The V. Rev. Dr. Themistocles Adamopoulo, born in Alexandria and raised in Melbourne, is an archimandrite in Freetown, Sierra Leone, within the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. His work is in mission and charity, using education as a means of bringing people out of poverty.
Eleftherius and Helen Adamopoulo were the parents of a Greek family who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. Eleftherius was an author, successful banker and had a double qualification in Chemistry; and Helen was a headmistress of a school. In 1945, Themistocles was born. Seeing developments that would have dire consequences for foreigners in Egypt, in 1956, Eleftherius and Helen immigrated with their family – including their son, Themistocles – to Melbourne, Australia. Themistocles, because of the social stigma of Greeks at the time, grew up wishing to fit into wider Australian society.
Due to the Adamopoulo’s being Greeks from a non-Greek country, they were considered to be Greeks by Anglo-Celtic Australian society, and outsiders within the Greek community. As such, Eleftherius became a labourer, and Helen worked in factories. However, in a few years, Helen was recognised by Melbourne University, becoming a teacher at Presbyterian Ladies College, and Eleftherius was recognised by local industries, becoming an industrial chemist.
Themistocles went to high school at Williamstown High School, being gifted in academic areas, and getting a result good enough to win a scholarship to Melbourne University. He began a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1964, and then formed a music group similar to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones known as The Flies. This caused a two-year deferment in his university studies while he pursued the music industry, including records, Top 10 songs, a fan club and supporting the Beatles on their Australian tour.
However, he decided that this was not to be a permanent occupation, and returned to university in a Bachelor of Arts course, studying philosophy, political science and history. His readings, and perspectives on human rights, social justice and minority groups, were formed during this period, and are acknowledged by himself to have affected the way he lives his religion today. At 22, he became a tutor at Melbourne University.
However, at the time, he held a strict athiestic view that he later recognised as contradictory. Themi attributes his conversion to anti-establishment ideas that happened in greater society, such as the opposition to the Vietnam War, and to Timothy Leary’s influence in exploring counter-cultural concepts in spiritual terms. This anti-establishment focus was brought to bear on Nietzsche and Marx, and Themi was to look at various religions, looking for truths in them that could be useful in an ideal world. Undergoing a Christian mystical experience, Themi then accepted Christianity as the path to God.
He did not immediately go to the Greek Orthodox Church of his parents, but first held a belief in Christ while looking for the denomination that could best understand his experience. Through reading the Bible and the life of St Francis of Assisi, Themi began to sell his property, give to the poor, and resign from his tutorship in political science. Speaking to one or two Greek Orthodox priests in Melbourne, he asked about God and was told not to inquire into God. Finding this unsatisfactory, he then went to other churches, finding in the Presbyterian church interesting people willing to discuss God and accommodate his previous experiences, people who accepted and greatly respected him. However, he began to ask why he was born a Greek and baptised Orthodox, and looked again at Orthodoxy.
Pity for the state of the Orthodox Church in Melbourne in the early seventies led him to join the Church – there was no teaching of Christ, Sunday schools, youth groups or Bible study groups, but rather joining together as a common identity of Greeks. Themi felt sorry for these people, whom he had already learnt more about the Bible than. He was immediately accepted due to being Greek, and received permission to begin a Sunday school.
Themi, after beginning a Masters of Education, transferred to a Diploma of Education for teaching at technical schools to continue his new-found association and identification with the working class. He went on to teach at Richmond Technical School, Essendon Technical School and Preston Technical School, all in the heartlands of the working class. However, his unwavering and spoken commitment to Christ meant that he was transferred from school to school, finally resigning from Lalor High School due to frustration at the continued restriction of his freedom of speech.
After this, due to the lack of Orthodox seminaries at the time, he took up studies at a Catholic theological school. He was advised by Archbishop Stylianos, the then-new Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Australia, to study at Corpus Christi College, Melbourne. He then went on to study at Holy Cross, Massachusetts, beginning a Masters of Theological Studies and concurrently studying at Harvard Divinity School. After this, he undertook a Master of Theology at Princeton Divinity School, and completed a Ph.D. at Brown University with his thesis entitled Endurance, Greek and Early Christian: The Moral Transformation of the Greek Idea of Endurance, From the Homeric Battlefield to the Apostle Paul, explaining how endurance changed from the Greek philosophical concept of something that one could do on their own, to St Paul’s transformation into endurance being something a gift of God in Christ.
Fr Themistocles, by this time a tonsured monk usually called ‘Br Themi’, returned to Australia and, in 1986, was one of the founding lecturers at St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, Sydney, Australia; he was also teaching at Macquarie University and University of Sydney.
After considerable time lecturing, Fr Themi began to wish to personally act out his theology, and due to his being born in Africa he decided to return there in 2000, utilising his academic ability at the Orthodox Patriarchal Ecclesiastical School “Archbishop Macarius III” in Nairobi, Kenya.
Ordained and elevated in Kenya to the rank of Archimandrite, he conducted liturgies and preached in various parishes in Kenya, but his primary focus is on teaching people in Kenya to earn a living on their own. With the blessing of Archbishop Makarios, Fr Themistocles established the Saint Clement of Alexandria Philanthropic Education Centre. Through the centre, he set up a school for unemployed women to learn tailoring and dressmaking in November 2001, then a computer school for unemployed youth in 2002; in September of that year, he then set up a pre-school and primary school for children in slum areas, giving them free education, food and clothing.
In January 2003, the Teachers’ College was established. This grew into the Saint Clement of Alexandria Orthodox College of Africa, currently consisting of an education department and a business/information technology department, teaching for minimal cost to break the cycle of depression. Future plans include a nursing and pharmacy school; furthermore, serious negotiations are underway with the University of Thessalonica towards the creation of a Paediatric Medical School within the College. Fr Themistocles envisaged an Orthodox University of Africa.
