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Our fourth and last week in Athens

Posted by gramma on April 24, 2016 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Our fourth and last week in Athens has come to an end. We lost a few readers in our last week but many continued to come just about every day. We have totaled 359 hours of reading over the last four weeks, with over 70 different people. Some have gotten as far as Lesson 16 in our Luke books. We have had good discussions when the reader's level of English allowed it. We have many readers who are very interested in what we are reading and not just the English. We had our hand off meeting yesterday with Dino and Demetrios and they will be trying to keep contact with several of the readers and provide them with more English but also to provide them with more of who Jesus is.

 

For those of you who are wondering, Steve's reader who was picked up by the police last week remains in custody, but apparently he is doing well. But continue to pray for him and his wife. Because she also does not have proper documentation, she can't visit him, but a good friend, who has a valid document has been able to visit about every day.

 

Much of what we have included in the blog has been about the refugee situation here in Greece. We should also say a bit more about Greece itself. The country finds itself in a financial crisis; however, it is not that evident to us visitors. The city of Athens has a wonderful Metro system, it is beautiful and efficient; we ride it every day. It was built in time for the 2004 Olympics and I think cost overruns contributed to the debt that Greece has built up with the European Union. Tourists are everywhere in Greece even though it is not yet the high season. Admittedly we live and work in a nicer part of Athens, but it seems like most places we have been are well-maintained and we haven't seen a lot of empty building or abandoned construction projects except when we were driving through smaller towns across the country.

 

The Greeks seem to be quite proud of their role in the Second World War. After Italy failed to invade Greece early in the war, evidently the Germans were forced to alot part of the military units that would have gone to the Russian front to the invasion of Greece, which took longer that planned to accomplish. The ultimate defeat of the Germans in Russia is thus at least partially due to stubborn resistance from the Greeks. Of course Germany took out their frustration of losing in Russia on the Greeks. Consequently, there are still some hard feelings on the part of both the Germans and the Greeks, which doesn't help the current finincial situation.

 

On Sunday we had a multi-cultural worhsip experience at the church. There were Greeks, Russian-speakers (from Ukraine and Russia), Persian-speakers (from Iran and Afghanistan), a few of us English-speaking Americans and a group from a Romanian church that sang several songs for us. The service was mostly in Greek with English translation. After worship, the church fed everyone. They have about a dozen stainless steel baking pans that we filled with potatoes, zucchini and chicken before worship, then they took them to a local bakery and they baked them during worship. We cut up cucumbers and tomatoes for a salad and cabbage for another. Now we know how to cook for an intimate party of 100!

 

That's right, there were nearly 100 people there, including 25 readers who brought about 10 other friends with them. We sang in Greek and English, we listened to songs in Romanian and Russian and we prayed in Greek and English. After beginning at about 10:30 it was nearly 2:30 before it was over. There were a few tears shed and lots and lots of pictures taken. It was really hard to say goodbye to this group. Most of the Iranians are in their 20's and most don't expect to ever see their parents again so we became their temporary parents.

 

We pray that seeds of faith have been planted through our efforts here and more than ever before we hope to keep in contact with some of our readers so we can find out where God leads them.

Week 3 in Athens has flown by

Posted by gramma on April 17, 2016 at 1:15 AM Comments comments (0)

We have had another good week and time is beginning to fly by even faster. We have now surpassed the 300 hour mark in reading. Many come every day and we do see some progress in those whose English is limited. A few are self-taught and at the beginning they struggled to read because they have learned by listening to movies and music; they have never learned grammar and they have read very little in English. After a couple of weeks their reading improves markedly as they see many words over and over again. With their limited ability to actually speak English, we seldom know what they readlly understand about our lessons, but we do know that their ability in English is advancing, and that will undoubtedly be a blessing to them in the future, no matter where thay land.

 

On Friday we learned that one of our Iranian refugee readers was arrested by the police. He is a really nice guy so this came as quite a blow to us and because his wife and her sister, as well as the sister's husband, are all readers we also had some holes in our schedule on Friday as they were trying to find out where he was being held. This reinforces the uncertainty with which many of our readers must live everyday. The date on his documents had expired, even though he had been given a date for review which is past his expiration date, he is still held liable for expired documents and being out of the camp with said documents.

