WHAT A WEEK. It feels like everything in the world happened, but unlike last week, I felt really good about everything. So much happened, but I still managed to find time to read two books, play an enormous amount of Civilization V (I’m obviously playing as Greece and I’m conquering everyone), and binge-watch season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Argyris and Dina took me to a church plant, but we showed up an hour late. That was fine by me since their Translation Headphones were mostly screechy and I couldn’t understand most of the sermon anyway. I have resigned myself to the fact that the majority of my spiritual teaching will come from podcasts…so I’ve been listening to all of Mike Stroh’s sermons at TFC! He’s my friend and he’s so talented!
After the service, we went to Dina’s sister’s place. It was a family meal, since their aunt and uncle are visiting from Chicago (actually, this 80-year-old couple went from Chicago to Boston to Chicago to Uganda to Greece…#lifegoals!). There was an enormous amount of good food. For being a socially anxious person, I mostly don’t mind just randomly crashing other people’s parties. Probably because of the food.
Day off! This is when I played a lot of Civilization V instead of being productive. In my defense, I didn’t want to be productive.
I did, however, join Ioanna and Olympia for a 2-mile walk up the hill behind the school. It was really nice. We talked about bunnies, perfectionism, and motorcycles.
Me: Good morning, Dina!
Erastos: This is Erastos again.
Me: Oh. Um, hi!
Erastos: We are seven minutes away. Meet us at the bus stop.
Me: ….Um….I’m still in bed. I’ll just meet you at HD, okay?
Two hours later (it takes 1.5 hours to get to HD, okay!! save your judgments), I met Dina at HD so we could write some emails together. Then we reiterated our Tuesday from a few weeks ago, wandering through the rooms over and over again as the office furniture arrived and was assembled. The empty rooms were beautiful, but desks! And swivel chairs! We are now definitely a real organization.
That night, the team skyped with SA to show off our new digs, but I missed it. Instead I went back to the school where I met up with a bunch of other GEM missionaries. See, last Friday I met with Mark to discuss staying in Greece longer with GEM, and he said, “If you’re going to stay longer, you’ve got to meet the GEM team.” I’m so glad he did!
Katerina (Mark’s wife): Is your mom here with you?
Katerina: Oh. How old are you?
Katerina: I thought you were 19!
Me: Wow. No, I’ve been independent for a while now. But thank you!
We all went out to eat at this fantastic taverna. Should I explain what a taverna is? It’s basically a restaurant, but instead of ordering individual meals, everyone gets a tiny single plate. You place your orders, which come out on one plate, and you pass it around, putting a bit on your plate as you go. It is a very effective way to THINK you are not eating much while actually stuffing your face.
This meal was especially important because the new president of GEM (like, the actual head of our entire organization) is touring Europe to meet all the missionaries and on Tuesday he was in Athens. He’s English, he’s super charismatic and engaging, he laughs loudly, and he tells the best stories.
Jon: Do you like Mumford & Sons?
Me: YES. I saw them perform in Dallas a couple years ago!
Jon: I saw them perform in Dallas last Monday. Marcus Mumford is my friend.
Jon: Yes. His parents were my mentors for several years in the UK.
This is how most of the night went. Between his leadership and the delightful camaraderie of the other nine guests, I am so glad I’m working for GEM!
Oh, and here’s the best part. When Jon asked me about my work in Athens, and I said I was considering staying longer, he said, “What do I need to do to make that happen?” I answered, “Make the process easier for me to stay here.” At which point he launched into all the ways he wants to renovate GEM (all of his ideas sounded fantastic to me and one in particular felt like it could influence my future in a very positive direction), and then he said, “No one under 35 makes a 5-year commitment anymore, and I don’t think we should ask them to. What do you want? A year by year commitment? If you’re willing to be a guinea pig, I’m willing to stretch some rules for you. Just give me an email if you need me to unblock any obstacles.”
I mean! What!! WHAT A FORTUITOUS DINNER.
On Wednesday morning, Anthi and I went to my Pretty For Sure Apartment. The rest of the family wanted to meet me and approve of me, which was pretty hilarious because I can’t speak Greek and they said they liked me because of my friendly face. Thank God for full cheeks, I guess.
Renting in Greece is super weird, because the next step is that I will buy a contract from a bookstore (!?) and then we will sign it after Easter. And THEN I will move in May 7th or so! I LIKE, HAVE MY OWN APARTMENT IN ATHENS. I will be sharing the building with a family of old women, a middle-aged couple, and a young granddaughter. This could not be any more my scene.
After that I met up with Dina. We swung by her house to get Erastos then WALKED to the beach. “When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of living this close to the beach,” Dina said. “God has made all my dreams come true…this house, HD…” This prompted an hours-long conversation about self-care. The basic premise being that we believe God doesn’t give us good things because we earn them….rather, when we work hard for him and his hurting people, he knows how weak we are! He knows that in order for us to put in long-term work in a difficult ministry, he also needs to provide us with delightful, restful, restorative experiences. It’s just up to us to also realize how weak we are and accept them. (I know this is not even slightly the case for some people who think “I WISH GOD WOULD GIVE ME A BREAK.” But I do think there is a lesson here for workaholic Christians who too-easily think a ministry will fall apart without them. *coughMEcough*)
We got in the water (in April!) and shivered our way hundreds of meters from the sand, and I could still stand with my head above the water. A+ beach, Athens, says the non-swimmer! Then we waded back to our chairs, made Erastos get us gyros to eat, and read. I wound up getting super burned, because the Greek sun doesn’t care if it’s April.
