God in Greece: Notes from a Student’s Semester Abroad

My first memory with Kelly McAvoy is wrapped up in an insult and has resulted in lasting friendship. A fresh off the freshman train freshman like myself, Kelly and I were dipping our toes in the lake where I proceeded to tell her that her name reminded me of a Barbie, plastic, cheerleader name, and she proceeded to tell me I had “mom-ish hair.” I think my friend crush for her grew right about here. I laugh as I look back on this conversation and see all the laughter, real talk, “Office” parties, tears and milestones that have happened since then and I have been blessed to share with her. We have gone from awkward freshman (more awkward on my part than hers) to now I am preparing to marry my high school sweet heart/childhood friend/best friend and she will be by my side as a bridesmaid.

Cue “awws” and tissues.

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Needless to say when Kelly asked me to guest write for her blog I was overwhelmed with honor and eagerly agreed. Her patience has extended as this piece has taken longer than anticipated for me to write and it is exciting for me to take a different part in her writing journey by guest writing.


In short, I am an over passionate Alaskan who will capitalize on any opportunity to tell you all about my state. I am dysfunctionally extroverted and drink a borderline unhealthy amount of coffee, though I would consider myself “committed” not “addicted.” I can be found talking to the stranger next to me on the airplane, tend to retell the same stories, and my prayer for my life is that God will break my heart by what breaks His. I go to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago studying Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation. My fiancee and I are preparing to do rescue missions with those being exploited by human trafficking. I am currently studying abroad in Greece and my classes, touring, and experiences have been a season of learning like none other that I have previously experienced.

The natural follow up response is a bombardment of questions like:

“You know Greece just had a huge economic collapse?”

“Is it safe? Are there are a lot of riots there?”

“What about the refugee situation? What’s going on?”

My general safety and sanity are drawn into question when people find out where I am in relation to world events.

What I want to share from this trip is real and the reality of the world I am living in, we are living in, but I also desire it to be a sentiment of hope. In Greece I have seen and lived in the midst of the pain of human trafficking, the refugee crisis, and the economic crisis and these situations cannot be ignored and must be acknowledged by everyone. Here’s the skinny on what has been burdening my heart.

Welcome to Greece, where prostitution is legal and a culture of complacency has been brewing since the time of the ancients.

I walked through the dust and ruins of what once was the metropolis of Corinth. Corinth was the Vegas of its day, girls were temple prostitutes, and the attitude of prostitution was as accepted as eating and breathing at that time. As I walked through this site I was reminded that this has set a pattern still present in Greece today. Having been exposed to the specifics of the situation in Greece and having studied, prepared and worked in this field, my heart is grieved by the continual exploitation of others.

Last week I had the privilege to go on a prayer walk in the Redlight district to pray over and gain a picture for what that reality looks like. All the brothels lining the streets were so accepted, so normal. This reality frightens me. How can we work to end human trafficking and prostitution when it isn’t even seen as a problem?

There is a need to add clarity to the issue most closely knit to my heart. The refugee crisis is getting more attention, and I am thankful for a rise in awareness and I am also working to be a part of that awareness raising. The economic crisis is already well documented and will be printed in new textbooks that are distributed to the hands of future students. But the issue with human trafficking and prostitution, especially in Greece, is that it’s normal. We’re dealing with a culture of complacency, and a global attitude of selective seeing. To stress this passion of my heart, you need to walk down the Redlight district with me.

First of all, I didn’t go down seedy alleys, trek off the known path, and go to a special place of town. No, the Redlight district is near the tourist center of Athens; tour buses obliviously pass through with cameras snapping and translators chatting away. The next shocking thing is since it’s legal, it’s not a secret. Yellow-white lights line the buildings down the roads indicating a brothel open and ready for business. In Greece it is illegal to “solo” prostitute, but being a part of a brothel is what is legal and practiced.
One girl is allowed to work at a time and the madam is there to run the show. The madams are not evil shady witches as one would like to imagine as well. The madams are closely related to the immigration and economic issues as well and are women looking for work and will take a job that is sometimes advertised for something different. As my group walked in observation, humility, heavy hearts and prayer, I saw a group of teenage boys run out of one of the brothels. In Greece there is an age limit to customers and these boys were underaged, but it is a common past time to run in, laugh and gawk at these girls and humiliate them further. My heart ached as I walked down this road that if I had been unaware I would have not have had a clue what was going on behind these doors. Girls can be taken in at the wee hours of the morning and brought out at night, never seeing the light of day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 As I continue to grow in passion for this field and continue to experience, study, and know the situation, I am consistently heartbroken at the dehumanizing nature of human trafficking and prostitution. No girl desires to sell her body and service countless men when she grows up. These girls are robbed of their dignity, ripped from their homes, and stripped of their sense of worth.                                                                                                                                                            
I am preparing to help in one aspect of this field, but the punch line of this ministry is simply to love.
Love is the call to Christians and showing God’s love through our lives is the only love–the real love–that these girls will get to know. I pray that in the darkness of the normality of these horrors that love may be what shines through. Love on the girls, the madams, and yes, the pimps and the customers too that are in such a dark place to be hurting people in this way.