 

As we are here longer we have begun to understand a bit more of the process the refugees must go through. It goes something like this: When they first arrive, usually illegally, they are given a document that allows them to be 'legal' for one month and they soon get an appointment to plead their case for a longer (2 mos.) period. They are supposed to stay where they receive this first document (not Athens) but virtually all of them come to Athens anyway and the appointments are all after the expiration of the document. Consequently, probably all of our readers are here in Athens illegally and risk being picked up when they come to our reading sessions. Another interesting thing we are gradually learning is that for whatever reason, the Iranians believe that they have a better chance of making it to Germany, Sweden or even the US, if they pretend to be from Afghanistan. So many have changed their names and destroyed their Iranian passports and IDs. However, their only real chance of getting into Europe legally is if they have their real Iranian documentation.

 

One of Steve's readers is Belorussian, married to a Greek. She is not a believer, but from the outset was interested in the idea that God rewards us when we trust Him. At her last reading session, she teared up when Steve shared how God had blessed his career after we began to do LST every year in spite of the drain on his time in regard to doing research at UCSB. At the end of the session she shared that she would likely not return to read. She said she would probably be going back to her native Belarus without her husband. Steve asked if she would like to pray about the decision and he prayed for God's leading, again tears flowed. We don't yet know for sure the 'rest of the story.'

 

We had a small but good party on Saturday this week. All whoo were there had a lot of fun. We are thinking now that Saturday was not the best day to have a party. We also had quite a few no-shows for reading that day. Oh well, live and learn. Next Sunday all three cgroups that meet in the church building where we read will meet together for a meal and the church is inviting all the readers to join in. Should be fun.

Our second week in Athens

Posted by gramma on April 10, 2016 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

We have finished our second week here in Athens and it has been another very good week. We continue to add new readers; everyday our readers bring friends who want to read, but many of them do not know enough English to really have a conversation with them. We have now completed over 200 hours of reading sessions in our two weeks and have read with about 70 different people.

 

The new readers that we are getting are mostly from the Iranian refugee community here. While most of them have Muslim backgrounds and have left family who are Muslim, most have embraced christianity at some level since arriving here in Greece. They all tell us that returning to Iran would mean certain death to them, but none seem to have any regrets regarding their decision to follow Christ. Unlike our muslim readers in Jordan who exhibited strong belief in Islam, our Iranian readers seem anxious to leave the brand of Islam they experienced in their homeland. But as you might imagine most of these refugees who are new to christianity do not have strong faith and have limited knowledge of the New Testament. Their limited knowledge of English is a substatial hurdle in our helping them to deepen their faith and knowledge but 'God can do anything' and they certainly appreciate the opportunity to improve their English as it will make them much more employable if and when they are able to go somewhere where they can find employment.

 

We are reading a few hours on Sunday afternoon and a few of our readers stay for church Sunday evening. Also, we had our first party on Thursday this week and we began the day fearing that no one would be able to come because of a one-day strike that threatened to close the Metro, but our fears were misplaced and we had nearly 60 people come to the party. We only had a little over 20 of our readers come but they brought friends, some of whom we signed up to read. We have never had a party where there were so many native tongues: Greek, Russian, Farsi and Arabic. We have to keep our activities pretty simple, but the party was a great success and we saw a lot of smiles.

 

To get to Greece, most of our Iranian readers traveled to the westen border of their country and walked into Turkey, then made their way to Istanbul where they boarded a boat to one of the Greek Isles and on to Athens. One, however, first flew from Tehran to Moskow, took a train to Murmansk and tried to walk across the Norwegian border in -40 degree weather only to be turned back by the Norwegians, he then went further south and tried walking into Finland but was turned over to Russian authorities who eventually flew him to Istanbul and....here he is. Another couple who reads with us has tried ten times (in four mounths) to cross from Greece into Macedonia. The last time they made it across and went on into Serbia, then Croatia and on into Slovenia, but eventually were turned back and had to retrace their steps, being beaten up at least twice by locals who told them to go back to Iran.

 

In addition to our Iranian readers, we also have several readers from Ukraine who have fled the civil war that has gripped their country for the last couple of years. Because not all of Ukraine is embroiled in war, some of these refugees are being denied assylum here. Even though their hometowns are in shambles, they are expected to return to another part of their country where there is no war, but also no job, no family and no support structure.

 

In spite of the uncertainty, hardship and scarcity that many of our readers face every day, they come to our reading sessions with a positive attitude and smiles on their faces. They continually express their gratitude and our illustration, and that of other christian workers in Greece, of what it is like to be a Christ-follower seems to be something unknown in their past experience. We pray that God will use the seeds of faith that we are planting to grow His kingdom in ways that we can't imagine.

