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Chapter 10: How Beautiful The Feet - A personal story by Dan Truitt
Point A: In 1979, as a 25-year-old atheist, I had to rise at my brother's wedding reception in the suburbs of Chicago and salute the groom and bride with a toast.
I nearly fainted from the stress.
In 2001, at the age of 47, I go out on a regular basis with a
sketchboard where I live in Thessaloniki, Greece, paint up a simple
Gospel message and explain, in Greek, to the passers-by, why Jesus
Christ is the Savior of the world.
How does one get from Point A to Point B?
In my case it began with a desire to know the meaning of life, despite my atheism. This desire, as all good things, was given to me by the God I did not believe in. Despite my rejection of Him, He still pursued me in the relentless, kindly, (and sometimes severe) fashion that the benevolent Creator of the universe uses when going after the lost.
I remember lying on the floor of the living room of a home where I was house-sitting in New Orleans during December of 1983, no longer an atheist, but still a non-Christian, and writing the following words in my journal:
"I wish I knew the truth so that I could stand on street corners and proclaim it boldly and fearlessly like the prophets in the Old Testament used to."
Then in April of the following year I found myself in another house, face-to-face with an enormous, husky man in his 70's. I was about to do some repairs on his fireplace. My oldest brother, who had referred the job to me, told me that the man personally knew Billy Graham. I hated Billy Graham, and all the rest of the hypocritical born-again Christian world.
"So you know Billy Graham, eh?" I said, pulling my tobacco pipe out of my pocket and loading it. "Say, you don't mind if I smoke, do you?"
"Yes I do know Billy," he said in his deep bass voice. He had, I noticed, one of the kindest faces I'd ever seen. "Of course you can smoke. Just open up that window there next to the fireplace."
I lit my pipe, and puffing clouds of foul Prince Albert tobacco, said nonchalantly:
"I don't like Billy Graham. I don't like the way he presents Christianity."
The man smiled, his eyes warm and accepting. What a kind face he had! How peaceful his demeanor, and humble his carriage, despite his great physical size. He had to have been at least 6 ft 5.
"Well Dan, " he answered, "I know that there are a lot of Christians in the world who are hypocrites. What I would suggest you do is to get yourself a Bible, get alone with it, and read it for yourself. Then you decide who Jesus Christ is."
Thus the wisdom of Mr. George Beverly Shea, longtime close associate of Billy Graham, and a man who at that time I didn't know from Adam. His advice was the last nail in the coffin by which would be buried my old man, and from which I would, as so many others had in history, rise up again to walk in newness of life in response to the living Word of God.
This is the way people have been getting born again through history - through the Word of God, whether written or proclaimed verbally. Historically, the greatest number have been brought into the Kingdom through the proclaimed Word, and especially during times of revival, during which much if not most of this proclamation takes place outside the walls of the church.
The Beverly Shea episode occurred during Easter week of 1984. During that same week I had decided to commit suicide, because I couldn't handle the world the way it was, and didn't see it changing anytime soon. I walked down a busy road steeling myself to throw myself in front of a passing automobile, but in the end did not do so due to fear of the unknown, a lack of desire to break my mom's heart, and to avoid putting anybody through the inconvenience of scraping me off the highway.
I continued walking, passed the town limits, down the road, and finally ended up at the farmhouse of another one of my brothers. He invited me to watch TV with him. The movie "Peter and Paul"" was playing, starring Anthony Hopkins as Paul. Paul was preaching in the open air to the Greeks of Asia minor:
"And I, Paul say to you," Hopkins/Paul was proclaiming with his magnificent Welsh diction,
"that everyone who believes in him shall be saved from shame. That faith becomes supreme of all human acts - faith in Jesus Christ, whose death has brought redemption from sin in all aspects for those who believe."
For those who believe. I knew then that God loved me, and, as Beverly Shea suggested, I bought a Bible. Two nights later I was saved while reading Acts.
Within a month I had found work with a bricklaying Baptist preacher, Phil King (who spent the next 3 years discipling me as we worked side by side on the scaffolding), had given my whole life and resources to the Lord, and had committed myself, in response to God's direction, to the work of cross-cultural missions. I was just a couple months old as a Christian when I made an announcement of my commitment to world missions, and particularly the public proclamation of God's Word, in the little Baptist church where Phil was preaching.