In January 2008, with the blessing of His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria and sponsored by the international charity ‘Paradise Kids 4 Africa’ (PK4A), Fr Themi moved from Kenya to Sierra Leone, where he involved himself in similar activities that he had initiated in Kenya. As of 2009, there are 9 building projects in progress, including a missionary residence and 3 places of worship (including the Cathedral of St Eleftherios), as well as providing many feeding programs for the hungry.
Negotiations with the government in March 2008 led to Fr Themi having responsibility for two schools, with a total of 3500 students and 90 staff; and in May, grants were received from two Greek missionary societies, the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity and the Missionary Alliance of St. Cosmas the Aetolian – one grant to build infrastructure for one of the schools, and the other to begin construction of a Teachers’ College. Work began on the Teachers’ College before the end of that month, and construction has begun on housing for the disabled and victims of the war.
A former Australian rock star, who once shared the stage with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, has joined forces with the President of Sierra Leone’s Red Cross, to help the people of this West African country still recovering from a terrible civil war that lasted 11 years and left over 50,000 dead.
Dr. Themi Adams who, after several years of performing before screaming audiences “Down Under” turned down a life of fame to serve God as a missionary to some of Africa’s most oppressed nations and is based in Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown where he runs a mission.
Now Adams is receiving some invaluable help in the form of Edward T. Ngandi, the Former Registrar of Sierra Leone University who brings to the Orthodox Mission in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 30 years academic of experience, including 40 years with the Red Cross with which he is still actively involved as its local president. His organization has been hailed as the most structured in Africa
Ngandi will be passing on his many skills to new volunteers, and will be implementing a new youth recruitment drive to support the Red Cross and the local community.
“He is now working at the Orthodox Mission in Freetown, supporting brother Themi Adams, a one-time trailblazer and now a beloved Greek Orthodox priest, and he has plans to develop future youth leaders to become apart human intervention programs with the Red Cross providing aid to Sierra Leone during natural disasters,” said John Tsambazis, a friend of the ministry.
Recently Edward T. Ngandi took some time out to attend the Australian Red Cross Movement’s 2013 International Meetings in Sydney to talk to Pk4a supporters.
“Over 1,000 delegates from 189 countries came together for a series of high level international talks, humanitarian speakers and seminars, cultural performances, exhibits and outdoor events,” added John Tsambazis.
“On November 11, up to 800 lively Red Cross supporters formed a giant human formation of the Red Cross Red Crescent emblem on the famous Sydney Opera House steps.”
Human emblems have become a Red Cross tradition, and Sydney turned out a proudly Australian Red Cross symbol of humanity and volunteer spirit to share with the world. This was a colorful wonderful way to start the week-long Statutory Meetings.
Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner joined the crowd as they transformed themselves into a giant Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Speaking to the members of Paradise Kids 4 Africa, known by its supporters as PK4A, Edward T. Ngandi, explained, “There are 17 district managers in Sierra Leone overseeing 7,000 volunteers, predominantly comprising of 70% of youths.
“When I was registrar at Sierra Leone University, it was our mandate to train students for community service. The Red Cross was the perfect vehicle for their work experience and for further academic development. I would like to see this happen with the youth at the Orthodox Mission too.”
Dr. Themi Adams has also just completed a large teachers college and mission house in Freetown. It was built to house volunteers and helpers from across the globe and to offer free education for students wishing to go to college.
Overwhelmed with joy at the caliber of the people supporting him and the standard of education he can provide, Adams, who was born in Egypt to Greek parents and raised in Melbourne, Australia, said, “I welcome these initiatives that Mr. Ngandi proposes for the betterment of our society. That is what we are here for — to educate our future leaders, harness good citizens to care for their community, and for them to lead meaningful lives”.
Rev Themi went on to say: “They come from all over the world and walks of life; from football (soccer) stars, to medical practitioners, and educators with great qualifications.
“Over one year of hard work has paid off as we are able to house specialists, doctors and more volunteers inside the mission compound. I can’t express my gratitude to all the supporters who worked tirelessly to fund this project and make it a reality.
Adams added: “This is the best gift we can give to a nation that has gone through a terrible civil war and has a chronic shortage of skilled labor.
“Whilst we attend to the welfare of the local people by providing them with their basic needs like food and clothing, education is the key and can and will lift the poor out of poverty into a future where anything is possible.”
Red Cross veteran, Mr. Ngandi, during his visit to Australia, spoke of his work with the Red Cross, and stated, “Our volunteers have been at the forefront of humanitarian action during recent national disasters, including the Shenge sea accident, the floods at Daru and Pujehun; the storms in Bonthe, Kamakwe, Kono and Koinadugu, among others providing help to the victims of those disasters. Last year’s cholera outbreak.
“The Society’s active First Aid and Community Development volunteers have provided psycho-social support, activated early warning systems, worked in emergency response and long-term recovery, helped reunite separated family members and continued to be a driving force for change at the community level.”
He commended volunteers of the society for the free services they have been rendering to the nation over the past years, adding that the success stories of the society in Sierra Leone would not have been achieved without the commitment of the volunteers. He acknowledged that the number of volunteers in the society is growing rapidly, which according to him, is as a result of the active work done by existing volunteers.
So now, Themi Adams has some invaluable help in his vital ministry and he is excited by the quality that Mr. Edward T. Ngandi brings to his work.
Between them, they will be bringing a shine light to a land that has seen much violence in recent years.
The Sierra Leon Civil War (1991–2002) began on March 23, 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support from the special forces of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. The resulting civil war lasted 11 years, enveloped the country, and left over 50,000 dead.
For more information on Themi Adams’ unique ministry, please go to http://paradise4kids.org/