Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Home in the Heart of Athens...

Here is the link to a great article about the Helping Hands ministry in Athens...

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Tired of saying, "I'm sorry..."

This happened several years ago but I am just getting around to posting it:

One of the things I hate the most about this ministry is how many times a week I have to say to refugees, "I'm sorry..."  ("I'm sorry we don't have any more pampers for your baby", "I'm sorry we don't have a place for you to sleep", "I'm sorry shower time is over", "I'm sorry we don't have work for you", "I'm sorry we cannot give you money", "I'm sorry" "I'm sorry" "I'm sorry").

One evening it seemed I was saying it so many times that I went to HIDE in the office. I wasn't in there 30 second when there was a knock on the door.  It was Rawah, one of our Arabic translators.  He (not I) opened the door and poked his head in, saying, "Scott, there's a guy here who needs medical help."  I replied, "Rawah, you know we cannot help people medically.  Please tell him that yourself!"  Just then the young man poked his head in the door next to Rawah so I invited them both in to sit in the office with me.

The young Kurdish man entered the office agitated, expectant.  Rawa, one of our Iraqi volunteers, translated the Kurd's flood of Arabic words.  "He says he needs medicine," Rawa said.  The Kurd leaned over and pulled his shirt up, unwrapping an abdominal brace to reveal a back laced with scars.  "He only has one kidney," Rawa translated.    Then he removed one of his shoes to display another physical malady, and the small office suddenly reeked of a misshapen foot that most likely hadn't been washed in a very long time.

"Tell him," I said to Rawa, "that I'm very sorry, but we can't do anything for him unless he has a prescription, and even then we may not be able to help him."

The Kurd, named Ariwah, continued speaking, even though the interpreter was the only one
who could understand, but the tone of his voice, the pleading of his eyes conveyed his desperation anyway.

"How old is he?" I asked.

The young Kurd's voice broke as he replied.  Rawa translated, "Twenty-six...and he misses his family."

"Tell him I'd like to pray for him," I said.  "I'm so sorry that there's nothing I can do for him except to pray , but somehow the answer to his problems are in God.  Even though the Kurd couldn't understand the English words used, he seemed touched that someone showed compassion as God broke my heart and opened my tear ducts.

"He says, thank you very much," translated Rawa as I shook  Ariwah's hand after the short prayer.  The young man wrapped his brace back around his waist and walked out of the office looking subdued, depressed.

"Thank me for what?" I asked, "I'm not able to do anything.  I wish there were something I could do."

After the tea and bread had been served, the young Kurd was one of a handful of men who stayed later to watch the end of the Jesus video playing loudly in his own dialect.  Then he found Daniel, our Kurdish translator, and the two of them approached me, Ariwah wearing a big smile on his face.  "He wants to tell you," Daniel said, "that he thanks you for your kindness to him.  He doesn't want anything from you.  He only wants to tell you thank you because the tears of a Christian make him want to put his faith in Jesus."

Then Ariwah turned and entered the Seeker's Class.

Two weeks later I saw him and asked how he was doing.  With a joyful expression he recounted the events from the day we met. “I didn’t tell you on that day, but after you prayed for me all of the pain left my body.  But what led me to Jesus were your tears for me.  Now I am following Jesus…I have been baptized and am studying the Bible with someone…Nobody will ever turn me away from Him because He is the Truth.”

Sunday, April 28, 2013

From Cave to Christ...

Esmerelda's Testimony...
...from living in a
cave to LIFE in Christ!

Tue, Oct 23, 2012
This is a POWERFUL testimony that strongly moves me when I read it because:
a.  It glorifies God
b.  It speaks of how God continues to move from, and beyond, Athens
c.  It speaks of how God used Gregor and Gregor's parents to share God's life-changing love
with Esmerelda
d.  I personally know Esmerelda, and she is a bright, beautiful, joyful, loving and humble
servant of God.  We are supporting her, and we hope you will pray about supporting her if
you can.  She is a WORTHY investment!  You can give a tax-deductible investment online at: (then click "give a gift")

"I was born in Shkoder, Albania, a country devastated in many levels under the harshest
Communist regime of Eastern Europe. I belonged to a race that even among a poor and
devastated people was marginalized, despised and made fun of.

They call us Gypsies.

And among my own people I was an unlucky case.  As a kid I new nothing of my mother.
She left us when I was two to go to Italy, thinking of finding a better life. I learned later her
intentions were to come back and take us when she would have made some money, but this
never happened.  We were three children but I remember only my father with whom I stayed 
when mother left.

I was little but was told latter because the house was so old and crumbling, my father and
me moved to a cave in a hill nearby.  No doors, no windows, when it rained, water would
drip in over our “bed”.  We had a dog and a cat. Once the cat got a snake in our bedding
and killed it saving my life. Another time the dog saved me from criminals who pepper-
sprayed my father and tried to kidnap me.

That is the first “house” I remember.

We begged for daily bread from shop to shop, from coffee bar to coffee bar.  I did not know
what family meant. I coveted other children when I saw them hugging their mothers, thinking
in silence, I want to have a family.  The only person that loved me and I loved him was father. 
I loved him so much that I never wanted to be separated from him.  I did not want to know 
about God. I thought He does not care for me.

At around age seven, my grandmother took us in and we shared a room with her in my
uncle's apartment.  I never got to go to school. Daily survival was the theme of our lives.
One day while playing in front of the apartment building, my cousin, the uncle's daughter,
invited me to a place they called “fellowship place”.  Almost all kids from the neighborhood
would go there. I went.

