Time for a Change

It’s been six years since we created this site and I am ashamed to say that I’ve never updated its primary content one time. Sure, we’ve added our prayer letters and the occasional blog but we largely have not kept up with the site as we should have. Well, after much prayer and a renewed commitment to using the gifts of technology to reach people for Christ, we will be revamping and posting more information here and at our new Facebook page, @GrecoMissions (see the link at the bottom of this page).

Please keep an eye out for our furlough update video to be posted, sermons, songs (Joanna singing, not me!), and video updates. If you have any suggestions or ideas that would make our site more informative and useful as a ministry tool, please do not hesitate to send me a message.

We’re looking forward to the next phase of ministry in Athens beginning in March 2018. We’re hoping you will follow us along this amazing journey as we share the good news of the Gospel and begin a new Baptist church in the city of Athens.

The Road Ahead

I’m a planner. I like setting goals, arranging details, and sticking to the program. I’m one of those people who immediately arranges a place setting to my preferences and can instantly tell if something is out of place at my desk. When things go off plan, I tend to get a bit freaked out. It may not be visible on the outside but trust me when I tell you, my mind begins to race and my body starts to respond to the stress. And yes, with God’s help, I’m working on it.

When we learned my previous lawyer did nothing he said he had regarding my residency application, my mind went into crisis mode. “What are we going to do now?”,  I thought?  I had carefully planned out 2017 and loosely planned for furlough to begin mid 2018. Beyond that, I had planned for us to return to Greece and get busy planting a church. The big problem being that, “I had planned.” Although I prayed over these things, they weren’t God’s plans. He simply hadn’t revealed His plans to us until just a few weeks ago at which time  I asked myself  an important question. Who is in charge of my life, me or God?  It certain seems much clearer now than when I first faced these circumstances. My life isn’t my own. I am bought with a price. Yet, I began to stress when I should have simply trusted God.

Now that things have settled down and I’ve placed my trust where it should’ve been in the first place, God is showing us more of His plan… and it is exciting! Do I still need to make plans and attend to details? Of course, but it’s so much more peaceful following God’s direction than trying to blaze my own path. What seemed like a big disappointment at the time is proving to be a huge blessing.

The road ahead is definitely clearer now than at any time in the past three years. Because of my visa situation, we are moving our furlough up one year. We’ll be returning to the States at the end of June 2017 and returning to Greece at the beginning of March 2018. After our return, we will be moving to either Athens or Thessaloniki (the Lord hasn’t showed us that part of His plan just yet… and that’s OK!) to begin the preliminary work of establishing a new Baptist church! I’ve never doubted God called our family here to plant a church and now He is giving us the desire of our hearts sooner than we expected.

Things I figured would need countless hours of planning are falling into place even without my involvement. “Lord, please show me where we should look for furlough housing?”, I prayed. The next day, I receive an email that a family in our home church is making a house available to us for the duration. I didn’t even have to ask! “God, please show me what to do regarding residency.”- Done! Our new lawyer did some digging and made some recommendations which are so easy, she doesn’t even have to be involved in the process which will begin when we return next year. It’s so nice to focus on the important thing, getting the Gospel to the people God has brought into our lives, rather than sweating details of things God is already attending to.

I’ve heard the following statement many times in my life but I believe I never really understood how until now- “Let God be God.” I need to trust Him more without going in front of Him. I’m to be a follower of Christ, not one who goes my own way hoping to find Him wherever I wind up. The road ahead looks better than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Witness Relocation Program

We’re starting to feel like Bedouins. We will have lived in Greece two full years mid-June and we will soon move into our fourth home. Nothing like keeping the grass from growing under your feet. The house we’re leaving was a big answer to prayer and is actually the one we’ve lived in longest over these two years. It’s big, modern, and actually has screens on the windows (I hate mosquitos)! However great as it is, the Lord wants us to relocate.

