Alky Macris still calls her 6 children the ‘kids of the jungle’. She smiles making this comment, saying that, by God’s grace, one child is a church planter, another the captain of a ministry sailing vessel, one a missionary doctor, the other married to a professor of Theology, another married to an ER paramedic, and the other (Johnathan) a director of a mission.
A wild start
At six months of age, Johnathan, the first child of Greek missionaries Costas and Alky Macris, landed in the tropical jungles of the former Dutch New Guinea. It was there in the jungle amongst the most primitive headhunting cannibal tribes that Johnathan grew up. “It all seemed so totally natural”, as he recounts spending hours playing with the naked children of headhunters with toys made out of the bark of trees and mud squelching between his toes.
They bathed in the river, hoping that no crocs would be bothered, drank the milk of coconuts, and ate the meat of wild boar, snake and crocodile. “Eating with my national playmates over an open fire and in a smoke filled thatch roofed hut, seemed like a perfect way to spend the evening out.”
Life in the jungle
At the age of five, Johnathan was sent to the mission boarding school on the other side of the island. It was a painful experience for the young boy, and no doubt for his parents as well. “Being separated from my parents was the most emotionally painful experience of my life. It took me days and sometimes weeks to recover from homesickness”. Yet, Johnathan believes that this was God’s way of providing his formative education which, although painful, produced life skills and character.
Fear was something Johnathan battled. From the age of 4, he remembers hearing the haunting drum beats of warring tribal feuds and scrambling into the house and under his bed, taking his little brother Haris (who today serves as a medical missionary doctor in Uganda on staff with Hellenic Ministries) when arrows began flying over their rickety home. He recalls the time fear gripped his heart when in an open little skiff (boat), hundreds of savage men were ready to launch their bow stretched arrows from a sandbar when they rounded the murky river bend many miles from home on a river trip with his father.
Held back by fear
While jungle life seemed normal, living with fear and nightmares too became part of life. He remembers his paralysing fear of flying, as countless little missionary aircrafts disappeared into the ragged peaks and thick jungle. There was fear of being washed out to sea with very strong rip tides in the ocean. There were horrible earthquakes, floods, and thunderstorms. As Johnathan grew, his fears were perpetuated and affected his confidence at school and in sports.
The dorm parents were loving missionaries who were genuinely concerned for the spiritual wellbeing of the students, but they could never take the place of his loving Greek parents.
Fear of eternal damnation haunted Johnathan night after night. He remembers his dorm parent, Gus Arnold, who in a time of devotions with the dorm kids, spoke of the gift of eternal salvation! Johnathan recalls, “My vulnerable emotional state was calmed and reassured with the knowledge that Jesus loved me and that His Blood covered even the smallest of my imperfections. The relief was unbelievable to my impressionable little conscience.” While eternity was settled in his heart, overcoming his other fears would take time and grace!
A bright spot and a dark cloud
By age eleven, Johnathan’s day brightened when a shy, thin, quiet girl joined the 6th grade class. “There were all of twelve kids in the class and Miriam was the fourth girl. If it wasn’t love at first sight, there was definitely a friendly attraction! I would say that the little Nebraska girl caused my very first heart throb”. Today, Miriam is his beloved wife, life companion and mother of their five children!
A telex arrived late one evening for Johnathan while he was attending a boarding school across the border in Papua New Guinea for his first year of high school. His father, Costas, had fallen seriously ill. He was dying. He was sent on a special medical evacuation flight to Australia and then the USA. Johnathan’s mother, Alky, and his five siblings would need his help. The telex read “Prepare to return home. Leaving at 7AM.”
Their family was in complete shambles. God had used Costas to bring revival among the tribes of the South Coast; brought order out of chaos in the highlands after the cannibalising of his missionary co-workers; and in the last ten years, he saw his vision realised – the opening of 21 outposts, each with an airstrip, church, school, literacy and medical programmes in the Lakes Plain Swamps – where no missionary had dared to venture. After 16 years of faithful and sacrificial missionary life in the jungles, the tragic change was like the story of the Old Testament Job. His mother, Alky was in deep depression, his brother Neil was in the only island hospital recovering from a severe motorbike accident, his younger brother Alex had contracted a deathly strain of malaria, his sister, Manon, was six months old with an eating disorder and his other sister, Ifie, was too little to be of any help.
This left teenaged Johnathan and his other brother, Haris to pack up 16 years of missionary life and fly their ailing family to the Barnes Memorial Hospital in St Louis – hopefully before their dad died!