It was a dark red metallic door in front of which stood what seemed then to me to be an
older lady. She welcomed children with hugs. They all called her mother Roza. That sounded
strange.  Being a timid child I did not go to her, but as I waited my turn to go in through the
door, she, with a big smile and a love I did not know how to describe, opened her arms 
towards me and said, “Come and give a hug to mother.” It was the embrace I had longed for
all my life. I did not want to be separated from it. I felt love, perfect love, unconditional love.
Inside I was asking, “Where is this love coming from?".  With time I was to discover that the
love mother Roza had, was the love of Jesus Christ.

Soon that woman would become my mother for real.

My father passed away suddenly when I was eight years old. I did not know but mother Roza
had promised my father to send me to school. She had a long hard battle with my grandmother
who was in charge. Sheherself being uneducated, did not see a need for me to go to school. 
Then mother Rosa and her husband (my new father) Zef and my brother Gregor (who came to
Christ in Athens and was the pastor of the church) took me in for good. This was another hard
battle with my grandmother.  Everything changed. I had a family. My own room, a warm bed,
food, clean clothes, and I went to school like the other kids. Father Zef would take me to 
the school and waited to pick me up when I finished.

But only at eleven years old I deeply understood my need to be born again by making the Lord
Jesus Christ my Savior and my Lord. I did this with all my heart, on my knees, with tears in my
eyes. It was something Gregor had said when he came to share once at the Children's Church:
“God told Noah to make one door to the Ark through which he his family and the animals had
to go to be saved. And in the same way Jesus is the Door to Salvation. He is the only way to
the Father. No one goes to the Father except through Him."

From that moment on I am holding His hand and never want to let go. I got a new life both
ways, in this world and in eternity.  I still faced many difficulties and challenges. Father Zef
passed away one year after I was adopted. So I lost my father again.  As Gregor got married
to Kela and they moved to Kosovo to serve the Lord there in the city of Gjilan me and mother
Roza moved also there. Mother Roza’s heath was deteriorating and in a few years she also
went to be with the Lord.

I got to go to high school and university in Kosovo. God’s faithful hand has been with me
always and according to the promise He made that He will never leave me, He will never
forsake me.  For many years growing up in the new family and the church I had a dream,
one desire to serve the Lord all my life. I did this in the churches I have been helping in kids
and youth ministries in Shkoder, Albania and in Gjilan and Prishtina (in Kosovo).  Doing as much as
I could, counting it a privilege.  During the university years I got also very active with Campus
Crusade for Christ.  And in the last year of my studies God put it in my heart to join them
full-time. I applied, and was accepted.

Now I am ministering on campus and seeing God bring others to Himself and using me and
others to help them find Him and to grow in Him.   Praise the Lord!  In June of 2013 I plan to
marry my fiance and we will minister together for Jesus!

M’s Testimony

I’m a Kurd from Iran. All of my family has been on Haaji, so they are very religious. I fought with my family all the time because I wouldn’t go to the mosque. My dad would tell me that I was like Noah’s son who wouldn’t come to God. So that’s why I separated from my family.

My family was part of a political (and religious) group that believes that Iran should have freedom and that Kurdistan should be a separate country. 

Four years ago, the Iranian religious police came to our house, started shooting at us, and completely destroyed our house. There were no windows or doors left, and they took everything we had in the house. One of my uncles was shot. He had been in jail for six years, and had just gotten out of jail when this happened. After these problems, the government asked my uncle to work for them, but he wouldn’t accept. So he left for Iraq. 

Before this happened, I was just part of the group to support my uncle, but after this I became much more involved in the group because of what the government had done to us. I started going to the judges to petition them to hold the government responsible for destroying our house. I told them that I was not involved with the group, but my uncle was. Instead, they charged me with crimes, and told me I was not allowed to go back to my own city. They laughed at me when I asked why I couldn’t go back, but they just mocked me. Then I found out that they were playing with me, that they wouldn’t help me get justice. 

This is only one example of the reasons I had to leave Iran. The government kept bringing charges against me. If I told you all the things that happened to me during that time, it would fill a whole book. The government kept looking for any reason to lock me away forever. Because the government was against me, many other people took a dislike to me, and I had to carry a knife around with me to defend myself. My situation was like a container of petrol, just waiting for someone to light a match. 

I left Iran with my passport, but at the border I just gave them a lot of money to let me into Turkey. I stayed in Turkey for three months. It was a really bad winter. I stayed in a smuggler’s house. My goal was to go to Bulgaria, because it’s easier to get to the rest of Europe from there. But since it was so cold and there was a way to leave, a group of us decided to come to Greece. 

On the way from Turkey to Greece, I had to go through a river. While I walked through the river, I said “I give all of my past to this river, and begin to live a new life now.”

I came to Athens, and became very sick. I was taken to a hospital, and in the hospital many people came to visit me. They didn’t care that I was not from the same town or even the same country as them. They offered me many things, and I never had to pay for medicine or anything in the hospital. One thing came to my mind, that they are Christian,
and that is the reason they are helping me. In Turkey they were Moslem, but they never helped me. 

I heard in the park that there was a place that gave out food. So I came to Helping Hands. I saw Nader, who was speaking about the gospel. I decided to come one Sunday to the Persian Christian Fellowship. I thought, “all those years I fought against my father about the Moslem faith, but now I should find out what Christians believe.” Nader said that Jesus is the Son of God, and I thought it was blasphemy to say that man became God. 

But it was a big question in my mind, what happened when Jesus was born? I thought that either Mary was adulterous, or it was a miracle. Then I read the entire life of Jesus, and I found out that not only was his birth a miracle, but his death and resurrection were miracles too.