I was met with blank stares and tepid reassurance. Nobody seemed to know quite what to say.
"Come here, Dan," Phil King told me after the service. He was furious. "Don't you let those people for a minute discourage you. Probably no one in the history of this church has done what you've just done, and they should be dancing for joy. These are a good people, but they're dog-ignorant of what the Lord is doing in the world. I'm committed to pray for you and help you in any way I can." As good as his word, Phil King was either directly or indirectly responsible for nearly half the support I would subsequently raise.
I began attending another church with a better reputation for support for missions, but the pastor's wife didn't think it was a good idea for me to leave the country. I had realized by this time that the Lord was calling me to Greece, which is the neediest mission field in Europe maybe 0.15% of her people are saved. My grandfather had been a Greek immigrant. The pastor's wife wanted me to settle down, marry a girl she'd picked out for me, and help out at her husband's church.
"But Dan's committed to go to Greece as a missionary," Phil King told her one day while visiting my new church.
"Oh, he'll never get to Greece," she laughed.
I changed churches again, and finally found a place that was more positive. But time was passing - I was 33, and had completed only a year of Bible school, and feared that another 2 years of Bible school plus 2-3 years of support raising would push me off the track to have any hope of learning decent Greek. On top of that I'd had to quit Bible school for financial reasons.
That's when I met Bill Baldwin, founder of the Greek Bible Institute in the Athens suburbs, a Greater Europe Mission school for Greek nationals. Bill and his wife Marion had been in Greece since 1966 - a remarkable achievement in this era. But even more remarkable is that they, along with their co-workers, had founded and maintained, against terrific odds, one of the best Evangelical Bible schools in Europe. Just as, earlier in this book, you saw the founding of educational institutions as an important step in the missionary movement, Bill and Marion, along with their co-workers, believing in this principle, worked hard and long to establish a school in a country where virtually nobody wanted them. The Orthodox Greeks did not want them because they believe all Evangelical teaching to be heretical. The Evangelicals did not want them, either, because they believed in their pride that foreign workers were either unnecessary or incapable of learning their language and integrating themselves into their ancient and complex culture. For the most part they are right - Greece has been for years a notorious graveyard for missionaries. Or those that end up staying, for the most part, fail to learn the language well, and stick around doing rather peripheral things not directly related to the winning of that needy land for Christ. The Baldwins and their co-workers the Finkes and the Hills, are notable exceptions to this. They have mastered the language, and over the decades found hard-won acceptance in the Greek born-again church. All four of Bill and Marion's children married Greeks, even though they don't have a drop of Greek blood themselves.
In June of 1987, Bill spoke at my church - was one of its missionaries - and I asked to see him privately. We met the next day, and I told him my testimony and of my calling.
"How old are you, Dan?" Bill said.
"Thirty-three." I had told him about a debt that I had incurred and was now in the process of paying it off before I felt I could continue with my Bible education.
"And how much money do you owe?"
"Seven thousand dollars."
Bill thought a long moment, then let out a sigh. Then he said, "About all I can suggest to you, Dan, is that you get your debt paid off as quickly as possible, and then move to Greece and finish your Bible training at the Greek Bible Institute. You're not getting any younger, and Greek is a very tough language. This way you can learn Greek and the Bible at the same time. If you don't blow a gasket, you'll make a lot of progress in a short period of time. You'll live with Greeks and learn their culture, as well as their language, and the Bible, of course."
I recognized it for the extraordinary offer that it was, immediately agreed, thanked him, and within a year and a half I was climbing off the plane in Athens, debt-free but totally unsupported (because I felt I didn't deserve financial help as a Bible school student), and ready to blow a gasket - which nearly happened over the next three and a half years, but, praise God, I was able to get a good foundation in the Greek language and to finish the course work there, which was all taught in Greek, sometimes with translation for English-language visiting teachers.
