|Posted by gramma on April 8, 2018 at 1:55 AM||comments (0)|
Wow, three weeks went very fast, but it has been a blessing in many ways. It has been humbling to see how much is done for so many as this church, and the many people who volunteer, seek to be followers of Christ. Eleni told us the other day that someone had estimated that in the last two and a half years over 1000 refugees had been touched by the ministry and around 600 volunteers from all over the world have given of their time to this work. Every Tuesday and Thursday, when lunch is served, it is rather hectic and opportunity for disaster is always there but volunteers and refugees alike step in when there is a need. Everyone looks after the myriad of kids that are everywhere, keeping them safe and in check.
To give you a taste of what some of these refugees have to go through, here is more of 'Mohammad's story. When he and his wife and son came to Greece 5 months ago, they walked from Iraq, all the way. This is his second attempt at asylum in Europe. In 2008, when he was still single, he left Iraq for Europe the first time. He flew from Iraq to Turkey to Jordan to Dubai to Tunisia to Libya to the Seychelles (Islands in the Mediterranean) to Dubai to South Africa to France. This all took 3 months. He stayed for a while in France but from there he travelled through northern Europe and ended up in Sweden. He sought asylum in Sweden for four years then they denied him and deported him back to Iraq! Back to square one.
On Thursday he shared that he is running out of patience. That's easy to understand. He and Steve prayed together that God would work in their lives and that he and his family be given patience to wait for God's timing. Keep them in your prayers.
'Mohammad' and his family live in what is called a 'squat'. Yes, it means what is sounds like. They live in one of several buildings that has been abandoned. They are squatting. Apparently it is more civilized than you might imagine. These buildings have been taken over by what Eleni described as 'anarchist' groups that are serving refugees outside government channels. 'Mohammad' showed me pictures and they looked clean and well-maintained. There were bulletin boards with neatly posted announcements, etc. Steve didn't get to visit a squat but last week he and a number of volunteers were able to visit briefly at a camp with 800 refugees about an hour and a half north of Athens. We were not aloud to take pictures except at the entrance, so a couple are included in the photo gallery. All in all it was not too bad, much of the camp was brand new, still a lot of people in a very small place and far from any town.
One theme that is emphasized over and over at Omonia is that 'We are a family; we are all on the same journey, Muslim and Christian.' Consequently everyone there, refugee and volunteers alike, has a sense of ownership in the ministry. As an example, a couple of young refugees were delighted to take some flowers that Eleni brought and create 'the Omonia garden' on the patio. And speaking of family, at least 3 of the refugee families have little daughters named Eleni and 3 more have little sons named Alex.
The progress of the students in Steve's class has been varied. Some have made great progress. Some are able to say a number of sentences about themselves with ease and answer questions about themselves. For others progress has been more difficult. At a gathering of refugees before worship last Sunday one of Steve's students shared(through an interpreter) that she does not read or write in ANY language. She may not be the only one in class either. Virtually all materials produced for teaching English as a second language are based on being able to read English. Consequently, Steve spent the last week of classes spending time teaching how to sound out words. Our classroom was often too small for the number of people who came(smaller kids and younger brothers were commonly there), it was usually hot even with paper blocking the sun somewhat, but everyone seemed to learn and enjoy the experience.
We are looking forward to returning to Athens in September to work in this remarkable ministry that only functions by the grace of God.
|Posted by gramma on April 1, 2018 at 7:40 AM||comments (0)|
Another week has gone by and this three-week teaching session is already two/thirds finished. Steve's students are making progress but fluency is not yet in sight. When your students start with essentially no English, it is a challenge when you are teaching IN English. So we are trying to focus on words and concepts that they might need in their daily lives; simple greetings, numbers, days of the week, months of the year, simple sentences using 'to be', vocabulary using pictures, etc. It is amazing how much they can understand between body language and pictures, its remembering that is tough. Repitition, repitition, repitition.
There are about 14 in Steve's class, from Syria, Iran, Kurdistan in Iraq, and Kuwait. They range in age from 11 to 43. They are equally divided between men and women, though most of the 'men' are boys and most of the women are over 25. Not surprisingly, the kids are picking English up more quickly.
