Saturday, September 2, 2017

Anarchy in Athens

No, this is not a post about a mutiny on a missions trip!  Instead, it's about our group's interaction with one of the most intriguing subsets of Athens' population - the anarchists of Exarchia.

Before this trip, I imagined an anarchist was someone like the Unabomber who shuns technology and lives alone (turns out that's primitivism).  I had no idea that any anarchists would be organized in groups (I thought anarchy equaled chaos which is quite the opposite of organization).  We saw evidence of organization in this protest we saw while we were there:

It turns out that Athens is the anarchist capital of the world!   This is kind of an ironic statement since one usually associates capitals with governments.  In this case, it just means that there are more anarchists congregated in Athens than anywhere else.  It was fascinating to walk through this area of Athens (Exarchia) and hear about the growing church plant there.

Exarchia is not a dangerous place to be unless you are a policeman or journalist or a fancy car (they like to burn fancy cars there).  Policemen now stay out of Exarchia, which we were told has the lowest murder and theft rate in Europe.  It is self-policing.  The way "anarchy" was described to us sounds more like libertarianism. (I read that libertarians are to anarchists as nudists are to naked people. They're just middle class and organized so they appear less crazy.)   Anarchist groups in Exarchia do organize and "vote" on things - they just want everyone to have a direct say.  In this way, it's a bit like the original Athenian democracy with a dose of feminism (since in ancient Athens women could not vote).

It is definitely a colorful and interesting place!  Many bookstores and LOTS of self-expression in the form of graffiti.  And the anarchist sign is prominent - it's an "A" drawn where it goes outside the circle (outside the establishment).

Notice the parts of the face drawn on the pillars below.  This took some talent.

This looks more like graffiti that I could do:

Yes, it was hot in Athens!

Tim, one of the pastors of the church in Exarchia, met with us one morning to describe their work there.  He explained that anarchists appreciate transparency.  They have found that it's best to be up front that they are Christians and are there to plant a church.  The question is how does the gospel challenge the narrative of the culture?  And how does the gospel fulfill the narrative of the culture? (Tim Keller).  Obviously, as Christians we are never without a ruler, and God calls us to a life of obedience.  This challenges anarchism.  On the other hand, anarchy rebels against hierarchy - no one is more important than another.  This agrees with the gospel.  We should value everyone - even the refugee - and be a servant to all.  

The pastors in Exarchia live there and are both members of anarchist groups (many of which are peaceful - some are even reading clubs or service clubs).  

I asked lots of questions:

(1) Do anarchists send their kids to public school?  (I thought they might be into homeschooling).  Tim said Yes!  The reasoning is that you're not a very good anarchist if you're afraid of your kid being indoctrinated in public school.  However, he went on to say that anarchists didn't often have children because they don't often marry.  It seems even though anarchists don't like the commitment of marriage, they reason that raising children requires this kind of commitment.  So if people want kids, they get married.  

(2)  Why does Exarchia have more trees?  Tim said it's because there are a lot of eco-anarchists.

(3)  What do anarchists think of Trump?  Tim says they don't like him, but they don't hate him any more than any other politician.  They would not have liked Hillary either.  

(4) Can Greeks carry guns?  Yes, they can!  Even concealed weapons.  

Terry and Dale worked all week in Athens to do some repair on the building that the Exarchia church has been renting.  This involved plaster repair, painting, and rigging something on the roof to keep the cats from pooping on it!  Here they are after a long, sweaty day: 

The Exarchia church has now purchased a building that they will be renovating and moving into at the end of October.  This building will house not only the church but several refugee families along with one staff family.  Pastor Tim took us on a tour of the new building. It fits right in with all the graffiti.

After seeing it, I am a little skeptical it will be done on time, but we could all see the potential!  I am excited that our church in Knoxville is helping to support this work. 

I think if I was to live in Athens, I'd probably live and go to church in Exarchia.  Could be because I am about as upset with my government as they are with theirs.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Fun @ Faros - Our Ministry Week in Athens

Faros ( Φάρος)  means "lighthouse" in Greek.  Faros is a Christian organization in Athens that has been working to help refugees since 2014.  They operate the "Center of Hope" for women and children and a shelter for unaccompanied minors (boys age 11-18).  They seek to fulfill the Greatest Commandment (love they neighbor) and hope for open doors to fulfill the Great Commission (sharing the gospel with all the world).  

They employ local Greeks to help with this ministry.  Our group was asked to come help staff Faros in August because many of the locals take holiday that time of year (and many have NOT taken a vacation in years due to this refugee crisis).  

