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Chris Samuels, Deseret News
Father Themi Adamopoulos leans over to kiss an altar at Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — It has nothing to do with the Kardashians, presidential politics or the worst fashion faux pas at the recent Academy Awards ceremony.

The greatest scandal on Earth, according to Father Themi Adamopoulos, is "poverty, hunger and the deaths of children."

Father Adamopoulos, founder and operator of the Holy Orthodox Christian Mission in Sierra Leone, speaking Wednesday night at Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, challenged children in the audience to ponder their privilege compared to most of the children in the world.

"Do not imagine every child on this planet is like you. They are not," he said.

Half the world's population lives in poverty, he explained. They live on $2 a day. "That is what their mama and papa have to feed their children," he said.

Each day, all over the world — and commonly in Sub-Saharan Africa where Father Adamopoulos' mission is located — thousands of children "die without food because they're hungry."

Father Adamopoulos, who has graduate degrees in theology and divinity from Ivy League institutions and was an academic himself and taught in a seminary in Sydney, Australia, said he was inspired to begin a life of direct service after learning more about the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

"I decided my work was miniscule compared to what she was doing. So I wrote to the patriarch in Alexandria (Egypt). I consulted my archbishop who gave me his blessing to go to Africa. And I think he was very happy I was going to Africa. That's how it happened. I wanted to be with the poor," he said.

Father Adamopoulos has built a school and treatment facility for Western Africans who had their limbs chopped for opposing rebel forces in the last decade. He also ministered to Ebola victims.

The nonprofit organization Paradise 4 Kids supports the mission's efforts.

He projected on a screen a video that contained footage of starving and ill children, many of them orphaned after their parents died in conflict, of AIDS and other diseases.

On top of all that was the Ebola crisis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the 2014 Ebola epidemic was the largest in history, affecting multiple countries in West Africa.

"We suffered for six months without any international assistance," Father Adamopoulos said.

"It was shocking. It was terrible. We haven’t seen such a deadly thing hitting a nation such as Ebola did," he said.

There were corpses in the streets and people were afraid to touch them for fear of contracting the disease, which is spread through direct contact with blood and body fluids of a person already showing symptoms of Ebola, according to the CDC.

The minute the first case of Ebola was confirmed in the United States, "suddenly Ebola exists."

The work in Sierra Leone is difficult and growing numbers of people ask for his help. Father Adamopoulos said he is steeled by his faith and the gospel.

People who have been blessed with opportunity have a responsibility to help those who ask for their help.

"Every time we feed a hungry person we are feeding Christ," he said.

One audience member, a mother of seven children, told Father Adamopoulos that she strives to model her faith to her children and teach them to take care of the poor. Yet, when she is approached by people seeking money or other assistance, her instinct is to hustle her children into the car where they are safe.

Father Adamopoulos said the first-world has been conditioned to think of homeless people as useless.

"The way to do it is to begin to do it. Do it in a way that you feel comfortable," he said.

Finally, he encouraged the young mother and all in the audience to give thanks to God for their food and other blessings.

"Just keep praying," he said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com