The first home we lived in was on the smaller side but quaint. A nice big yard with plenty of fruit trees offset its biggest shortcoming- one bathroom among six people- you do the math! It was close to church and our ministry partners home too. Little did we know when we moved in that the landlord was actively trying to sell the house. After eight months he came to us and asked if we could move in three months as he’d sold the house. We agreed, taking it was from the Lord we find a new home, and began casually looking for a new house.

A few weeks later, he knocked on the door and said he had a problem and invited us to come to his house to discuss it with he and his wife. Joanna and I went, uncertain of what we would hear, with open hearts hoping to show the Lord in anything we would say or do. They related to us how they had the house on the market for some years and finally had a buyer but he wanted immediate possession or would walk away. “Would you move out in a week?”, they asked. We said we had no where to go so they offered us their summer home for however long it took for us to find a house- rent free! We agreed on the spot and their jaws dropped. Most people here would never have accepted that deal. No one wants to let someone else get over on them here. “What is it that you believe that makes you so happy to help us when you’re so inconvenienced?” he said. “We know the Lord will provide and you need help.”, was our reply.

So we packed up what we could move into that house (it was furnished), stored our other things where we could and spent six weeks there while looking for another house. We got to know Stephanos quite well while living there. His wife would come by with flowers and chat. They brought their son to meet us. They wanted to know what was different about these crazy American Baptists. We had great opportunity to develop our relationship with them and often talked of spiritual things. Eventually we found this big house and agreed to rent it. Stephanos even helped us move, loading up his pickup with more than a few loads. I stop by his office, he’s a doctor, in town now and again to say hello and we’re always glad to see each other. Maybe one day they’ll come to visit us at church as they promised.

In June 2015, we moved into this big, modern house. 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms with a modern kitchen, balconies off all the bedrooms, and a grill house in the back. We were thrilled to have found such a great place as houses this size are few and far between on our island. Our new landlords were downsizing and would be moving into an apartment- in our basement! We scoffed at first as we thought it would be a bit too close but we truly liked them and since they own a couple stores in town and would be out most of time, we decided it wouldn’t be so bad.

We immediately hit it off with them. Though they speak little English and our Greek is not always enough to effectively communicate, we enjoyed meals in the yard together, getting to know each other’s families. We got to know “Papou Kristos”, the father of the landlady, as he would talk to us frequently, usually making fun of my Greek. We became friendly with their adult children when they visited. We always had opportunity to speak about the Lord with them as they asked many questions as to why we came here when America is the best place in the world to live. They came, so did Stephanos and his wife, and enjoyed fellowship when we had a large housewarming party with our church family. Things weren’t meant to be in this house though…

Greece has her share of problems, many of which the world has seen on the nightly news over the last few years. Financial instability has effected almost ever segment of the population. Statistics tell us 30 businesses close their doors daily in Greece. Since 2010, 30K businesses have moved to Bulgaria and in 2015, 3K millionaires moved out of Greece. Greeks have not been the best about paying their taxes, at least all of them anyways. They’re always trying to find an angle to keep a little more of what they’ve worked hard to earn. Such are the effects of Socialism. When a landlord doesn’t file a lease to avoid taxes or wants to file a lease stating you pay half the rent you actually pay it becomes a problem. Especially if you’re a missionary / pastor committed to living honest in the sight of God and men. This is where we found ourselves.

Our landlords never filed our lease and when I started asking for legal receipts, I knew something was wrong. They asked if we could have a meeting and it was then they explained their situation. I would be in error to divulge the details but to put it simply, we were at an impasse. We want legal transactions and receipts, they do not want to expose themselves to higher taxes. Long story short, we knew we could not be part of the situation. They were genuinely apologetic and tried hard to find a situation to work for them but in the end they asked us to pay more rent to cover their taxes which we believe would not truly help them. We began looking for another house.

In a matter of a few days, a house near to our first one became available. We went the next day to see it and Joanna and I agreed on the spot to rent it. Though the house itself is smaller and not quite as modern, it is a good house with everything we need. Does it have everything we WANT? No, but as I said it has everything we NEED- except screens on the windows (did I mention I hate mosquitos?), plenty of room for a garden and our dogs to run around, which we lacked at our big house. Still, the daunting task of packing, moving, and unpacking again loomed large on our minds.