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The refugee crisis is in full swing as well with Greece in the cross hairs of the complication. Strategically located, Greece receives a high amount of refugees passing through Greece to continue north to European countries such as Germany. I went with a small team to an island to do relief work there with refugees. This island sees around 2,000 refugees on the daily taking a plastic boat across the water from Turkey (an hour across the way). We were able to give out water and sleeping bags to those and gain an exposure for the full scope of the issue. My heart was broken. The beaches are covered in layers of abandoned life jackets as far as the shore goes. Identification cards, lost shoes, and once precious belongings are mixed in the debris.

As our correspondent poured into us the information of the situation, I continued to grieve with these people being displaced in a way I cannot fathom. How can we help in the midst of a crisis of this magnitude?

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To complicate matters further, Greece’s economy has hit rock bottom, as is common knowledge. As I prepared for my trip I found myself calling my school at one point to tentatively ask, “Ummm, is this happening?” to be answered with a surprising yes. There was panic about ATM withdrawals and the news painted a picture of complete anarchy in a mad scramble for resources. The reality is a different picture than the hyperbole of media (though is that really a shock?).

What I have seen are unfinished construction projects stagnant as strange modern ruins. What surrounds me are abandoned store fronts where I imagine mom and pop gyro places once bustled and flourished with traditional comfort food and Greek hospitality. Enveloping me are people that are hard workers but caught up in a mess. What is there to say to someone who has had the rug ripped out from underneath them?

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In my quest to answer these big questions weighing on my heart I have found an answer in my weeks of study as my trip comes to a close.

God’s love gives me hope. Though the situations I am existing on the edges of have burdened me, overwhelmed me, and pierced at my heart,  I continually have seen God’s love and this gives me hope.

In the face of prostitution closing in as a dark prison for those exploited this way, I have met with people who live here and are combating against the darkness, working diligently to love on these girls. With the devastation of the refugee crisis, a common theme was the power and influence of simply being love to people. I hope that with every action of love those I interact with will see a reflection of the Author of Love, Papa God. With the financial instability of Greece I have attended weeks worth of sermons stressing charity, trust, generosity, and tithing in the midst of economic collapse. I have been the recipient of amazing hospitality and benevolence, though purses are lighter and pockets are empty.

When everything in Greece seems to be falling apart at its seams I have seen a clearer picture of God’s love than anywhere else in the world. Life is messy here, and life is real. Here I have carried the burdens and heart hurts as a mere observer on a series of tragedies, yet the underlying theme is consistently and constantly love.

The song that carries the overwhelming contrasts of emotions I carry is “Where Were You” by Ghost Ship. The lyrics reflect this sentiment of heartache, and I am reminded that God’s love gives me hope. I have seen desperation, I have empathized with despair, and I have hurt with those around me and this I can say: God is love, and God is good. I think back to Lake Michigan, where Kelly and I hit it off with the first shared insult, and I think of God’s creation, God’s power and how it is easy to say, God is love, God is good. Amen.

Pray for Greece, pray for these things, and may your heart be broken by what breaks God’s.

Sara Thomas

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2 thoughts on “God in Greece: Notes from a Student’s Semester Abroad

  1. The shore lined with cast off life jackets gives compelling testimony to a desperate flight. Aren’t life jackets for social outings at the lake or pond? For sailing, canoeing, white water rafting and fun vacations? It is hard to see. It also pierces my heart to think of the mess they left behind that caused them to flee.
    This reinforces what every community must realize: to save individuals, including the girls, we have to strengthen and reach out in love to the families – and can we just say it, to create generations of godly men, good men, family men. Then and only then can we save everyone, especially the girls.
    This was a good article. You had me at “the insults”. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] See https://precariosities.com/2015/10/06/god-in-greece-notes-from-a-students-semester-abroad/ or a more detailed explanation. And while you’re there fall in love with my dear friend’s blog and follow the heck out of her sassy, hilarious, and Christ-filled wisdom. Can I brag here for a second? I asked her to be one of my bridesmaids and she said yes and now she is engaged to her love and they are going to come up to the wedding still because she wants to be there for me. Isn’t that the sweetest? […]

    Liked by 1 person

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