The Land They Call Holy…

“Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.” – Jerome (347-420 AD)

It’s easy to miss – among all the city life, the politics, the ethnic and religious tension, among the sunsets and mountain vistas, even among the holy sites and ancient ruins. With all that beauty and history and tension that is Israel, it can be easy to miss the signs that point to something greater than the place itself. It’s as if the land is whispering, inviting us into the story that unfolded among its hills and cities.

If the land itself whispers, it is beckoning us not to itself, but to what was revealed here: nothing less than the very glory of God. Here God’s glory was revealed not by mountain vistas or sunsets over the seas. No, God has revealed His glory in the person of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6) – and this land bears testimony to His life and His ministry.

Still jet-lagged, Kristin and I returned yesterday (Monday) from 10 days in Israel with my DMin cohort. From the weather and the food to the teaching and the ancient sites, this was an amazing experience! I hope to walk through some of the highlights site-by-site in the coming weeks. For now, however, here are a few images that we managed to capture from our time in Israel!

99DDF4A9-8024-444E-AA6D-15FE6B795ED6.jpg
Scenes from Caesarea Maritime, where Peter preached to Cornelius (Acts 10) and Paul was imprisoned (Acts 23-25). Clockwise: Herod’s aqueduct; the ruins of Herod’s palace; the ancient theater.
BDA7786F-60A0-4AA9-BDD8-03C4358035BA.jpg
To the far north (Golan Heights) for Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-28; top) and Dan (site of a rival temple, bottom right)… then to the Sea of Galilee for Capernaum (synagogue, bottom left) and Magdala (the Magdala Stone, bottom center)!
2E4C9833-53C1-42EC-BAFF-995D18E9499F.jpg
A breath-taking wealth of treasures! Clockwise: Sea of Galilee (looking towards Magdala), Megiddo (an ancient altar used in pagan worship for over 2000 years), Sepphori (a city neighboring Nazareth, which likely provided carpentry work to Jospeh and Jesus), and the remains of an ancient fishing boat (roughly 1st century) outside Tiberias!
7DEB9CC2-3609-4514-A7B4-E40F1EF3BA08.jpg
Traveling from Galilee to Judea, we moved south through the Decapolis (its capital Scythopolis, right), down the West Bank and to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity (left).

97C4B499-BB76-4471-B039-382494044FF7.jpg
Jerusalem is simply too much for words.
A168635C-B0EA-429D-B11F-F70B0631E785.jpg
Clockwise, Herodium, the Western Wall, the Garden Tomb, and Joffa. In addition to all the amazing sites, the teaching by Scot McKnight (left) and Joel Willitts (right) made our time truly exceptional.

On the Road: Headed to Israel

Passport: Check

Itinerary: Check

We’re knee deep in preparations here. In just a few weeks, Kristin and I will join a crew from my Northern Seminary DMin Cohort for a 10-day study tour of Israel!  While we’ve had the opportunity to see many biblical sites in Turkey and Greece, this will be our first time in Israel. Guided by our doctoral professors, Scot McKnight and Joel Willitts, our cohort have the opportunity to see firsthand the sites and scenes that help to animate much of the Bible. This kind of context isn’t a mere backdrop to the biblical drama, it is integral to the story unfolding on the pages of scripture.  If you read the Bible carefully, the setting is a rich and compelling character, used by the authors to give nuance, depth, and detail to the story!

For those who might be interested, I’ll be doing my best to offer some highlights here on the blog. Here’s a simplified itinerary of our time:

Day 1 – Depart the US

Day 2 – Arrive in Tel Aviv; Tour Joppa/Jaffa and Caesarea

Day 3 – Tour Megiddo, Mt. Carmel, Druze Village, Nazareth, Cana, Galilee

Day 4- Mount of Beatitudes, Golan Heights, Caesarea Philippi, Tel Dan, Sea of Galilee

Day 5 – Galilee, Capernaum, Jordan River, Beit Shean, Bethlehem, Jerusalem

Day 6 – Mount of Olives, Palm Sunday Road, Garden of Gethsemane, Jewish Quarter, Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Southern Steps

Day 7 – Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumran, Dead Sea

Day 8 – Shrine of the Book (Dead Sea Scrolls), Model City, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, St Peter in Gallicantu, Garden Tomb

Day 9 – Jerusalem, Herodian, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Elah Valley

Day 10 – Depart to the US

It’s going to be a whirlwind, but we can’t wait for the opportunity to learn and grow together!