(Side note: On Lesbos the first week in August, there was a church right next to our hotel, and I started seeing lots of women dressed in black hanging around outside the church.  It seemed like a party, but I assumed it was a funeral.  It turns out that these were Greek Orthodox women preparing for their big holiday which is the Dormition of Theokotus - which celebrates the death and resurrection of Mary.  They wear black from Aug.1-15, and there are church services every day.  I knew nothing about Greek Orthodox beliefs, and even though I don't share their belief about Mary, I found it fascinating). 

Anyway, the women in our group were set to spend the week helping out at the Center of Hope.  

Mondays are always "Beauty Day" and it was our busiest day of the week.  We gave facials using a honey scrub and a banana mask ~

And then we applied nail polish.  Lots of it.  The little girls loved this so much that they would go through the painting process up to seven times - each time removing the color and trying another one.

The Center of Hope also offers counseling and Greek and English classes, so there was lots of opportunity for childcare:

I had a great first day and especially loved playing with two very active little boys.  One ended up bumping his head and then sat in my lap cuddling for almost an hour.  

For the rest of the week, though, they needed two volunteers to help with the kitchen at the boy's shelter.  The rest of the team stayed at the Center of Hope while Mary Beth and I helped Usman, the Pakistani cook.  I've always wanted to be a lunch lady and wear one of those great hair nets.  

The building had no AC, and we were cooking a hot meal and washing dishes in hot water!  The first day the high was 104 in Athens.  This made the rest of the week seem downright cool to me when it was only 99.  

We really enjoyed working with Usman.  He only spoke broken English, but we found out a lot of his story.  He is an immigrant now, not a refugee.  He worked in military intelligence with the Pakistani army.  Once he found out that I liked bread with butter and jam, he fixed us a treat each morning.

We served a large crew of boys daily.  They serve them ethnic food they are familiar with instead of Greek food.  

These boys are stuck in Athens with no family or means of support.  About 20 boys live here in the shelter, and about 20 came in for lunch each day we were there.  There are still many more unaccompanied minors in Athens that must resort to selling their bodies in order to eat.  It is really sad to think about.  Mary Beth and I both raised teenage boys and kept thinking about what would have happened to them if they had been in that situation.  These boys did not seem that different from our boys.  They eat a lot, they love sports, and they nearly all have phones.  Usman tells us that the Iraqis and Syrians play football (soccer) but that the Pakistanis play cricket.  Besides being the cook, Usman is the coach of the cricket team.  The boys are also foosball fanatics.  They came to the kitchen constantly for oil for the foosball table.  We heard a huge ruckus one morning and it turned out they were cheering the winners of a foosball tournament.  Usman and Babis took on the winners the next day.

Besides providing hot meals and shelter, the workers here provide so much LOVE.  You could just feel it all over the place.  There are really long-term relationships developing with these young men and some are coming to Christ. It was an honor to be able to help out with my skill set - chopping vegetables and washing dishes. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Antiquities and Culture

After a week on Lesbos, we returned to Athens to meet the full team. First on the agenda was an antiquities tour of the Pnyx, which is an assembly hill in Athens.  We had a wonderful volunteer guide who has a PhD in antiquities from some elite school which I can't remember the name of but was very impressed with at the time.  I think she was somewhat appalled by our lack of knowledge about ancient Greece, but she hid it well!  I wanted to ask lots of questions but the foremost in my mind was "Why are you wearing long pants and long sleeves?"  It was 100 F, after all!

She talked to us about the Battle of Marathon, the temples on the Acropolis, the Agora and Mars Hill. The Pnyx is the area where the Athenians assembled to make decisions.

Here Barb reads Paul's "Mars Hill" sermon.  Now we were familiar with that!

We ended our tour with a group photo:

After our antiquities tour, we headed to the church plant at Glyfada for Iranian culture night. There was Iranian food (lamb kebobs mostly - so much meat!):

and Iranian classical music for entertainment:

The concert was quite lengthy and a little hard to pay attention to in another language.  I was impressed that everyone stayed awake - especially those who had just arrived in the country and were experiencing jet lag!

Terry was not paying much attention to the entertainment.  He was making his own entertainment by sitting in the back and shooting preschoolers with water guns!  He eventually got all of them in on the action:

The next morning, Terry and I got up early so we could get to the Acropolis and back before church started (and before it got too hot!).  We enjoyed taking a leisurely walk around and taking in the sights of the temples and the views of Athens below:

In the Cave of Pan on side of the Acropolis

Mars Hill in foreground

Me on Mars Hill 

After seeing all these temples and such in person, the boldness of the sermon that Paul gave on Mars Hill in Acts 17 is even more impressive to me.  When he told them that "God does not live in temples made by human hands" with this view in the background, that took some nerve!  When he said in Corinthians that the Greeks love wisdom, he was speaking of a people who literally worshiped the goddess of wisdom - Athena. It was neat to actually walk down from the Acropolis and its ruined temples to the evangelical church service to worship the true source of wisdom!