A word of caution: this blog involves horrendous acts of violence and incredible suffering.
Family and Friends,
Below is a small blog I (David) wrote reflecting on the three years that I have been in Athens. I hope it encourages you as we continue together in gospel ministry to see this city come to know Jesus Christ.
I remember like it was yesterday. I burst into my Church auditorium to share the news with everyone who had met with and prayed for me. It was the news I had been waiting years to hear and had worked a full year for. I had raised enough support to move forward into full-time missions in Greece. Hours of prayer, conversation and planning had fully come to light. I would leave for Greece a few months later.
As I was telling everyone the news, they were all sharing my joy in what God had done. I finally came to a friend of mine, an older and mature believer in Christ. As I shared the news, at first he didn’t smile like everyone else had and his response was much different. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “you are going to experience so much suffering.” He paused and then said with a smile, “but I am happy for you brother, that is fantastic news”. This same brother was a monthly supporter and a huge advocate in my missions process.
Looking back three years now, his words have rung true each and every day. When people speak of missions, it is often this glorious and romanticized thing. It is glorious and romantic, but it is also full of let down, suffering, betrayal, misunderstandings, and pain.
In these three short years, most of my experiences have involved suffering and pain. People die, they get sick, they lie to each other, steal and cheat each other, gossip, get divorced, send their kids off with smugglers they don’t even know, are abused physically, sexually and emotionally. People are hurting; I am hurting.
Often, people are not interested in attending Church, having a Bible study, or a prayer and worship meeting. Most of the time they want a shoulder to lean and cry on.
If I came on the field as a knight in shining armor, now I would imagine my armor is rusted, shield too heavy to carry, sword is dull, sweat dripping off my face, blood stains on my clothes and my sandals are worn to nothing. The people around me don’t often look much better than I do.
Being a missionary has challenged me in ways I cannot often explain because of the challenges I face can be different than what I experience in my everyday American life that is absent of many of the problems I face today. But although the challenges on the outside, and what I am facing here, may look different the fight for all of us is the same. To look to Jesus, to believe in Jesus, to trust Jesus.
Every day, my battle is not to complain about Churches or ministry here or to gossip. My battle is not to doubt whether my financial needs will be met. It is not for justice where there is injustice or to fix every problem in the world. My everyday battle is to believe in God. By trusting in him changes everything. As I yield to him in all things and rest in him, I find contentment and rest for my soul. My temptation every day is to prefer my way over his, to trust in what is seen instead of what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Paul knew as much as anyone the afflictions and burdens that come with this life and Christian ministry. He says at one point he “despaired of life itself” and felt as if he had received “the sentence of death” because of what he was suffering (2 Cor 1:8-9). However, he learned his sufferings were to make him “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1: 9). Paul hoped in God’s deliverance and exhorts the Church to pray for him (2 Cor. 1:10-11).
As I enter into year four, I am more beaten and wore down than ever in my flesh. But in my inner man, my Spirit, I am strong, zealous, and passionate for God and the things of God. His power is manifested in my weakness and as we live in these bodies “we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:10-11). But Paul says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).
As Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (Jn 12: 24-26).
I have absolutely loved my time in Greece and Ruth and I love what we do, who we do it with, and who we do it for. We are beyond grateful to God for those of you who have stood by us in prayer, financial support, and relationship for over three years now. We thank you and we love you, we know you love us.
As Paul encouraged the Church to pray for him, I ask you to pray for Ruth and me:
-that we would be dependent upon the Holy Spirit
-that we would rejoice in the life that comes in death
-that we would focus on what is unseen, and not seen
-that eternal joy, glory, and Jesus would drive us
-that we would trust in God’s deliverance and not ourselves. He is our deliverer, not us
-that we would hate our lives, and not love them
-that we rest in God’s grace in our short-comings and failures
-that we would love God, each other, and our neighbors
-that we would be faithful and our ministry be fruitful
“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11).
I was able to visit the Greek island, Lesvos. In the background, you can see Turkey, and a Greek military boat just off the coast of Lesvos. Thousands of refugees have traveled across these waters on a boat with the hopes of starting a new life in Europe. I think this picture speaks volumes.
This body of water is separating two countries that have had long-lasting conflicts. This body of water is the final flight many refugees make before arriving on European Union soil. One country has a history of Islam and the other is Orthodox. Each country’s land was once ruled by the other. When refugees leave one side, they are leaving behind everything they are fleeing from and arriving on the other land with the hopes of a better life. Some people die as they cross the water. Some people get across wanting to return. Some feel secure for the first time. Some say they experienced a whole other world, even though they only crossed a body of water that is 5 miles wide.
I find myself wanting to be somewhere in the middle of the water, building a bridge
At one point 3,000 refugees were traveling to Lesvos each day. Now it is only a few hundred. People have died to try to make it across.
We are so thankful to be able to love and serve people who have suffered so much and would go to such great cost to find security, peace, and freedom. Thankfully, Jesus suffered in our place to give us ultimate hope, security, and freedom. To quote a refugee friend, “I would cross the water again if it means me being able to hear the gospel.” I pray more people will cross lands and waters to preach the gospel to others.
Photos of what is called the life jacket grave yard. It’s filled with life jackets from the travels of refugees. The other photos were common landing grounds for refugees, living conditions, and the sunrise over Turkey. You can also see bits and pieces of rafts and boats they used to cross.