LifePoint Team in Athens: Week 2

Our team arrived back to Quincy late last night. Thanks to everyone who prayed – and who gave – in order to make this trip a reality! We loved, served, and gave in the name of Jesus. Thanks for making that possible! Although security issues prevent me from posting pictures of refugees, here are a few highlights from our second full week in Athens:

IMG_1825
What a joy to begin our week by worshipping with our brothers and sisters at the 2nd Greek Evangelical Church of Athens!
IMG_1833
We explored some ancient sites on our day off. Here’s the team at the ruins of Cenchreae (Acts 18:18; Rom. 16:1).
We helped host three Christmas outreach parties! The parties included food, gifts, skits, songs, and a Christmas message!
We helped host three Christmas outreach parties! The parties included food, gifts, skits, songs, and a Christmas message. Many heard about the hope of Christmas – some for the first time, some being moved to confess Jesus as Lord!
IMG_1884
We helped host a Christmas service and dinner for a fellowship of Afghan believers! It was a honor to spend the evening with these brothers and sisters: sharing testimonies, celebrating communion, worshipping Jesus, and enjoying a delicious meal.
IMG_1930
We also spent an evening working at the coffee house outreach of the 2nd Church. The team was wowed by testimonies of God’s grace!
IMG_1869
We may be back in Quincy, but we’ll be praying for Greece and God’s work among the nations here!

LifePoint Team in Athens: Week 1

Our team from LifePoint Church has been here in Athens serving and loving refugees alongside Helping Hands for the past week. There are so many stories to share… but for now, I’ll leave you with some pictures from our first week (you’ll notice that I have not included direct and unobstructed photos of faces in order to protect the privacy and safety of these asylum seekers).

IMG_1749
The LifePoint team at the airport – open to what God has for us this week!
IMG_1778
We spent two days serving at refugee camp in Elliniko – a former Olympic venue now housing immigrants and asylum seekers.
IMG_1754
We sorted donations, cleaned, help serve meals, and more at the camp in Elliniko.
IMG_1772
I loved watching our LifePoint team serving refugees their time of need. Here Amy and Randy help a woman find clothes for her son.
IMG_1782
Oh, and I absolutely love watching our team engaging in conversation with refugees at the Helping Hands ministry center!
IMG_2362
We even found a bit of time to climb Mars Hill (Acts 17).

 

 

 

 

A Watery Graveyard: Refugees Risk Everything in Search of Safety

Although the stories may not be as prominent in the news, the refugee crisis in Europe has by no means abated. Many of the Greek islands that are set just off the coast of Turkey continue to receive hundred of refugees per day. The sea, however, is growing more treacherous by the day, as the fall/winter brings with it rougher waters. Several teammates from Helping Hands recently made a visit to the the island of Lesvos to see the situation firsthand. Here’s an update from a friend and one of our former teammate serving in Athens…

— — —

Hello again from Athens. I would like to share a few stories with you from my time on Mytilini (also called Lesvos) island. I sat down many times to write this, but I haven’t been able to come up with words to express what I saw there. During the two days we were there, 49 people lost their lives at sea, many of them children. The seas are getting too rough for passage on boats not made for the sea, but people keep coming anyways. I can still see the expressions of terror, exhaustion, and relief on refugees faces as they landed on shore. Below are some stories from my time there…

boat
One of the rafts used to cross the treacherous sea.

The first day we were on the island the seas were very rough. One of my coworkers and I were on the shore when an overcrowded raft washed up. Everyone was soaking wet and had looks of sheer terror on their faces. Four different women fainted when they got out of the raft due to shock and one man was suffering from hypothermia. His entire body was shaking. As people were trying to get off the raft the waves kept tossing it and throwing people. One man broke his leg against some rock and another woman hurt her knee.

Many refugees told me that the smugglers on the Turkish side forced them into boats at gunpoint. There are thousands of refugees living in the forest away from the coast of Turkey waiting for their turn to get on boats. When it is their turn a smuggler comes and gets them. When they get to the boats and see how rough the sea is, many of them want to turn back but the smugglers force them on at gunpoint. They don’t want people backing out and they don’t want people piling up more than they already are on shore.

A two month old baby slipped out of her mother’s arms when a strong wave hit their raft. Luckily the mother recovered the baby quickly. We found the baby dry clothes, but the mother didn’t want the baby back while she was dripping wet. I held the baby while her mother looked for dry clothes for herself. I had tears in my eyes thinking about how this precious little girl almost became another statistic of a life lost at sea. Just thirty minutes earlier she could have been lost. I prayed for the little one and asked God to bless them and protect them as they continued on their journey.

SONY DSC
One of the rafts used to cross the treacherous sea.

It was late in the afternoon our first day there and a raft full of refugees had just come in. After all the refugees piled into vans we stuck around and talked a little on the shore. A Greek woman who’s house is along on the shore came out with a trash bag to start cleaning up refugees’ belongings that had washed up on shore or been left behind as people moved on in a hurry. We asked if we could help her clean up for awhile. She talked about how her home had been in the family for a long time and they used to vacation there when she was a child. She now lived there permanently and said it was anything but a vacation spot. She looked out at the sea and said, “This sea has become the graveyard for far too many people. I don’t know if I will ever be able to swim in it again or see it like I used to.”