Speaking of which, my first autumn there - this would be 1989 - a tall, skinny, bearded, beaming, impossibly cheery man in his early 50's blew in from the UK to spend a week teaching the Bible school students open-air evangelism through the use of the sketchboard. This is something he'd been coming to Greece and doing for several years. I took an immediate liking to Korky Davey and his sketchboard, and saw it as the means by which a whole nation could be reached - by which many people could stand on many street corners and fearlessly proclaim the truth. It is something desperately needed in Greece, which, paradoxically, although it gave us the language of the New Testament, has a more Bible-ignorant clergy than any other Christian nation in the world.
But it would be some time until I would actually do a presentation in the open air in Greek. I was committed to a Greek-speaking ministry. My Greek would not be up to speed for a couple of years, and then I had to go home and raise support. I wasn't ready to come back to Greece as a fully supported missionary until 1994, which is when I audited Korky's seminar again, and took the plunge. I was scared stiff. I remember all day that day I first did the sketchboard I had the sensation that there was this huge cannonball in my stomach. Finally the big moment arrived - I stumbled a bit here and there, but got through the message in a fairly intelligible way, and the way things turned out a couple of teenage boys who had stopped to make fun of me were taken in hand by Akis, one of the Bible school students, had the Gospel explained to them by this gifted personal worker, and prayed for salvation on the spot.
Akis was with us the previous summer when we tried to do an evangelistic program near the seaside town of Xilokastro near Corinth, which is the neighboring village to the one where my grandfather was born. It had been my idea for our team to go there. The whole town rose up in arms, made us take down our equipment, shouted obscenities and said we committed unspeakable acts, and came within a whisker of throwing our things into the sea. This was the reason for my fear the night I did my first sketchboard - Greeks are highly suspicious of foreigners and non-Orthodox Christianity, and often react in hostile, and sometimes violent ways.
I find the Greek people a fascinating study in brilliance with a potential to win all of Europe should that brilliance be unleashed on the rest of the continent through sudden and wide revival here. They are among the most highly gifted and blessed people in all of history, 1st in education and 2nd in earning power of all the peoples who emigrated to America. They are the founders of Western Culture and are deservedly proud of that fact.
But there are tremendous ancient spiritual barriers here that were erected thousands of years ago with the paganistic tradition of the 12 gods of Olympus (reminds one of the 12 Apostles and the 12 Patriarchs) in combination with the deep and complex philosophical theorems of the classical thinkers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Tragically, both these elements worked their way into the church within a couple generations of its founding here by the Apostle Paul. If you read the Greek Fathers of the church you will see that they are shot through with neo-Platonist speculation which goes far afield of Biblical theology. Some of the main spiritual strongholds in Greece which must be prayed down for the open air preaching of the Gospel to take root effectively are pride, lust, slander, control, fear, religiosity, and individualism. Most of the great figures of the Bible and of church history have been wedded to demonic powers from the old religion.
An example of this is the "Zoodoxos Pigi," the "Life-giving fountain," found in the catacombs near the ruins of one of the oldest churches in downtown Thessaloniki, where I now live. You follow a narrow, whitewashed passageway to the ancient well where blessed water is said to spring up. There is an icon of the Virgin Mary there, holding the Christ child.
They are situated on top of a fountain of water, which represents life. The message is that the Virgin Mary is the "Zoodoxos Pigi -" the author of life. The ancient fountain is actually the fountain where the goddess Hira, the wife of Zeus, was located. A demonic presence is palpable in that place - so much so that my wife felt distinctly nauseous going down there. I find the place rather pleasantly eerie, and architecturally interesting.
In his very interesting book "Informed Intercession" which has as its theme the phenomenon of "spiritual mapping", George Otis says that a body of false religious tradition "...does not come all at once, but accumulates bit by bit over generations, each person adding to the common lore. 'Social time' - history experienced by the group - amasses power. This power is more than superstitious tradition. It is the product of thousands of people bringing their faith to specific points of contact. The longer this process continues, the more it attracts, and is reinforced by, deceptive demon agents." (from Chapter 6, "Layering Space and Weaving Time" by George Otis, 1999, Renew Books). We believe that this well under downtown Thessaloniki is one of many such "points of contact" in Greece through which demonic powers are enabled to do their deceptive work. I've held small prayer meetings there, serving notice that we are here to preach the truth, and that no supernatural power is going to prevent that.