Last Saturday night, our current landlord came to our door. He wanted directions to our church so he and his wife could come the next morning. I wasn’t sure what to think about what was happening. Maybe they were hoping we’d stay if they came to church? I eagerly told him they could follow us. After a year of inviting them, we found ourselves bringing them to church on the day we were to tell them we were soon moving out.

They were a little surprised by how friendly everyone was but they remembered many faces of those who often visit us at our home. After the service we talked and my friend and ministry partner, Taki, helped me explain we were moving out in a few weeks. They took it well despite knowing they would be losing a chunk of their income. Most importantly though, when we asked if they enjoyed the service and understood the message, they said, “We did and we want to come again soon because what you believe is real.” Hearing that makes moving again completely worth the effort. I pray they truly mean what they said, come back soon, and accept God’s free gift of salvation.

Last Saturday afternoon, before the landlord came up to ask for directions, Joanna and I were at the new house doing some measuring and things. John was exploring his new digs and making plans for where the tree swing I promised to hang for him would go. Taki and I were in the yard looking at where I could put the dog kennel when a lady came to the gate and introduced herself. She lives next door and was wondering what we were up to. She’s not a Greek (she’s from the UK) and admitted to having little interest in spiritual matters. She and Joanna chatted for a while as Taki and I went back to planning the kennel.

As we were getting ready to leave, we talked about how God had led us to this house. How the English couple who rented it two months prior up and left after a month to return to the UK for some reason or another. How the house’s adjoining apartments will be ours after the summer renters move out, giving us more room than our big house had- at less rent! Then Taki said to me, “God has already given you some new prospects.” I agreed and couldn’t help but praise the Lord for His witness relocation program.

A New Old Way

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend time with the five independent Baptist missionaries / pastors (another man working in Thessaloniki couldn’t join us) that are serving the Lord in Greece. We spent roughly two days and one long night fellowshipping, praying, posing deeply challenging theological questions to one another (we’re still grappling with some), and eventually talking about church planting. We all had a great time but Taki, the missionary / pastor whom I work with full time, and I began to dive deeper into the reality of church planting in Greece later in the evening. It’s amazing what three or four hours, dedicated to how we can better serve the Lord, can alter best laid plans.

As much as I love the island and people of Zakynthos where we live and work presently, I’ve never planned to stay here beyond our first term. We committed these years to learning the Greek language and assisting our friends, Taki and April Korianitis, grow the ministry here and then head to the mainland to establish a similar church. I have long held that Zakynthos doesn’t need two Baptist churches yet as we’re still working hard to fill up the one we have. I still hold to that belief but God showed me it is more important to follow Him than to attempt to cut a road of my own. My plan was to identify a city that would be the most receptive to the Gospel, move our family there, begin the task of evangelizing, and plant a new Baptist church. I know this method works but is it the best one to reach Greeks?

I have long known church planting in Greece is an extremely difficult task. Pastor Taki has told me, in his experience, the average time to lead a Greek to Christ and join the church is nine years. During our visit, all the missionaries shared their difficulties in building a decidedly Greek church. One man is pastoring a church predominantly composed of Filipino believers… in Central Athens! Another has a small Greek church but the Lord is blessing him with a tremendous ministry to Muslim refugees. The others have yet to accomplish the goal of starting a new church. I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by what the future might hold. Maybe everything I’ve learned about church planting won’t work here. How could that be?

Later in the evening, as Taki and I talked, he asked, “After 20 years, would you be satisfied pastoring the same church you planted?” That is when it hit me… we’re trying to force a square peg in a round hole. That is certainly not where I envisioned myself  to be in 20 years! I figured I’d be on my third or fourth church in that time but Taki’s honest assessment of his own experience opened my eyes. The tried and true method of church planting in the 20th and 21st Century is not working in Greece. The role of the missionary, especially a non-Greek, must be reconsidered and reformed. As we talked, many realities became so much clearer to us. How could we have missed such obvious signs? The most important thing is that we’ve decided to do something about it and we have purposed to do it together.

