Friday, September 25, 2009

Operation Joshua 2

We have just sent out a newsletter after our being in Greece for one year. If you did not receive it, send me an email and I will send it to you. The newsletter covers many things from the summer time which I will not repeat here. In the letter I referenced the reader to this blog to read more about our experience at Operation Joshua 2.
Operation Josua is a bible distribution campaign aimed at getting a New Testament in Modern Greek to every household in every villiage in Greece. The goal is 1 million bibles. This summer, over the course of 6 days with the help of 150 people, we hand-delivered 44,000 bibles to households in the Peloponese. We were both well received as well as totally rejected. Our team was invited into many homes and treated to coffee, icecream, gifts of oregano, olives and olive oil, and many other expressions of kindness and gratitude. We were deeply greatful for these exeperiences, especially in the face of the rejection our team faced. Many people had bibles thrown back at them, or just thrown out into the street as if it were trash. The team that I personally lead (we were divided into 14 teams) was kicked out of two villages by the villages' priests.

The first village, the priest was peaceful, but didn't want to dialogue, only to speak and be heard. We had just about finished handing out bibles in this village by the time the priest told us to leave anyway. And, we had some great connections and conversations with people as they were obviously curious about what we were doing.

The second village, we may have covered half of it by the time the priest approached me. The way we operated was to have the bibles in bags in the trunk of the car, a driver and 3 or so "runners/deliverers" depending on the size of the car. Well, I had all three of the people with me out delivering bibles and I was sitting in the car figuring out how to cover the village and touching base with the other half of our team in another vehicle. As I was sitting there, I noticed some people gathering on the other side of the street from where I was parked. It wasn't long before the priest emerged and approached my car with one of the bibles. He hits the bible with the back of his hand and demands "Ti einai auto?" or "What is this?" I began to speak with him but he, like the other priest, didn't want to listen. I tried to show him and explain that the bibles have the official Greek Orthodox seal and are legitimate and approved by and for the Orthodox. He didn't care to listen. He became more aggressive in his speach and tone as more people came out of their houses to see what was going on. Finally, he began hitting the top of my car repeatedly yelling "Leave!" So, I gathered my team and we were on our way out of the village. The priest came in his car and rolled down his window. I pointed to the van behind me and told him he was a Greek and could speak to him better. So Nick, the driver of the van, began speaking with him so he could better understand what we were doing and to assure him that we were not a threat in any way. The priest was visibly angry and inconsolable. Then, Tom comes in the picture. He was the last member of our team to make it back to the vehicles so we could leave. Tom is a Greek-American who leads and is involved in several ministries in New York and who was also the speaker for our group in the evenings. Tom approached the priest very calmly, and showing respect. He spoke gently to the priest, but in the end, could not console the man. Actually, things heated up as a police officer in civilian clothes joined in flailing his arms and yelling. We all had a sense that this could escalte to violence. And it didn't all make sense. The officer demanded we leave the village threatening to arrest us. However, we couldn't leave because he had blocked the road with his car. It was very confusing an a bit chaotic. But, something pretty incredible happened. From the beginning, as the priest was telling me to leave, it started to rain a little. As things intensified, so did the rain. By the time we left the village we could hardly see through the windsheild because of the downpouring rain. So, in the end, the officer and the priest in their seperate cars filled with others, sped off to the next village to warn them about us. Our team was pretty shaken up by the event. I couldn't get Matthew 23:13 out of my head, "Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." How heavy is the weight of spiritual responsibility and leadership?! I experienced for the first time the emotions of "shaking the dust off" my feet.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The second week of June we had our Mens Refugee Camp. There were 14 Muslim men from Algeria and Morocco and about 7 or 8 of us as staff. Most of the guys we invited to come have been involved in a weekly spiritual discussion group with our ministry.

Here, we have just arrived on a make-shift barge to the camp. There is no road to the camp, so we must go by boat. You can also see the large black tanks on the barge. That is one way we get water to the property since all the attempts for digging water-wells have only dug up rock.

First time for these guys to shoot a bow and arrow.

First time for many of them to jump on a trampoline.

First time for them to not only climb a rock climbing wall, but also the first time most had seen one.
Football (soccer). Definitely not a first. There's a lot of impressive footwork and skill on the field there.
Swimming and cannoeing.
Mike and the guys grilling some chicken. Heath did an incredible job of cooking all the meals for the camp. He worked with a couple of the guys to make Moroccan tea which we had a couple times a day. He also made authentic Moroccan couscous. We ate well!

