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!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Baklava for Breakfast or "How Was the Food?"

I was going to save this post for last, but I've had a lot of folks ask me "How was the food?", so here is my answer.

First of all, as a mom that has had to do lots of cooking and cleaning the kitchen, I hesitate to ever complain about a meal that I did not have to prepare or clean-up after!  What a fun treat to just eat!

Secondly, keep in mind that this food was cheap!  We never spent more than $8 each on a complete meal, and several meals were less than $2.  This is in spite of the fact that fast food as we know it is almost non-existent in Greece.  I have had McDonald's in China, Japan, Germany, England, etc, but there was not an American chain restaurant to be found in Greece!  

Thirdly, consider that I do not like raw tomatoes or cucumbers.  Those folks that love them might have a different opinion of the food there.  

So, with all that in mind, here is my opinion.  Do not go to Greece for the food.  The "Greek food" that I have had in America was far tastier.  I judge how well I liked a dish by whether I am willing to hunt for the recipe and make it myself. There was only one dish on our trip that met that challenge.In general, I thought that the Greeks actually did a better job making Italian dishes (like pizza), French food (crepes), or American food (the hamburgers we had were excellent, but take your own ketchup for fries if you want a reliable supply - it is hard to find).

I took a lot of pictures of food just for fun.  I will share some superlatives:

Best meal - Cafe Alme in Anavissos.  We shared a huge Caesar salad (hint: great option in Greece when you don't want tomatoes or cucumbers) and a pasta dish that I would gladly purchase the recipe for.  Also, eating right on the Aegean with little lights twinkling on the seaside was pretty special.

Worst food - for me it was this classic appetizer we had on our first day.  Kind of tasted like a funnel cake filled with feta.  It really needed a sauce or something.

But I didn't care too much because of this view from our table:

For Terry, he didn't like this one.  The meat tasted weird and there was not the possibility of ketchup.  

However, keep in mind that even this lousy meal was eaten with this view.  Notice a theme?:

Best presentation - fried cheese in Athens

Sweetest breakfast - this waffle Terry had in Mytilene.  It was a little over the top.  I had Baklava for breakfast once as well.  A sugar rush for sure.

Most interesting-looking breakfast -

Most prevalent food - fries.  They were served (minus ketchup) with almost every meal. They even put them on your gyros so that they can become nice and soggy (so eat fast!). 

Best snack - I loved these teeny ice cream bars in a shop near our hotel in Athens.  They were just 50 cents, and just the right size for a quick treat.

Favorite dessert - Greek yogurt!  This did not disappoint!  Turns out it is also 10% butterfat, so how could you go wrong?!  I would have eaten this for breakfast every day, but it was actually a little hard to find.  

Favorite drink:  For me it was fruit slushes.  It was so hot while we were there, and these tasted so good (all other cold drinks would be lukewarm within a few minutes of walking in that heat).  Terry liked the Greek beer.  One of the brands was called "Fix", and I kept teasing him that he needed his "Fix" after a hard, hot day working on renovation.  He was a little hesitant to buy one while were were walking around and asked both a kiosk owner (who was incredulous when she finally figured out what he was asking - "You mean you cannot do this in your country? ") and a policeman to make sure that it was legal to drink and walk.  Here is Terry's favorite kiosk.  

Favorite venue (runner-up):  Cafe Skiniko's in Panagouda, Lesbos.  We ate many meals here!  Right on the water and just a 2 min. walk to our hotel.

Favorite venue: this place where we watched sunset over the Acropolis on our last night and watched them light it up after dusk.  

Also, while in Greece we ate some ethnic food prepared by refugees, and Mary Beth and I even worked in a kitchen for four days feeding some hungry teenage boys.  I was going to include that in this post, but it is already too long.  

My conclusion:  While you might not want to travel to Greece for the food, the dining experience is world-class! I have never eaten so many meals surrounded by beauty and with such a relaxing vibe. And someone else did the dishes. No complaints here!