Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Hope.  It is the first week of Advent, and we light the Hope candle.  We light our candles and scroll through our news feed, watching a world that looks hopeless, wishing somehow that the flickering light would take away all the darkness.  This is the first year that I have really felt it--that longing for Christ's return for good.  I sat in church on Sunday and wished that God would come and make it all right again.

As the week has gone on, I have had that quiet refrain of hope playing in my heart and in my head.  Mingling there with all the rest of what the world is offering.  And what has come from that is the idea that we are looking at hope all wrong.  Hope often doesn't feel like enough in the face of great suffering.  Hope feels like a wish on a birthday candle or on the first star at night--a nice sentiment, but nothing really true, meaningful, or effective.  But hope, in fact, is more than a wish.  It is maybe even the opposite of that.  To hope is to know, with full assurance.  In my quick searching of the interwebs (Bible scholars avert your eyes) I can see that in the Greek, hope and expectation are the same.  So when we say that Christ is our hope, what we are really saying is that we expect him to make good on his promises.  We can count on God to be who he says he is and to do the things he claims he will do.

Just as we expect that the sun will rise each morning, we can expect that God's work will be done and that all the goodness and restoration he promises will come to pass.  For me, the believing--the hoping--is not the hard part.  It is the waiting that feels burdensome.  Why are we waiting?  Couldn't Christ come back at any moment and make every broken thing new again?  I imagine that we will wrestle with this question as long as we live this side of Heaven.  But waiting is not strange to God.  Christ waited.  He waited in the tomb for three days.  When God created the whole earth, he didn't separate the light from the darkness and then declare it would be light forever.  For every day of creation, "evening passed and morning came," and only then was the next day.

I think we can even take our cues about this waiting from science.  If you read popular scientific opinions on the purpose of sleep, experts will say it is unclear.  No one can really pinpoint what exactly is happening when we are asleep.  But they can all say that without sleep, the body will die. There is no definitive answer except to say that this period of rest, of waiting, is crucial to our health. Perhaps it is the same in our collective life on Earth.  We are waiting in darkness, and we can't see the work that is being done.  We are unaware of the restoration that is happening.  We don't know the mind or the plans of God.  And it is in his great mercy that we are enduring this waiting period at all.
Because as we wait and hope for his return, we can have assurance--hope--that he is bringing about the fulfillment of his plan for us.

The people walking in darkness 
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

This light--it is not a wish.  It is a promise, and a hope.  Let us trust in his goodness and in his faithfulness to us.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Do All the Good: Meet Rita

Meet Rita Continakis!  

Rita (on right) with a group of children
on one of her trips to the zoo!
Our CTF Team 20 leader, Jen (on left)
and Rita at our first camp visit in Greece

I met Rita on November 6th, our first day of work with Carry the Future in Athens.  She took us into our first camp and helped us to understand the lay of the land, the conditions at the camp, and the refugee situation in Greece.  But what was most memorable about that first interaction was how everyone at the camp considered Rita their family.  Hugs from the children and adults alike, and shouts of "Rita! Rita!" echoed around us as we walked through.  She held babies and chatted with parents, snuggled newborns, and introduced us to special families all over the shipyard.  

After knowing her for only a short time, I can see why everyone loves her.  Rita is doing good every second that she gets.  She is a volunteer with Carry the Future, and because she lives in Athens, she has the opportunity to help refugees each day.  And Rita doesn't wait.  If she sees a need, she fills it. She now runs an organization called Allied Aid and she spends much of her free time helping those in most need.  In the three weeks that I have known Rita, she has hand delivered aid to refugees in camps and squats in both Athens and Bulgaria.  She has taken refugee children to the zoo.  She has delivered supplies and love to mothers in the maternity ward and even to the hospital itself.  And that's just what I've seen on Facebook!  Here's a recent post from her:

Visiting the maternity hospital this week I was engulfed by so many emotions, happiness, sadness and frustration. You all know that holding a baby in my arms is so heartwarming, so me! They are our future, they will be our voice and they deserve to live life to the fullest.
Some are not so fortunate. They are born into circumstances they do not understand, we don’t understand.
Their parents are like us, they worry about their children but their worries are so unique. They worry:
- Not if they have enough to eat, but will they have anything to eat?
- Not if they will have a clean pair of socks, but will they have shoes?
- Not if the blanket will keep them warm, but will their child have a bed to sleep on?
- Not when arriving home if it will be warm enough, but will they have a home to go to?
When leaving the hospital I went to say goodbye to the mother of another sweet little newborn who was sitting on the balcony and I saw tears streaking down her cheeks. She quickly brushed them away and gave me a stifled smile, trying very hard to hold back the tears, I hugged her and left quickly because I felt tears building up… I then asked my friend why she was sad and she told me she does not know where she will go after the hospital. From what I understood she is currently in temporary accommodations and is looking for a camp to go to with her husband, 2 children (including the newborn) and a grandfather.
These are questions I cannot answer but I can only try to provide what I can and hope with all my heart they will find their way to happiness.
Walking downstairs on my way out I stopped to visit the newborn ward and the nurse showed me some of the cutest babies…some smiling and some crying. She also told me there are some babies who do not go home because their parents are unable to take care of them for so many reasons.
But all babies were loved by the people taking care of them. The nurses were so gentle and loving with them, holding them tightly like they would their own. But I sensed sadness in their eyes and asked why. She told they need diapers, baby soap, baby powder and so much more; they never have enough supplies for the babies.
Please help me purchase these items for them.
Your donations to my paypal account: rita.continakis@pfizer.com will help me buy supplies and I will deliver directly to them.
If you are using PayPal from the USA please indicate it is an international transaction-Greece
I also have a US$ bank account if you would like to send a donation directly to that. PM for details.
After she posted this, she was able to raise enough money to bring a heap of diapers to the maternity ward at this hospital.  They were so surprised and blessed by her generosity, and the generosity of those who supported her with donations.  
Rita is a change maker!  She doesn't wait for an opportunity to do good.  She finds and makes the opportunities herself, changing lives in the process.  I am so thankful to have met Rita on this trip--she gives me hope that each of us can do something today to make someone's life better and brighter.  She brings dignity and love to our brothers and sisters who are suffering.  She walks alongside them, sharing in their joys and sorrows.  Rita inspires me to do all the good I can!  
If you want to help Rita in her efforts, please know that your donations will be put to the best use.  Use her paypal account listed in her post above to make a donation that will change a life for the better. Thank you Rita for your work and the hope you give me!
do good quote - do all the good you can in all the ways you can…:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Series: Do All the Good

At ten o'clock tonight, I will have been back home for one week.  One week.  My brain can't properly process all the things it now holds.  It has been one week since I left behind the tents and Iso-boxes and clothes drying on the fences.  Seven days since I have had to step into someone else's mess.  One week of snuggling my own babies in a warm house, cooking dinner with supplies that are abundant, prepping for the holidays.  I want to go back as soon as I can and I also never want to go back.

In all the hours of thinking over what I learned, what I did and what I experienced, I am full of contradictions.  I can't think my way through the tragedy that is occurring right before our eyes.  I think of the refugees and remember the Holocaust.  I think of the refugees and remember the foster care system.  I think of the refugees and can't forget the homeless on our own streets.  We have done this to each other over and over and over again since the dawn of time.  And when this crisis is over, there will be another one to take its place.  There already is.  
New mom and six day old baby Raha, living in a camp.
Her name?  Raha means "freedom."  

Nothing that I saw was shocking.  Conditions are deplorable and inhumane in many cases; and how sad that I wasn't shocked by that.  I've seen it before and I'm sure I'll see it again.  But what I haven't come to grips with is the utter brokenness of the system.  There has to be a better way, and yet I can't see a way to the solutions.  And then I'm reminded of all the systems that we have in place to help people and how broken they all are.  Because people are broken.  And it all starts to feel so hopeless.

I know that all things will be made new again when Christ returns, but I wish we didn't have to wait so long.
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

The Lord's Answer:
Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

-Hab. 1

I am so thankful that I have had a long relationship with God, and so I know him to be faithful and true to his word.  I keep reminding myself that I cannot know his mind and I cannot know his plans.  I can only see the path he has placed before me, and not even much of that, if I'm honest.  But I know that I didn't go to Greece to subsequently abandon myself to despair.  It doesn't do anyone any good and it certainly doesn't honor God.  If we give into hopelessness, then evil wins, plain and simple. 