Moving on to Athens, Greece

Posted by gramma on April 2, 2016 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Well we have made a quick transition from Jordan to Greece. Athens is a beautiful place and we enjoy a distant view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon from the balcony of our apartment. (I know, it's a dirty job but someone has to do it.) Our first week here has been very busy. This week we read from Tuesday through Saturday and plan to read three hours on Sunday afternoon. Through Saturday we logged about 120 hours of reading sessions.

 

The Glyfada church where we are working is in fact three different groups. On Sunday morning they have a Greek worship service, in the afternoon there is a worship service for Russian speakers and in the evening there is an English service. Last Sunday we had a couple of information meetings and signed up about 25 readers, most of whose mother tongue is Russian.

 

The US media has focused on the flood of immigrants from the war zones in Syria and Iraq; however, on Monday evening we attended a gathering of about 200 refugees, most of whom were Farsi-speaking people from Iran or Afganistan. There we added at least 20 more readers to fill out our schedules. These people are fleeing repressive regimes that strictly impose Sharia law. They are hoping to immigrate to Germany, Sweden or another Western European country, but because of the flood of refugees from all over the Middle East, Europe has recently closed their borders, at least for the time being. Now these refugees are stuck here in Greece in a number of refugee camps and especially here in Athens.

 

Unlike Jordan, where the refugee camps are found close to their norther border with Syria, here in Greece, many of the refugees live in camps that are in Athens itself. There is one camp less than a mile from the church where we work (though only one of our readers lives there). They live under much less than ideal conditions and are in a constant state of limbo, nevertheless, we have found them to be generally positive, patient and very polite. Because there is very little work to be found in this economically depressed country, our refugee readers generally don't work, but the Greek govenment supplies them with passes for public transportation, so they have the time and the ability to come to us for conversation practice. Many have limited English skills, but with some effort we can communicate, it just takes longer.

Week 2 (the last) in Amman

Posted by gramma on March 26, 2016 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

As usual our second, and last, week in Amman has flown by. The four of us have accumulated over 240 hours of reading over the last two weeks and we have had some great conversations, but now we have had to say goodbye to our new friends. On Thursday evening we had a party and about 35 attended. We were humbled by the frequent expressions of gratitude that we received. Some brought friends and it was great to see how much fun everyone had. We had a pretty good mixture of christians and muslims, men and women, and we had at least six different nations represented.

 

Although most of our readers chose to use the Luke book for our sessions, several have been using the Beginnings book that surveys important events from the Old Testament. As it turns out almost all the texts from the book have close parallels (if not exact) in the Qu'ran. Thus we are able to focus on what we have in common in our beliefs rather than what separates us. Also the stories from the OT deal with many of the topics that appear in the Luke book, such as the importance of sin and faith and sacrifice.

From Val: I read with a young Muslim man, that on the last day asked me what was my passion. Well at first I had to tell him what Steve's real passion was, that he would do this nearly 52 weeks a year. He wanted to know why we were doing it, really. So I told him. We had been reading together almost every day for two weeks and he knew we were there for more than just English. I told him it was to share what we believe and to learn about them. To create friendships and share with each other. He continued, wanting to know why were we only in Jordan for 2 weeks and other places longer. He did not think we should be concerned about drawing too much attention with what we are doing. He said instead of all those other places we go for 4-6 weeks, we need to be coming to Muslim countries and staying there the longest.

 

From Holly. One of the many interesting readers I had was an enthusiastic, bubbly young woman, working, via an NGO, with Syrian refugees in the largest refugee camp in Jordan (81,000 people). She rides a bus 1 1/2 hours each way daily to serve others in this way. She is from a muslim background, but has Christian friends and non-believing friends. At our first meeting, she looked at the workbooks and asked me why/how we chose these topics. I replied, "Because this is a topic that matters deeply to me and we want to talk about important topics". She gave me a huge smile and told me that she too cared deeply about spiritual matters and was so glad that we were going to do this together. She is struggling to know what she believes about God, and feels pulled by her mother (Islam), by her Christian friends, and by non-believers. Please add this young lady to you prayer list. That God may continue to work in her heart as she seeks to know the truth.

 

We have no idea how many seeds were planted through our efforts, but it was worth it, if nothing else, for the goodwill that our conversations seemed to accomplish. Though our readers' culture, and often religion, differed from ours, we were able listen to one another, share our beliefs as friends without need for agreement, learn from each other and laugh together. It's too bad more such conversations are not taking place in the world.

 

As you read this we are already safely in Athens, Greece. Keep us in your prayers as we meet new friends and have more great conversations over the next four weeks.

