Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer Events 2010

Hello from the Gulleys! We terribly miss our family and friends who are so far away from us and we pray that you are doing well and trying to stay cool in this hot summer heat! Please know that we think of you often as we continue our ministry here.
This is our second summer to be in Greece and it was yet another event filled summer! One of our greatest highlights this summer was that Matt's brother, Tanner 16, came to Greece to visit us and work alongside Matt with the refugees. It was so awesome to watch him interact with people from various nationalities, breaking through the language barrier by playing chess, using hand motions and even just a smile! From the time Tanner got off the plane he was running full force with Matt starting off the summer schedule.

The first camp on the calendar was the Refugee Men's Camp beginning the first week of June and lasting one week. Matt helped organize and plan the camp and I stayed in Athens with Ashtyn. Approximately 26 men participated in this camp and the guys had a relaxing time swimming, canoeing, playing ping pong, volleyball, archery, and rock climbing. Tanner had the opportunity to use his rock climbing knowledge and skills and he was in charge of setting up and teaching the guys how to use the rock climbing wall. This was a great way for him to connect with the guys. Every day there was a teaching and spiritual discussion time for the men to be a part of during camp. The guys watched The Jesus Film and then broke out in their small groups. Matt's group was from Iran and Afghanistan.

Here are some pictures from the Refugee Men's Camp:

Carving lemons


Riding the intertube

Hanging on the zip line


Enjoying archery!

Tanner manning the rock climbing wall

Matt having discussions with the men.

One week after Men's Camp was over we headed off for Family Refugee Camp. This included men, women and children from Afghanistan. There were a total of 88 refugees, 40 of them being children. This was a much different camp than the Men's Camp. Whenever you have refugee women and children it adds a whole other element. The families had so much fun and enjoyed some rest and relaxation time. The children were involved with crafts every day and a VBS time in the evening, while the parents broke out in their small group discussions after a message. The discussions ended at around 10 pm every night and we were up at 7 am in the morning. Everyone had swim time every day with men and women being separated. It's always interesting watching the women swim fully covered, even with their head coverings. They had the best time and some of our staff taught the women how to swim. From this camp, the women have asked to continue meeting on a weekly basis to study the Bible and the teenage boys (Matt's group) also asked to continue meeting once a week in Athens. Matt has met with the teenagers since and have begun to form a group. This camp was a big blessing to the families as well as to all of us involved in putting the camp together. We returned to Athens very blessed and very exhausted!! Thank you Muskogee Church for your generous contribution in making this camp possible!

Here are a few pictures from Refugee Family Camp - due to the political and legal situations of these families we are only allowed to publish pictures of the children:

Ages 3 and below playing while their parents are learning about the Bible

Beautiful face painting during craft time

Sweet children

Tanner and Ashtyn during a heat wave!

During VBS time

On July 20, we headed down to the Peloponnese to a town called Mystra which is near Sparti (or Sparta) for Operation Joshua 3. This is a major project where the goal is to take a modern Greek New Testament to every home in the area designated to cover. We gave out 60,000 bibles to 814 Greek villages. About 45 cars with groups of people drove out every morning and covered their designated villages for the day. They would return in the evening for dinner and worship time. Some amazing stories were shared every day about their experiences and interactions with the Greek villagers. Matt was one of the group leaders and I stayed at the campsite with Ashtyn during the day. It was hot, but quite cool in the evenings which was wonderful. Matt said that the people this year were much more receptive than last year and his group received several invitations for coffees and treats. They drove through some beautiful villages and ate some of the best salads and fruits! One night we were having worship in the big tent at the campsite and two ladies showed up, looked at Matt, and said, "Hi, you came to my home today!" They had received a Bible and then came to see where we were staying. We had a good conversation with them. This is one of many stories.

Here are some pictures from Operation Joshua 3:

Taking time out to see a castle in Sparta

We were pleasantly surprised to see my cousin, Michael, and his family from Canada come to help out with the distribution.

