If you ever get the chance to try Strawberries and Cream flavored Mentos, try them. You won’t regret it; they are delicious. A dude name Gunther showed them to me and I would have eaten the whole pack had they not been his. Gunther is from South Africa and has worked with a ministry called Morningstar in Greece for the last three months. Gunther is loud, hysterical, and loyal, but his taste in Mentos may be my favorite thing about him.
Gunther invited me on an adventure last Monday that allowed me to do something I’ve wanted to do ever since getting to Greece: get on a sailboat. My wording here is very purposeful, I did not sail. Instead, we worked on the sailboat, repainting its waterline. Now the sailboat looks brand new. I got to join Gunther in his adventure thanks to Greece’s air traffic control. Here’s the story:
The first time I ever purposefully skipped school happened this past Monday. I skipped not only because I had the opportunity to work on this sailboat, but also because tons of kids in my program were unable to return from their travels due to an air traffic control strike. The strike ended up falling through and never actually happened, but plenty of people found it difficult to rebook flights/find flight home. Luckily my flight from Italy returned fifteen minutes before the strike was scheduled to start. So clutch. It’s hard for me to understand how you can schedule a strike.. How can people just say they aren’t showing up for work? It doesn’t make sense. Especially with a job like air traffic control. Those people literally can dictate whether or not Greece benefits from tourism. Unbelievable.
Sunday night I rode in a car with Gunther and the sailboat operator Alex to a Christian sports camp called Porto Astro. Think a humble Kanakuk for refugees right on the Mediterranean Sea. This camp was incredible. We arrived at night, so I woke up to a surprise view of various mountains around us on the Sea, but the stars were so clear. We slept in a cabin that housed six people total. There were ten other cabins. All of these cabins were built with my friend Bruce’s hands (I wrote about him earlier). When I woke up, it was clear that this camp was built from scratch with little resources, but everything was well kept. The soccer field was pretty torn up with mounds of shredded turf marking heavily used areas, but everything else seemed used yet maintained. The camp is only accessible by boat, no roads lead to Porto Astro, so it was amazing to see that they had a soccer field in the first place. How did it get there? Undoubtedly it was assembled on site while the various pieces were handled three, four, five times by different people simply to arrive at the camp. Quite a lot of work for a camp that still doesn’t have running water after fifteen years of operation.
The sailboat, called the Morningstar, was sailed over from the states in the 80s and yet looked almost new. The boat was clearly cared for. Like Alex said, “A boat is just like a girl: it needs a little attention all the time.” From my experience, boats need a lot of attention all the time. That’s probably closer to the truth about girls. The Morningstar had made another trip across and back the Atlantic in the early 2000s, but now it rests at Porto Astro where it frequently embarks to various Greek islands. On these islands, Alex and his team encourage local churches, build relationships, and tell people about Jesus. Sometimes they even let people ride on the sailboat. I hope I get to do this sometime.
Our work was pretty taxing: eight hours of scraping off paint, manually stabilizing an unsecured floating dock, sanding off rust spots, and painting a gray base layer. We didn’t even get to paint the blue line that would be seen on the exterior, but this didn’t really matter to me. Everything we did was so under the radar and so seemingly insignificant. We were the only ones at the camp aside from Anton who brought us bread, we worked a whole day on preparing one part of a side of the sailboat to be painted, and the part we were preparing was at least 50% below the water line of the boat. Despite this, I knew our hard work would have great impact not only on the functionality of the boat, but also its ministry.
Alex was a no-gimmick kind of guy; he wanted everything to be done correctly and effectively. Even the parts of the boat that nobody would see, he wanted spick and span. Some people call this character. Character, shortly put, is what you do when nobody is around to see it. Like picking up a stray piece of trash or painting the underside of your sailboat, sometimes character isn’t so glamorous. Also, a whole lot of attention isn’t drawn to radical acts of character; few people alert the media when you live with others in mind. Nobody puts you on a pedestal for painting the underside of your sailboat. And while a little peace of mind is found in knowing that piece of trash is picked up or that unseen part of the sailboat is painted, you don’t really do it solely for the peace of mind. And maybe people do. Maybe people would be anxious if they didn’t pick up the trash and maybe others serve in order to make other people’s jobs around them easier. The reason why Alex, Gunther, and I painted the underside of the Morningstar was not for peace of mind, but for the continued ministry of the boat. More people would hear about Jesus if we took these eight hours to maintain its underside. Effectively, we painted the boat for Jesus, knowing that he would use our seemingly trivial work to do immeasurably more than we could think or imagine in the lives of people I would probably never meet. All the sudden, painting the underside of a sailboat becomes a privilege.
Porto Astro was absolutely picturesque and it is no wonder that kids love to go to camp there. So many things they have never encountered are at their disposal and it is truly a special place to see. On our crammed car ride back to Athens, Gunther pulled out another sleeve of Strawberries and Cream Mentos. Queue the singing of heavenly voices. Then after Alex got off the phone with his wife Joann, he invited me and Gunther to his family’s Canadian Thanksgiving dinner. More heavenly voices. The food was everything I would have hoped for: turkey, stuffing, corn, potatoes, salad, pumpkin pie, even cranberry sauce. But I still hold that those Mentos were the best thing my taste buds have experienced in years. I say this with caution. Please don’t tell Joann.