Meet Your Fellow Deacon: Phil Smith

by Allison Groot, CDM Administrative Assistant

It’s eight o’clock on a Friday morning. Phil Smith puts on his lab coat and begins his day at work. A full-time senior scientist for a national veterinary laboratory, his “nine-to-five” is no walk in the park. Nonetheless, when his work at the office is done, he heads over to his local Home Depot, where he also works as a part-time appliance salesman. Then, when his shift ends at 10:30 that night, instead of going home to his family like usual, he sets off towards Barre, VT, hoping to get a few hours of driving in before he pulls over to get some rest. Phil is on his way to the Presbytery of New York and New England’s Deacons’ Conference, which starts at 8:45 the next morning.

What’s more amazing than this remarkable (but true) account is Phil’s dedication to the office and work of the diaconate at his local church, each week. On top of working two jobs, caring for his family, and participating in regular church events, Phil says fitting in his service as a deacon is “just ordinary life.” He continues, “My family has a lot going on, but many of the deacons I serve with also have busy schedules. We just have to fit the important things in; that is the commitment we’ve made.” 

Clearly, diaconal work is very important to Phil and the three other deacons with whom he serves at Second Parish OPC, Scarborough, ME. It’s important enough to often make plans to fit in a diaconal visit on the way home from work or make a spur-of-the-moment trip to help a church member. In fact, Phil says that having the opportunity to be a point of contact for people in need and “jumping in to help when there is a need” is one of the aspects that drew him to be a deacon.

But for Phil, mercy ministry isn’t merely impromptu service. When asked what diaconal service means to him, he said, “Diaconal service is intentional service; it’s an opportunity to get to know God’s people…God has given me gifts that I can help others with, and one of the ways I can help people is through the ministry of his church—whether that is financial, stacking wood for someone, helping someone get to and from church, or coordinating funds [to be sent] overseas.” Phil also spoke about the importance of communicating the purpose of our service to those we interact with: “[The gospel] has to be communicated on a consistent basis.” This sums up the motivation that lies behind diaconal work for Phil.

Though he admits there are many ways in which his calling to serve is unique to that of a deacon, Phil believes service to the church is really a calling for every church member, including his own family. “The kids learn to serve with me,” he says. As for his wife, he says her gift is “letting me be available…when I need to get to church early for a meeting, she is willing to get all the kids ready, which allows me to serve in that manner. It wouldn’t be possible for me to do those things if she wasn’t so willing and flexible.”

While he teaches his children the meaning of serving God by serving the church, Phil also acknowledges that he is still learning and growing as a deacon. In fact, some of what he is learning comes from what he’s doing in the workplace. “In science, much of the work revolves around researching and meeting the requirements of products that our clients need and that will sell on the market.” 

But what do those skills have to do with being a deacon? He goes on, “It’s interesting that some of this applies to how I approach people [diaconally]. I’m learning to ask, ‘What is the need?’ It’s probably not just this one thing they tell us up front, like paying a bill. The need is usually significantly deeper. And it’s important to think about what the deeper need is, what would best meet the need, and how I can find out what is truly at the heart of the situation to really help in the most effective manner.”

Phil has found what many deacons may find to be true. To minister to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals, one has to get past an analytical, task-oriented mindset. He says, “I’ve learned and I’m still learning that our work [as deacons] comes down to patience. I just want to fix the situation. But that doesn’t work with people. I must remember that each person is coming from a set of life experiences that I don’t often know about, and I don’t always need to know, but I do need to be patient and loving enough to help them in areas [where] they might not even know they can ask for help.”

Though Phil’s busyness is characteristic of his work life, he hopes to remember, as a minister of mercy, to slow down and listen for others’ sake and for the sake of reflecting the care and compassion of Christ.


To the Least of These: Showing Love for Ukrainian Orphan Refugees

by Trish Duggan, CDM Communications Coordinator

Greg and Bonnie Harrison live in Romania. They are not Romanian by birth, nor have they lived there long. The Harrisons are longtime members of Second Parish OPC in Portland, Maine. Greg is a deacon, a builder by trade—and both Greg and Bonnie were considered some of the most sought-after wedding photographers in Maine. The two met at a dance hall and married in 1993. 

Almost a decade ago, just as Russia began its 2014 invasion, the Lord led the Harrisons to adopt four children from an orphanage in the city of Kiliya, in southwestern Ukraine.

After arriving back at their home in Maine, the Harrisons learned of the difficult circumstances for the remaining Ukrainian orphans. Greg and Bonnie longed to be able to rescue all of them but knew they could not adopt every one. This led them to investigate the possibility of moving to Ukraine, where they might be able to carry out some sort of ministry to these orphans.

With the help and support of their pastor and members of Second Parish OPC, as well as several other churches and individuals in New England and beyond, they established a non-profit called “Hearts of Hope”. In 2018, they moved back to Ukraine and purchased and renovated a home in Kiliya.

On February 24, 2022, an active war broke out again in Ukraine. The family fled Ukraine, seeking refuge near Brasov, Romania, where the MTW team who had been serving in Odessa, Ukraine, had also relocated. Bonnie and Greg value the local church, especially one that is reformed, and sought to establish themselves in Romania where they would be near a reformed local church. 

In God’s providence and timing, they stumbled upon the Kiliya orphans—who were now also refugees—just two hours from where they lived in Romania, in Valenii de Munte. This allowed the Harrison family to take up their ministry once again to these children, to visit them a few days a week, and to take several at a time out on excursions. 