60,000 Bibles were prepared and packed to be distributed

Ashtyn, Caleb, and Rebecca kept each other company during this event

Packing bibles on a hot, summer day! :)

Villager reading the Bible Matt brought to him

This lady is holding a New Testament and then treated Matt and his group to juice, chocolates, and candy

Visiting with one of the villagers

I don't want to drag this post out anymore. So, just a quick family update: My pregnancy continues to go well. We are having a baby girl due October 17th. I like my doctor and he speaks English :) We are hoping everything goes smoothly and that the doctor and hospital respects our wishes for the care of the baby. C-sections are very common and sometimes routine here, and this is something I only want in case of complication. Please pray with us as we are in need of $2,600 to pay for the doctor and delivery (after insurance reimbursement). We believe that God is faithful and he will provide in ways we haven't thought possible. Ashtyn continues to grow and is becoming very independent. She wants to do EVERYTHING by herself. She loves to sing and everyone at camp heard her sing herself to sleep in our tent! She's pretty funny :) For more pictures of different events please visit my facebook page.

Lots of love to you all,
Matt, Nikki, Ashtyn & baby Eden

Monday, April 26, 2010

Birthday, Easter, Tournament, Conference

Well, as most of you already know our big news the last few months is that I am pregnant! We are expecting our 2nd precious child in October. We are thrilled. I found out 2 days before Valentine's Day, so I thought it would be the perfect surprise and gift for Matt since I hadn't come up with anything else. Those two days were torturing for me as I had to keep this news a secret from Matt, but I kept reminding myself that it would be well worth it to see the look on his face. So we went to a restaurant and I was so antsy to exchange gifts I couldn't wait for the meal to come. So I opened Matt's gift first which was a shirt (perfect for maternity too) and then he opened mine. I had 2 gifts for him. The first was a journal to write in and the second was a gift bag with the pregnancy test inside and a note that read "Congratulations...#2 is on its way!" Oh, the look on his face was priceless! He said "Is this real?" I just started laughing and the rest of the night was spent discussing how we were going to arrange the rooms for the new baby. It was fun! :)
Ashtyn's second birthday (Feb 22) was celebrated at our house this year. We had Mimi, Pappou, and 3 other friends come over with their parents. She was so happy and played with everyone. It is so fun to see her grow up though sometimes I want to push the pause button. This is by far the cutest age and we enjoy her so much. She is like a parrot and will copy everything we say (we really have to watch ourselves now). She is funny, loves to color, read her Bible, go to Mimi & Pappou's house, go the park, jump on the trampoline at camp, eat strawberries, watch her movies....these are just some of her favorite things. She knows all her colors, shapes, numbers to 20, letters and sounds, and she can count to 10 in Greek. Her pediatrician thinks she will be tall which is so strange for me since I was always the smallest and shortest...ha! Good thing she takes after her daddy!
In March, our family went up to Northern Greece to a beach town called Leptokaria, not far from Thessaloniki. Matt attended a Christian Athletic tournament and competed in the volleyball competitions. He did awesome and his team walked away with a silver medal. It was nice to meet people from other Greek churches and Ashtyn had a great time playing on the beach with her friend, Kela.
The next week was Easter and my mom invited our family, another couple, and 3 single people from church to come to her house for lunch. She cooked amazing lamb and potatoes, salad, appetizers and desert. Everything was delicious. In Greece we dye the boiled eggs red and on Easter Day each person takes one egg and you hit it against your neighbors egg. Whoever has the egg that doesn't crack, wins. (which was mine!) So Matt, Ashtyn and I were up the night before dying eggs. We had fun!
In April, we had our HM Annual Family Conference at Porto Astro. The topic of the conference was HOPE - through the family. Our guest speakers were Virgil and Bonnie Adams. They reside in Georgia so it was neat to have that connection with them. They used to be missionaries in the jungles of Irian Jaya. They had plenty of experiences and stories to share. They spoke about marriage and how to protect your family and homes when you are on the mission field. The seminar was very valuable and encouraging to us. This year Ashtyn was at an age where she could go play with the other children while Matt and I attended the sessions. One of the missionary kids, Kiara 12, would take Ashtyn for us every day and jump with her on the trampoline, take her to the park and to do crafts. Ashtyn just loves her to say the least!
It was nice to devote my attention to the meetings and reports without being interrupted. Now next year will be a different story again with a 6 month old!
We are ecstatic that Matt's brother, Tanner 16, will be with us for the month of June. We have talked about him coming to Greece together for a long time and God has opened that door for him. He will be attending the refugee camps with us and learning about the ministry. He will also have a chance to see Greece and we will get to spend quality time with him. Matt said he hasn't spent 1 month with his brother since he was 5 years old. I'm sure this will be memorable for all of us!
Opening presents on Ashtyn's birthday

