(Matt) When Chrissie and I were in seminary we went on a summer missions trip to Zimbabwe. It was a challenging and wonderful experience. One of the things that was stipulated by Gordon Conwell is that the Overseas Missions Practicum (OMP) be at least 6 weeks long. The reasoning was that a shorter term trip would fail to adequately prepare students for the realities of missions. A short term trip can offer helpful ministry assistance in "the field" and it can be great exposure to new lands and exciting ministry frontiers. But a shorter trip can often feel like a whirlwind of activity. It is one long adrenaline rush that you don't come down from until you return home. A shorter trip fails to replicate the real challenges of living overseas and struggling to adapt to a foreign culture and context. A shorter trip is all honeymoon. The OMP needed to be long enough for the honeymoon to end and the real challenges and joys of overseas living to begin.
Today was a day in which Chrissie and I looked at each other and said, "The honeymoon in Greece has ended." I thought about using that as a title of the post, but I feared it sounded too negative. I don't mean it that way. Nothing is wrong. Things are still beautiful and there are still very encouraging and fruitful things happening in ministry. But the newness has worn off.
This past week we were in Corinth helping with a conference. It was a lot of demanding work, but also quite beautiful. We stayed near a pool with a constant view of the Mediterranean Sea. I had a better than expected time as a youth group leader (which brought back memories) and was delighted to see God at work in the midst of our time. We visited ancient Corinth and walked through the streets where Paul spent 18 months of ministry. And then we returned from what felt like a retreat only to arrive at our "old apartment" in Athens. It is everything that we prayed for, and in many ways a perfect fit... but the reality of our situation is less fresh and a bit more gritty.
There is still fresh bread at the bakery around the corner and still a view of the Acropolis from our rooftop and still daily interactions with people from all over the world. There are still daily glimpses of God at work.
But... the national language is still Greek and my ability to engage with modern Greek is developing more slowly than I would have hoped. My mind still churns when I read every sign. Most people speak English well enough for us to get around, but there is still the ever present humiliation of needing to ask someone to accommodate to your language. We have made new friends, but the support network that develops over a long period of time spent living with others is not here. The complexity of current relationships has begun to emerge, once you get past the initial newness. The apartment is adequate, but it is still small, with no yard and the kids are still restless quite often. (See picture.) The temperature has cooled from last week's heat wave, but it is still quite hot and hard to exercise except for the early morning hours. There are still new things to see, but it is hard to know how to find quiet time in the morning to read and pray.
I wrote to my brother-in-law and told him that the honeymoon was over. He lived in Kurdistan for 4 years so I knew he would understand. He did, but also reminded me that the honeymoon (in general) is fun, but real life is where the action is at.
And so, here we are... real life in Athens. Life on life with people. Praying and longing for God's fresh work in our circumstances. And developing a bit of a wistful feeling for a certain little city nestled into the mountains and rivers of western Pennsylvania. And all of our friends there. And perhaps that is, after all, one of the things that a sabbatical is intended to do.
Love you all. Keep us in your prayers.