It has been over 12 weeks since our last update. For that we apologize. Since receiving our visas, life has moved at break-neck pace.
We closed out our time in the states in late March and returned to Greece finally, for real! A few days later, we started our second language class at The Athens Centre and began making important ministry connections.
We celebrated Easter in Thessaloniki at a special event held by Hellenic Ministries called Anastasi, which mean resurrection in Greek. The day after Orthodox Easter, we flew back to the states for a whirlwind 10-day trip to see Blake receive his bachelor’s degree and Andy his masters. We returned to Athens on May 13. Then on May 15, John and I began leading a vision team consisting of members from South Africa, Germany, and the US.
We thought life might settle into a steady pace when the vision trip ended, but summer is here and with summer comes a multitude of short-term teams, interns, and unique ministry opportunities to partner with others from around the world to share the gospel in our context.
Simply put, we are exhausted, but it is a good kind of exhaustion. It is exhaustion born out of miracles, labor, and love.
Instead of recapping everything in detail, John and I decided to share a story about how God is at work in our daily life in our Roma neighborhood. It is the Greek version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, but since I (Amy) am the mouse in this story, I am calling it Flowers, Nuns, and Crepes: How One Thing Leads to Another.
Flowers, Nuns, and Crepes: How One Thing Leads to Another
The week before Orthodox Easter, spring burst with full force in Άνω Λιόσια, Ελλάδα (Ano Liosia, Greece). Preparations for the most important holiday of the year began greeted us with equal energy. Holy Week was something to behold.
On Monday everyone did yard work. In our neighborhood that means pulling random weeds from the stony, dirt plot in front of your home; throwing away trash that clutters the area on a regular basis; and sweeping the dirt in front of your courtyard.
Tuesday was paint day. Courtyard fences were touched up, and houses received fresh coats of paint. Those who lacked a home or a fence to paint, painted fanciful lines around the bulging bellies of terra-cotta pots that would soon hold flowers in every possible color .
Wednesday can only be called “beautification day.” Ladies and teenagers gathered across the street from our house on Daphne’s* courtyard to get their eyebrows waxed. Others rotated in chairs at the beauty salon getting color treatments and hair cuts. John unknowingly scheduled a haircut that day as well. He came home clean shaven for the first time in 13 years as a result of the stylist’s instructions that he needed to be clean cut for Easter!
Maundy Thursday was spent in the kitchen dying Easter eggs blood red, baking the traditional Easter bread, τσουρέκι (tsoureki), and preparing the side dishes that would be served alongside roast lamb during Sunday’s Easter Feast. Aside from roasting the lamb, everything had to be done before three o’clock on Friday afternoon when the mourning cry of church bells began ringing an hourly toll, announcing Christ’s death.
At that point, grief and remembrance, mixed with growing anticipation, became the posture of a nation. Everyone waits for resurrection, which breaks out in the same way each year with the priests midnight declaration: Χριστός Ανέστη! (Christ is risen!)
Easter arrives and with it comes great joy and feasting.
Our story, however, begins on Monday, the second day of Holy Week (Palm Sunday being the first day).
The women invited me to join them as they pulled weeds in our common square. “Invited to join” is a polite way of saying I was asked to sit and watch. Honor-Shame cultures are complicated, especially when you are here to serve. As hard as it was, I sat and watched, working my way through the Greek I know to chat with the ladies and their daughters.
After multiple attempts to understand why Elysia*, our neighbor’s daughter-in-law, wanted to “eat” my eyes, I finally figured out she was pregnant and wanted me to “give” my blue eyes to her baby. Not two minutes after this revelation, Elysia and Malissa* (Elysia’s teenage sister-in-law) took me by the arm, lifted me from my chair, and dragged me into their family’s courtyard as they chattered away.
Λουλούδια! Λουλούδια! Ωραιο! Θέλετε να αγοράσετε λουλούδια! Λουλούδια για το Πάσχα! Για να κάνετε το σπίτι σας όμορφο!
The way you read that, is exactly how it sounded to my ears––all Greek!
Words spilled out of Elysia and Malissa. I could not keep up! Finally, Elysia lifted the cover off her father-in-law’s truck and revealed a hidden nursery of potted plants. After a lot of charades and grasping for language, I realized Elysia and Malissa wanted me to buy flowers. Flowers to make our house beautiful for Easter!
Flowers…I do like flowers. In fact, I want to buy flowers… But first, I needed to think.
In order to slow down the influx of words and to give me a moment to think, I said I needed to ask John.
I called John on the phone and said, Help! A few moments later John entered our neighbor’s, Astra* and Marcos’*, courtyard and saw me surrounded by flowers. He’s a smart man and immediately smelled a mouse––a mouse tempted by a cookie.
He gave me a look to remind me of all the baseball and band flowers I purchased over the years; flowers that died within a matter of weeks. Continuing in the way couples who have been married for decades do, I looked back at John and without words reminded him I only kill annuals. These beautiful flowers were perennials!