Easter Day - collecting eggs

Our beautiful red eggs :)

This is what happens when Matt gives Ashtyn a bath

At the Christian Athletic Tournament with her friend Kela

Matt is ready for a game of beach volleyball

I found Ashtyn sleeping like this on the couch one sweet.

Loves Dora!

Painting is fun

Singing on stage on one of the Friday women's shower days.

Happy Birthday Ashtyn!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 2010

Well here we are in 2010 and it has already taken off so fast!! Since our trip to the States in January we have hit the road running and I can't believe it's already April. We had an incredible visit back to the States beginning on Christmas Day. We were supposed to leave a few days earlier, but due to all the snowstorms in New York our flight was cancelled and nothing was available until Christmas Day so we took it! We visited Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia in 4 short weeks. We soaked in every moment with family as much as possible. Ashtyn had so many people to love on and so many cousins to play with throughout the time we were there. It was wonderful to see how much all the kids have grown. We also got to meet our new niece, Ellory Joy and she is truly a joy to be around and hold. Of course we spent a good portion of our trip visiting our home church, Muskogee Church of Christ. It is always fulfilling to be around our church family spending quality time with godly people who fill us with encouragement and love. Thank you Muskogee Church for being there for us and listening to our hearts during times of praise and difficult times as well.
A highlight of our trip was the opportunity to go back to our "home" in Atlanta, GA. Larry and Becky Campbell graciously opened up their home to us during our stay there. What a blessing it was to spend time with this couple full of wisdom and Christ-like characters. A group of our friends gathered one night and we were able to share about the work in Greece and show a slideshow. We visited Greater Atlanta Christian School where both of us had the opportunity to teach. Matt spoke in Elementary Chapel, but mostly, we tried to see as many of our friends in the short amount of time we had.
Jetlag hit Ashtyn pretty hard going and coming. It took a while to settle back in and get her back on schedule, but the trip was well worth it despite this challenge! A few weeks after arriving back, we found out I am pregnant with our second baby! Thank you God for this blessing! The baby is due October 17th. I have a whole new experience awaiting for me here in Greece. Ha!
While we were gone the love meals, showers, laundry, diapers, and the Wednesday spiritual discussions continued. The Friday showers (women & children) are completely full every week. We average about 40 children per week and we can already see a change in the behavior and respect from the children during coloring time. Unfortunately, there have been several instances where Matt has had to intervene to break up fights between fathers and one time our lives were even threatened. Due to these circumstances, men are not allowed to come with their family on Fridays. It is strictly for women and children. We sense that the women feel more safe and comfortable to come. Please pray that this will cut down on tension and things will begin to run more smoothly.
To keep this post from being too long I will end it here with some pictures. In the next post I will write about Ashtyn's 2nd birthday, a Christian athletic tournament we attended, Easter and our Hellenic Ministries Annual Family Conference.
Matt, Nikki, & Ashtyn

Cousins Jackson and Zoe

Gram and Ashtyn having fun!

The Roussos family

"It's all about the granddaughters" - Gram

Nikki's sister, Melody

Miranda and new niece, Ellory Joy!

Gigi and Ashtyn bonding time...

Love you Papa Rary!

Gotta love the long airplane rides

Family pic Jan 2010

Ashtyn - 23 months