This camp was the shortest camp we will have all summer--3 days. In those three days these guys were able to escape the chaos of everyday life in the city. They live with a constant question of when and how they will leave the country, being assured of nothing. Most of them sleep in abandoned buildings with no electricty or water. They live day to day in fear of the police, either from the law or brutality. I asked one of the guys how he slept after our first night there. He told me it was the best sleep he has had in the three months he has been in Greece. Some of the guys were saying that this was the most beautiful place they had ever been.
In three days we spent over 10 hours in teaching and discussion, not to mention the personal conversations and discussions. Most of the guys are very religious, some of them observing all 5 times of prayer each day. One of the goals of our staff was to finish the week feeling confident that we had clearly presented the gospel of Christ to these guys. And by the end of the camp, we had shared and communicated the gospel in various ways, several times. May the Word of God challenge their minds and cut to their hearts!
I thank God for the guys I work with. What a blessing they are to me and a joy to work and serve with.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Our Hellenic Ministries website has had a complete overhaul! Check it out.

Refugee Hotel/Home

Video clip:

This video shows the living conditions of our friends from North Africa. A collegue of mine (Stephan) and myself have been to this place three times this week. A human rights group that is working with them encouraged them to clean the place up to make a better case for themselves. Stephan and I immediately saw (admittidly only some of) the challange to cleaning an 8 floor hotel hosting 500-700 guys with no electricity or running water. The immediate challange was the lack of cleaning supplies. So, because of the support we receive from our families, friends and churches we were able to provide the guys with the supplies they needed. We had been praying for a way to come see where these guys live. Monday, Stephan received an invitation from one of the guys. Tuesday night, the night before they were to be evicted, he and I went. Wednesday, during the shower time at our ministries building, the police came to their hotel. Many of the guys left the showers to collect the their belongings with the big question of "what's next?" swimming in their minds. Not too long after the police arrived a few jounalists with a camara arrived. The police took off showing they didn't have the complete authority they needed to be there. That day we figured out what supplies were needed and we went shopping a few blocks away. Stephan and I went back Saturday taking our friend Collin from South Africa along with us. We also brought the rest of the needed supplies.
What this open door has done for our relationships with these guys cannot be put into words. Everyone of these guys are Muslims, and they know we are Christians. They know we come in the name of Jesus. We have a discussion group with about 15 of them every week. They are very curious about the Christian faith and Scriptures; very skeptical, very religious in their own right, but very curious.
May God continue to forge these relationships and open more doors. May He keep them up at night with questions about who He is and who His Son is. May He, by whatever means, bring them into His glorious Light.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Okay, so I'm not doing so well with this whole updating the blog thing. A blog is a great idea and a great way to stay up to date, if it's updated. I know. I'm sorry. However, I'm not going to make any resolutions because we all know how those "I'm going to get in shape" New Years resolutions work out every year. Just know that it is my heart's desire to keep you updated and informed on our ministry here in Greece. And so with that, I will do my best.

Alright, so briefly, what has happened over the last 3 months?
  • The riots have subsided. What are the results? Great question. I think I'll just leave it at that.
  • Toward the end of December we (Hellenic Ministries) put on a Christmas Love Meal for refugees and homeless Greeks. There were two meals served; at 1:00pm and at 7:00pm. I was in language class during the first one but made it for the second. Both meals were packed!
  • Our Monday night meals have been very full lately. We fill up our space 1 1/2 times, serving 300 - 350 refugees. Currently, most of the guys coming are from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine and we have some families from Afghanistan.
  • I have completed my 3rd language course and start my 4th this Monday.
  • On Wednesdays we are currently offering 60 guys showers and laundry. We have begun serving hot tea and bread with Merenda or jam to the refugees that come for the showers. We also play ping-pong and will soon put out other games for them to play and enjoy themselves. Please pray for translators. We need French and Arabic translators. We would like to have a time of discussion with these guys on a spiritual level. That requires a willing person who can and will translate. Please pray for Hussein, Youssef, and Omar. These guys are from Morocco and Algeria and speak English pretty well. Pray for us to develop good relationships with these guys. Pray that their eyes will be opened to the transforming power of God's love. Pray that they will be willing to work with us in reaching people from their countries and religion.
  • On Saturday nights, Dino and I meet with young people from the church. We have a Bible study for the first 30-45 minutes and then some kind of activity: basketball, dinner, visiting people in the hospital, etc. We have great discussion and good times together. This group desires to know God and understand His Word on a deeper level. It is a great encouragement for them to have this time with other Christians their age. Two from this group have confessed their faith in Christ and been baptized since our meetings have started. Praise God!

I better stop here. Thank you for all your prayers and support.

Pictures of the Christmas Love Meal:

Here Bruce is displaying the Christmas gift given to the guys: a sleeping bag, wool socks, gloves and a stocking cap. Many sleep on the streets or abandoned building with no water or electricity. The women were given a bag of food with which they could make a Christmas meal for their families. If you're wondering, the women did not receive the sleeping bags and such because they are mostly with their families staying in shelters provided for families.