We also spent time at one of the camps on the island. It is run by many different organizations. We translated, picked up trash, sorted clothes, and one of my coworkers used her medical training and language to help in the clinic. An Afghan woman was so stressed she started having symptoms of a heart attack. My coworker was able to talk with her and calm her down. After a few hours she was calm enough that she was able to leave with her family as they continued their journey.

(Back in Athens) This past Tuesday we cooked for over 150 refugees, many of them having recently arrived from the islands. I was so excited when two families recognized me from the island! We had a great time talking about the rest of their time on the island, their journey to Athens, and where they hoped to go next. I was able to pray for them again and was invited to be their guest whenever they get established somewhere!

Most of the refugees arriving on the island haven’t showered or had a real meal in weeks. They are exhausted, scared, unsure of what lies ahead, and extremely grateful for the kindness they’ve been shown. There are so many more stories to tell, but this has already gotten quite long! I can’t think of my time there without tears coming to my eyes. Many nights as I’m praying for the situation there I begin to weep again at the horrors people are going through every day. Thank you for praying with me and standing with myself and the ministry here. Lives are being impacted and I’m extremely grateful for you!

Ministry Profile: Helping Hands

Back in 2012, a friend helped to tell the story of the ministry of Helping Hands in Athens. Although the numbers of refugees have increased, this still expresses well the heart and ministry of the team. Thanks for helping tell the story, Ryan and Andrew:

Ministry Profile: Helping Hands

There’s a place near the heart of Athens, Greece that feels a bit like home to those who have none. The small, dingy alleyway off of Sophocleous street in the run-down district of Omonia may seem like the last place to find the warmth of hospitality. Yet tucked into the corner of that alley is a gate, where a small crowd of people gathers most weekdays just before noon. They come as strangers, walking foreign streets in a foreign land to reach that gate. But behind it is a room where the soft glow of home welcomes all. It is not foreigners who fill the chairs or aliens who are served a hot meal. In that place, they are friends, brothers and sisters, human beings with precious dignity.

A home for the homeless: that is what the Athens Refugee Center strives to be for just a few of the half million refugees that flood the streets of the city. Each year, roughly 150,000 undocumented immigrants enter the country seeking a home in Europe, only to find a broken system that offers no care and little chance of documentation. Some flee oppression in their homelands, like Iran, Afghanistan, and Somalia, while others simply long for greater opportunity. Yet, nearly all find themselves trapped within the borders of a country in crisis and ensnared by an inequitable and bloated system.

These are the overlooked and the oppressed that fall between the cracks in Athens and their plight is the reason that the Athens Refugee Center (ARC) exists. The ARC is run by Helping Hands, a Greek Christian ministry that works with the U.S.-based organization International Teams (ITeams) to care for the sojourners of Athens. For over a decade, the ARC has spread its arms wide by providing refugees with hot meals, showers, clothing, English classes, Bible studies, and a children’s ministry on designated afternoons throughout the week.

Tuesday afternoons are among the busiest for the ARC as families with children fill the main room, eagerly awaiting a fresh cooked meal of chicken or pasta, bread, salad and fruit. During the meal, the chatter of Farsi, English, and Greek from over 140 voices melds together to create a kind of diverse harmony that rings of community, something these families dearly long for. As lunch draws to a close, the men and women pull their chairs toward the center of the room to listen to a Bible lesson in Farsi as the children scatter from the tables and run down the hallway for a Bible lesson and craft of their own. After the close of the lesson, hot tea is brought out along with favorite Middle Eastern board games like backgammon and chess for further time of fellowship. On afternoons like these, few leave without a smile on their face.

Abulfas is just one of those who has found a smile and a piece of home at the ARC. The bright-eyed 12-year-old spent most of his life in Afghanistan, but recently his family began down the long and dangerous refugee highway through Turkey and into Greece. Now his family stands fractured, with his mother and sister having made it to Paris with a smuggler, while he, his father, and brother remain caught in Athens. An all too familiar story for so many refugee families.

The staff at Helping Hands began to invest in Abulfas the first day he arrived at the ARC and cheerfully lingered after the lesson to help clean up the children’s room. Every week thereafter, Abulfas arrived in the alley outside of the ARC on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, waiting patiently to see if there might be enough room for him and his infectious smile. During the Bible lessons, Abulfas would ask question after question, curious about this person named Jesus. But one day, Abulfas did not ask any questions. He simply volunteered to pray. And for the first time, he closed his prayer with the name of Jesus Christ. Abulfas continues to come to the ARC each week, but now, he also brings his little brother. Athens may not be a home for Abulfas, but perhaps the Lord has used the open arms of the ARC to point his heart toward its ultimate home in Christ.

