Friday, February 10, 2006

11. Cast of Characters

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
——As You Like It,

At this point in my journey I met a lot of new people who will figure in my story. So I'll just introduce them all at once instead of doing it as I go along.

Youth in Action
The other tenants at Athens Christian Center were Youth in Action, a group of high school kids from San Diego, along with their adult sponsors, who had come to Athens to do street-mime ministry. Sponsored by an organization called Action Ministry, they had no connection with our bands other than staying at the same place. Reportedly these kids got a lot of grief from the Greeks: the police and security guards often shut down their performances, and audiences threw cigarette butts and beer cans at them.

I've already mentioned Haris, the youth minister at Athens Christian Center. He was in charge of the place, because Stavros, the senior pastor, was on vacation. But when he was around, he was in the office taking care of church business. He had no time to look after us. So Q. apparently decided that he would supervise everyone staying there, including Youth in Action. Which, I guess, didn't sit too well with their adult leaders.

A (now-defunct) female Christian hard-rock trio from Michigan: Rebekah, Rhonda, and Tracy (and Tracy's husband, Jon, who was serving as their road manager). Tracy had a connection with Greeks for Christ International, a U.S.-based evangelical ministry that was also supporting Q.'s Olympic outreach. Through this connection Qedem had gotten hooked up with Q., who had offered to book them some concerts. They didn't stay regularly at Athens Christian Center, but they played a lot of events with us.

Qedem got shafted even more egregiously than Loudmouth did:
  1. When rock bands travel by plane—unless they have a tremendous equipment budget—they routinely rely on the promoter to provide "backline": guitar amps, drums, and other equipment too cumbersome or sensitive to check in an airplane's luggage hold. Seems no one thought to obtain any backline for Qedem, so they arrived in Greece with no amps. Ergo, they had no way to produce the distorted electric guitar sounds that are the backbone of their music. Rhonda eventually bought a distortion pedal to put between her guitar and the sound board, but not before the girls got stuck playing a few acoustic sets. They did so cheerfully, but their music wasn't well served that way. (More later about backline.) Qedem wrote a relentlessly positive online journal about their Athens experience, but even so, they couldn't help including this line:
    There have been complications with what "we have all you need for your shows" really means.
    There's understatement for you.

  2. Sarah talked to the Qedem girls more than I did. They told her they'd ended up paying about $9,000 out of their own pockets for their travel expenses (at $2,250 per person, that's a good chunk more than the $1,352 I paid for Sarah), because Q. and E. allegedly* changed their itinerary after booking their tickets, and then required them to pay the airline's fees for the change.
One of our volunteer roadies recruited through Q.'s Web site. Christian is a free-spirited world traveler, and coming to Greece was not the least bit of a stretch for him. (I think he was already in Europe anyway—he went to Italy and then to Poland after the Olympics.) He was, however, a bit surprised to find himself serving as our sound tech, which allegedly happened because he was the only volunteer with experience running a board. He did an admirable job, especially given that it was a responsibility he never expected to have.

There's always the possibility that I misunderstood Christian, but the way he explained the process made me wonder: Had Q. really left it up to chance that he would get a volunteer with sound-tech skills? If so, then what if there had been no such volunteer?


Our other volunteer roadie. What a guy. Gilbert was from L.A. He had been in a bad car accident and had a disability that made it hard for him to walk. Despite which, he never complained, and merely wanted to be treated like everyone else.

Which is why my blood still boils at something he told me: Before the bands arrived, Q. sent Gilbert and Christian around Athens to the various Olympic concert venues to try to obtain bookings. (Mind you, these were the venues Q. had professed to already have booked.) Naturally, all the venues were full. The Olympics had already started. But Q. instructed Gilbert and Christian to offer our bands as last-minute replacements if anyone canceled. And he allegedly told Gilbert to do "whatever it takes" to get bookings—including trying to use his disability to engender sympathy.

In his book Surgery Speaks to China, medical missionary Paul Adolph describes a mendicant Chinese boy whom he was treating for an ulcer on the leg. (This would have been in the 1940s or thereabouts.) It seems that the ulcer was the boy's meal ticket, so once it started to heal, he left the clinic. Adolph later saw him back on the street, "proudly displaying his ulcer and asking for alms." If you've been to Asia or Europe, you've probably seen people doing that with one disability or another. (Heck, you may have seen it in the United States—I can think of some disabled panhandlers in Seattle—but some of the ones in Europe tend to be more aggressive about it.) So, dear reader, you will understand that according to Gilbert, Q. had essentially instructed him to behave like a beggar—asking for concert bookings instead of money. Gilbert refused.**

As far as I've been able to determine, Q.'s request doesn't actually violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's just monumentally insensitive. I wasn't there to witness this, but I'll tell you what I did witness. Gilbert's other job was gatekeeper: he hung out in the courtyard at Athens Christian Center and let people in and out of the locked gate all day. (Haris had given Q. two keys; Q. kept one and gave the other to Gilbert.) This meant Gilbert slept in the courtyard every night. One night, well after midnight, with my own eyes, I saw Q. enter the courtyard and wake a sleeping Gilbert by yelling at him and kicking his air mattress. He didn't seem to have anything urgent to tell Gilbert—just felt like waking him up, I guess.

