In the 1980’s, Dr. Alex Mallouk and Dr. John Sayegh began talking about organizing an Orthodox Mission in Kansas City.
After discovering there were 20 to 30 families who were also interested, a meeting was arranged with Father Constantine Nasr of Oklahoma City.
Dr. Sayegh hosted the first meeting in his home, and Bishop Antoun honored them with his presence. Over 100 people were there, and Bishop Antoun gave them his blessing and approved their mission. Unfortunately, of the 100 plus people that showed up, only about 15 to 20 continued the journey of the first mission.
Initially, they were moving from one meeting place to another. They met in basements, hotels, restaurants, and homes. Amazingly, a Muslim-owned Howard Johnson’s restaurant gave them their first permanent meeting place. They allowed them to use a large room and included breakfast and coffee every Sunday, free of charge. Since they did not have a priest, visiting clergy from other states came to serve the Divine Liturgy, such as Bishop Basil (was Fr. Basil), Fr. Constantine Nasr of Oklahoma, Fr. Nicolas Dahdal of Chicago, Fr. Micahel Jehad of Des Moines, and Fr. Joseph from Houston.
Soon after, they were fortunate to find Deacon Thomas Ford who was ordained by Metropolitan Philip for their mission. They bought a small building and served the Divine Liturgy every Sunday.
Sadly, after three to four years, the mission did not survive due to some unfortunate circumstances. The money from the mission was sent to the Archdiocese to hold for a future mission in Kansas City.
About 5 years later, Elias Issa, the son of a well-respected and active family from the first mission, decided to pursue ordination as an Orthodox Priest. Even though his roots were Orthodox, he had been a Baptist preacher for several years and became interested in returning to his Orthodox roots. A meeting was held with the original members to propose restarting an Antiochian mission, and most agreed this was a good idea.
After Elias was ordained as a priest, he was sent to parishes in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Arizona. After six or seven years, he returned to his home in Kansas City and met with several Middle Eastern Families to once again discuss restarting the Antiochian mission. Fr. Elias communicated with Bishop Basil, and, after several meetings with those who were interested in this endeavor, they started the church with five to eight families.
Bishop Basil gave his blessing, and they started liturgical services in the large waiting room of Dr. Sayegh’s medical office, and the mission began growing.
After a year, they needed more room, so they began holding services in several school cafeterias. As the mission grew, people of many nationalities began attending and joining the church; Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Americans, Russians, Serbians, and Hispanics. Many families from the original mission returned to the new church.
While holding services in the schools, they began looking for land or a building for their new church home. Land was found, but many parishioners didn’t like the location. After investigating the price of land in other locations, the land was purchased.
In 2008, construction began on St. Basil the Great Antiochian Orthodox Church. The miracle began to be realized as parishioners and non-parishioners alike donated their money and their time. An anonymous donor challenged St. Basil’s by agreeing to match whatever funds were raised within a several month period up to $100,000.00. The church raised the $100,000.00, and the money was matched as promised.
The strong vision, faith, and tireless efforts of Fr. Elias Issa were a major contributing factor in realizing this miracle. He worked on the construction site every day, wrangling with contractors and hammering nails. He encouraged his parishioners to help in this historic endeavor, and every member of the church either gave up Saturday’s, weeknights, or both to paint, hang walls, put up doors, install heating and cooling, or raise money – anything that could be done without requiring a licensed contractor was done by each and every parishioner of St. Basil’s, including the children. They celebrated their first Divine Liturgy in their new temple on March 29, 2009. This miracle is very special to them, as they witnessed and experienced it first hand and saw God multiply their efforts. It is more than just a building, it is an outreach of God’s love in the community, feeding the homeless, raising money for charitable giving, conducting Sunday school programs for youth and Adults and discipline parishioners through Bible studies.
If a small number of dedicated families in Kansas City could, with God’s help build a church to worship God in such a short time, then it can be done anywhere. Believe in the one who makes everything possible. Our God.