A healing miracle
Costas was placed in an isolation ward, feared to have unknown tropical diseases. While feebly wasting away, he was calculating the days left before meeting his Creator. “If anyone is sick among you”, the Apostle James writes, “call on the elders to pray…”, and that is exactly what Costas did. He was anointed with oil…and the rest is history…well…almost! God miraculously reversed the damaged condition of his liver.
Onward to Greece
By 1979, Costas, with his family, left St. Louis and returned to his beloved homeland of Greece. The task was immense. Costas was no stranger to pioneering. Costas and Alky had committed themselves to burying their bones in Irian Jaya. Now the Macris family were replanted in another jungle, the concrete jungle of Athens, Greece.
Greece was the birthplace of democ-racy, the early Church and of the people, whose language God used to pen the New Testament. At the time, in 1979 and in sharp contrast with their jungle island experience, there were only 5 000 re-born Christians of protestant faith in all of Greece! Just imagine, after 2 000 years of rich spiritual heritage, there were so few believing in the message of eternal hope and salvation. By 1980, Hellenic Ministries in Greece was up and running.
Called to the mission field
While Johnathan completed high school at an upscale International high school in an Athenian suburbia, Miriam Raney completed high school in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Johnathan then enrolled at the Moody Bible Institute in downtown Chicago and could not believe that out of thousands of colleges the world over to choose from, Miriam too had enrolled at Moody. “My heart secretly leapt with excitement!”, he thought, “Might the flame that flickered once in New Guinea be rekindled?”
“In a night of confusion, I found myself kneeling at my bed and laying the hopes of any relationship on the altar.” With that conviction, he felt God asking him if he were willing to give away his own life for the cause of reaching a nation for Christ…or for a group of nations?
A map of the world hung above his college bed. Greece was in the centre of the Mediterranean, surrounded by nation after nation either in abject atheism, traditional Orthodoxy and Islam. In fact not only was Greece central, it was where Western Christianity started and ended, and where the world of Islam begins. “This was it, the birth of God’s vision in my heart. Christ for Greece…and the nations!”
Guidance from God
Hardly had Johnathan graduated from Moody Bible Institute and taken up Business Administrational studies, when Costas called him and gave him staggering news, “Johnathan, the doctors have told me I may have a maximum of 3 months to live!” This time it wasn’t strange difficult tropical diseases to diagnose, it was cancer of the lymphatic system.
Johnathan was crushed. He faced a dilemma; He chose to immediately
return to Greece, suspending his business studies and terminating educational deferment from the Greek military. If he could finish his mandatory Greek military service, he thought, before his father’s death, he could be of help to his “would-be” widowed mother and the ministry.
Suddenly, a twist of events unfolded. “Only days before I was due to make my appearance at the army base to begin basic training, I had a strong sense of purpose and urgency to call Miriam, who at the time was completing her nursing degree. It would cost me $7 a minute, but I just had to hear her voice…
I called her from a pay phone and asked her if she would take the path least travelled…if she would marry me! Weary of the dating game and the emotional trauma of possible rejection, I thought it would be best to play the “end game” and to play it quickly. It would either be a “yes” or a “no”.
To his surprise, Miriam answered with neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’, but rather “I will pray about it”. It seemed hardly less than another form of rejection. Ten days later, he decided to call again to hear her final response before entering the army. If it was rejection, he had to face it. They began with some trivial talk. Then finally, Miriam asked, “so do you want to hear the answer to your question? …the answer is yes!” For a moment he couldn’t believe his ears. He exploded with exclamations of joy! Miriam was willing to follow and support him in his life’s call.
A year in the Greek army
A few days into service, he heard his name over the loud speakers. “Soldier Macris, Johnathan, report immediately to the command centre.” It had only been two or three days. What misdemeanour, he wondered, had he committed? How could he be in trouble already?
The room was filled with younger Greek officers. The sun broke through the dark room and created distinct rays through the heavy cigarette smoke. “Soldier, stand at ease”, was the command as he breached the doorway. Leaning back in his chair and adjusting his cap, the officer asked him: “Is it true soldier Macris that you have not had sex?”
Wow! With 2 500 soldiers in for basic training. He had hardly talked to anyone. Reeling from inquisitiveness, Johnathan answered boldly, “Yes, that is correct”.
Time stood still for only a fraction of a moment as if nobody believed what they heard, and then the room erupted in uncontrollable laughter and jeering! “Are your hormones messed up?”, they ridiculed? Again, another wave of laughter followed. It was now his turn to talk! In place of fear and intimidation, a deep source of strength rose up, Johnathan proceeded to explain the nature of God’s love, His purpose for purity and blessing of the marriage bed. He was able to share the Gospel, and after asking if there was anything else to discuss, saluted and walked away.
A voice of purity
A deep wave of gratitude flooded Johnathan’s heart. The Lord had entrusted him a unique opportunity to experience the Kingdom in his heart and to share boldly with his fellow Greek soldiers. His mission to the Greek nation had begun…and fear seemed to be buried in the past!
Johnathan continued serving in the army as special aide to the general in command. In that year, he never met a single other born-again Christian.
On the eve of Johnathan’s demobilisation, Greece announced a red alert and complete battle readiness against Turkish forces mobilised for battle. The end game here was indefinite. Johnathan kissed Miriam good-bye, uncertain if he would ever return. Fortunately, at the last minute, war was avoided and two weeks passed before the tensions de-escalated. When he was finally released, only ten days remained to prepare for the scheduled wedding ceremony.
The cost of faith
It wasn’t long before Johnathan’s faith would be tested. His father had paid a high price for the “crime of proselytism”. He had given a single New Testament to a young 15 year old Greek boy who had visited the YWAM ship, ‘Anastasis’. The court prosecuted Costas and sentenced him to 3½ years in prison. Eventually, after 12 months when the case was under appeal, the sentence was overturned.
It seemed like every year Johnathan’s will and nerves were tested, as time and time again, the police would detain him for interrogation and harassment. In Greece, if someone openly shared the Gospel, one thing could be guaranteed – the State Church authorities would demand that the police arrest the ‘offender’, often this was done by force.
Willing to die for Christ
On one occasion, a mob riot was stirred up against their evangelistic team in the town of Oropos, 2½ hours north of Athens. They were given multiple death threats. After being beat, kicked, and spat on, their car was attacked, with an attempt to kick in the windshield, then to turn the car over, and finally stoned. As the spit ran off both sides of his cheeks, he wondered if he would lay down his life as a martyr here in Greece!
Johnathan’s two worlds collided: how could it be that they survived in a land where cannibalism was openly practised, to now face death by the people who prided themselves of apostolic succession from Peter and the other disciples?
His shirt was ripped and the angered crowd closed in around him, he knew he could not survive the repeated beating and kicking…not to mention the asphyxiating clutches of multiple hands around his throat. Johnathan blacked out and everything became serenely quiet. Miraculously, he came to his senses standing many metres away from the crowd at the car door. He reflects, “Only an angelic presence could have carried me.”
As the director of Hellenic Ministries, Johnathan has been detained more times than he can count. He and his team have had to give a reason for their faith in the city squares across Greece, in police stations and in the courts. God has replaced fear with boldness and a confidence that his strength and courage is from the Lord.
A boldness to share the Gospel
On the eve of the Olympics in Athens, Johnathan launched an ambitious campaign to distribute the Bible in modern Greek to a million homes throughout Greece. They would start with the eighty inhabited scattered islands and then move to mainland Greece.
Today, by God’s grace Operation Joshua and Hellenic Ministries have seeded nearly 600 000 homes giving at least 2 million Greeks access to the New Testament in modern Greek! “What greater gift could we give the nation of Greece, whose language has been appointed by God to treasure the words of eternal hope and life through Christ to all generations!“
Over one million Euros has been used to sow the Word of God into Greece. A million more are still needed. There is no better investment that can be made than delivering God’s Word to a spiritually needy home.
Making an impact for Christ
Hellenic Ministries, has provided for over one million refugees with food, clothing, and showers. They operate a centre for refugee women and children, provide medical assistance, operate camps, a maritime ministry to the Greek islands, and a Crisis Pregnancy Centre.
They also provide counselling for woman in trouble, are involved in media evangelism and run youth camps on its sea-side camp facility. They are also developing training programmes for church workers and new church plants.
Bringing hope to Greece in crisis
If God’s Word can change the narrative of centuries of spiritism, can it not more so bring hope to Greece and its economic woes? Johnathan envisions a land that will be a stepping stone for the Gospel into the world of Islam beyond the borders of Greece, even as the Apostle Paul came through Greece as he took the Gospel beyond Greece to the end of the then known world.
Much in the same way, modern Greece can play a defining role in the future of the nations in the East and their encounter with the truth. As Johnathan’s mother often says: “God can use even a jungle boy to impact a nation.”
How you can get involved
For more info on Johnathan or the ministry, see www.hellenicministries.com
By Nico Bougas