Wednesday, March 13, 2019 -
Today would have been my dad’s 97th birthday. He passed away in 2009 after a two-year struggle recovering from a broken hip. Although his diabetes didn’t help the recovery, nor did the quality of care and rehabilitation he received.
I had learned a great deal from my father, and many of his characteristics passed to me through genetics, or from example, or both. He basically had three passions in his life. First and foremost, he was passionate to see that every person on earth be given the opportunity to hear of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and choose whether or not to accept or reject Him. In that regard, he was a pioneer in many ways.
In what he fondly called “newspaper evangelism,” Dad would buy advertising space in newspapers and magazines and publish gospel messages, offering Scriptures and Bible correspondence courses to those who wanted more information. This began in Greece and in Greek newspapers here in the U.S. since that was the mission field of what was instantly called the American Committee for the Evangelization of the Greeks, founded in New York City by a Greek photographer who came to Christ through a street preacher. My dad was no the founder of the organization, but it rapidly grew under his leadership after he arrived in 1946 from Cairo, Egypt.
Eventually, years later, he began to publish gospel advertisements in newspapers and magazines the world over – from Turkey, the Arab world, to India to Southeast Asia. No one knows the ultimate impact, but it is estimated millions came to Christ through this innovative effort. Innovation is something that always drove dad – there was always a better way to do something he felt!
Newspaper evangelism continues to this day, but the organization is now called AMG (Advancing the Ministries of the Gospel) International, and this innovative form of evangelism is now called “Media Evangelism,” because much of the advertising is now done through the internet, as are many of the correspondence courses. In countries such as Turkey, it is extremely effective.
Dad’s heart for the lost was also evident in his embracing “international workers” – indigenous missionaries and church planters who could be supported at a fraction of the cost of a Western missionary; and many, many times they were more effective. Today many organizations support hundred of non-Western missionary efforts, and to great effect since the number of unreached and unengaged people groups has plummeted drastically! In India, he effectively trained and supported what he called “Bible Women,” female missionaries who were able to reach many who the men couldn’t reach.
Dad’s secondary passion was to help the poor. He was a very compassionate man and would never turn down anyone who had a need. He felt you could not tell a hungry person about Christ unless you fed him. Yet he also found ways to help them overcome their poverty the world over. AMG became synonymous with feeding programs, leprosy care, hospitals and clinics, schools, orphanages, Bible schools, seminaries, vocational training, disaster relief, and more – al in the name of Christ. Millions upon millions have been impacted!
The third passion that consumed my dad was that of teaching the Word of God. In that regard, he had an angle nobody else the world over could claim. Being born in Cyprus as a Greek speaker, and educated in Greek-language schools in Egypt and Sudan, Greek was his native tongue, which gave him tremendous insights into the Scripture. After years of writing exegetical books and teaching the New Testament from the perspective of the original Greek, he came to realize there was a dearth of resources for pastors and English-speaking believers that would help them grasp the meaning of the original texts. And so he spent years and years developing the Hebrew-Greek Study Bible and the Complete Word Study New Testament and Word Study New Testament Dictionary to go along with it, and then sanctioned and published the same for the Old Testament. These efforts have revolutionized Bible study for pastors and other believers. Again, my dad was a passionate innovator!
It was an interesting story of how my dad first got involved with AMG, or for that matter, how he became a believer in the first place. My grandfather was a stonemason whose specialty was building bridges. I had the opportunity in 1993 to see one of his handiworks, I believe in the Cypriot village of Zodhia, from which he took his name because the name was so much shorter. But there were few opportunities in Cyprus, so he went to Egypt to look for work, where there was also a large Cypriot community. Both were British colonies at the time. He later sent for his family, and my dad actually made the boat trip by himself at 6 years old.
In Cairo, not too many years later, an American missionary set up a store-front church, and the local Greek Orthodox priest was not very happy about the “heretical” religious intrusion into their neighborhood. And so, he called for volunteers from among the Greek boys to go throw stones are the protestant preacher during his sermon. My uncle Argos was one of the volunteers, and they sat in the back of the church service deciding to wait until the end of the sermon to throw their stones at the preacher. My uncle, however, was convicted of his sin and accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. This infuriated my grandmother, and she would not allow young Argos into the house that night. She looked out the next morning and saw him sleeping on the stoop, and had compassion for him. Soon she, too, accepted the Lord, and then Spiros (my dad), and finally my grandfather. At one point, the family moved to Sudan for my grandfather’s work. He built bridges in the remote parts of southern Sudan, and they all lived in a hut in the jungle where my dad had his beloved pet monkey. At one point, my dad lived in Khartoum, but I’m not sure if the entire family was there or not. Dad attended the local Greek language school run by the Greek Orthodox Church. But he refused to abide by the ritual of kissing the hand of the priest, so he was expelled. Another American missionary learned what had happened, and suggested she teach him English. “You never know when it might come in handy,” she told him. Somehow dad managed to complete his lower education and then came World War II and dad was drafted into the British army stationed in Palestine. While in Palestine, he got hold of a Greek language magazine called Logos, published by the American Committee for the Evangelization of the Greeks, and he decided to write an article and submit it for publication. But he wrote the cover letter to the publisher in English. They wrote him back, saying they’d been looking for someone like him who was bilingual (by this time dad spoke 4-5 languages) to come run the ministry. But they could not promise him a salary, so he’d have to come by faith. I still remember the little office of what turned into American Mission to the Greeks on 42nd Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. A month after arriving, he met my mother at First Baptist Church in Manhattan and claimed her that very night for his wife. They were married the next year, and eight years later, I was born at Hackensack Hospital where they moved before I was born from their apartment in the Bronx.
Throughout his entire life, my dad lived a very simple life, never taking but a very modest salary nor a penny in royalties from his many books. Everything went into ministry. His truly was a sacrificial life lived for others, and an example and role model for me.
One additional thing about my dad, that one time, he, too, was tried and convicted of a crime – in Greece. The charge was proselytism (for newspaper evangelism), which remains a crime still today. Fortunately, however, there was an option to “buy” your sentence off for money – all legal, and so he, unlike me, never had to serve time in prison. Yet, we are both convicted “criminals” for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.