In Ukraine, like in many other countries, orphans, especially those with special needs, are by all accounts discarded by society. In fact, some consider them to be the outcasts of the outcasts. Greg and Bonnie have a love for these children and recognize them as God’s image-bearers, in need of love, spiritual and practical guidance, training, and the ability to someday support themselves. 

In August, David Nakhla, administrator for the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM) had an opportunity to visit and encourage this family in Romania and to see first-hand the impact that their ministry is having on the lives of several orphans from Ukraine with special needs, now suffering as refugees, who live with them. Amazed at the Harrison’s commitment, David said, “The Harrisons are truly huge-hearted people! They realize that this is not a short-term ministry. It’s hard work; it takes years, patience, and endurance.” Jesus perfectly expressed his love for the outcast in Luke 5:12-13, as He touched and healed a leper. In the same manner, the Harrisons are ministering to these children in His name. 

This couple is gifted with “thinking outside the box” and doesn’t allow challenges to deter them. With no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, the Harrisons are considering permanently moving their ministry from Ukraine to Romania and creating a place in the beautiful Carpathian Mountains, where they can invite artisans from North America to teach the children sustainable skills and trades. Long-term they hope to encourage other Christian families to consider hosting orphans in their homes, for short periods. Hosting serves to show an example of a stable family and provides hope to orphans, many of whom have never experienced a loving, nurturing home. 

The CDM learned of the Harrisons and their ministry while seeking like-minded ministries in that region of the world who were ministering to refugees from Ukraine.  The CDM’s Refugee Ministry Subcommittee was thankful to learn of the Harrisons and the faithful ministry of mercy they are carrying out to “the least of these”, and, upon examining the various expenditures they have incurred in direct connection to the war in Ukraine and their ministry to Ukrainian refugees, recently approved a considerable disbursement to Hearts of Hope, to reimburse it for the ministry expenditures incurred, by means of the generous gifts of God’s people contributed to the Ukraine Crisis Fund.  

Lord willing, their mission will continue with more opportunities to show the love of Christ by offering a haven for more orphans and will possibly even inspire others to consider similar ministries. 

May all be encouraged by such service and pray that this ministry of the Harrison’s might serve as a glorious example of selfless diaconal care shown to those in need and distress.


The Poignant Plight of the Asylum Seeker

by Pat Hatch, Refugee and Immigrant Ministry Director, PCA Mission to North America


You work as a lawyer in a developing country, and your work exposes the fact that government officials are raping civilians in your community.  As your work becomes known, you begin to receive death threats.  Not long after, you are beaten, causing permanent partial hearing loss. As soon as you are recovered, you begin your work again, undeterred. But then you get a note saying: “We know where you are, and what you are doing. This time, we will not leave you alive.” This time, you know you have to flee. 

When you arrive in a nearby country, you find out that your homeland government is still tracking you for reprisal. You flee to yet another country, where you go into hiding. 

Eventually you manage to escape to the US on a visitor’s visa, and you begin the difficult process of applying for asylum. For two years you sleep on couches, never far from homelessness. In order to survive, you frequently have to beg for food and shelter.

This is the TRUE story of one of the more than 432,000 asylum seekers* currently in the US. A significant number of them are believers in Christ. Many of them were professionals in their homeland. In the majority of cases, the reason they have had to flee is related to a value that we as Americans hold dear (freedom of speech, religion, political opinion, etc.) Regardless of their previous occupation or religion or ethnicity, they are all persons created in the image of God and of great value to Him. 

From a humanitarian standpoint, they resemble refugees in many ways. But there is no nationwide public/private infrastructure to support asylum seekers while they wait many months or years for their case to be scheduled for a hearing. Unlike refugees, they are not allowed to even apply for a work permit for at least 6 months, and it can take additional months to several years for the permit to arrive. They are not eligible for any safety net benefits. They must survive during this time without any income or access to any basic social services.

The reality is that many have no choice other than to beg food or shelter from any person they might know or meet, or to work “under the table,” in order to survive until their case is eventually heard. This makes them vulnerable to many kinds of abuse (including sexual exploitation.) They struggle with hunger, and homelessness always imminent. Some resort to homeless shelters and may become victims of crime. These hardships compound the severe trauma most have experienced before arrival, as well as their separation from loved ones for the indefinite future, and the psychological burden of being in limbo for an undetermined length of time as they navigate the complex, time-consuming, and unpredictable asylum process. 

Asylum seekers have urgent, very basic needs—particularly sustainable housing and food. But as of 2022, there are virtually no government services for asylum seekers and only about a dozen independent non-profit organizations in the entire country (only a few of them Christian) which are trying to assist asylum seekers with these needs. A total of only approximately 400 beds are available at any given time for more than 400,000 asylum seekers. 

Churches and individual believers have an incredible opportunity to welcome asylum seekers in practical ways and walk with them as they continue their long and arduous journey of finding a new place to belong after fleeing their homelands due to fear for their lives!

To learn more about refugee ministry in the OPC and how your local congregation can demonstrate mercy toward refugees and asylum seekers, visit our Refugee Ministry Page.

*The American Immigration Council defines an asylum seeker in the US as “any person who has fled from their home country for fear of their lives being jeopardized due to their race, religion, nationality, gender, membership in a social group, or political opinion, and has asked the United States to grant them asylum.” 

(For more true stories of asylum seekers, visit

**For more on the differences betweenrefugees and asylum seekers, visit DASH’s helpful webpage on the topic: