I leave Cyprus tomorrow.
Having come here for the second time since the academic year 2005-2006 has moved me. Last time, it was for the joyous occasion of my friends’ wedding. I was basically a tourist the whole time. A fantastic way to see the island. As this other blog attests, I’ve done my share of touring in the past week and a half!
However, besides the touring, I gave four seminars on patristics over three days, preached this past Sunday morning, and took a trip to North Cyprus to visit with the students and leaders involved in ministry in one of the unis there. This meant I spent a lot of time preparing — last minute touches on the seminars, including two last-minute PowerPoints, prayerful sermon prep, practising the seminars, that sort of thing.
And the third thing — dinner with friends. Coffee with friends. Sitting around with Rick and Madara and talking. Talking, talking, talking. Talking about the student ministry of seven years ago. Talking about how it’s changed. Talking about the changing face of church in Europe and America. Talking about what a disciple is. Talking about making more disciples. Talking about what the Church Fathers have to say about a whole host of things. Talking and dreaming and hoping for flourishing ministry on this island and across Europe that can conform people to the likeness of the image of God’s Son –whether those people are Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or have yet to enter the Christian fold.
And I find myself missing life seven years ago.
Oh, Cyprus Team! We all had long hair. I think we still do — I’ve lost contact with one of my team mates. But it was brilliant. Despite our team leader’s husband’s deportation and our sudden orphanhood. Despite the loneliness that left me crouched on my side on my couch one time crying, ‘I’m so alone.’ Despite the crooked taxi drivers. Despite ‘Stephen’ getting arrested for drunken disorderliness (he tried breaking into a periptero; these things happen). I tell you, it was brilliant.
There was The Place. International students could come to the Anglican church hall and have some coffee/tea/squash, play board games/ping pong/badminton, listen to music, and hear some Gospel presentation.
Those who were interested in learning more about Jesus could go out for coffee with one of the team. Or ice cream. Or just walk around in the Old City. Or maybe do a one-to-one Bible study. Or join one of a couple of Bible study groups.
The exhilaration of sitting down with a bunch of Hindu and Buddhist Nepalis to read the Bible! The freshness these guys would bring to the Scriptures, the fresh eyes that hadn’t read the stories of Jesus 100 times, the fresh ears that hadn’t heard the deep resonances of Christian doctrine.
I remember the pleasure one of my Nepali friends had when I got him his own Bible. He was so pleased to be able to read the Bible for himself!
Another guy, an Egyptian who had spent years in and out of prison for converting from Islam, was happy just to have me over to his flat to eat copious amounts of food over and over and over again. I learned that hanging out can be tiring, but I also learned how much joy simply being there can bring to a lonely heart.
I remember travelling up to Kyrenia and Famagusta to talk with students there, to hear about what sorts of things Jesus was doing on their campuses in the North.
I remember first meeting the Orthodox, reading my first pages of The Philokalia, seeing my first frescoes, up in the Troodos Mountains.
I remember the Hindu asking what he had to do to be baptised. I remember getting into the baptistery with him and our pastor/friend and helping baptise him in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I remember, two weeks later (to the day!), his Buddhist friend saying, ‘Matthew, I think I have to get baptised.’
I remember being part of something big. Doing something where I could tangibly feel that what I did mattered. Where I wasn’t sheepish about being either Christian or ‘conservative/evangelical’. Where I was praying often and opening up the Scriptures with people on a regular basis. I remember being somewhere where what I did really mattered.
Cyprus fills me with longing.
And it’s not the Gothic architecture or the mountain monasteries or frescoes or black-robed priests or any of that I long for.