This week Steve was again not able to read very much with the two Iraqis, let's call them 'Ahmed' and 'Mohammad', but here is a bit of their history. 'Ahmed' is from Baghdad and his father is a 'police engineer'. If I understood correctly, he operates a mobil unit that can scan the insides of vehicles from outside. Because of 'Ahmed''s father's work with the police, his family is not popular with terrorists. Consequently 'Ahmeds''s brother is a quadriplegic from shrapnel from a bomb blast, his sister has lost the sight in both eyes and another younger brother is blind in one eye. We are so blessed to have not had to experience such carnage.
'Mohammad' is from Kurdistan in Iraq and he fought with the Peshmerga, the US-supported Kurdish militia that Turkey has been bombing. He shared with me that he has been around war virtually all his 37 years of life. First Iraq was at war with Iran, then Iraq invaded Quwait, then the US invaded Iraq, then Hussein attacked the Kurds, then the US invaded again, then Daesh (ISIS). He said he doesn't want his 4-year old son to experience what he experienced, but even here last week 'Mohammad' was beaten by a couple of other refugees.
Every Tuesday and Thursday lunch is served to about 100 people at the Omonia church. But for most of the refugees, it is not just about food, Eleni is 'Mama' Eleni. For the last 10 days she has been on 'Cloud 9' because one of her refugee 'sons', Husam, one of the first to come to Omonia, but who later immigrated to Lithuania, came 'home' to Athens for a 10-day visit. Husam is a barber and has opened a barbershop in Vilnius with a partner and he is doing quite well. Because of his experience with the Omonia church, he didn't just want to visit, he wanted to give back a little, so be bought an old barber chair and spent most of his 10 days teaching young refugee men how to cut hair and give shaves! Omonia is a full service ministry! Husam is Muslim, but Eleni thinks that Jesus has gotten hold of him. It is encouraging for everyone here to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that a new life away from the wars is possible.
Keep us all in your prayers and have a blessed Easter; Easter here is next Sunday.
|Posted by gramma on March 25, 2018 at 9:35 AM||comments (0)|
March, 2018 finds Steve back in Athens for three weeks with Val holding down the fort in Santa Barbara. This is not a normal Let's Start Talking project. As many of you probably know, because of its many islands close to the shores of Turkey, Greece has become the port of entry for hundred's of thousands of refugees fleeing war and/or oppression in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and other places. Some stay in Greece but most are seeking assylum in other, more prosperous European nations. While a number of organizations, public and private, are providing housing and other assistance for these refugees, their lives are far from ideal and for many 'nightmare' is a much better term.
This flux of refugees through Greece began several years ago, but until two years ago they spent very little time in Greece. With the closure of borders by EU countries in 2016, it became much more difficult to leave Greece, consequently many have found themselves in Greece a long time. Beginning even in 2015, Alex and Eleni Melirrytos and the Omonia Church of Christ here in Athens felt the call of God to begin ministering to refugees. First they just handed out sandwiches, food packets, and diapers in the morning at the port where refugees were arriving, then in the evening they would do the same thing at Victoria Square where many were camping in tents. In the Winter they would hand out blankets. Soon God led them to realized that they could use their church building as a 'day center' and they began serving lunch on Tuesdays. Now it is Tuesday and Thursday. They rented the floor above the church and they have set up a 'clothes closet' for the refugees to visit on Wednesdays. They distribute diapers and formula for mothers of babies. They are providing space for an attorney to help with the legal tangle of assylum seeking, etc. And Monday through Thursday they have English classes.
Most of these refugees do not know English or any other European languages, so you can imagine how difficult it is for them to get along here. So almost from the beginning the Omonia church has been trying to teach some English to the refugees to help them wherever they settle. They depend on volunteers to do the teaching and often they don't have a lot of experience, so LST is recruiting people to help with the teaching and Steve is the first of those volunteers?
Because most of the refugees speak languages with alphabets that are totally different from English and they even read and write from right to left instead of left to right, we have to start from the very beginning, learning the alphabet, learning the days of the week, learning simple vocabulary. For this three week session, Steve and Laura (from Scotland) are teaching beginners (A0) classes, while David and Carol (from Texas) are teaching A1-A2. I have the smallest class with about 15 usually in attendance. The three English classes are simultaneous from 11:30 to 1:30 with a break in the middle. On TTh lunch is then served after Eleni spends some time sharing about the love of God.