 During the trip, I thought everyday, "This isn't enough.  We aren't doing enough.  They won't even have what they need for tomorrow after this is gone."  And again God reminds me, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself."  If I allow myself to see through eyes of faith rather than despair, I can see that this is true.  So we only were able to give these families one pack of diapers?  Is it not enough?  It is for today.  And yesterday, Save the Children gave them diapers, but it just so happens that they were out today.  Despair would tell me that our diapers will be gone soon and there will not be anymore.  Faith assures me that if each of us do our part today, there will always be enough.  When I look through eyes of faith, I see God's glory all over.  I was so fortunate to meet amazing people who are doing the work to bring about God's kingdom today, and I think we have to remember and hold on to that!  

So, I am going to spend the next while sharing stories of these kingdom makers.  I want us to see and remember that each of us have a call from God to help the poor and powerless.  And we have not only a call, but also a greater ability to do so than we probably think.  I have learned of some unbelievable people who are doing extraordinary, ordinary things and we should all see and know these stories so that we can see and know our own strength in the face of crisis and evil.  Let's not bury our head in the sands of "happy news" for the sake of protecting and insulating our hearts from the sadness that surrounds us.  But let's share together how the Kingdom is coming even today and let's remember to do our part.  You and I can each do something today to bring hope and love to someone.  This is how we beat the system.  This is how love wins.  Not by waiting for the right policy or the right president or the right time, but by reaching out to the person that God puts right in front of us today.  
do good quote - do all the good you can in all the ways you can…:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Mountain

After spending the last three days working in refugee camps and warehouses on the island of Lesbos, this afternoon we take the drive to the north shore of the island.  We have heard of a life jacket graveyard there and we all want to see it.

We drive through mountains covered in olive trees, and then pine trees as we get higher.  There is a burial ground of children, nestled under an olive grove near one of the refugee camps, we are told later.  Children who have not survived the crossing.  Tiny bodies, fleeing terror and certain death, only to be washed up on the shore and quietly buried under the peace tree.  But we don't know this as we drive.

We circle higher through the mountains and finally descend into the village of Eftalou.  We drive along the shoreline looking, but all we can see is the soft, blue Aegean.  And Turkey--just across the water.  If I cup my hands and shout, surely they might hear me, we are so close.  After asking for directions, we make our way up a rocky, dusty road on a mountain.  Sheep and horses dot the hills here and there.  We park the van and hike the last way on foot, still unsure if we are going the right way.  But as we go we begin to see it--pops of bright orange on the hill, amidst the scrub brush.  I stop a minute to take a photo--to take it in.  I don't yet know what I'm in for.

I walk on a little further, cresting the hill and my breath stops in my throat.  A mountain of orange rises in front of me.  Hot tears well up and pour down my face--I have to take a few minutes, weeping in my place for the magnitude of what is here.

The Mountain of Misery.

Discarded life jackets heap up and spill over.  Each one of these has a story, our team leader, Jen, says later.  My heart is broken open.  We walk around, circling the heaping mass of what was left behind.  There are black rubber sheets that I recognize as rafts mixed into the piles.  Child-sized life jackets--floaties, really.  Not fit for sea travel.  Not fit for saving anyone.  I cry silent tears and God quietly speaks to me, reminding me, "Take heart, for I have overcome the world."  It is too hard to believe that here.  I will try--I have to try.

This Mountain of Misery serves as a memorial, but for me it is of more than just refugees.  It is the height and breadth of our brokenness in this world.  How can we be these people?  How can we live here on an earth where this is okay?  How can we exist in a place where children are living in shipping containers, families in tin boxes, men and women and children on the hard ground?  Why do we read about slaughters and terror and rape and scroll on without so much as a second thought?  Just like today on that mountain, as we walk closer to the things that are wrong in the world, it is easy to just see the first little bit.  To feel afraid of what is over the crest of the hill and to turn back.  Scroll on.  Change the channel.  I've seen enough.  Pressing on--closer, deeper--that's the hard work.  Stepping into the mess when you have no answers, when you only have a little to give and it's never enough, pressing through your inability, insecurity, discomfort, and sadness.  That's the real work.  And it is hard and terrifying and I don't want to do it, but I can't not do it.  It's the only way.

The graveyard sits at the top of a mountain overlooking the sea.  It is both beautiful and horrible.  Awful and triumphant.  Many of us believe in a God who has shown us this same beautiful, terrible way.  I pray that I can have the courage to follow that way.

Remember your mercies, O Lord.  Help us to remember them, too.