We talked of the biblical church planting model of the 1st Century found in Acts.Two men working together itinerantly, evangelizing cities along a route to establish small groups of believers who would become churches such as those found in Corinth, Thessaloniki, and Philippi. Hey, these are cities in Greece! Was the Apostle Paul was on to something regarding Greek missions? Maybe this old method is the best new way to establish churches in Greece? We are convinced, more than ever, that it is and we’re making plans to update and apply these principles and get busy with the work.

Modern communications such as radio and easily printed newspapers and other literature will take us from town to town. Websites will allow us to connect instantly with searching souls, and possibly believers, who are longing to join together. We will meet regularly with small groups along the route, preaching and teaching to ground them in the faith. We will identify, train, and ordain Greek men to eventually become the pastors of new IFB churches, and we will continue to assist them in the work of the ministry.  We believe God will continue to grow the work on Zakynthos as we labor here together to build a “mother” church that the Lord will use to birth indigenous churches across Greece. We realise we must stay this course and we must keep our eyes on the Lord for direction and wisdom. We’re convinced this is the way in which we must walk if we’re to effectively reach the people of Greece for Christ.

Is it a long and hard road? Yes, but it’s also an old road God has placed in His scriptural map that we might follow and see Him work again to establish lighthouses across Greece to illuminate the path of 12 million souls to find Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation He offers.

 

To Be Like Him

Only a parent can understand some things. We understand the frustrations of dealing with incessant questions, mysterious happenings around the house, and the disappointment of finding last night’s leftovers gone before lunch the next day. Of course, I could probably continue but I find myself buoyed with thoughts of our children’s laughter around the dinner table and other moments branded onto my heart. Yes, only a parent can understand some things… like how you feel when your child is in pain.

We have dear friends who lost their son to a brain tumor at five years old. I remember how broken I felt by his home-going but no one can truly understand or sympathize with a parent who has watched their child suffer unto the point of death. His daddy will forever be one of my greatest heroes. By faith, he stood over the coffin of his first born and preached the Gospel of salvation to family, friends, medical professionals, and co-workers with a grace that only comes from God. Though his boy’s pain had ended, he would never be the same. He has been forever changed, transformed, through the suffering of his child.

Joanna and I knew from the beginning that missionary life would be a challenging adjustment for all of us. Just going to the bank or ordering food at a restaurant can be intimidating. We arrived in Greece in June 2014 and jumped right into the mix, involving our family in as much ministry and “normal life” as possible. Our children were glad to go to real school again. At least for awhile. Unable to communicate effectively with their peers and unable to learn the material being taught, they floundered. Fortunately, not much was expected of them educationally but they were often frustrated. The little cruelties inflicted by children upon each other often bring forth blood the color of tears shed in a lonely room. Such is life for a child who doesn’t feel they fit anywhere they find themselves.

Despite the encouragement to persevere with promises of, “It will get better in time.”, our children have found little to assuage the growing pain in their hearts. They know God called us as a family to Greece but they wrestle with so many unfamiliar, and unwanted, emotions. Where once they were surrounded with family, friends, and familiarity, today they are often afraid to speak to someone. They watch, via social media, their far-away friends experiencing the things they had planned for themselves and they wilt a little more. There are few kids in our neighborhood, and even fewer who would truly befriend them. They all asked to return to homeschooling this year because they were bored and bullied in school. We cannot blame them.

Joanna and I know that the faces we see are brave facades for what is churning beneath their skin. We see and hear the many ways they cry out without knowing it themselves. The moods, disinterest in things that once were so enjoyed, and many other signs are symptomatic of the pain they feel inside. We have promised to ride this out with them. We’re not sure they even fully understand what it is they’re feeling as they lean on the Lord and trust His promises. Despite the loneliness, they know they have a God who loves them and has perfectly planned these days not only for their good, but for His glory. They are slowly realizing they can have great happiness if they simply cling fast to their Heavenly Father. Still, it is hard to see your children in pain.

