Kyspeli, Athens, a neighborhood you could barely imagine, and one you'd never see unless you get lost. Ask a taxi driver to take you there, and they'll ask you "Why?" and "Are you sure?" Kypseli doesn't hold the Acropolis, the Parthenon, or any of the pictures you'd ever see in a brochure… but if you take the time and energy, you can and will meet the most incredible people you could ever imagine. Right on the corner of Kypseli square, you'll find what used to be a local bank, better known by the locals as "The Hive." Inside you'll find Streetlights, a community center, youth café, tutoring program, and so much more. Established in 2014, The Hive was meant to be a light in the dark for the local community, spreading the Lord's word through love.
Not only is it illegal in Athens to directly evangelize on the street corners, Kypseli is at the center of the current refugee crisis. With countless people flooding into its streets as their papers are put in order, the neighborhood and the faces in it are constantly changing, but through it, all The Hive's doors are open to anyone and everyone. They'll never turn anyone away, and even if they can't share the gospels, their first focus is simply letting everyone in the community, especially the children, know that they're loved and have a safe place to go. Having this in mind, their work is focused on the streets, going out and having parties in the local square, singing and dancing with the local children, coordinating street festivals, even just painting obstacle courses, Streetlights is dedicated to building relationships within the community. The local kids may get in trouble, they may fight, and might even stay out till 2 am, but they all know The Hive is always there for them.
I'm sure you're wondering… "How did you hear about this?" And honestly… I saw a Facebook post about it. Not about Streetlights, but about the "opportunity of a lifetime," a 10-day missions trip with my church to Athens with Global Serve Initiatives. I wasn't really sure what I thought about it, with having never been on a mission before, I was really nervous. Yet, before I knew it I was flying across the Atlantic, being served random food I'd never seen, and struggling to memorize my final memory verse. Never having left the country before, landing in Greece was surreal, and honestly, I thought I was dreaming. Little did I know that the 10-days ahead of me were about to alter the course of my life for good.
I had NO CLUE what I was going to be doing over my time in Greece, but before I left I had done more than I could've ever imagined. I served at a local English school, carrying countless children on my back, creating various forts, and playing countless games of UNO as their mothers attended Bible study. Church service was mind-boggling, attending both a Greek Orthodox Church and an Evangelical, not understanding a single word no matter where I was, yet being able to feel their faith pour through their every word, no matter how different it was. Even more, I was able to see just how different faith looks to each person, and I recognized that Christianity truly is about a personal and individual relationship with Christ, and it'll never exactly match that of someone else. From there, I was able to arrive at a local refugee squat, and just pour out my love for all of those kids and just put a smile on their face. Past that, I learned the history of Christianity in Europe and was able to see not only where Paul first brought Christianity to Europe, but where he baptized Lydia. To know that single action has shaped the lives of countless individuals that have come since left me at a loss for words. We were able to stand on Mars Hill, and hear the history of Athens as well as see where Paul spoke to the Areopagus.
All that said, the most impactful thing I did my whole time in Greece was to play the Hokey-Pokey. Whether it was with 10 kids in Kypseli Square or 100 in Syntagma Square, each and every time was truly just a moment of pure joy and a pouring of love to the community. I realized that evangelism wasn't all about reciting scripture, or memorizing countless verses… at the end of the day, it can simply be sharing God's love through whatever means you have, even if that's the Hokey-Pokey.
It's been over a month since I made it back to the U.S., and I've just finally begun to process everything I went through. Even more, I feel like it was just yesterday I was running around Kypseli, playing the Hokey-Pokey and living in what seemed like a dream. With that in mind, I would like to take a moment and simply give my thanks for a few of the incredible people I met on my journey:
- Hailey – From the first moment we met it was as though we've been brother and sister our whole life. You're such an inspiration, not only to meet but to everyone you meet. You don't have a college degree, and you can't speak Greek, but you heard God speak to you and you not only listened, you dove in head first, with full faith that he would catch you. I pray that one day I'll be able to have that strength, and I can't believe I've had a sister hiding from me my whole life. You'll always be in my prayers, and I know if you keep following your heart, God will bless you beyond your wildest dreams.
- Philemon – Philemon, my friend, I love you. To see the love you have for everyone you meet, and your dedication to the Streetlights team truly amazed me. God works in mysterious ways, but I know he has an incredible plan for you, and I cannot wait to see what he does both for you, and through you. You're an incredible μπαμπας, to not only your own children but also to every child that's blessed by your presence. To be able to share a coffee with you and hear your story and your dreams was inspiring, and I cannot wait to hear about all the incredible work you're going to do, for the Lord as well as for Greece. I know I will see you again my friend, and I cannot wait for that day.
- Bryan – I cannot even begin to count the blessing you've provided me. Before going to Greece I always had a feeling in my gut of what it was I wanted to do and to sit and speak to you, and just have someone to talk to enabled me to finally begin to understand what the Lord's mission for me is. You asked me countless times when I'd be coming back to Greece, and honestly, I don't have any dates picked out yet, but I know it'll be much sooner than I could imagine. Your love and compassion changed my life, and I'll never forget that. I have a feeling I'll be seeing you soon, and I have my fingers crossed it'll be in St. Petersburg.
To Athens, thank you for everything you've provided me, and to my Streetlights family, I have no clue what the future holds for me, but I know I'll never forget you, and I have full faith the Lord will bring me back to you someday.