Airports are crazy. Everybody has an agenda and an itinerary and many people are going places you aren’t. But it’s probably a good thing that everyone is not following you because sometimes you can’t even read the signs in the airport. My layover in London consisted of observing all kinds of people like this. Asian, British, Middle Eastern, African, European, American, Egyptian, and Nordic travelers all squint at signs and departure time screens pretty similarly. London undoubtedly is the most international of international airports I have ever been in. The British Airways staff on my plane, however, was not so diverse (no offense to the BA632 staff reading this post).
Arriving in Athens was met with anticipation as I sat in the middle row of the airplane, constrained to watch Avengers: Civil War instead of gazing out of a window. Next time, the window seat is mine. After our wheels smoothly touched down, the pilot announced in his confident British accent that we had arrived in Athens where the weather was a comfortable 30ºC (Quite nice). I stepped off of the plane and, for the first time, was able to see the mountainous landscape that would act as my stomping grounds for the next three months. Unsure of where my apartment or program was located, I gazed into the hilly horizon imagining what existed behind the mountains whose bases were sprinkled with small, church-like abodes and walked away from the window towards baggage claim. These mountains would be conquered during my time here.
My bag was first on the carousel (no lie) and, in a matter of minutes, a guy named Bruce welcomed me by emphatically shaking my hand. Bruce is no College Year in Athens program representative, professor, taxi driver, or fellow student. Instead, Bruce is a director of a ministry called Mercy Ministries, which seeks to engage the surrounding Greek and refugee community through service and discipleship. He is exploring the frontier of Greek missions via the inception of a sports camp for both refugees and Greek citizens. Because of Bruce, there is now a blob on the Aegean Sea. But, just like any good infomercial, that’s not all. Jet skis, wakeboarding, sailing, rock climbing, archery, and volleyball make up some of many more activities offered to these primarily teenage campers who expect very little. While Bruce shook my hand, I couldn’t help but notice his short stature, lean build, and (most importantly) his jorts. The beginnings of gray, wispy hair and a tan receded hairline beamed of a life well spent. This guy would be my friend.
I had informally met Bruce over email through a connection with Joe White and even over email he found a way to express his warm and hospitable personality. I rode in the passenger seat of his 8 passenger van and experienced nothing less; he excitedly asked me questions about my summer at K2, explained his work in Greece, and even looked me in the eyes at the expense of swerving into other lanes. His passion was contagious.
I never expected to see a sunset on one of the highest mountain peaks overlooking Athens, meet Bruce’s friends, go out to dinner with his family for my first gyro, or receive a thorough tour of Athens proper, but those are the kinds of things you take strangers to do when you live out of whimsy and joy. This father of two is filled with love for people, he leads his family with integrity, confidence, and gentleness (which is evident in how his wife and kids lovingly approached him in conversation), and he is an incredible host. I have never been welcomed more affectionately to a place than Athens, Greece. Here I have family.
Bruce allows Jesus to seep through his character and it’s contagious. Most people would simply pick up and drop off their mutually connected friend, but Bruce is not most people. He served tactically and simply and did so in a way that created this story for me to tell. When we watched the sun set over Athens, Bruce prayed for my time here and encouraged me to engage people, live illuminated, and explore with wonder. This is who Jesus was. He lived a life of boldness and perception, difficulty and homelessness, service and kindness. I pray Jesus gives me a heart for his people in Athens and spurs me to love them as he loves. Bruce also invited me to go sailing on the Aegean Sea with his friends… More to come on that one. Enjoy the states.
More info on Bruce’s ministry here: http://www.hellenicministries.org/ministries/sportscamps/