Experience on mission in Tanzania inspires priest to live simply
By Deidre Jacobson
A love for missionary work inspired Father Gregory Horton of St. John the
Baptist Orthodox Christian Church in Post Falls to travel with his wife,
Cynthia, Alan Sanger from St. Anthony’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Edmonton,
Canada, and six others to Rubale, Tanzania, in August 2004.
They spent 21 days teaching fundamentals of Orthodox faith and Christian life
In return, they were immersed in the simple living of the village people they
taught. “There is so much meaning on the simplest level,” said Father
Gregory. “It was a miracle for me, the divine spark of simple apostolic
Christianity at its best.”
Challenged by the mission spirit to enter ministry, to come to North Idaho and
then to go to Tanzania, he is now looking for new mission challenges.
Growing up Roman Catholic in Newark, N.J., Gregory had the goal of serving in
the priesthood. He attended St. Vincent College, majoring in music with
the intention of going to seminary upon graduation. A personal and
theological crisis led him first to join the Air Force and play tuba in the Air
Force band, rather than entering the priesthood.
After he left the Air Force, he and Cynthia married and journeyed for several
years, working in resorts. In Miami Beach, they decided they could not be
happy without their faith, so they went to the library to search for a church.
in the Encyclopedia of Religions, found the Orthodox Church and searched one
out. A Russian priest took us under his wing, and I decided to attend
seminary,” Gregory said. He spent three years at St. Tikhon Seminary in
Northeast Pennsylvania, graduating with master’s degrees in music and
divinity. He served briefly as a deacon, then petitioned the bishop to be
ordained and was assigned to a parish in Catatsauqua, Pa.
His yearning for mission service sent him back to the diocese after seven years
with a request for work in “virgin territory.” He was sent to Couer
d’Alene, Idaho, in 1996 and began serving a few families, starting the first
Orthodox Church in that area. The
fledging church met in a realtor’s office. It has grown to a congregation
of 200 with a building and home on a 13-acre compound. Recently the
church has started an offshoot in Spokane Valley.
Father Gregory’s love of mission eventually led him to the Orthodox Christian
Mission Center in St. Augustine, FL with the request to serve outside the
United States. He and Cynthia were accepted for the mission-team trip to teach
the elements of Orthodox Christianity to youth at Camp Rubale.
Later, Bishop Jeronymos of the Diocese of Bukoba changed the assignment to
teaching adults. The group taught 120 young adults, including 13 women.
While many flights were cancelled because of hurricanes, the team arrived
safely in the village, which has no running water, paved roads or
electricity. Seven of their 16 bags arrived with them.
The rural village people they served were poor, earning an average income of
$2.50 per week, in contrast with city people who may earn $2.50 per day.
The young adults greeted the team with enthusiasm, Father Gregory said.
The missionaries instructed in two small buildings with a translator at each
session. Students shared a few desks and chairs, many sitting on straw
mats. They had traveled to the camp from throughout the vast Bukoba Diocese of
Western Tanzania. Each person had been personally invited and would be a
teacher in his or her own village.
“There are few priests and deacons serving a large area,” Father Gregory
said. “Some priests lead six to eight churches. Worship in the area is
often held outside. At some point, a congregation may build a mud hut to
serve as a church.”
After the sessions, students served food, performed skits, danced and sang for
the team to thank them for coming. At the end of the visit, the mission
team donated Bibles—those they had used for the training—to the villagers, who
broke into spontaneous dancing and cheering.
“It was incredible serving at the altar with priests from other countries,
speaking different languages, yet sharing the divine occurrence,” Father
Gregory said. “At one point, they gave us a goat, the equivalent of an
expensive car in our culture. They led us on a procession, singing and
dancing as we traveled down the dirt road to be presented this gift,” he said.
As a mother of four children, Cynthia was
hesitant about the trip at first, but quickly found her niche on arrival in
Tanzania. Raised Roman Catholic in Southwest Pennsylvania, she met
Gregory in college, where she was a music major and flutist. While her
third child was ill with bacterial meningitis, she was inspired by the skill of
technicians who discovered and treated her son’s illness.
She retuned to school to earn a degree in medical technology, and began working
in hospitals and private labs.
Now she teaches music at Holy Family Catholic School, conducts church choirs
and plays flute with the Couer d’Alene symphony, North Idaho College Orchestra
and chamber groups.
In Tanzania, Cynthia’s teaching focused on three subjects: HIV and AIDS
education, the role of a priest’s wife, and marriage, chastity and
prayer. The students’ kindness, love and the simplicity of their lives
“We gave them hope. For people who have nothing, the belief in a glorious
afterlife is a wonderful gift. They were glowing with love and
hope. I came home with the desire to live more simply,” said Cynthia.
“In Tanzania, they waste nothing. We make trash. They make no
trash. I especially came to appreciate the value of water. They
have no clean water, and much of their illness and death relates to the quality
of the water. Since we are so blessed, we should be a blessing to
others. I came home wondering how I can help others.”
Alan applied to Orthodox Christian Mission Center to join a mission trip after
many years of thinking he should go, but feeling no strong pull. Growing
up in a Protestant church in the United Kingdom, he moved to Canada in 1969,
met his wife and converted to the Orthodox Church. He is a youth leader
and president of his parish.
He had three choices for mission, and Tanzania was his third choice, “but when
they called, I accepted in 30 seconds and thought, yes, this feels right.
The grace of God entered in and told me it was right. While getting
ready, many things came up to discourage me, but I remained on course. I
thought, ‘Your will, Lord, let it be,’” Alan said.
When he arrived in Rubale, he was impressed by the welcome.
“The people are gentle and peaceful. They greeted us as brothers and sisters.
They, who have nothing, were generously giving us gifts, a few eggs, a papaya
or a banana.
“They taught us that when you shut your mind to external stimuli and your
cravings, God will speak to you,” said Alan.
“Every night the children came around playing games. We had crayons
and pictures for them to color. They were delighted, having never seen
Father Gregory said he has become convinced that “I am not suited for our
culture. I loved living simply.”