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In Greece, Thankful to Count Taxis and to Worship

If 9:30 p.m. seems past a small child’s bedtime, you know you are not in Greece.
When my Greek friends tell me that Greek schedules are about three hours behind other countries, I know they are not talking about time zones, but about a generalized Grecian orientation to stay up later at night.

So, most Thursday evenings, when we are headed home from the Albanian Bible study at 9:30 p.m., and little Angelo is in the back seat of my car, I am not surprised that he is still awake and alert. He and his mother often ride home with us because they live nearby.

Recently, when we were headed home, Angelo and Janice were playing “Count the Taxis.”

The only thing more ubiquitous than taxis on our congested Athens streets are motories, or motor scooters. Sometimes, we try to count the motories.

Angelo seems delighted, as only a child can be, with this improvised, simple game. Janice, as always, is an expert at entertaining kids and helping them to enjoy life.

As I dodged the potholes and manhole covers and kept a wary eye on the congested traffic in the narrow streets, it occurred to me that this small boy is growing up in a vastly different setting than the one in which his mother was raised.

Under the paranoid and isolationist Communism of the former Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha, no one was allowed to drive automobiles.

Indeed, in the capital city of Tirana, Albania, in the later days of Communism, there were only 12 automobiles.

Most adults did not know how to drive, since automobiles had been forbidden to everyone except high-ranking members of the Communist party.

In that era, Angelo would not have been riding home in an automobile, nor would he have been counting taxis.

Taxi counting and auto-riding are not the only pursuits formerly unavailable to little Albanian boys and girls.

When Angelo’s mother was his age, she would not have been riding home from a Bible study, either.

In addition to forbidding automobiles and Cokes, the Communist dictatorship did not allow its citizens to possess or read a Bible. All churches and mosques were closed because the government insisted that there was no God.

But, today, Angelo and his mother and a small number of Albanians in Athens, Greece, gather each Thursday evening to study God’s Word, sing Christian praise choruses and support each other against the shared challenges of this difficult economic climate, in the fellowship of Christian love.

Although the few believers do not yet have their own indigenous Albanian language church, these authentic “first century” Christians come together each week to learn more about God and to grow in his grace in small Bible studies spread throughout this large, strike-prone city.

Recently 150 Albanian believers from across Greece spent money that is hard to come by to convene for the third Albanian Christian Conference.

Giving a busy weekend to worship, study and fun around the theme “Ja Ku Jam!” (“Here I Am!”), these vibrant believers reaffirmed their faith in God, their desire to grow in Christ, and their willingness to share their faith with other Albanians.

As Americans gathered around a bounteous meal and thanked God for many things last week, in Athens we are grateful for counting taxis, even motories, and the growing number of Albanians who are exercising their freedom and finding God.

Bob Newell is ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. This article is taken from one that first appeared in the November 2012 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell’s monthly electronic newsletter.