I came to the conclusion that I am a sinner. There were two things in my life that I have always regretted, and always felt guilty about. No person knew about them, but God always knew. But I heard that Jesus came to forgive our sins, and I thought “I really need a savior, to save me from those sins.” I believe that it was a miracle that Jesus was born, to die for us to save us from our sins, and I accepted him as my savior. 

From the day that I gave my heart to Jesus, it was like a heavy burden was lifted from my shoulders. When I raised my hand to accept Jesus in Persian Christian Fellowship, it was like all my guilt and shame left through my open hands. I think everything in my life has been changed. When I was in Iran, I lived in the same city as my parents, but didn’t even visit them once a year. But once I became a Christian, I started to care for them. Before I didn’t love anyone, and only thought about how I could hurt them. Now I want to love them.

I am from a big group of people in Kurdistan, and everyone there knows me. I know if they hear that I became Christian, immediately they would reject me and the gospel at the same time. But I want to show the love of Jesus to them first, to prepare their hearts, then to share the gospel with them. I want to share the love of Jesus to everyone around the world. I started here in Athens. Everyone in Athens knows that I’m a Christian, because I can’t stop talking about my faith. Even the smugglers know. They’ll kill me if they find me. But I know that if everybody in this world would know His love, His peace, and His freedom, there wouldn’t be any more pain in the world.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

"Ahmad" 's story

Ahmad's  Story

One day, Ahmad* will tell his son the story that he was never told. Not the wanderer’s tale that he knows so well, the one marred by hopes dashed on foreign shores and an endless search for belonging. Ahmad will not dread the end of this story because borders, papers, and prisons will not extinguish its light. One day, Ahmad will sit down with his son, look into those expectant eyes, and smile. Because on that day, Ahmad will tell his son the story of how they came home.

It has been eight months since Ahmad last saw his wife and son. 1,806 miles stand between them, but on May 5, 2012 it must have felt like light years. Standing at the front of a small church in the middle of Athens, Greece, Ahmad was further away from his family than ever before. A distance measured not by miles but understanding. His wife, Najla, had understood, even encouraged him when he left Iran seven months earlier. With nothing more than a backpack, Ahmad had escaped those borders in search of a foreign land where his son might be more than just another Afghan refugee. A land that he and his family might call home. But this was something altogether different. The ground he stood upon that afternoon was not just foreign. It was forbidden.

Ahmad stepped into the water-filled basin at the front of the dim sanctuary and it seemed to carry him an ocean away from his family and the Islamic heritage he had always known. The man awaiting him in the water smiled warmly as he reached out and clasped Ahmad’s hand. In a room filled with stillness, the two exchanged soft words and nods with the water around their waists. And then the stillness was broken as the man looked at Ahmad and announced to the small group gathered, “Because of this, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” As Ahmad’s head slipped beneath the surface, so too did the small silver necklace he has worn for years, bearing his wife’s initials. And Ahmad felt the cool water washing away 30 years of a painful and broken past.
 *                *               *
Ahmad 1An expression of sadness crosses Ahmad’s face as he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. That’s how you know he is remembering, sifting through his past as if dredging polluted waters in search of a few, precious items. People tend to tie their memories to the anchors of familiarity and belonging that ground their sundry experiences. But Ahmad has no such anchors. Ahmad has never known what it feels like to belong.

“There is this feeling of identity crisis,” explains Ahmad, a solemn look on his face. “Somehow, I think it will last forever for me.”

Ahmad was just one year old in 1983 when his parents fled the growing violence in Kabul and resettled in Mashhad, Iran. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan created a flood of refugees in the early 1980’s that filled the dusty roads leading to the borders of Pakistan and Iran. Ahmad’s parents hoped that Iran might be a sanctuary for all Muslims, given the country’s recent Islamic revolution. But they were bitterly disappointed.

With his head held high, Ahmad will tell you today that he is Afghan, not Iranian. And yet, he has spent less than five of his 30 years there. Mashhad was no home for Ahmad’s family because the colors of racial stigma painted a bleak backdrop to that stage of their lives.

They did not belong, the Afghan refugees, and with caustic sneers, the Iranians would never let them forget it.

“‘Oh look at those Afghans,’ they would say. ‘They stink.’ They would call us dogs. They still call Afghans that today…that was the identity they gave us.”

Ahmad cried for two hours on the day his mother was forced to pull him out of the third grade. It was the day the government cracked down on immigrants throughout the country, but 8-year-old Ahmad struggled to understand, watching through windows that seemed like jail bars as smiling Iranian children walked to class. The blood that made his crying eyes red also made Ahmad and his family worthless in the eyes of the Iranian government. It would be years later before he understood that. But on that day, little Ahmad began to understand the feeling of inferiority.

Those ten years in the slums of Mashhad left Ahmad anchorless and adrift. A budding tree with no roots. For a brief time his family moved back to Afghanistan, but the shadow of violence and ethnic strife followed them. By the time Ahmad was 13 his family had resettled in the ghetto of Qom, Iran, a desert city south of Tehran where his family still lives today.
Ahmad frowns as he remembers his early years in Qom. Those were dark years, defined by uncertainty. “We never knew what was going to happen,” Ahmad says with a shrug. “There was no clear policy. We never knew if or when we would get kicked out.” What Ahmad did know was the feeling of injustice. Every day, he would pass seemingly carefree Iranian teenagers as he sprinted to work at the nearby carpentry shop, clutching his small lunch in a brown paper bag. “Why am I not like them?” he would ask. “Why me? Why us?” Those were the answerless questions that weighed on Ahmad every day. “It all felt so unjust. Some Afghan refugees got used to it, but I never did.”