After my first open-air presentation in Athens in 1994, I was hooked - but soon saw that the work my mission (a Greek-led organization) wanted me to do, conflicted with my desire to do open-air ministry. They were for evangelism, and were even positive about the sketchboard, but most of their evangelistic work centered around their 3-week annual summer campaign. The other 49 weeks of the year they were doing nearly everything but open air evangelism. Worse still, as time went by, I saw that as an organization they were really more about trying to control their workers than about trying to enable them and release them into ministry, and due to this tendency I left them.
I had to find another missions organization, and didn't want to lose a couple of years in the States hunting one down that fitted what I felt was my vision for Greece, and going through the process of raising additional support - indeed there was no such organization working in Greece at the time - so I arranged to have one of my supporting churches temporarily handle my financial support for a year or so till I could work something out with a missions organization.
I signed a one-year contract to work with a new Greek church in the suburbs of Athens, but was given virtually nothing to do. I wasn't allowed to teach, to preach, and was even forbidden to give my testimony in church. It was a difficult year - I'd been in Greece by then seven years, had all the training in Bible and language that I needed, and yet I was forced to vacuum carpets and clean toilets. Nothing wrong with that - I was glad to still be in the country - but I felt the Lord had something else to do with the hard-won money my financial supporters were sending me every month.
I saw the thousands of lost people on the street every day and my heart was aching that nobody was doing anything to reach them on a regular basis. Greeks are an incredibly proud people whom history has passed by. God had given me a deep and abiding love for the nation of my grandfather, and I had come to the country to show them, by the grace of God, as Paul had many years before,
"that everyone who believes in him shall be saved from shame ... that faith becomes supreme of all human acts - faith in Jesus Christ, whose death has brought redemption from sin in all aspects for those who believe"
Finally in the spring of 1997 I decided to find someone I could do open-airs with, and began to preach on a regular basis with my friend Wayne Ritchie, a highly gifted New Zealander who had been used of the Lord to bring revival to African merchant marines in the port city of Piraeus. I was warned by one of the elders of the church I was working in that if its sister churches learned I was working with Wayne, who had a different theology than the body I was cleaning toilets for, they might hesitate to work with me. I suppose he meant that the sister churches might refuse to allow me to clean their toilets, too. I ignored him, and had a terrific time that spring preaching the gospel with Wayne and his wife, Adrienne.
When my contract expired, I got in touch with Korky Davey, who had already invited me to consider the possibility, about associating myself with his organization, Open Air Campaigners. I had come to Greece with the intention of working in church planting, but had seen that the crying need here was for the country to be properly and systematically evangelized. There were plenty of decently trained shepherds in the country thanks to efforts of the Baldwins, Hills, Finkes and others at the Greek Bible Institute, but nobody was drag-netting the Aegean, as it were, which teemed with fish. I figured it would be a simple formality of changing my support over to OAC and continuing on in Greece doing sketchboard with whomever I could find.
I was wrong.
"Why don't you plan on coming to Bristol and getting some proper training," Korky faxed me. "Plan on being here say, 9 months or so."
Nine months! No way, was my first reaction. I've done the one-week sketchboard seminar here in Greece twice, have I not? I've worked too long here to be absent from Greece an entire year, which is what it really shaped up to be, once you factored in going back to the US to explain the change of mission organizations to financial supporters.
But Korky was adamant, and in retrospect, I'm glad he was. The time I spent in Bristol was invaluable. I met a lot of people who had the same vision for the lost that I had, borrowed a lot of ideas from the schools work going on in Bristol, and got some excellent training in story composition, painting techniques, and public speaking from Korky, his wife Anni, Derek Heyman, and many others associated with the work of OAC GB. It was a tremendously nurturing and encouraging environment, and a time that even now, several years later, I look back at with fondness. I fell in love with the Mother Country, and especially with Bristol, the city of Wesley, Whitefield and Müller.
In addition to that, I was able to strategise and think and counsel with people older and more mature than myself as to the best way of cracking the very tough spiritual nut that is Greece. As mentioned, prayer plays a big role in all of this. The strongholds of Greece must be prayed down in conjunction with sketchboard messages that speak to this ancient culture and people.
