The PHC Greece team partnered with Streetlights, a local organization that focuses on bringing the light and hope of the Gospel into a struggling, hopeless city. The work involved projects in both Syrian and Afghani refugee camps as well as ministries that offer medical care, clothing, and English language classes specifically to refugee women and their children. In every location, the team made noise, singing songs, playing games, and connecting with refugee children and adults. The refugees often asked about their source of joy, giving students an opportunity to introduce the Gospel and encourage them to visit Streetlights' Christian community center.
“I was worried at first that we would go and have this great experience for ourselves – get our good little photos for Facebook and stuff – and then leave, having built this expectation for these kids that there is someone who is going to play with me every day. Are we just adding to the pile of disappointments in their lives?
"Then I met a boy named Mati while painting kids’ faces. I attempted to paint the right image on his face, but when he looked in the mirror, he became very grave. He muttered, 'Oh… No good. No good.'
"Alarmed, I tried to remedy the situation by letting him paint my face. Mati finally agreed, and proceeded to meticulously paint a mustache on my face before moving on to my nails. He couldn’t pronounce my name, so instead he called me 'my friend.'
“I had not seen Mati hang out with any adults, so I didn’t know if he had any parents. But the last day when we were leaving I met his dad and I met his sister, and his dad seemed like he really cared about him. So, I knew he has a family. And I realized that every day he smelled good and was wearing different clothes… I realized, maybe we’re not changing the world, but we’re making someone smile a little. We’re leaving, but we’re not devastating them at the same time.”
There is a lie which claims that brokenness and suffering can steal hope, and that circumstances of pain can erase both memories and dreams of a hope-filled life. At first glance, it makes sense. Abandoned children, abused widows, and forgotten communities...surely this is not where hope would flourish. And yet, it is a hope so beautiful and rich that I observed in the smiles of the children, the eyes of the women, and the heart of the refugee community. Their stories served as powerful reminders that hope is not found in comfort, security, opportunity or any other treasure of this world. I pray that the faces imprinted upon my heart this week will forever remind me of this truth.
~So we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal~
"Are people half way across the world still people?"
Although it is a pretty basic question, the trip that I attended over Spring Break to Athens gave me my answer. On an intellectual level, I believed that all people are the same. After all, we are all created in the image of God. But, seeing children from Afghanistan and Syria up close helped me realize that what I believed divided us, our faiths, did not result in these Muslim children being much different than American kids I had served in Sunday school. Being there cut through a lot of the political rhetoric and fog that clouds the refugee crisis. I realized that these are real people with the same real needs that anyone in the West feels. But, above all, I saw people who needed the hope of Jesus. The time that we spent with these people bringing them that hope was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. If you have the opportunity, you should go on a mission’s trip. If you are a follower of Christ, going will broaden your horizons, soften your heart, and strengthen your faith.
Knowing how God speaks to me, it doesn’t come as a shock that I met Kathy. On day two of a trip to Greece through my university, Patrick Henry College, sitting in her English class next to a refugee woman from Afghanistan I sat and wrote out the word orange, pronouncing it carefully, making sure to hit every sound so she could repeat it back to me. Kathy walked around the front of the class talking about colors and numbers and occasionally breaking into those VBS songs we, as Americans, memorized at age five. The board read “Good morning. Jesus Loves You,” followed by the date. She bounced around with a joy in her face that I assumed came from excessive caffeine. At the ripe age of 75, Kathy has spent the last 41 years of her life teaching in Athens. A graduate from Georgetown, Kathy went into the Peace Corps and received her teaching training, then ventured out on her own to Rome where she was a professor. There, she met her husband and their 20-year marriage ended with Kathy moving her and their two sons back to Oklahoma for a couple years. There, Kathy felt convicted by God to move back to Athens and pray. Pray for her husband to come to the Lord, and she did, every day for the next 21 years. At the end of his life, her husband came to know the Lord. Twenty years together, twenty-one apart and Kathy prayed every single day for his heart.
Her classroom is covered in maps, the countries the women in her classes are from highlighted. Arabic, Farsi, dare, Greek, and English are all spoken. She teaches a beginner’s class in the morning and advanced in the afternoons four days a week through the Good Samaritan as one of her jobs. She also runs a cell church for these women from her home, teaches at another school across town all while maintain the titles of mom, grandma, teacher, student and Kathy. At age 25 she came to know the Lord, despite having been raised in conservative New Jersey with two parents who took her to church. No one ever asked her if she wanted to have Christ in her heart, until she moved to Athens and God himself asked. She claims the day that old Kathy died is the day that her strength and joy were reborn. The strength it takes to come teach women whose lives are tragic and too far removed from anything we’d ever know that trying to understand seemed impossible. The joy that came when the woman I sat by every day I was there finally recognized and pronounced the word orange was a glimpse into her everyday life. A joy that comes only from doing what God has set out for you. There it was, right in front of me. A woman filled with joy and strength doing what the Lord had set out for her. Was it a straight path that brought her there? No. Did she doubt and question? All the time. But did God provide? Was he good? She didn’t have to answer those questions because her life reflected her yes.
A different story and calling than Kathy, but the same question was being asked me to that had been asked to her almost 50 years ago. Do you trust me? Through ISF, International Sports Fellowship, and Street Lights Ministry, in Athens, I’ve been offered a position that is undeniably God at work.
As the liaison for American teams coming to Athens I’d help bring in other Americans to help work in Athens with refugees and Street Lights. And for Street Lights, I’d be helping to deeper community ties with people like Kathy. As a student of journalism, I’d also be putting my degree, that I’m still working towards, to use by telling the stories of the people behind Street Lights, and Kathy, and the refugees who have come to Greece under a myriad of circumstances but with a common theme of hope.
* hope that whatever lies in store for them in Greece is better than what they left. * hope that somehow the wounds that they and their children have experienced will be healed * hope that they will find peace and safety * hope that they will find community and belonging
I want to be a part of that hope. I’ve been called to be a part of spreading that hope to the people of Athens, wherever they come from. I’ve been called by God, through an English teacher in a small classroom in Kypseli to be a part of something vastly bigger than myself, and I’m saying yes. So, I’ll move to Athens and trust that whatever is coming next is good and is where I’m meant to be, because who knows better than God whether I have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
"The Greece trip was awesome, wonderful, and eye-opening... and so much more. It was squished, dirty, and broken. There were language barriers and strange stares at the Americans. There were the optimistic few and the far too many doubtful and unsure. Refugee piled upon refugee, all held back from moving on to a better place.
Yet amidst it all, God was already at work. Partnering with Streetlights gave me just a glimpse of the impact simple joys can give to a troubled people. We literally spent our days singing and dancing to the Hokey Pokey and a Greek jig. We sat down with women to help them with English and babysat their children so they would have a moment to breathe. We met dozens of people and produced dozens more smiles. The children remembered how to play instead of survive, and the parents were able to see their kids be kids.
We pray these refugees are only temporarily in Greece and that they might move on quickly to a better place. I am thankful that in the interim we were able to bond together to bring some hope into the broken land, even if it was for a brief moment."
Streetlights began in February 2010 when a group of young people found meaning in actively promoting Christian values in the city. They focus on values such as equality, cooperation, community and collaboration. It is connected with the International Youth and Community movement "Fusion International."Through creative projects, Streetlights noticed a growth of real fellowship in the inner city, bringing them closer to the idea of being human and to the essence of existence.