Thursday, February 12, 2009

Greetings from Thessaloniki

As soon as we got into the van at the Thessaloniki airport, Theodore, the tall, smiling Greek who runs our programs in this country, told us one thing.

"The laws in my country," he explained in a relaxed accent, "are... uh, flexible."

As cars, vans, and motorbikes weaved recklessly in and out of pseudo-lanes, we began to believe this might be true. Cars double-park in two vehicles wide here, the outer ones leaving phone numbers on their dashboard if you are behind someone and need to be let out. People pile onto motorbikes and they squeeze themselves between buses (who all seem to be headed to IKEA) and vans, always barely making it.

The first night here we took some scenic footage, watching the sunset over the sea and behind Mt. Olympus. (Yes, that one!) We walked up to the old city fortress and saw the gate that Paul entered during his visit here, a time that later led to 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. This city is very strange in that, within 40 meters of this ancient arch built by a Roman emperor that was later damaged by the Turks, there is a Starbucks. It is a thriving college town of about 40,000 students.

The next day, we interviewed Theodore officially, as well as a few shop owners that listen to our programs. In the afternoon, we visited the director of St. Luke's Hospital, a Christian hospital nearby; the director is also the pastor of the Evangelical Free Church of Thessaloniki. This hospital is not merely Christian by name, but it exists to heal people physically and spiritually, even broadcasting the Gospel message twice a day. Some argue it is taking advantage of the sick, but it is also unanimously known as the most top-notch hospital in the city, so everyone wants to come here. It was a fascinating interview with this man, the director, and he served us the best hospital food you've ever imagined because, hey, it's Greece!

The Lord works in interesting ways. Today we returned to the hospital, and we were once again guests of the director. This leads me to a prayer request and praise to God. Tina, our colleague here for photography, was hit by a motorbike not five minutes after we all split up to get some footage. The bikes fly around corners and he simply didn't see her crossing in time. The rider, Tina, and the bike ended up in a pile on the road. Praise the Lord no car was behind them and that is was only a bike. Tina found us a few minutes later, obviously very shaken, so she sat for a while. She only had a few marks on her leg. When we went to the van about an hour later, there was a orange-sized welt on her leg, so we headed to the hospital. She had the best doctors in the city waiting on her, as the director had told everyone a phrase us Americans taught him the day before: "She's with me!"

Today we went to the top of a mountain where our radio towers are located. Then we went downtown to get some man-on-the-street interviews about people's interaction with radio. What we discovered confirmed the statistics: people here are not interested in and distrustful of television; their primary news and entertainment source is the radio. Ironically, because of this, NO one would allow themselves to be on camera. We found 10 people out of about 50, and I had to do all the question-asking because Theodore said they expect journalists to be pretty, young women. Ha! Imagine how that added to the experience of putting on my friendliest voice ("Excuse me, but may we ask you a few questions!!) and getting constantly rejected! Haha.

I am back at the hotel with Tina, who is recovering. Everyone else is interviewing the Thessaloniki station owner and visiting the home of a listener. Tomorrow we are driving a few towns over to interview an archeologist. They are constantly finding new discoveries in this area, and the history of the Bible just keeps getting confirmed.

By the way, I had a real gyro today. It was about the size of my face and it was wonderful. That is all I will tell you about the food because anything else will just make you wild with envy.