As a teenager, Ahmad found studying English to be an escape from the pain of every day life. Perhaps those days and nights he spent studying were a silent rebellion of sorts, a way to spite the inequitable system that declared him unworthy of education. But practicing English became more than just an escape on the day that it led Ahmad to a Christian chat room online. It was the first time he had ever heard of someone named Jesus Christ, and Ahmad was intrigued. At the end of the conversation, the people in the chat room, people on the other side of the world whom he had never met, prayed for him. That was the first time anyone had prayed for Ahmad and he never forgot it.

Islam was all Ahmad had ever known; yet somehow, all he knew seemed wrong. “Muhammad said there is no such things as borders. That we are all Muslim brothers.  But I saw borders. I saw my Muslim ‘brothers’ call us Afghans dogs.” Ahmad shakes his head with disgust. “By the time I was 16 I was sure this was all wrong.”

There are many days Ahmad wishes he could forget, but one most of all. He wishes he had never stepped into that taxi with four Iranian soldiers back in 2004. He wishes they had never asked him where he was from as they drove the hour from Tehran to Qom. He wishes he could forget the terrible things they said to him; the mordant jokes and the cruel stories. “That drive, it felt like a year to me. They did things I just can’t tell you about.”

If Ahmad ever had a ‘normal life’ in Iran, it all came to an end in 2006 on the road from Qom to Mashhad.  Police checkpoints were common enough, but they were also dangerous for Afghan refugees, especially those with no identification. Over and over Ahmad told the police that he was a legal refugee, but they didn’t listen as they dragged him toward the vehicle that would carry him to an infamous refugee camp near the border. “I spent two days and nights there,” Ahmad remembers, almost as if the thought itself is a bitter taste. “During those two days and nights I thought a lot about my life in Iran. And I knew I had to put an end to it. It felt like hell to me.”

When Ahmad was finally able to return home, he knew it was not for good. But leaving would be costly and for six months he worked to earn the two million Toman necessary to procure fake documents that would take him to Turkey, and hopefully beyond. The journey to Turkey was simple enough, but entering Europe proved a more difficult feat. Three times, Ahmad tried to pass into Greece, paddling a small raft in the dead of night toward the nearest Grecian island. And three times he was caught. The last of which landed him in a Turkish prison for over one month.

Two options for deportation, that was all the Turkish government gave Ahmad. And both ended in Afghanistan. Rather than to be left at the border, Ahmad chose to be flown into Kabul where he knew family and friends that could help. But it was not family or friends that greeted Ahmad as he stepped off the plane. It was chaos. A massive explosion shook the ground before Ahmad had even touched Afghan soil. An explosion he later found had been a suicide attack that killed 35 people. “I lived in constant fear of being killed during those two months,” remembers Ahmad.

But amid the chaos, Ahmad found something else: the love of his life. He had met Najla once before, but this time was different. Something blossomed as they stole time together, talking eagerly for hours on end in her parents’ kitchen. Under Islamic law, it is forbidden for unmarried males and females to spend time together alone, but that was of little consequence to Ahmad. “Come what may, I told her. I wanted to talk to her because I liked her. But she was so scared.” Ahmad eventually left Afghanistan to return to Iran, but not before Najla looked into his eyes and promised him that she would wait, no matter how long it took. Just one year later, Ahmad’s parents traveled to Kabul according to Islamic tradition, and returned to Qom with the glowing Najla, who soon after became Ahmad’s wife. The happiness Ahmad felt that day could only have been surpassed three years later when he held his newborn son for the first time. Ahmad smiles as he remembers. These are his treasures.
Ahmad 2
His son was nearly one year old when Ahmad thought again of leaving Iran. The notion of his boy living the restless, inferior life of an Afghan refugee was simply more than Ahmad could bear. “His father grew up an illegal refugee, his grandfather worked as an illegal refugee and now he was born an illegal refugee,” says Ahmad, the pain of those words more than evident. “That was tearing me apart.”

Eight months ago, Ahmad again set his sights on the shores of Greece. And this time, he found them. The system had changed since 2006, and rather than deportation, this journey ended on the streets of Athens. But those streets were not the place of hope and promise that he had imagined. The illusion of endless opportunity died a quick death upon the cold, hard ground of Alexander Park, where Ahmad was forced to sleep for one week. Greece was never meant to be the final destination, but Ahmad quickly found himself ensnared in a broken system like so many other refugees. With no papers and no money, the borders of Greece loomed large.

But Ahmad doesn’t believe it was chance that brought him to Greece. Nor was it chance that brought him to the doors of the Helping Hands refugee ministry one day. A hot meal, that was all Ahmad was looking for the morning he turned into the alleyway in the district of Omonia and up a flight of concrete stairs that lead to the Christian ministry. Yet in the small, white-walled entry room at the top of the stairs, he found something else: a table full of Bibles.

“It was the first time I had been able to just read a Bible without fearing for my life.” That was when Ahmad began asking questions, something he had never been able to do within the walls of Islam. And with joy, the team at Helping Hands answered those questions.

For months, Ahmad kept his new Bible tucked safely away inside his backpack; a treasure that was still dangerous for him to carry, even in Greece. During that time, he lived in a crowded flat downtown with other Afghan refugees. Shaking his head, Ahmad remembers trying to fall asleep many nights as his radical Islamist roommates talked together about their hatred for Christians. Little did they know that the sacred object of their hatred rested mere feet away, beside Ahmad’s head and pounding heart.