Our return to Amman

Posted by gramma on March 20, 2016 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

 

We have completed our first week of a two-week Let's Start Talking project in Amman, Jordan. We are here with Mark and Holly Melton and we have had a very good week of reading. Because Jordan is overwhwlmingly Muslim, for this project we have given our readers the choice of reading our ususl 'Luke' book with texts from the gospel of Luke or a new 'Beginnings' book that contains texts from throughout the Old Testament, beginning with the creation story. Most of the material in the Beginnings book appears in the Qu'ran. About a third of our readers have chosen the Beginnings book.

 

We have a total of about 38 readers and about half are coming every day so we have already logged over 130 hours of reading sessions. When Steve was here last August, a large majority of our readers were women and most were Muslim. This time the overwhelming majority are men and there are only slightly more Muslims as Christians. Most are Jordanian, but we also have Syrian, Sudanese and .....

 

About five or six of Steve's readers are recent university graduates and they have been volunteering with and Jordanian NGO (LoYAC) that helps them develop life skills and encourages community service, especially working with the enormous refugee community (mostly Syrian) here in Jordan. In our conversations I have been impressed with how the Jordanians have been trying to meet the needs of refugees.

 

The four days before we began our project we were blessed to be able travel around the southern part of Jordan, traversing the regions where the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites lived in Bible times. It was through this region that many of the caravans passed on the way to and from Jerusalem and the Arabian penninsula. It is a desert region that looks much like the deserts of the US Southwest. Periodically we came upon the ruins of Crusader castles that attest to the struggle for control of these lands that continue today.

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A blessed last week in Amman

Posted by gramma on September 12, 2015 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

We finished our LST project with over 230 hours of reading with nearly 40 different people. We had about 15 who were coming every day and frequently telling us how much they enjoyed our conversations. They got to practice English, but many also were captured by what we were reading from the gospel of Luke. One commented '...this Jesus, he is different from what we know.'

 

Our last week included a dust storm, a seldom but not too uncommon gift from Saudi Arabia leaving a layer of dust everywhere. On Tuesday it was really thick, yielding a gag response from me when I would first step out into it. Nevertheless, most of our readers braved the elements and showed up for their sessions. One played nine holes of golf and then came to our lesson, but she did notice that no one else was out there on the links with her group.

 

The last week of reading was a good one, with many of our Muslim readers asking more questions aboout christianity and sharing their faith in Islam. They often pointed out how the Qur'an contains passages that mirror what we were reading from Luke, sometimes nearly verbatim, other times with differences. One reader, upon reading the second greatest command: 'Love your neighbor as you would yourself', said in the Qur'an it reads 'Love your brother as you would yourself', meaning fellow muslims. But then he pointed out that in another place the Qur'an said that we are to love everyone, just not as we love ourselves.

 

On Thursday evening we had a party, with about 35 in attendance. Everyone seemed to have a good time. It was a mix of both religions and cultures. Christians, muslims and Jordanians, Indians, Yemeni and Koreans. Throughout the project it was obvious that it was easy for us to sit down and have meaningful conversations about our diverse beliefs as friends, laughing, sharing and just getting along, in stark contrast to the turmoil surrounding Jordan in the Middle East. This atmosphere of friendship could not have been better exhibited than when we witnessed a 7-year old Jordanian muslim boy put his arm around a christian Indian boy of the same age, whom he had just met, and walk across the room seeking to fill more squares on their People Bingo sheets.

 

I am already back at home in Santa Barbara after a safe, but long trip home on Friday. Please keep all our readers in your prayers, that the seeds that have been planted may grow, no matter what kind of soil they reached.

 

Another great week in Amman

Posted by gramma on September 6, 2015 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (1)

Our second week in Amman has been even better than the first. We have now logged almost 175 hours reading from the gospel of Luke with our readers since we arrived. We have a good time with them and there is lots of laughing. Those of our readers who follow Islam have very different worldviews but it does not hinder us from sharing ideas. More than one has told me that they respect what I believe and what is in the Bible but they don't beleive the same; however, our divergent views don't stop us from continuing reading through the Word.

 

One of my young university coeds came one day and told me I was 'a great man'. When my swollen head returned to its normal size, I asked why she thought that. She said she just loved our conversations and what I had to say and that she always looked forward to coming. Best project ever!!! Honestly, usually readers spend most of their time answering questions that I ask, but this time about five or six are regularly asking probing questions, wanting to know more about Jesus and christianity. Even 9-hour days are fun.

