your prayers and support (financial and participation) to continue the growth of this mission field.
Special thank you to Mr. P. T. Abraham and the Mexico Mission leadership team for all their help with this mission field. Also, a special thank you to Mr. Shawn Varghese (Trinity Mar Thoma Church) for his hard work and dedication to this mission field. Members of the Subcommittee: Ms. Lynn Ann Keerikattu (Convener), Rev. Abraham Varghese (Missionary), Rev. Jacob P. Thomas, Ms. Sini George, Mr. John Thomas, Mr. P. T. Abraham, Mr. Philip Thomas, and Mr. George Samuel.
5. LIGHT TO LIFE
Light to Life is a project of The Mar Thoma Mission Board of the Diocese of North America and Europe that was launched in October 2017. Our Diocesan Episcopa, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos, identified the need of supporting less privileged children who were deprived of their basic necessities of food and education in the remote villages in different parts of India. Thus, the Diocesan Assembly held on April 22, 2017 decided to take up the project and help such children in need.
The Light to Life program provides the members of the Diocese with an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child by donating $20.00 per month. This amount helps to support the educational and physical development of children also helps to provide value based education and socio-emotional learning. Sponsors are encouraged to support this project by sponsoring children for five years. The details of the beneficiary which includes the name, photo, hobbies, age, etc. is provided to the sponsors which helps the sponsors to create a spiritual bond by remembering the beneficiary in their prayers.
In partnership with different agencies and dioceses of the Mar Thoma Church, the aim of this project is to reach out to 5,000 children in a span of five years providing necessary education and wholesome food for every child. The support received from the parishes and individuals towards this cause is praiseworthy. Achens and Promoters in each parish have done tremendous work in organizing sponsors for this cause. In the report year, a total of 3,342 children were supported by the Light to Life program through the Christian Agency for Rural Development (CARD), Ranni– Nilackal Diocese, Chennai–Bangalore Diocese, South Travancore Agency for Rural Development (STARD), Kottayam-Kochi Diocese, and Mission Centers under the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association (MTEA).
The Mar Thoma Mission Board continues to work to ensure that the funds sent to India for charitable activities (child care/development programs) are utilized for the purposes for which they are sent and that the programs and projects are professionally planned, implemented, and operated with a high standard. In the matters of monitoring programs and finances, the Mar Thoma Mission Board has entered into an agreement with Holistic Child Development India (HCDI) since January 1, 2019. The function of HCDI is to make certain that program activities are regularly monitored, funds are carefully checked and regulated, staff are periodically trained, information and data are maintained by each project, and that from time to time the projects are assessed and evaluations are carried out to help improve the quality of the programs of the projects.
In the report year, the corona virus pandemic caused many practical difficulties in conducting regular programs at the various mission centers that are being supported. Therefore, in response to the pandemic and the additional needs of the children and their families, the mission centers were able to organize distribution of hygiene and medical supplies and food kits. Many of the sponsored children and their families greatly benefited from this particular outreach that was provided.
The Light to Life Subcommittee is ever grateful for the timely and sound advice provided by the Diocesan Bishop, Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos. Ms. Liz Mathew and Mr. Akash Daniel Mathew helped in coordinating and maintaining the details of the beneficiaries and sponsors, while Ms. Blessy Philip maintained the financial records. Rev. Manoj Idiculla served as the Convener, and Mr. Jorge Wilson, Mr. Jerry Jacob, Dr. Molly Kurien, Dr. Reshma Phillips and Ms. Roshni Jacob served as Subcommittee members.
OFFICE BEARERS AND BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The continued guidance, leadership, determination, and vision of the Diocesan Episcopa and President of the Mission Board, Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos, has been an invaluable source of support and encouragement. Rev. Manoj Idiculla and Mr. Philip Thomas served as Secretary and Treasurer, respectively, until December 12, 2020. Thereafter, Rev. Aju Abraham and Mr. George P. Babu served as Secretary and Treasurer, respectively. Rev. Jacob P. Thomas, Rev. Larry Varghese, Ms. Lynn Ann Keerikattu, and Dr. Joe Mathew George, served as the Conveners of the Mission Subcommittees. In addition to the Conveners, Dr. Reshma Phillips, Mr. Varghese K. Joseph, Mr. John Titus, Mr. Aby George, Mr. John Thomas, and Mr. Reji Joseph served in the Board of Directors of the Mission Board.
Let me acknowledge the prayer, support, and guidance of Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos, (Diocesan Bishop), Mr. Philip Thomas (Diocesan Treasurer until December 12, 2020), Mr. George P. Babu (Diocesan Treasurer from December 12, 2020), Conveners of the Subcommittees, members of the Subcommittees, Mission Promoters, and all volunteers whose dedicated service made the missions possible. The parishes, organizations, and individuals who have contributed wholeheartedly for our mission work through Suvisesha Nidhi collection and other donations are also highly appreciated. We thank all who supported the same through their earnest prayers.
With faith and hope in the risen Lord, let us pray that ministry of the Mar Thoma Mission Board further the expansion of God’s Kingdom and be a blessing for many.
For and on behalf of the Mar Thoma Mission Board,
Rev. Aju Abraham