Ahmad continued to study, to search, and to learn. And slowly, he felt his heart changing, or perhaps coming alive. “The thing that touched me deeply was when I heard that Christianity was not about a long list of rules, but about a relationship.”  For months, Ahmad wrestled with the idea and the significance of that relationship. But one day, he knew he had wrestled enough. It was the day he eagerly called two of his mentors from Helping Hands to tell them one simple, beautiful thing: “I decided to put my faith in Jesus Christ.”
 *                *               *
Ahmad emerged from the water with a smile on his face, the small sanctuary coming alive with cheers and clapping. But they were not the cheers of his wife and son. As Ahmad stepped out of the large water basin, he was handed a towel. Not papers of documentation. And after scores of hugs and handshakes, he stepped back onto the streets of a foreign city that will never be home.

Ahmad’s journey is far from over. And yet, he smiles now. Because after 30 long years, Ahmad finally knows who he is and where he truly belongs. It is a place far beyond the reach of borders, papers, and laws. A home that no capricious earthly entity can snatch from him; a treasure of eternal citizenship that he holds with his heart.

But the water in that basin did not change the fact that Ahmad remains an Afghan refugee; his needs remain real and the road ahead, uncertain. Ahmad still longs for a country of his own. A flag to wave with pride and a land that his son can call home. He prays for discernment as he considers his next steps. He fights for papers that will validate his name. He clings to the hope that one day his wife and son will know the joy that he has found in Christ. And above all, he fights for the day he will see them again.

Because on that day, Ahmad will tell his son the story of how they came home. And with that hope, he presses on.       -Ryan

Please pray for Ahmad, that he would cling to Christ and grow in his faith during this time. Also, pray that Ahmad would have wisdom and discernment as he prepares for the day when he will tell his wife about the Lord, that she would have ears to hear and a heart to receive. And pray that they will be together again soon, in a place they can call home.

*For security purposes, the names in this post have been changed

Thursday, November 03, 2011

True stories of refugees whose lives were transformed by Jesus Christ through the Helping Hands ministry in Athens, Greece.  You can order from, Barnes and Noble, and Westbow Publishing.
Here is the video promo of our new book "Kingdom Beyond Borders"...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Ilir's Story

Ilir’s Testimony

I was born in Albania in 1970, and grew up under the communist regime.  It was forbidden to talk about God, but I always wondered who created us as I looked at the stars above my mom’s village.  I could look at a watch or a car and understand that somebody made them for a purpose.  But who made me?  And for what purpose did I exist?  I asked my mom about these things when I was still very young.  She never responded directly, but would say that I would figure it out some day.

When I graduated from high school, I applied to the university but was denied because my father was not a member of the communist party.  So I went to work as a mechanic on large trucks for several years before I went into the army to fulfill my military obligation.  They chose me to be a member of the Special Forces, and at the beginning of the revolution we were commanded to break up the escalating demonstrations.  One night I received orders to prepare my men for a demonstration the next morning, but this time we were told to bring our guns and use them if necessary.  These orders went against the constitution and my conscience, so I decided that I would leave before they had a chance to court-martial me for disobeying orders.  I told my men that I was leaving and that they were free to do what they felt was right.

I knew that I had to flee the country, so I went with a friend to Greece.  I worked in Greece for almost four years.  During that time, a Greek Orthodox man told me about Jesus, but I wasn’t really interested.  After making some money, I returned to Albania where I thought I could build a business under the new democratic system.  I started selling cars with my brother and sister, but the business failed after my brother wrecked some cars and pocketed some of our profits.  Without money in my pocket, I started noticing that many of the people I thought were my friends didn’t want to hang around with me anymore.  They didn’t really care about me—they cared about my money.  In that desperate situation, I cried out to God.  Why did God allow this to happen to me?  I was a good person. 

One day, I noticed a new booklet in my parent’s house.  It was the book of Genesis.  For the first time in my life, I read about creation and found answers to the questions I had asked since my childhood.  God created the world, and He made me.  But why?  I found answers to that question when I went to put the booklet back and there, next to it, was a New Testament.  I started reading the Gospels, but was confused by some things.  The next day happened to be a Sunday, so I decided to go to the Catholic church (the only church in town).  I listened as the priest preached about salvation, and I asked him afterwards to explain some things to me.  He told me to come back on Tuesday to play soccer with him.  He spelled out the way of salvation through the book of John and gave me a copy to read on my own.  Looking back, I truly believe that he was born-again.

Because of my failed business and the poor economy in Albania, I decided it was time to return to Greece.  The first time I tried, the police caught me and sent me back.  I was still reading the book of John at that time, and I challenged the Lord to show me His power by bringing me safely back to Athens.  After seven days and nights of walking over the mountains, including many miracles and acts of God, I arrived in Athens.  I determined to find a church and learn more about God.  Of course, the day after I arrived in Athens happened to be a Sunday.  I met an old friend from Albania in the street, and he asked me to join him for the afternoon.  I went with him and it turned out to be a Bible study.  Leading the Bible study was Scott McCracken, who later became my Team Leader when I joined the International Teams missionaries in Athens.

After six months of studying the Bible, I committed my life to Christ and was baptized.  Around that time, Scott also told me about the soup kitchen they were running for refugees and invited me to come help if I had any free time.  So I went, enjoyed it, and soon discovered one of my gifts in helping to organize the volunteers.  I also learned that I had the gift of evangelism as I shared with many of the people who came.

Over the next couple years I grew in the Lord, and God fanned the fire in my heart to serve Him and make Him known among the nations.  Along with continuing to help at the soup kitchen, I started sharing the gospel with other Albanians I met, and began leading a Bible Study for new believers.  It was my heart to encourage them to share the good news with others. 