I was meant to have a meeting with Francisca and then hang out in the park with Lydia, but they both cancelled. Since I’d already had one lazy day this week, I decided to be productive and figure out how to get to the outlet mall on my own. On the way there, I took the 314 bus, then walked the rest of the way instead of waiting for 319. I went to Jumbo and bought a bunch of decorations for our HD party on Saturday. I also bought leggings, a skirt, and a shirt from H&M for €24. Then I walked the ENTIRE way back to the school, which is about 3 miles. Productive!
Friday! We started the HD Day Program!
Everybody got there at 9:30. I met Luciana, a young woman who will be helping teach classes on Thursdays. “A” arrived at 10:00, and we spent the next six hours having the best conversations!
We start every day with “Temperature Check” where we briefly share how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking about, etc. Friday was especially interesting, because we were mostly talking about how crazy it was to be there, actually starting the Day Program. Then we all prayed for the person next to us, and afterwards, we realized that we were each from a different country: Nigeria, Greece, Portugal, United States, and Romania.
Most of the day was devoted to sharing our stories. I volunteered to go first, and it feels so great to be with women who feel safe. I could share everything: my confusions, my low points, my current struggles. I got to be real, and it was amazing. Then “A” shared her story. Again, I won’t/can’t share it, because it’s her story to share. Not mine. But here’s what stuck out to me: it was so strange to hear her saying all these trafficking stereotypes (slipped drugs, stolen papers) as her personal experience and not a bullet point list. Ah! I wish I could say more, but I feel like here it is better to veer to the side of under-sharing.
Here’s the general feeling about our first day, though: it felt natural. It was literally just a bunch of women talking about their lives. These conversations are what I live for, and when we get more intentionally psychological-based, I think I will love it even more. Of course, “A” is super self-aware already and has gone through six years of healing with a strong Christian support system. And I like her! I know this will get harder as we bring in girls who are just leaving the brothels, girls who are live-wires of anger and pain, girls who just have personalities that I don’t gel with. But for now…this is my jam. I love it!
One of my favorite things about HD is our focus on celebrations. Where there is trauma and struggle and daily emotional work…you need to constantly find reasons to party! We set the pace today with an open house for all the HD board members, staff, and volunteers.
I went a few hours early to arrange things, organize, and decorate. It was really nice to have the house to myself for awhile – we bonded, I think. There’s just something about letting yourself into a building and being there alone that makes it feel like…mine. I get to work here!
The party itself was wonderful. Well, actually, first it was two hours of people speaking in Greek while I sat two feet away from the food wondering WHY WE WEREN’T EATING. But then…! Okay, wait, backtrack.
This morning I had breakfast with Natasha, another non-Greek at the Greek Bible College. We talked about how it can be easy to feel left out when everyone is speaking Greek around you. And I confessed that I had been googling “how to make ex-pat friends in Athens” because I’ve felt a void. Then as I rode the metro to the house, I remembered how Dina always goes on and on about prayer and how it “works” or something. So I prayed, “God, I want friends.” FAST FORWARD BACK TO THE PARTY.
(Not the Same) Natasha’s daughter was there, and it turns out we are literally the same person, despite the fact that she is only 16. Despite? More like because of, let’s not pretend I’m not stuck in my teens.
Anna: I want to be either a librarian or a counselor.
Me: Those are literally the two jobs I’ve had.
Anna: I love to read all the time. Classics and stuff.
Me: Me too! But actually, I love fantasy the most.
Anna: Me too! I’m also really into anime and manga.
Me: Me too! Have you ever watched the live-action K-Dramas?
Anna: Yes! Do you listen to K-Pop?
Me: No, but I want to! Okay, but what about superhero movies? How excited are you for Captain America: Civil War?
Anna: So excited!
Me: WE ARE SOULMATES.
I also re-met Maria.
Me: Maria, right? We had dinner together a year ago when I visited Greece!
Maria: Actually, I know you very well. I read your blog.
Me: DO YOU?
Maria: *quotes my blog* I hope you don’t think I’m a stalker.
Me: I HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE FLATTERED IN MY LIFE.
As if that weren’t enough, it turns out she teaches Greek classes and she’s arranging a Orthodox Greek Easter for non-Greeks, which is exactly what I wanted to do but didn’t know how! Earlier today I was literally considering fleeing the country to avoid not having Easter plans, but now I don’t have to! Oh, AND she runs 16 blogs. lol. Another soulmate!
And then there was Luciana, my Day Program co-volunteer who also came to Greece in January.
Luciana: What’s been the hardest part of being in Greece for you?
Me: The language. And also, I haven’t really found a group of nerdy friends here.
Luciana: I’m a nerd.
Me: ARE YOU? Prove it!
Luciana: I get very obsessed with things. When I was 14 I had a crush on Dostoyevsky.
Me: Okay, that’s pretty good. But I was meaning like, geeky nerdy.
Luciana: So do you like Star Wars? Be careful how you answer.
Me: UM, yes, I love Star Wars. I cried when Rey called the lightsaber to her.
Luciana: And how cool that the leading man was black!
Me: And the other guy, Poe, he’s Latin-American. No white men in leading roles!
Luciana: You noticed that? I didn’t know anyone else cared about that!
Wow. What a day. What a week!