Houston Boy Makes – and Does – Good

By Dr. Constantina Michalos HOUSTON, TX – I haven’t seen Dean Triantafilou since he and his family left Houston in 1987. I remember a sweet young man with a wry sense of humor. As the only son of our Proestamenos, he lived in a fishbowl, but he was comfortable in his own skin and wore the pk (“priest’s kid”) mantle admirably. Among many jobs, he freelanced as a landscaper. I remember watching him try to wrestle an oleander out of the ground in my back yard. But mostly, he was an Aggie and, in Texas, A&M is more than an alma mater. It is an ethos. A religion. At A&M, Dean majored in history. His favorite author was Ernest Hemingway. I wasn’t surprised, but I groaned anyway. My favorite author was William Faulkner. He wasn’t surprised, but he groaned anyway. Until the day he called and, in his succinct way, said, “I’m reading your boy.” “Which one?” “The Sound and the Fury.” “I’m just going to tell you how to read it. Call me when you’re done.” And a week later, “That was amazing. And that’s all I’m going to say.” As I said, succinct. So I was surprised, and I smiled broadly, when, after all these years, his first question to me was “How’s William Faulkner?” We had lost touch after his family had moved, so I didn’t know that he’d attended law school and worked on construction projects in Kenya and Tanzania for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Mission Center and the Orthodox Church of East Africa. No one has those experiences without undergoing a dramatic transformation, but Dean attributes his work with the IOCC to divine providence. I truly believe that everything I’ve ever done throughout my life all came together to bring me to this point.” Alex Rondos, IOCC’s first director, was also in the right place at the right time. Seeking someone who could work with the Orthodox Church in a challenging environment, he saw something in Dean that fit that profile. Founded in 1992 by a group of visionary hierarchs and lay Church leaders, the mission of the IOCC is to, “in the spirit of Christ’s love, offer emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination, and to strengthen the capacity of the Orthodox Church to so respond. All assistance is provided solely on the basis of need, and benefits families, refugees and displaced persons, the elderly, school children, orphans and people with disabilities. Our close cooperation with the Orthodox Church in the host countries where we serve gives us an opportunity to reach that country’s most vulnerable.” In his capacity as Director, Dean manages all facets of the organization’s relief and development programs, including its international headquarters in Baltimore, and its ten field offices in Eastern Europe, Africa, the Caucasus, the Balkans, and the Middle East. The IOCC functions in troubled areas across the globe, but its relief efforts are clearly apolitical. “We’ve always worked in countries with a connection to the Church. If it was a place with challenges, we’d take a step back and let our work speak for itself. People will inevitably warm up when they see we don’t have any agenda other than to help.” Whether or not the country has an indigenous Orthodox presence, it still has a humanitarian need. And the IOCC has a spiritual obligation to help. “It’s important for Orthodox Christians to reach out as they have since the beginning of the Church. It’s in our roots –St. Basil, St. Sava, and St. Nicholas.” Doing humanitarian work is more than distributing supplies. Personally, Dean has learned much about himself. Besides having to get along with people, within the IOCC and in the field, he has learned strong administrative skills. “As complicated as it is to navigate all aspects of this position, I can connect the dots and understand the big picture and the role that I serve.” Even with his life-changing experiences, Dean remains an Aggie. When I asked what he thought of Johnny Manziel, he answered, “I think that Manziel has made college football fun to watch again. He’s helped to put Texas A&M in the national spotlight. The team is being exposed to a broader circle of fans beyond the Aggie supporters.” I wasn’t surprised, but I groaned anyway.