Our son John loves soccer. He had never played on an organized team before but he is determined to be a great goalie. In all honesty, and he readily admits, he is not the most coordinated kid in the world. He’s a lefty and everything just seems different to him. He decided he wanted to play on a team so we signed him up and I accompany him twice a week to practice. (Unfortunately, games are on Sunday and he knows we will only make the ones played after church.) His Greek is better than most of our family’s but he still doesn’t understand the majority of the instruction… but he recognizes the taunts and teasing from the kids. One afternoon at practice, I was impressed watching him valiantly throw himself at shot after shot until the coach called for a water break. As the kids broke up into their small cliques and began walking across the field, I noticed my boy walking alone through the groups of Greek kids appearing neither happy or sad, intent only on a cool drink of water.

What was he feeling? Resignation? Acceptance? I’m not sure what to call it but I know it hurts for a nine year old boy to be in the midst of his team and feel alone. The full weight of the moment didn’t hit me until prayer meeting that evening. I began to replay months of moments like these in my mind starring all four of our children. I stood to pray and the sobs began as my heart broke wide open. I begged God to give us strength and to give them everything they need to overcome the fear, loneliness, and resentment. We have a long way to go and we know there are many difficult days ahead but we know that our Father understands the pain of His children.

I know now what my son was feeling during that walk. It was courage that pushed down fear and strength to block anything that would weaken his faith in God. He may not understand it but his courage to face the pain in his own life encourages me to be all the more courageous and faithful. Yes, there’s some things only a parent understands and I praise God for it.

People Are People

Serving as a foreign missionary in Greece is a dream come true. God called our family to make ourselves available to Him for the purpose of reaching Greeks for Christ and we answered. I prepared for what seemed like an eternity as I completed years of Bible Institute classes at our home church and Bible college. In between were short term mission trips, family vacations to visit missionaries, and two camps dedicated to missions training.
Deputation followed an intensive internship. Our family set aside the comforts of home to share our passion with over one hundred church families. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade a moment of those years. Needless to say, we learned many lessons during that time. Many missionaries shared their experiences and wisdom from years spent soul winning and church planting in a foreign culture.
A few told me I would come to dislike the people God called us to. I couldn’t believe my ears! How could I hate the people God laid on our hearts to love? How could I share Christ with people I dislike? Surely, this would never be me. I wanted nothing more than to be Greek. To walk the streets, conversing in their language without ever giving a clue that I am not one of them.
We arrived in Greece in June 2014 and jumped into the work with both feet. Camps, outreaches, special services, evangelism, marriage and parenting seminars, were just some of the things we put our hearts into. Yet most of our efforts seemed to have little to no impact. Our church people were still stuck in the same routines despite biblical instruction. The many kids and adults we were engaging with the Gospel showed no desire to come to Christ. I almost found myself beginning to dislike them. Don’t they know we love them? Don’t they know how much we sacrificed to come here to share Christ with them?
As months went by, I truly found reason to hate some of these people. Many of their practices and actions will engender these feelings. Who could leave puppies and kittens, unwanted and alone, on the roadside? They also drive different, to say the least. Cutting someone off is not meant as disrespect, it’s just their way of letting me know their time is more important than yours. Speaking of time, I also learned the true meaning of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) is Greek Maybe Time as they’re very often late. It seemed that everyday I was finding new things to dislike. I even began looking for new reasons.
Then one day, God broke my heart. In my desire to find things to hate about them, I realised that we are all unlovely to Him. Personally, we’re all flawed. Corporately, whether as a race or nation, many of our cultural practices are an affront to God. And despite all this, He loves us still. He overlooks the selfishness, arrogance, and pride and sees a soul in desperate need of His Son. That is how I must see everyone too, regardless of geography or culture.
Pastors are often likened to shepherds. Shepherds deal with creatures who need constant care and guidance. Sometimes those creatures are unlovely. Just like us! They need patience and understanding. In John 10, Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd and laid down His life for His sheep. He laid it down because He loves them. If you’re in Christ, you’re life isn’t your own. We have life because Christ is life Himself. If I am to follow Christ, and lay down my life in His service, I must allow the unloveliness we all share to stir love and compassion rather than hatred in my own heart.
I suppose there are still things I dislike about the people around me but then I remember when I’m walking the streets, trying to speak Greek and loving the culture, the only thing separating me from them is my relationship with Christ. God called me to share Christ and we usually only share something with people we like or love. Hmm, I guess I’m stuck…

