Spring never came this year for my friend Fotis Romeos. Instead, the Greek editor of the Upper Room devotional guide says “it has been a raining, gray and crying season” in his economically devastated country.
Fotis is a firsthand witness to the Greek debt crisis and the personal toll it has taken on the citizenry. Unemployment has surpassed 20 percent; more than 500 individuals lose their jobs every day. Many with jobs have had their wages slashed while taxes have increased. An untold number of companies have gone under, and thousands more hover near bankruptcy. Demonstrations, often turning violent, have rocked the streets.
The financial and social upheaval has presented ministry opportunities—and huge hurdles—for Fotis. Yet through it all, he has been able to rely on gifts, as well as his own resourcefulness, to provide The Upper Room to those who hunger for a daily encounter with God.
“People are depressed,” Fotis explains. “They feel helpless and hopeless.”
And this is why he knows The Upper Room, with its message of faith and hope, is needed in his home country—now more than ever. The feedback he gets from readers confirms it. He recounts one recent plea from a Greek woman who simply asked: “Please, could we have these magazines? It has been a great encouragement for us.”
The need for The Upper Room extends beyond Greek citizens. Because of its proximity to Asia and Africa, Greece is often the first stop for refugees fleeing to Europe. Every week, thousands of refugees flood in from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria, among other countries.
“They are trying to find a better future, and we want them also to find hope and to find Christ,” Fotis says. He notes that the Greek edition of The Upper Room is often used to teach the language—and a daily spiritual practice—to refugees.
Last fall, Fotis hosted a “family reunion” just outside of Athens for Upper Room European editors as well as our Emmaus and Chrysalis leadership. I was blessed to be among these 40 people who represented 17 countries.
As we came together and shared our stories, it became clear that the flow of immigrants has increased the need for The Upper Room in many languages in every country. A Romanian pastor sought out our Hungarian editors to request copies of The Upper Room for his country’s large Hungarian-speaking population. A British pastor is sharing the Russian edition with a new immigrant congregation in her London neighborhood.
Since its inception in 1935, the Upper Room daily meditation has provided support, nurture and strength, whether in everyday living or in times of depression, conflict and disaster. During World War II, servicemen received copies in their packs as they were deployed overseas. During communist rule in Hungary, faithful people took huge risks smuggling in the devotional, one page at a time. Over the years, special editions have been created in response to people recovering from natural disasters or who are coping with debilitating illnesses such as HIV/AIDS.
The Upper Room may be the little book that sits in the narthex of the church, but it also is a life-giving resource to millions around the world.
During our recent event in Greece, Fotis guided us to several of his country’s stunning historic sites. Weather and time have taken their toll on grand buildings like the Acropolis and the Temple of Poseidon, but the architecture and scenery remain magnificent.
While the news is dominated by reports of the failing economy in this place of history and beauty, I can’t help but remember one particular image from my trip: the ancient marble columns of the Acropolis bolstered by strategically placed steel beams and surrounded by scaffolding, which enables workers to make needed repairs. What a symbolic image as I think of our Christian brothers and sisters, like Fotis, who so desperately need our support as they reach out to their neighbors in need!
“The devotional guide is like a breath of fresh air for its readers,” says Fotis. “We are learning to depend on the Lord for each day, and this is the greatest lesson the crisis is teaching us all—to depend only on God.”
Ms.Wilke is publisher of The Upper Room and Associate General Secretary of the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.