Abulfas is just one among countless others that have been touched by the work of Helping Hands and ITeams in Athens over the years. And from that dingy alleyway off of Sophocleous street, they will continue to faithfully serve those who long for a home. But the ministry road ahead is filled with challenges as Greece struggles through this difficult financial climate. Even in this time, Helping Hands and ITeams aim to expand the ARC’s ministry to meet the growing needs of refugees who find themselves on Athens’ harsh streets. However, realizing that dream will require very real prayer, financial, and personal support for the future and the team continues to pray for those needs as they strive to serve the needs of others.

Because right now there is a place near the heart of Athens, Greece that feels just a bit like home to those who have none. And those at Helping Hands and ITeams wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ryan Gilles – 2012 – Naming the World

From the Field: Refugees in the News

A recent update from a friend and former teammate in Athens…

——–

Hello from Athens!

Refugees are definitely in the news these days! The situation in Greece right now is difficult with so many desperate people arriving. Our team is engaging new refugees, praying for them, and seeking how we can best serve and share Christ with those who are coming into Greece.

Maybe as you read the news you’re also wondering how you can help refugees? Let me give you some practical suggestions.

Pray! Part of the refugee story right now is the humanitarian crisis. But the other part is that God is at work among these people, changing the spiritual destiny of individuals, families and even nations through this crisis. Jesus is being proclaimed to those who haven’t heard and many individuals and families are forever changed by an encounter with Him. Pray for God’s protection of refugees and intervention into their lives. Pray that His Word would go forth and that He would continue to send more workers into this harvest field. Pray that new refugee believers would grow in their faith and have the courage to share it with their own countrymen.

Be a friend! Across Europe and America refugees are being resettled. In addition to practical needs, they are in desperate need of friendship and community with local people. Often the biggest struggles for refugees after they’ve reached a stable country are not the material, but relational. The stress and adrenaline of the journey is over, and ahead of them is the overwhelming task of creating a new life in a foreign country. Being a friend is a HUGE thing for a refugee. Invite refugees in to be a part of your community, church and family.

Support a missionary! Across the world there are multitudes of missionaries who serve refugees day-in and day-out, seeking to meet the physical and spiritual needs of refugees. Support those who have given their lives to serve by praying for them, giving financially, encouraging them, and being a friend to them.

[If you’d like to support the work of Helping Hands among refugees in Athens, you can give via International Teams USA or another International Teams National Office, simply designate your gift to Helping Hands – Athens.]

Serve! Search for churches or community centers involved with refugees in your area, and see how you can be involved.

Educate yourself about refugees! Read the news or stories about the individual lives of refugees. Ask a refugee friend to tell you his/her story. To learn more about the journey of refugees, I recommend (for adults, not children) watching the movie “The Good Lie” about Sudanese refugees and their journey to America.

I can tell you through countless stories and encounters with refugees that God is alive and at work! Praise Him! He is working through His people and His church across Europe as believers answer God’s call to engage with refugees. I encourage you to ask Him how He might have you to be a part of His great work of drawing people from all nations to Himself. And then step out in obedience.

I have many stories to be told from this summer about God’s transforming work in the lives of refugees! I’ll write again soon to share some of those stories with you all. Thanks for your continued prayers, care and support!

Blessings,
Christy T.

What good news?

In the church world, we throw around the word gospel on a daily basis. Indeed, it has become the adjective de jour in the Christian publishing world (gospel-centered this, gospel-shaped that). And yes, we should be a gospel-centered people and churches… I agree emphatically. The problem is that sometimes we use the word in a way that is disconnected from its Biblical roots. The gospel can easily become short-hand for a specific system of doctrine, or for a particular way of looking at salvation. Doctrine and salvation are so important… but they are not the gospel itself. They flow out of the gospel; they are implications and applications of the gospel… but what is the gospel (good news) in Biblical terms?

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, a very early account, Paul tell us pretty squarely:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

What’s the good news here? The person and work of Jesus in history. Jesus is the good news! Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is good news… all of which occurred “in accordance with scripture” – that is, Jesus (especially in view here is His death and resurrection) is the climax of the redemptive work that God has been about throughout the “scripture” (read: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament).

As Scot McKnight says, “It’s not about us. It’s not about salvation. It’s about Jesus. But in getting Jesus, we get salvation, and us, and a lot more flourishing than we could ever imagine”. Check out this short interview posted by the people over at the Regeneration Project:

What do you think? Helpful? More important, biblical?