Cory and the Russians
These folks were part of our team, but I think they were also with another organization, although I'm not sure which one. They were an impressive bunch. Cory, the leader, was a South African man in his late 30s. The other 4 or 5 team members were teenagers from former Soviet countries: Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan—and one was from Germany. They did a lot of heavy-duty evangelical street witnessing and counseling, helped out as roadies, and did chores no one else seemed inclined to do, like cleaning the toilets and scrubbing the floors at Athens Christian Center.

The King's Kids
There were two King's Kids teams in Athens: one from France and another from Germany. They didn't stay with us, but often performed with us. Some of these kids were as young as 12; they were doing mime and interpretive dance, similar to what Youth in Action did (but without the greasepaint). I have to say that in terms of being well rehearsed and having compelling material, both King's Kids and Youth in Action kicked Loudmouth's butt. I don't know if you've ever been shown up by a bunch of French preteens, but it's kind of a humbling experience.

Elias, Philemon, and Eva
Elias is a Greek evangelist. Out of a basement ministry center in downtown Athens, he runs Passage to Life, an outreach to prostitutes, drug addicts, and anyone who needs the Gospel. Elias doesn't speak a whole lot of English, so much of our contact with him was through his son, Philemon. His daughter, Eva, also interpreted for him. Elias turned out to be our major concert sponsor in Athens; most of the events we played were outreaches at which he preached.

There's a law against proselytization (Law No. 1363/38, Section 4, to be exact) in Greece, where the Orthodox Church enjoys a near-monopoly on religious expression. The law violates Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, but nonetheless it's still on the books, as far as I know. Another law requires all Greek houses of worship—of any stripe—to be licensed by the local Orthodox bishop.***

I don't know exactly how Elias worked around these laws. Perhaps, knowing the world's eyes were on them, the Greeks eased up on enforcement
during the Olympics (except, apparently, where Youth in Action was concerned). At any rate, Elias made the most of the opportunity, with at least seven outreach events at various venues in a little more than a week. And he got exciting results, with lots of New Testaments being handed out and dozens of people making decisions for Christ.

Elias devoted significant resources to these events: he rented or provided equipment, got the event permits, and even made T-shirts for everyone. Q. enthusiastically supported Elias and put all of our bands—Loudmouth, U4ic, and Qedem—at his disposal. Which wasn't a problem, except when it was a problem.

Michalis is the director of Logos Music, which as far as I know is Greece's only distributor of CCM recordings. (It's part of Tennessee-based AMG International.) He's also a worship leader at an evangelical church in the north end of Athens. Michalis was our other major Greek sponsor, and set up four concerts for us. The booklets E. gave us at the airport described Michalis as having a "genuine heart towards ministry." By the end of our trip Q. was talking about Michalis in very different terms. More later about that.

Pandora has had an interesting life, and she'll be glad to tell you about it. I think she said she dated Carlos Santana's manager in the 1970s, but later converted to Christianity and has spent much of her time since then serving in various capacities with missionary and evangelistic organizations. Q. had hired her as a cook to prepare the meals that were supposed to be part of our accommodations. Slight problem there: Athens Christian Center had no kitchen facilities other than an electric hot-water pot, a coffee maker, and a single family-size refrigerator. Including the Youth in Action team, there were at least 30 people staying there. Ever tried feeding 30 people when you don't have a kitchen? More later about that.

Russ and Sandy Rosen
Russ and Sandy are based in Fort Langley, British Columbia, and work for Youth with a Mission. Russ has a blues/pop/rock band (the Russ Rosen Band, naturally), and Sandy leads a dance team called Raw Motion (the best evangelistic dance team we saw in Athens). They're nice folks, and we ran into them at several different concert venues.

Other assorted people came and went. A volunteer named Jeff flew over from Korea and stayed a few days. A guy from Spain showed up with his Greek buddy. I wasn't always clear on who people were or how they found us, because I wasn't tapped into the grapevine connecting all the mission groups in Athens. Pandora was, and Q. was to an extent (although he perhaps should have been more tapped in—more later about that).

Anyhow, I think I've introduced the major characters.

*Sorry, gotta use the world "allegedly" for anything I don't have direct knowledge about. I am not making my sources out to be liars, just covering my rear end.

**Here's an relevant excerpt from chapter 22 of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. In this case the ulcer's fake but the alms are real:
The morning after that combat, Hugo got up with a heart filled with vengeful purposes against the king. He had two plans in particular. One was to inflict upon the lad what would be, to his proud spirit and 'imagined' royalty, a peculiar humiliation; and if he failed to accomplish this, his other plan was to put a crime of some kind upon the king and then betray him into the implacable clutches of the law.

In pursuance of the first plan, he proposed to put a 'clime' upon the king's leg, rightly judging that that would mortify him to the last and perfect degree; and as soon as the clime should operate, he meant to get Canty's help, and force the king to expose his leg in the highway and beg for alms. 'Clime' was the cant term for a sore, artificially created. To make a clime, the operator made a paste or poultice of unslaked lime, soap, and the rust of old iron, and spread it upon a piece of leather, which was then bound tightly upon the leg. This would presently fret off the skin, and make the flesh raw and angry-looking; blood was then rubbed upon the limb, which, being fully dried, took on a dark and repulsive color. Then a bandage of soiled rags was put on in a cleverly careless way which would allow the hideous ulcer to be seen and move the compassion of the passer-by.
***Do you think Q. told us about these laws?


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