A city of raw miracles, Part 1
ATHENS, Greece — From right to left, Miriam traces her finger…
ATHENS, Greece — A few metro stops away from the Bible study stand the ruins of the Parthenon, an ancient temple dedicated to the city’s namesake goddess, Athena.
As tourists walk the café-lined streets, Eleni Melirrytos nurses a cup of coffee. The Greek-born Christian and her coworkers with the Omonia Church of Christ spent the morning serving food and giving clothes to refugees from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan — and teaching English to their children. Melirrytos was up all last night taking a coworker to the hospital for a nasty virus. And there was a Persian woman with a dislocated shoulder a couple of days earlier. That was another hospital trip.
To put it mildly, she’s exhausted.
“These last three years have been filled with joy, filled with hope, but very, very harsh at times,” Melirrytos says. “If we had not seen really raw miracles … I don’t think we would still be around.”
Related: A city of raw miracles, Part 1
She’s not just talking about answered prayers, but about “Paul on the road to Damascus” stories. The refugees speak of them constantly — about miraculous rescues of their children from the waters of the Aegean as they crossed over from Turkey, about visions of the cross that convinced them to seek Jesus.
Many of them stay in Athens only a few months before they gain refugee status from the United Nations and move to other European countries that accept asylum seekers — Germany, Sweden, Norway.
“We get this little shot of time,” Melirrytos says, “for our Middle Eastern friends to find out that the lies they have heard about us Christians are lies — and for us to find out that the lies we have heard about our Middle Eastern Muslim friends are lies.”
“We’re learning how to navigate this cultural soup and make it into an entrée.”
The Omonia church has experienced its own miracles as members have thrown themselves into serving the work. Whenever it seems that they can’t possibly serve another soul, resources and volunteers just seem to appear, Melirrytos says.
She and her husband, minister Alexander, recently learned that they’ll be losing their sponsoring congregation in the U.S. early next year. They haven’t yet had time to find a new sponsor, Eleni Melirrytos says. It’s one more reason to trust God.
“I pray for God to just keep my heart raw,” she says. “If our hearts become too comfortable, we cannot feel the pain of the people.”
On Sunday morning, the Omonia Church of Christ is a head-spinning mix of languages.
In Greek, Alexander Melirrytos preaches on 1 John 1:7. (“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”) A Middle Eastern Christian stands at his side and translates his words into Arabic.
On one aisle, a woman murmurs a Farsi translation. At at booth in the back of the small auditorium, Eleni Melirrytos broadcasts her husband’s words in English for Americans listening on headsets. The church has visitors from California, the Philippines and the West African nation of Ghana. Despite the geography, “we all came from the same culture when we were created,” the minister says.
After worship, Eleni Melirrytos, an accomplished cook, dishes out heaping plates of Greek and Syrian cuisine. For decades, the congregation has been a mix of nationalities — Russians, Ukrainians and Bulgarians to name a few.
Once again, “this is a new church,” she says as she leans across a folding table to kiss a young Syrian girl. “We’re learning how to navigate this cultural soup and make it into an entrée.”
Nearby sits Vahid, a newly baptized Iranian believer who helps out during the week as the church opens its doors to the refugees, feeding and assisting them as they navigate Athens’ maze of asylum hearings and look for medical services and housing.
Vahid keeps his smartphone close by so he can talk to the Americans and Greeks at his table.
“We are all family,” he says. “Let me just look the right word up.” After some quick typing, he’s found it — intimacy.
“There’s intimacy between all,” he says. “Sometimes we might be mean to each other, but we love each other.”
A few more metro stops away, in the seaside suburb of Glyfada, another Church of Christ gathers for Sunday evening worship — and the baptisms of three refugees from Iran.
The auditorium is packed with believers from across the Mediterranean and students from Harding University, a Christian school in Arkansas, on a study-abroad semester.
“Do you believe Jesus is the son of the living God?” minister Dino Roussos asks one of the converts, who sits in a small baptistery on the church’s stage. “Do you want to follow in the steps of Jesus, that he will be your savior and Lord?” The Iranian man nods.
“We know that you love the Lord, and you studied the truth,” Roussos says. “Now is the day of salvation.”
As the new believer rises from the water, his Persian brethren hoot “ay-yi-yi-yi-yi” and sing a Farsi version of “This is the Day the Lord has Made.”
The Iranian Christians treat their guests to other hymns in their native tongue. One of the believers, Ibrahim, sings a song he composed.
Only hours earlier, a fight between rival factions in the camp where Ibrahim lives resulted in the death of a Syrian refugee. Church members are looking for a new place for him to stay.
Despite the turmoil, Ibrahim sings in simple, hushed tones as he stands before the church, his voice swelling as he repeats “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”
Later, he translates the lyrics: “In the name of Jesus, knowledge; In the name of Jesus, power; In the name of Jesus, everything; Jesus is our shepherd, Jesus is our God, Jesus is the Son of God.”
“I wrote this song after my baptism here,” he says. “I went to the beach and (stayed in) a tent for a few days while I wrote it. Does it make sense?”
Some names in this piece were shortened for security purposes.
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