Dan & family
For that reason, I believe, God saw fit to give me, in 1999, at the age of 45, the greatest gift outside of eternal life that I could hope for: a smart, kind, attractive Greek wife who is committed to prayer, open-air ministry, and helping me in putting together uniquely culturally Greek messages. On top of that, in September 1999, Zoe gave birth to our daughter, Catherine. Follow God's will for your life, stick with Him while you're in the desert, and He will refresh and reward you in ways that you couldn't possibly imagine.
We've established ourselves in a church that is 100% behind us, and are in the process of building a team for regular evangelism and planning different outreaches utilizing teams of foreigners and nationals. One must be culturally relevant to a people like the Greeks who have such a strong sense of national identity, and Zoe is full of great ideas on messages that fit the culture here. One example is to take Plato's idea of the philosopher-king: the ideal wise ruler in whom the people can trust because his authority is tempered with the goodness and insight of the philosopher. The philosopher-king is wise, kind and fair. Jesus is not only wise, He IS wisdom, and is the ultimate philosopher-king.
Our desire is to establish ourselves here as an official, legal presence, and slowly to build a ministry by which Greek nationals are unleashed with all of their gifts upon a tremendously spiritually impoverished land. We believe that we will live to see revival in Greece, and are grateful for the opportunity to be participants in such an event. It's not going to happen today, or tomorrow, even, or possibly not for many years. We can wait. We're not going anywhere anytime soon.
I've just taken off my slippers and socks, and spent a couple of minutes examining my feet. I can't say that my feet are the most attractive things in the world - they smell a bit musty, the heel is disproportionately large compared to the rest of the foot, and my second toe is noticeably longer than my big toe. Feet are, generally, rather ugly objects. If you don't believe me, have a look at your own feet.
But you know what? God doesn't think my feet are unattractive. He says that they are beautiful.
Dan's remarkable story vividly illustrates the hurdles that must be faced by anyone called to cross-cultural missions; the fact that he did ultimately win through to such a remarkably productive and challenging ministry, and mastered the Greek language probably more effectively than most other missionaries in Greece, is a real testimony to his determination to stick to his call. His is a very fine achievement. He has not mentioned that right in the middle of it, he was very seriously ill and had to undergo major surgery for a potentially life-threatening condition. At the end of it all, the one or two indigenous missions agencies were unable to use him as they did not wish to get involved in more than short-term summer crusades. Dan's vision is very much to get involved in long term local evangelism which reaches local communities effectively.
When Dan was in Athens, his church was the delightful fellowship meeting in a building just off one of the main residential squares in the northern part of the city. The fellowship comprises some wonderful Christian families, many of whom Dan and I have known for years; the pastor has a fine teaching ministry, and we have always hoped that one day some of them would come with us to do street evangelism out in the square. From time to time we led open-air meetings there for substantial crowds - it is a lovely place with a fountain, children's play area, street cafes, bars, and the underground station on one corner - in the evenings crowds of people, particularly teenagers, were attracted to listen to a message for 10-15 minutes and afterwards discuss the implications of knowing Christ at some length. Very few of the fellowship ever came to take part and the elders did not appear to see it as part of their task to win these people for Christ - their difficulty in finding something for Dan to do in their midst was the reason for appointing him janitor.
A ministry which restricts itself to meetings on church premises would seem to have little to offer the local community. The national Church claims to be the oldest Christian denominational institution. It has the advantage of presiding over life-cycle ceremonies such as baptism, marriage and funerals, but apart from that it appears to have very little appeal other than to the older generation.
The Greater European Mission (G.E.M.), founded in the late 1940's by Bob Evans, trains indigenous Christian leaders in most Western European countries and nowadays extends into Central and Eastern Europe. They offer superb theological training and produce some of the finest young men and women I have seen in Christian service. Evangelism is their core vision and O.A.C. is privileged to play its part in some of their training programmes. Raising up men and women properly equipped for the task of reaching their own country must be the most effective way to fulfil the Great Commission. Ian and Caralee Loring's remarkable success in mobilising, training and releasing so many men and women into ministry in Albania shows what can be achieved.
Hopefully in the years ahead the rapidly declining church in England will come to see the need to adopt some of these methods at home. In the next Chapter, I set out the training programme that those of us in the mainstream of evangelism in Europe today consider essential for anyone attempting front line Christian ministry in Europe.