In addition to teaching Steve is also trying to hold some regular LST one to one conversation sessions using the book of Luke with a couple of young men from Iraq, who are searching. So far schedules have made it difficult to meet very much but hopefully we can get in the groove next week.
On Saturday Alex and Eleni arranged a bus and took a large group of church members, volunteers and refugees on an excursion to Nafpolion, the first capital of Greece after they overthrew Ottoman rule in 1821, on March 25. Yes, Sunday is the Greek equivalent of our July 4th. Nafpolion is a beautiful little seaside town with a Venetion castle overlooking it. A wonderful time was had by all.
Please keep Steve and this entire ministry in your prayers as we seek to help God work in their lives.
|Posted by gramma on September 30, 2017 at 5:50 PM||comments (0)|
Our fourth week in Rijeka, as usual has been a mixed bag. We picked up two new readers, but illness and work kept some of our readers from coming as much as they would have otherwise. Nevertheless we logged 30 hours for a total of 92 hours for our four-week project. Our party was small but we had a lot of fun, played People Bingo, Pictionary, a poor man's version of Headband and Switch. Val's knee was good enough that even she played switch. We made new friends while we were here, we had a lot of good discussions and we let God's Word work on all of us.
As we said above, illness has reared it's ugly head this week. Val has been struggling all week with a sinus bug of some sort. Val's high school girl also had a similar malady as she came to read the last couple of times. As they read it sounded like a gaggle of geese was in the room with all the nose-blowing! Thankfully, Val has not felt so bad, but she has gone through almost three 10-packs of tissue.
We appreciate so much the support that we have had from the Kristova Crkva (Christ's Church). Damir and Ivana, had us in their home and took us out to eat a couple of times. Zlatko, a former elder supplied us with two phones to use while here, took us on a walking tour of the city and attended all our parties. Jelena, a member and reader living on the ground floor of the church building, has let us use her internet connection when needed and fetched meds from the pharmacy where she works. Dean, another member and reader, served as our companion and driver on our two days off. It was nice because we went places he had never been too also.
Santa Barbara supposedly has a Mediterranian climate and we typically receive no rainfall at all between April and November, but here in Rijeka, situated on the Adriatic Sea, part of the Mediterranian Sea, it rained about half of the days we were here. Historically they get about 4 1/2 inches of rain in September (more this year I think). Apparently there are nuances to this climate thing.
We are now safely in Hamburg, Germany with our dear friends Jo and Marion Reinhold for a couple of weeks before we go on a river cruise on the Danube. Thank you so much for your prayers and support for our LST project in Rijeka. May the Lord continue to water the seeds that were planted.
|Posted by gramma on September 24, 2017 at 8:40 AM||comments (0)|
As usual time is slipping by in a hurry. With two new readers we were blessed with 23 hours of reading this week. Once again we had a small, but very nice, party with about 40% of our readers in attendance and good support from our hosting church. It was a blessing as we had an English language night, even writing Cinquain poetry. Here are a couple of samples:
Caring, loving, watching
Always close to me
Singing, eating, playing
My fifth birthday party
So you see, they are a rather talented group. And it is always so wonderful watching the readers and the church members interact so much and seem to enjoy being together.
One of Steve's readers, Dean, who has been a christian only a couple of years, has served as our driver as we visited Plitvice last Saturday and this Saturday when we travelled to the islands of Krk and Cres. It has been a delight to be with him; his English is good and he has a great sense of humor and most importantly, he has a great sense of gratitude for his new life as a follower of Christ. We have so enjoyed him coming with us.
For whatever reason, when we were in Zagreb about ten years ago for an LST project, we paid little attention to the Croatian language. Here in Rijeka, we have heard it and seen it written much more. Because Steve took several years of Russian in high school and college, when he heard Croatian he heard a lot of Russian words. It turns out they are both Slavic languages and the Croatians have taken the sounds of the 33-letter cyrillic alphabet in Russian and 'translated' them into the 26-letter latin alphabet with the help of a few extra marks over some letters, giving them also 33 letters. The words look very different but the sounds are almost identical.
