Giving God’s Love: An Interview with Fr. Martin and Presbytera Renee Ritsi

In this continuation of our series, we profile those who return God’s Love to the community and the world through ministry and acts of service.

Fr. Martin Ritsi is the Executive Director of the OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Charities). Presbytera Renee Ritsi works in the Teams Department of OCMC. Previously, they served as missionaries with their family for ten years in Kenya and Albania. 

Family Life Ministry: Tell us a little about how the two of you met? 

Presbytera Renee Ritsi: We met at our home parish (St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, CA), which was still a mission parish in the early 1980’s. I was in college and helping with Sunday school, and Fr. Martin was attending Holy Cross Seminary in Boston, assisting with the YAL and GOYA when he was home for school breaks. Our parish priest, Fr. George Stephanides had shared with us the history of the Orthodox Church in Alaska and I was deeply touched by the challenges that the faithful were going through. I also heard some of the services of our Church in English for the first time and read the lives of many of the Saints.  Between these three things, I became keenly aware of how we are a very mission-minded Church.  Fr. Martin was also committed to serve in the mission field and this common calling drew the two of us together.

Fr. Martin Ritsi: What Presbytera doesn’t mention is that my first Sunday at this new parish was also her family’s first Sunday there as well. That is when I first noticed her; though it wasn’t until we were further involved in the Young Adult activities that we got to know each other. I feel blessed as we were brought together in our search for the Lord, and to do His will in our lives.

FLM: Tell us about your ministry and what is the most interesting part of it?

Presbytera Renee: We have been involved in the ministry of the OCMC since 1987 when we were sent as a missionary family to Kenya with our two small children.  After ten years in the field (Kenya and Albania) we are now assigned to the Mission Center in St. Augustine, FL.  I work in the Teams Department, assisting Orthodox from North America (and sometimes from Europe) in traveling for two weeks to a place where the faith is either new or struggling. Each time an individual goes on a Team, they may teach, assist with a camp, offer health care or build something, but they all offer one common thing: the potential to change an individual’s heart. This gives me great joy.

Fr. Martin: When we serve the Lord there are always amazing surprises: hardships that at times appear as great as we can endure, and joys that are beyond what we know possible. But one awe-inspiring thread that has existed [as a missionary, and as Executive Director] is when the Lord opens doors to new people, villages and regions.  Seeing people’s first exposure to Christianity, working through the obstacles, participating in their baptisms, and then watching transformation in their lives–this is at the heart of what we yearn to see. When they lead to a sight of this acceptance of the Lord by peoples who had not know of Him or followed Him, this is truly amazing.

FLM: How does this ministry impact others: the participants, and the church?

Presbytera Renee: When we participate in the work of the Apostles, by bringing people to Christ and teaching them about Christ, we ourselves grow.  The experience of a long term missionary is not the same as a 2 week team experience, but a Team experience allows individuals to see the Church abroad and understand the great need that exists, and the difference that knowing Christ makes in the world.  When Team members return home and share their experiences from Tanzania, Kenya, Albania, Alaska and many other places that have touched their hearts stories, their experiences in turn inspire the faithful.

FLM: Where do you see this ministry going. What are its short or long-term goals?

Father Martin: As we look to the future of OCMC, we hope to see it reaching out even more fervently in places where the Gospel is not known or followed. Another dimension we are looking toward is participating in Churches that began as missions, maturing to self-support and one day supporting missions themselves. Finally, a third dimension as OCMC matures is engaging in more developed forms of mission. This includes sending increasing numbers of people that have formal training in mission and dimensions of mission such as translation work. Though Orthodoxy has been engaged in mission for centuries, our modern period is relatively young and there is still so much more we can strive for!

FLM: Tell us about your roles in the ministry?

Presbytera Renee: In the fall we post the Teams that are available for the next year and assist individuals who are discerning if they want to participate on a Team and which Team would be the best fit for their gifts.  Once an individual or family applies, I walk with them through the process of fund raising and preparing.  Every year I also lead a Team.  This is both a spiritually refreshing experience and serves as a constant reminder to me of the great needs around the world that still exist.  The world is presently about 1/3 Christian.  If we believe that through Christ we find salvation, then we must be participants in bringing this gift of salvation to all the world.

FLM: How does your relationship as couple play into your work with the ministry?

Fr. Martin: Working as a couple is a blessing the Lord as given us from the very beginning of our marriage. At seminary, as young missionaries and now back at OCMC. we have functioned as a unit, supporting one another and having strengths that are complimentary. I thank God for being able to have a partner like this in my life.

FLM: How can readers assist in this ministry?

Fr. Martin: We need people to spread the word, to not only pray but to yearn that God’s love will reach those who have not heard and then to ask Him….”how Lord can I help You.” He will answer.

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