In 1997, I began asking the Lord what He wanted me to do with my life.  One night in September, the Lord responded in a dream.  I saw a bright light and a man telling me, “Get up, my son.”  I woke up and saw that my window was open.  I knew I had closed it the night before, so my first thought was that a thief was in the house.  I checked around and saw no one, so I closed the window and went back to sleep.  Again, I saw a bright light and the man saying, “Get up!”  I woke again and the window was open again.  This time, I heard footsteps in the room, but no one was there.  So I crawled under the bed, covered myself with my blanket, and began praying, “Lord, here I am.  If you want to take my life, take it.”  But he told me, “Get up and go read your Bible.”  My Bible was open on my desk.  I read the page quickly, slammed the book shut, and then jumped back in bed because I was scared.  But the Lord wouldn’t leave me alone.  “Get up and go read!”  And I heard the Bible open again.  I went to my desk and read more carefully this time, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).  I thought, “Lord, this is not for me.  Forget it.  Find somebody else.”  It was four in the morning and I went to sleep.  The next morning I got up to do my normal morning devotions and the Bible was open again, this time to the book of Jonah.  As I read that story for the first time, I realized that He was going to have me serve Him whether I wanted to or not.  I could choose to obey, or I could choose to go through the fish first. 

The next day, I told Scott McCracken about my dream, and he told me that he had also been praying about asking me to come work with the team full-time.  So after I applied and was accepted to International Teams, and after God provided for my support, I officially joined the team in May of 1998.

It is not easy to be an Albanian in Greece.  There is a lot of prejudice against us.  But I believe that God has called me to remain here to tell refugees about Jesus.  Since I was a refugee, I understand their need to find true Hope.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"D's" Story

‘I was born into a Muslim family. All through my childhood I had religious instruction by my devout elder brothers. The oldest had 3 spirits passed on to him by his instructor and was in possession of dark powers!
At the age of 17 I was initiated into the spiritist muslim mystic sect of the ‘Dervishes’. I used to stay on my knees whole nights memorising the Koran and I was not allowed to sleep before the sun came out.
I left my country in the late 90s to come to Europe. Passing through Turkey, I came for the first time across a Christian church with a cross on it. The cross startled me, and I did not know why. I was drawn to it and felt as if the cross was planted in my heart and I could not uproot it. I carried the cross in me and I did not know why and what was its significance. I was a Muslim.
A friend that was travelling with me came to Christ in Turkey, but I was encased and could not make a move towards Christ neither in my mind nor my heart.
In year 2000 I came to Greece and worked hard for a while hoping to go further into northern Europe. It wasn’t long before someone stole all the money I had collected and killed all my dreams.
My answer was to commit an armed robbery. This, I thought, would correct the injustice.
I was caught and thrown into prison. Rage consumed my nights and days until one night Jesus appeared to me in a dream. He stood gracefully before me and said, ‘I will give you just wages!
In 2002 I was moved into another prison. I suffered extreme stress and anxiety.
There Jesus came to me again in a dream. His countenance was so beautiful and all about Him was brilliance of light. When I woke up all my stress, malice and hatred was gone. I marvelled, but still read the Koran and could not come to Jesus.
In year 2004 I was moved to a prison in Athens.
I read the Koran day and night but nothing could fill my void. One morning the dreaded decision arrived. Deportation! Due to my criminal record, not only would I never have the right to apply for asylum but now I was to be sent back to Iran. The consequences were grave and I went mad with despair at the prospect.
That night I called upon Mohamed, Allah, the prophets, spirits, and Jesus.
‘If anyone is there, come and speak to me.
If you are God, my God, if you love me, if you want me, come and speak to me.’
No one answered me, but Jesus came a third time in my dream.
He was beautiful and brilliant, like the light of the sun.
He spoke to me in Greek and said three times, Be patient a little longer’.
I woke up next morning feeling as a new born baby at my mother’s arms. I could not understand what had happened to me. My stress was gone and I was full of inexplicable peace. I knew that God was with me and I was not going to be deported.
I was released indeed and I was not deported!

My heart was drawn closer and closer to Jesus.
And yet there was still something that grabbed me at times from within and I could not fight it. The spirit of Islam was in me.
It took me ten years to come to Christ, there were strongholds binding me.
Then while I was serving my last sentence for not having legal papers, God completed His work in me. I started attending a Greek fellowship and I started to drink of God. I got baptized.
When I went through the waters of baptism I felt as if God put His stamp on me and I was freed completely from the spirit of Islam.
And last year, on Easter day, He came to me and said, I died for you. You are my beloved son. If only you know how much you are loved.
I will never forget it as long as I live.’

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Mh"--Called and Sent out by the Lord of the Harvest