Like we said, it is hard to believe this is a last week. It has been difficult getting readers, even though our number seems to be all over town and on the web. We will share some ideas of what might help bring more next year with those that invited us, you never know what will work. But that being said, the readers we have are wonderful. Some readers are new Christians and they are hearing, discussing and learning new things about Jesus. Some are searching a little but they are content where they are in their beliefs and not really sure it makes a difference what one believes. They want to know why can't we just be our own guide, deciding what is right and wrong. One is soaking up every word and really searching, wanting to know more. Our readers represent all kinds of soil, the seed is being planted and others will water.
|Posted by gramma on September 17, 2017 at 11:55 AM||comments (0)|
Our second week was highlighted by our first party. It was small but everyone seemed to have a good time. Two-thirds of our readers were there, which is always good. Also, we were able to sign up two new readers! We have included a couple of pics from the party in the photo album.
We had 21 hours of reading sessions this week in spite of the fact that one of Steve's readers, one who came every day in the first week and usually stayed for two hours, was only able to come one day during the week because of overtime at work. We hope he is able to get back into his normal schedule this next week. Val's readers (so far) are all young ladies including a twelve year-old who is just beginning to learn English, a boarding school student learning to make dental prosthetics in a vocational high school and a college student who is a physics major. The latter asked Steve on Thursday how the moon created tides on the earth so Steve wrote out some equations and drew some diagrams and gave her a quick 'lecture' on gravitational forces on Friday.
Val's knee seems to be improving. Friday night she walked about 20 minutes to a pizza place where one of Steve's new readers works. Saturday we visited a spectacular National Park called Plitvice (pronounced Plit-veetse) Lakes, and Val probably walked a bit too far but doesn't seem to be suffering too much. It was so incredibly beautiful with more waterfalls in one place than we have ever seen.
Much of the Croatian coast is like the Riviera, lined by low mountains. The highways that run along the 'coast' are actually high up on the mountainside passing from tunnel to bridge, tunnel to bridge. The cities, like Rijeka, are then spread up the side of the mountains. Consequently, many roads tend to angle up and down the mountainsides. Those who travel on foot, however, are usually stuck with stairs and I have never seen so many stairs as there are here in Rijeka. Often a stairway will have more than 100 steps, never without periodic landings and sometimes with only 4 or 5 steps in a group, but in the end you have to climb them all to get to the next street.
|Posted by gramma on September 9, 2017 at 3:15 PM||comments (1)|
September, 2017 finds us in Rijeka, Croatia. We arrived about a week ago for a four-week Let's Start Talking Project. We are hosted by the Kristova Crkva (Christ's Church) and they have already been very helpful and supportive.
We do not have a lot of readers at this point, about 6, but a couple of new ones are scheduled to come next week. Our readers come just about every day so we logged 15 hours of conversation centered on the Gospel of Luke in four days. One reader, who began reading with Ky and Amy Martin during a two-week LST project earlier this summer, has already done 5 hours of reading in four days.
The days and weeks before leaving for Croatia were especially hectic. Val's left knee began hurting just before going to a felting workshop in Massachusetts. During the workshop the pain increased and an MRI immediately afterward (and only four days before our departure to Croatia) indicated a bad tear in her meniscus. There was no time to even consult an orthopedic specialist, let alone do anything to repair it. Given that meniscus tears sometimes repair themselves and that we didn't want to cancel the LST project, nor the visit we had planned with our dear friends Jo and Marion afterward, we decided to leave as planned.
Val spent most of the first week essentially confined to quarters, which seems to have helped her knee settle down, but her Fitbit step count has been pretty abysmal! Thankfully, our living accommodations, with the exception of our bedroom, which has a sink, are on the same level as our reading room so Val doesn't have to climb or descend the stairs too much. Saturday was our day off so we took a taxi downtown (10 mins) and rode a sightseeing bus around Rijeka and over to the resort town of Opatje. It was fun and Val racked up over 10,000 steps without noticeable negative effects on her knee. (Although I have just witnessed the taking of a pain pill as the ice pack has warmed up!) Please pray that her knee continues to stabilize.
|Posted by gramma on April 24, 2016 at 3:25 PM||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.
|Posted by gramma on April 17, 2016 at 1:15 AM||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.
|Posted by gramma on April 10, 2016 at 2:20 PM||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.