I turned off Louisiana County Road 169 onto I-20 East towards Shreveport. I was traveling back to school in Oxford, Mississippi, after spending the long weekend in Austin, Texas, with my girlfriend. I turned off the politics podcast I had been listening to for the past hour. I only put the show on to try something new since I already heard every single possible hot take on sports radio about the new-look Cavaliers team as a result of the trade deadline. No one knows where Lebron is going to play basketball next year, and I couldn’t bear to hear another opinion on the topic. I don’t know how or why or what lead me to it, but I decided to search Ancient Faith Radio in the podcast search bar on my iPhone. Even though I’m a huge fan of podcasts, I’ve never listened to Ancient Faith Radio and didn’t know it was a podcast network. Scrolling through the shows while trying to keep my eyes on the road, I queued up a podcast about the prodigal son, a familiar story I felt comfortable with and thought I knew a lot about.
Fr. Josiah Trenham described the parable as a “picture of our entire earthly lives.” Everyone knows the Sunday school classic of the prodigal son. A father has two sons, one stays home while the other decides to leave, blowing through his inheritance before humbling himself and returning home. When the son returned, his father rejoiced with a giant feast, much to the dismay of his older brother, who remained loyal and stayed with his father. Angered, the older brother questioned the father’s motives. Why had he never received such a celebration for his dedicated service?
The father comforts his eldest son, saying the celebration was not about him, but about the return, the rebirth, of his youngest son, who was lost, but is now saved.
Even though I’ve heard that story hundreds of times, I wept.
My name is John Touloupis, and I’m a sophomore studying Economics and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Mississippi. My dad was born in Greece, and my mom in the Bahamas. I grew up in the same community where my parents met at the Holy Trinity Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church with my younger brother and sister, I served in the altar, participated in GOYA activities, danced during the Greek festivals, and went to “greek camp” every year. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to Ionian Village in Greece and study our faith during CrossRoad at Hellenic College. My Orthodox faith and Hellenic heritage are two major cornerstones I try to use as guiding principles in my daily life.
The keyword here is “try.”
This summer, I am blessed with the opportunity to intern at Project Mexico. Last year, my mom floated the idea of volunteering at Project Mexico with my girlfriend, Steph. My mom described it to me as something on her bucket list, and she told me she would regret it for the rest of her life if we never went. Being a good son, I first made sure my mom knew what she was getting into.
“You know it’s a lot of manual labor, right?” I asked.
“I know,” she said.
“You know we sleep on the ground in tents outside, right?” I asked.
“I’m aware,” she said.
“Are you sure you’re going to be able to physically handle this?” I asked.
“There is only one way to find out,” she said. “We have to go.”
So last summer, my mom, Steph, and I went to Project Mexico together as volunteers for the first time.
This summer, I’ll be going back.
And I’m terrified.
I don’t think I’m a great Orthodox Christian. My prayer is alright. I really, really don’t like fasting. I barely go to church when I’m at school because I’m either too tired after socializing in the Grove all day Saturday, overwhelmed with schoolwork, or a combination of both. I’m scared I’ll spend my summer away from my family for the first time in a foreign country, speaking a language I’m not in fluent in.
My life as a 19-year-old college student is busy. I am constantly attempting to balance and maintain my GPA, sensible social life and healthy lifestyle, lesson my anxiety by fighting panic attacks and generally trying to be as organized as humanly possible. These nearly impossible tasks are even harder when I neglect my spiritual life. I could’ve worked at summer camps, helped at my parent’s restaurant, or interned in Washington D.C., instead, I’ll be in Mexico trying to work on myself while using my talents to help serve Project Mexico.
After much thought and reflection, I truly felt a call to return to Project Mexico. One of my biggest takeaways from my time at CrossRoad several summers ago was the notion of vocation. During the program, we were challenged to not only discover our strengths, but specifically find a way to use them to serve our church. As a Broadcast Journalism student, I love writing, taking pictures, shooting videos, and ultimately telling stories. After the short week I spent in Mexico last summer, I saw an opportunity to serve the church using my talents.
Project Mexico and the St. Innocent Orphanage carries a beautiful yet overlooked story.
This summer, my goal is to change that.
I couldn’t be more excited!
Instead of running around an office doing coffee runs and making copies, I’ll be returning like the prodigal son to Mexico with a camera, computer, and passion to share an incredible story.
This summer, I start my new adventure in Mexico, won’t you join me for the ride?