Conversations

I recently had a discussion with an avowed Atheist who derided the idea of absolute truth. He said that there could be no absolute truth, everything changes and evolves. I stopped myself from informing him that what he just said was in fact a statement of absolute truth, exactly what he said could not exist. He went on to tell me that no true scientist can deny Darwinian evolution, essentially saying that despite any discovered, observable, and accepted evidence that is modelled on actual scientific practice, if it is presented by a scientist whose world view is founded on biblical truth, it is deluded and not scientific. Needless to say, it was quite a lively couple hours of conversation!

I continue to be amazed the lengths to which people go to deny a Creator. I realize that accepting a Creator also means being accountable to that Creator based on His revealed character and will. I find it reprehensible that good scientists, many of whom with the same or better qualifications as the so called “experts”, are dismissed and ridiculed because their evidence contradicts the status quo. It is frightening that so many humanist scholars are entrusted to “educate” each passing generation. They continue to indoctrinate unsuspecting students into a belief system that requires far more faith to adhere to than Christianity. It is no wonder that many people believe in no absolutes because their belief system must constantly change to counter the evidence that the Bible, the source of truth, and scientific evidence that supports it. True science must have unshakeable, immovable foundations, unfortunately their foundations are as sturdy as a house of cards going so far as to defy the accepted laws of physics.

I praise God for leading me to Himself and that my faith is built upon the Solid Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. My friend with whom I was conversing aligned himself with the beliefs of a recognised and outspoken Atheist who, like virtually all Humanists, resorts to ridicule in order to defend his belief system. I doubt he knows this man personally but he trusts what he says and is comfortable in using his claims to justify his own beliefs. On the other hand, I know my Saviour personally and like the blind man in John 9, I can attest to what He has done in my life and so many others. Why should I believe Scripture and stand in its defense when questioned? Because like that blind man when he was questioned about Jesus answered, “Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”(John 9:25) I trust God at His word when He says in Malachi 3:6, “For I am the Lord, I change not…”

I recently read a great testimony of a former Atheist, a person from the world of academia, who decided it was important to know and understand what she claimed to be. The indoctrinated, despite what they claim, have been trained not to think for themselves. They are expected not to question and “toe the line”, arms locked in rank with countless others who follow each other in the paths of death rather than follow the One who says that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I’ve included the link to her story, please pass it along to an Atheist you know. Who knows, they may just start thinking for themselves…

Atheist Professor Becomes Christian

First Prayer Letter & Update of 2015 is Available

The new year has gotten off to busy start and I cannot believe that two months have already passed. Please take a minute to check out what is new with our family and also find out some of the prayer requests we would like to share with you. Our latest prayer letter has been added to the “Prayer Letters” page found on this site.

Our Family

Our Family

Thank you for praying for our family as we seek to bring the truth of God’s Word to the people of Greece.

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick post to say Merry Christmas and let you know that we’ve just added our latest prayer letter. Simply click the “About Us” menu and choose “Prayer Letters”. May God bless you greatly as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. Though He came as a babe in a manger, He will be coming again soon as King of kings and Lord of lords! Revelation 22:20, “…Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

New Prayer Letter for Fall!

Γεια σας, καλό Φθινόπωρο! Hello and Happy Fall! Sorry for the delay in putting this update and prayer letter together. We’ve been busy as usual with ministry and getting accustomed to the Greek way of life. You can find it in the usual place, under “About Us” and then “Prayer Letters”. Thanks for praying for us and the Lord’s work in Greece! We do miss North American Fall, but I for one am certainly happy that it’s getting at least a bit cooler here to knock out some of these flies and mosquitos!

Thanks & God bless you all. Please feel free to email us or reach out on Skype. Our Skype contact is michael.deluca2014

Δόξα στο Θεό!