"Mh" is a remarkable young man who until several years ago owned a restaurant and enjoyed a prosperous life in Iran. By 2003 he had become so discouraged by the political and economic situation in his homeland that he and his wife of eleven months set out on the “refugee highway” in search of freedom and a better life.
"Mh" and his bride traveled together to Turkey but were unable to find a smuggler who could take them any further. The young disillusioned Muslim found it necessary to send his wife back to Iran to live with her family until he could find a way to emigrate to Canada. They agreed that as soon as he was settled and able to buy an airplane ticket for his wife, she would join him in the west.
"Mh" eventually crossed the mountainous border between Turkey and Greece on foot during the night. After his arrival in Athens, he intended to hire a smuggler to sneak him into Norway and then on to the “promised land” of Canada. But God had other plans for his life. . . .
After spending three months in a refugee camp, he found his way to the ministry center of Helping Hands where he received a Bible and heard the gospel for the first time in his life. He began coming to the Persian Christian Fellowship where he heard messages about the Son of God who died for his sins and experienced the love of Christ in the lives of believers he met there. After several months of seeking and examining the Good News that he had been taught all his life to reject, "Mh" received Jesus Christ as his Savior.
      In the past eighteen months, this young believer has remained amazingly cheerful and solid in his faith in spite of a series of agonizing trials. In the early part of 2004, he underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his tailbone. During the ensuing months, he suffered a number of complications and infections. A year after the surgery, the cyst seems to be growing back, and it is very painful for "Mh" to sit in class or on the bus. Partway through the time-consuming and patience-demanding process of applying for a visa to emigrate to Canada, his wife informed him that she had decided to divorce him and never wanted to see him again because he had become a Christian!
      In spite of these and other heartbreaking setbacks, "Mh" completed the six-month Athens Intensive Ministry School and graduated from the Greek Bible Institute in June, 2006. He serves as the founding pastor of the Persian Christian Community, where more than 50 former Muslims have come to faith in Jesus Christ in the past year. This past summer, like the Apostle Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3, "Mh" shared that even after losing everything that he had valued in his life in Iran, he is convinced that when he came to know Jesus Christ he gained something infinitely greater than marriage, home, business and family.
      After graduation from AIMS, "Mh" continued his studies at the Greek Bible Institute in addition to classes at the ARC. He has a deep hunger for the word of God a vision to return to Iran in God’s timing to open a Bible school. And the BEE International staff in Greece have the incredible joy of teaching the Scriptures and sharing our lives with a young believer like "Mh", who has truly “counted the cost of discipleship” and whom I believe God is going to continue to use in a mighty way here in Athens and eventually as an ambassador for Christ to his own people back in Iran. 

(editor's note:  since this story was first recorded some years ago, "Mh" has immigrated to Canada, married a beautiful Canadian "preacher's kid", and returned with his bride to an Islamic country where he is sharing the Good News with others)

"B" 's Story ("Without Words")

WITHOUT WORDS...................

“B” is a tall, noble Afghan woman with fine features and a face that portrays a most fine personality.
I first met her a couple of weeks before Christmas.
It was at 5 o’clock, one Sunday afternoon when she appeared at the little bible study for Iranian and Afghan women that I lead, at Helping Hands.
On introduction she buried her head into her arms on the table in front of her and just wept before us.
We found out through my translator on Sundays, that she had very high levels of sugar in her blood and was full of fear as to what will happen to her three children if she became ill enough to be hospitalised.
We prayed for her.
She was quiet and although she and her children carried visibly a deep and angry sorrow, she kept to herself.
She was not willing to be known.
Next Sunday she is back again.
We are studying the various names of God revealed in the Old Testament.
Today we are talking about El Elyon, God Most High.
I watch her from the corner of my eye. I feel that she is drinking the words. Later in the evening, during the Persian Fellowship meeting, I find myself sitting next to her and I feel again that her spirit is drinking the words quietly.
At the end of the evening she is in great agitation. Her blood sugar levels have reached 3.5 mg and she is not at all well. We decide with Jimmy to take her to a hospital as she is in danger of becoming comatose if the sugar levels go any higher.

We arrive at the casualty ward of a hospital that is on night duty.
The emergencies of the night are packed like sardines in a tin can, and we are given an appointment ticket with the number 186!
The night is young....
I realise that the wait is going to be long and we decide that Jimmy should go home and catch some sleep as the next day Nea Zoi has outreach in the downtown brothels.
Suddenly a young lady approaches me and ask if I would like her appointment ticket as she has decided to wait no longer.
Her ticket is number 96!
Aha! It is the Lord!
Within a few minutes it is our turn to be called and the doctor hands me a long list of 101 tests that need to be done in order to round up a diagnosis.
I approach the hospital cashier and the lady responsible asks me if I have medical insurance.
'I have none madam.'
She lifts her face to look at me and after a long gaze, amidst groans, quarrels, smells, arguments of desperate patients, desperate relatives and desperate cashiers, against any hospital rules, she stamps the prescriptions and hands them back to me!
‘You will not pay anything tonight madam...’
Aha! The Lord is here! He has come before us!
My hair stands on end and my heart is filled with anticipation.
The night is pregnant...

It is past midnight.
As we have to wait over 3 hours for the test results, I ask her if she would like to go for a walk outside around the  block, as walking is said to help bring down sugar levels.
We walk arm in arm and I feel deep down in my spirit her sorrow and God’s longing to make Himself known to her.
But there are no more than 30 words between us. I barely speak Farsi and she barely speaks English.
We are in need of an interpreter.

We are hardly out of the reach of the hospital, when under the bright and crisp winter sky, she decides to open her heart and reveal her story.

“..... My husband.....very good engineer....20 years together....communist…. every day angry.....then changes….very happy...loving….I ask him why…..he tells me  on 25th December his Afhgan friend explains about Christmas…..2006 he reads book from India.....about Jesus.....
...... My husband loves Book every day.....every month goes 30 university people.....they talk about secret......
......two of them disappear....... the rest disperse........
......My husband.....has four brothers......they are Taliban.....they hate Book.....his mother 90 years hates the Book.....everyday they shout...... ‘this Book out of house’......
....One day.....April 2007 .....four brothers kill my husband with their children watch him  die..............
…His family say that I gave him the Book….they hate me….I sell my rings and come through Iran to Turkey and to Greek island Kos….our boat breaks…..the police fish me and my children out of the water….the police cry…….”

April 2007, Kantahar, stronghold of the Taliban, is watered by the blood of a faithful martyr.
Unknown to men, known unto God.