 

On the negative side, two sisters abruptly quit coming this week. One of them (pretty much my favorite reader) loved our conversations sessions and I loved it when her large eyes would flash with surprise or delight at what we were discussing. The day before she quit she told me our conversations had only served to cement her faith in the Qur'an and Allah, which wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear but I was glad at least that she was willing to share it. A friend of hers (who comes every day) suspected that her father was behind her dropping out, which I imagine is true because she seemed to loved LST and our conversations.

 

On Friday, our day off, we went to Jerash, an ancient Roman city not far from Amman. It dates back to before Christ but came into prominence in the latter half of the first century when it was on the trade route between Damascus and Jerusalem. It has what seems like a 1000 columns still standing, and eager guides will show how you can make them sway because they were designed to resist earthquakes?

 

We have one week left, please pray that our sessions continue to elicit questions, facilitate learning on both sides and spark a few laughs as well. Also pray for our party we will hold on Thursday night (that will be about 8am in CA). More next week.

Our first week in Amman; better late than never

Posted by gramma on August 30, 2015 at 1:05 AM Comments comments (2)

After postponing our LST project to Jordan in March, I (Steve) was blessed to return to Amman last Sunday. Val is in Massachusetts at a felting workshop that has been on the schedule since early January. I am here along with Dan and Linda Wiese from Topeka, Kansas. We will be here in Jordan almost three weeks in total and once again we are working with the Books & More library here, directed by Harvey and Nancy Bacus. They have put in a lot of work in getting us started and supporting us while we are here, including conducting the information meeting to start the project.

 

We have about 40 readers between the three of us and after four days we have already logged over 70 hours of reading sessions. The first day Linda had seven university girls during one hour-long session. Our readers are mostly from Jordan, though we have a contingent from Yemen, several from Korea as well as others from Syria and India. This year the overwhelming majority of our readers are muslim and many are university students. We have many fewer christian readers this year and a number of those are not very strong in their faith.

 

Thursday was one of the best days of reading I have ever had. Three of my readers, all women, one of whom atteands a christian church but struggles to believe, and two who are muslim, asked many probing questions. None of them shied away from disagreeing with what we are reading or with me, but all also listened intently to what I had to say. It was hard to stay on lessons but our discussions were fun and informative for me and I hope for them. One stayed for two hours but it seemed like fifteen minutes. I learned a lot about Islam and I think she learned some about Jesus and his followers as well.

 

We are only taking Fridays off for the three weeks we are here. This Friday we took a tour around Western Jordan that included visits to the site where Jesus was purported to have been baptised. One must take such things with a grain of salt, but maybe... The other site was Mt Nebo, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land just before he died. It is truly a magnificent location to overlook the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho and, on a clearer day than we had, Jerusalem itself.

 

Please, continue to remember us in your prayers and also remember this country, which represents the safest place in the Middle East, and one that has come to be the home of millions of refuges due to all the unrest in this region.

 

Our last week in Timisoara

Posted by gramma on March 29, 2015 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Our last week of reading has drawn to a close. It was a very good week with over 70 hours in reading sessions. Over the four weeks our readers logged about 275 hours between Raymond and Darlene, Jamie, Steve and Val. As often is the case we even had a new reader join us this last week, a medical student, who only just saw the poster on his campus last Monday. Never too late to plant a seed.

 

Last week also saw one of our readers who had disappeared return briefly and then disappear again. He had lost both of his parents by age 16 and then spent three years in an orphanage. He came with a very dark view of life and rejected the idea of Jesus though he said he believed in God. He asked, 'Where can I find hope in my life?' He expressed doubt that he would ever believe and then failed to come to two appointments the following week. When he returned last week unannounced (at a time when another reader 'just happened' to have called to cancel) he said he had been thinking about our conversations and though he was not yet able to believe, maybe he was ready to accept. He did not return again. We pray the seed continues to grow.

 

Steve's four weeks here has seen Timisoara move from grey winter with leafless trees to Spring bursting forth. This last week many of the trees have sprouted blooms almost overnight. As we walked along a nearby street to drop off laundry, none of us paid attention to the bare trees that lined the sidewalk, but when we picked up the laundry two days later, those trees were full of lovely pink blooms. The weather for our last day in Timisoar was more like winter weather, but the signs of Spring were unmistakable as Val and I visited the Village Museum with Melinda. Jamie elected to stay home nursing a bad cold. Pray she gets over it so she can enjoy a few days in London with her husband, Patrick. Val and I travel to Hamburg, Germany tomorrow for a couple of weeks visiting our dear friends, Jo and Marion and also worshipping with the body here and seeing some of the people we read with over the past two years.

 

May some of the seeds we have planted one day bring beautiful blooms as we are seeing today.

 

 


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