This is Alex Macris and myself enjoying some time together before we serve the evening meal. Alex heads up the maritime ministry with HM.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Protests & Riots Continue

Well, I have a few things to tell you about today.
  1. Visa. I got all my paperwork submitted and will be receiving a 5 year visa in a month or two! This keeps me from having to exit and reenter the country every 90 days, saving both time and money. I was given a paper to verify my legal status until my official visa arrives. It took a little over a week to get everything the city hall requested, so I actually received my paper on the last day that I could legally be in the country! If they hadn't given me the paper that morning, I would have had to have flown to another country for a day or two. It was a good morning.
  2. Language. I have one more week of my second language course. My next course will start Jan. 12. I am looking forward to the time between classes to review and practice more of what I've learned.
  3. Riots. We have had 7 days of protests and riots with this possibly being the 8th. My family was asking how close we are to the action, and I told them that we live far away and not to worry. Well, I was right in telling them not to worry, but I also want to give them an idea of how far we are from the center of Athens. So, I google mapped/directioned our apartment to Syntagma Square which is in the center of Athens. About 6 miles. Admittedly, closer than I thought. Growing up in the States, that seems like nothing. But, from our apartment to the center there are no open spaces and no highways. So, six miles of building after building, stoplight, stoplight, stoplight...six miles seems like a long ways.
    I hadn't had any encounters with protesters or rioters until this past Friday. I was on my way to class and got caught in a mess of traffic. My first thought was that the public transportation must be on strike. After a while of going nowhere I thought there must be a car accident. A little while later a police officer on a motorcycle drives through the parked cars (this, by the way, is how all the bikes drive here). Later on an ambulance forces it's way through the traffic with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Must be an accident right. Wrong. I finally reached a point where I could see what was going on. About 50 or 60 teenagers were blocking the road. They had pushed trash dumpsters under the streetlights in an intersection. Some were sitting on the dumpsters, others were blocking traffic by just standing in the way. And then, there was one guy who was selecting people to go through. Only two or three cars were allowed through at a time. When this 16 year old kid pointed to me and shouted back at his friends, they moved aside enough for me to squeeze through. I couldn't believe what was happening! I couldn't believe the cop that drove by didn't do anything. This is a small picture of what is happening all over the country. The police are handling these situations as if they have been disarmed and stripped of authority.
    I have more to say about this topic than should be legal to post. So, if you have a question or a comment or something to throw out for discussion, please post a comment.
    Our prayer for the Christians here and the churches is that we would view all of this through the lens of Christ. There are some fundamental root issues behind all this mess that need to be addressed. We pray that we are a part of the healing and the solution. We pray for deeper understanding and appropriate action. Please pray with us for this nation!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Riots in Greece

We are okay. Many of you who have heard about the situation here in Greece have asked if we are okay. We don't feel that we are in any danger. I will tell you a bit about what is going on, but understand, I don't have a full picture of all the reasons and history behind the current upheaval. The catalyst to this particular upheaval was the deadly shooting of a 15 year old boy by a police officer. This officer and his partner were in their patrol car when 30 youths rushed their vehicle. The officer claimed he was firing warning shots, but some witnesses claim he shot directly at the boy.

For starters, understand that a great number of people here are frustrated and angry with a government they accuse of being corrupt and self-seeking, not caring about the people. I can't tell you the number of strikes that have gone on since we have been here, only for three months. There was a Customs strike when we first arrived that prevented anything from coming into or going out of the country. This diverted our container and caused us problems, but also, it drained this area (Attica) of 95% or more of gasoline. I waited 40 minutes in line one day for 30 euros of gas, as they were forced to ration it out. The metro has been on strike several times. A workers strike is going on Wednesday which affects many people in many ways. One example is a friend of mine who had to postpone his flight because of the strike! So, all this to say, there exists quite a tension between the people and the government, and the people continue to seek to make their voices heard.

As for the violence, much of this can be attributed to Anarchists. Demonstrations and protests happen quite often in the city. Most of the time they are non-violent, although sometimes violence erupts. It seems that this erruption of violence can many times be attributed to the anarchists.

So, is this happening where we live? Has it affected us? The only activity I know that has happened in our section of Athens is that last night a number of youths were throwing rocks at the police station. This was the scene at many police stations all over Athens, as well as many other cities in Greece. Sunday night we had a worship event scheduled with Hellenic Ministries, but had to cancel. The ministry building is located in the center of Athens and is in a pretty volitale area in times like this. So, the word got out to cancel the night of worship for everyones safety. Not only that, but the roads were blocked off as well. The only other direct effect was the thick traffic this morning because of closed roads. Many roads were closed as they needed to be cleaned up. Several shops, banks, storefronts, etc. have been damaged and burned.

Wow, what a post! Gloom and destruction. But, I got to tell you, it's ten o'clock at night, I'm typing on the laptop, Nikki is cooking dinner, Ashtyn is sleeping, and in our home... it is quiet. Thank God, for the simple things. Today, I walked up to the rooftop of my school to take a look out over the city. From the top you can see the beautiful mountains, the open sky and the sprawl of the city. Can you imagine the heartache of God when He looks over this city, over this world, full of people he created in His image, and sees and hears and feels the brokeness of the people. But can you also imagine His excitement and joy when we become his hands of healing!