She weeps quietly under the starry sky and I weep with her, praying the words and longings that are rising in my spirit.
Our hearts are poured out to one another, all that is to be known is known without being said and our friendship is sealed for life.
Hearts speak their own language and the interpreter is the Holy Spirit.
‘...You are my sister..., I want your God be my God...'
We are standing on a pavement and despite the language barrier, we both know, unmistakably that our lives as women have met and that we have met Jesus right there on the bench of a bus stop in downtown Athens.
It is 3 o’clock in the morning. 

She is back at Helping Hands in a few days, asking which name of God she missed last Sunday!
I take her to our small office and as there is hardly any vocabulary between us I try to help her find, in a Farsi Bible, the appropriate passage from Genesis 16.
     She reads aloud.
....'Woman, where are you coming from and where are you going? Go back and face your life... I know your mistress...I know your misfortune... I know the child you are carrying...I have a name for him and a future... EL ROI  the God who sees! '
Her face lights up.
'Very nice, very nice,' she says.
I turn her to the 91 Psalm.
She reads the first couple of verses and looks up incredulously. Then she reads a couple more and looks up incredulously. Then a few more.
 As long as I live I will not forget her look, it is the look of a starved man who has just discovered an enormous cream cake and is savouring the first cherry on the top of the cream!!!!
Or even of a man born blind who opens his eyes for the first time and sees a world lit up by the warm light of the sun!!
I point her to Psalm 42.   'As the deer pants for the waters so my soul longs for You...'
'Very, very nice...'
She begins to weep.
Psalm 43.   'Why are disquieted oh my soul, hope thou in God ’.
She is like a thirsty land drinking the long longed for rain, in front of my eyes.
Psalm 23.  'The Lord is my shepherd...'
She lifts up the Book to her lips and kisses the page in her tears.
'I understand...I understand these words!'
It is an open heaven for Bani and the Holy Spirit is explaining to her the scriptures!
I cannot speak Farsi and she cannot speak more than 30 English words!

The following days, every time she comes to Helping Hands, we shut ourselves in the little office and I try to help her find in a Farsi Bible scriptures that come up in my heart.
Psalm 37. 'Do not fret about the evildoer....cease from anger....'
  'I was angry when I come to Greece, because my husband dies..... I hit my children......'
John 8.  'Woman where are your accusers...neither do I condemn you...'
She weeps and hugs the Book...
And the week days follow, there follow other scriptures.
Isaiah 61.  'the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good tidings to the poor...'
Isaiah 53   '...He was wounded for our transgressions...'
'Is this Jesus'?
The crucifixion from the last chapters of John.
'I believe... I believe...I see...'
John 3.  Nicodemus and the need of a second birth.
'I believe...I want...Jesus my God... Your God eyes open...'

And so this dear woman, in a jam-cramped-cluttered-full of interruptions office, lays hold of Gods salvation, without hardly any words of explanation, hardly any conventional evangelism!  I watch her being led through all the stages of a new birth by the precious Holy Spirit alone!

She makes me understand that she wants, on Sunday morning worship, (she has been coming with us the last two weeks), to stand in the front and say to everybody, 'I believe, I believe, I believe’! When I point to her the scripture in Romans 10, 9, ’If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth...', she laughs 'like me’, she says!  She is radiant.
On Sundy mornings ,at the fellowship we attend, she weeps at the beauty of the songs.  She brings another young Afgan family with her ‘who want Jesus too’ and another Afgan widow with a 14 year old girl who came to the Lord two weeks ago! “B” ‘s two daughters have also taken Jesus’.

Two Saturdays ago at her own request, together with two other Afghan men, she went through the waters of baptism!

“B”... a widow from Kantahar, without a covering, bereaved of a beloved husband, bereaved of protection, bereaved of family, ( her own mother would not give her shelter for fear of reprisals from the Taliban), bereaved of country, bereaved of dreams; a woman refugee in crowded Athens, is beaming. Jesus Christ has revealed Himself to her and she is taken up with His beauty.  And this is but the beginning of her journey.

Our God is a Spirit. He is free to do whatever He wants, whenever He wants with whoever He wants. No existence that has been created by Him can limit him. He is not limited by words because by His Spirit He can explain the depths of God to the spirit of man. His word is not bound to human explanation and does not need human defending.
It is humbling but utterly true.

Our dear brothers and sisters, it is becoming clearer than the sun that we are swimming in a ministry that has come from God and has not to do with us.
We are reaping a harvest that we have not sown!
I wonder whose endless tears of intercession, the blood of which martyrs has reached the throne of God and has released these floods of grace, borne in His Sacred Heart for these people from the foundation of the world? It is a humbling and breath-taking question.
In front of our eyes and in our generation the Lord is breaking the spirit of Islam, as he has done earlier with the spirit of communism. The Lord is gathering the 'travail of His soul' and He is satisfied. And we are intoxicated with just tasting a glimpse of His great joy. 

 Please uphold this ministry in your prayers.  There is a ripe and vast harvest. Ask the Lord of the harvest to sent labourers.
Could we ask you to continue to pray for us; we seem to need God more than ever before.
 I long so much to speak Farsi quickly.  “B” is my teacher. Will you pray that I will be given the grace I need to learn a new language at this stage of my life?
And will you remember to pray for this dear woman, “B”?
That the Lord will heal both her and her little boy from diabetes, that her two older daughters, 9 and 14 will be healed from their sorrow and memories, that He will be establish her socially and  spiritually in a Christian community and that she ‘will be fashioned as a corner pillar fit for His palace’.