With that John agreed to four plants. So, I bought six, which quickly turned into eight. (Don’t worry, our marriage and finances are still sound.)
After a lot of complicated communication and even more miscommunication, I agreed to let Elysia and Malissa help me plant the flowers the next day. They came over early in the morning, but of course, they didn’t let me help. I sat and watched.
In the process, I received an unexpected culture lesson on how to clean one’s balcony. All I can say is that a broom is much more than a broom. It is a multi-purpose cleaning tool which can be used on dry floors, wet floors, walls, doors, and windows.
Add soap and water, and a broom can do anything!
As I mentioned earlier, John and I went to Thessaloniki for Easter and then headed to the states for 10 days. Our absence left my beautiful flowers floundering under the hot Greek sun.
When we returned, I asked Astra to help me nurse them back to health. She agreed, but if you have followed the pattern at all, you know that she did not let me help. On top of nursing my flowers, she also cleaned my balcony.
Malissa and Ella* joined Astra and I on the balcony. Familiar with family words, I quickly discovered that Ella, who I thought was Astra’s daughter, is actually her granddaughter. I also learned that Ella’s mother, Lydia* is pregnant.
Again, words flew like a jet plane over my head:
Όταν γεννιέται το μωρό της Λουκίας, θα βαφτιστεί.Θα είσαι της νονά! Ο Γιάννης θα είναι τον νονός!
All I really knew was that these words stated with great exuberance were aimed directly at me. Over the months, I have developed a technique to help me understand (or at least make a reasonable guess) at the Greek I do not know:
I say, Σιγά σιγά. Πάλι, παρακαλώ. (Slowly, slowly. Again, please.) After listening one more time, I say, Kαταλαβαίνω (I understand) and list the words I understand. Then I say, Δεν καταλαβαίνω (I do not understand) and list the words or phrases I do not know. This exercise, narrows down the charades and efforts to find synonyms, increasing the potential that I will finally understand what is being said.
In this situation, I understood that when Lydia had her baby, it would be baptized. What I did not understand was the emphatic repetition of Είσαι νονά! with an even more emphatic finger being pointed in my direction.
As I struggled to understand, my brain raced through the possibilities filtered through what I know about Greek Orthodox infant baptism and the reality that I was talking with a Roma family that may or may not practice the Orthodox sacraments in the traditional way.
With that in mind, I leaped to the conclusion my neighbors thought I was a nun and wanted me to baptize the child. Of course, no matter how much I love The Sound of Music, this made no rational sense. Even Maria VonTrapp didn’t baptize babies, and once she chose to follow her heart, she no longer served as a nun.
What in the world were they saying!?
Once again, I called John for help. After listening to my plea and hearing the family’s words, John immediately realized they were asking me to be the baby’s godmother.
Being a godparent is an enormous responsibility, and I definitely did not know what the responsibility meant from my neighbors’ perspective. So, I quickly promised to pray and seek guidance before giving an answer.
If you have been following along, you have figured out by now that if you give this mouse (me) a cookie (flowers), she will also ask for a glass of milk (help planting the flowers). Then she will request a straw (help healing her wilting flowers), and a mirror (time to pray before accepting the responsibility of being a baby’s godparent).
But of course, the mouse’s trail does not end with a mirror. It asks for many other things, including a pair of nail clippers, which in my case were crepes.
Several weeks later, John and I were sitting with Astra and Marcos’ family in their courtyard. It was 10:30 at night; we were laughing and talking and showing them photos on our phone. Elysia noticed a photo of “crepes” and declared that I should make crepes for her because they would good for her baby. I promptly let her know that I don’t make crepes in our household. John does.
Πω! Πω! (Expression of surprise).
None of the women believed me. So, following the trail of the mouse and its’ cookie, I asked for a pair of nail clippers and said John would make American crepes (pancakes) for them the following weekend.
And that, my friends, is how John and I found ourselves five days later at Astra and Marcos’ house eating American crepes, maple syrup, fresh cut strawberries, whipped cream, and orange juice with our neighbors and their extended family.
The men ate outside and talked men stuff (trucks and cars). The women ate inside and talked women stuff (fashion, hairstyles, and how having babies changes our bodies, making bikinis a less desirable option for dips in the ocean).
It was a beautiful time.
As we said goodbye, Astra said another flurry of words I did not understand . As usual, Elysia and Malissa, my Roma-Greek language helpers, helped me discover meaning.
I quickly learned that flowers, nuns, and American crepes mean you now have a open invitation to come over for coffee and water; that your neighbors will watch your house and water your flowers when you go out of town; and most importantly, that you are no longer friends, you are οικογένεια (family).
Which, by the way, means this mouse wants another cookie!
With great joy and love,
John & Amy Patton
*Where mentioned names have been changed to honor each person’s story. Photos have been blurred intentionally. Photos are the sole property of John and Amy Patton and cannot be saved or used for any purpose without our permission.