March 29, 2018

Finding Healing in Thessaloniki

Jesus’ words stared at me from the hospital wall: μη φοβου μονον πιστευε – “Do not fear, only believe.”

Easier said than done, I thought. But the synagogue ruler Jairus in Mark Chapter 5 had a worse situation than I: his daughter was at the point of death. I still wasn’t feeling great: emergency surgery in an unfamiliar land far from friends and family. God really was the only one who could intervene.

My first-time visit to Greece wasn’t supposed to go this way. I had traveled on a pilgrimage to visit Mount Athos – “The Holy Mountain” – home to 20 Orthodox monasteries. My Greek-American friend Dave organized the backpacking trek, and I was looking forward to being challenged by something outside of my comfort zone.

Some American friends were bemused as to why I was going. Among other eccentricities, Athos is the largest land area in the world from which women – and even female livestock – are strictly forbidden. A special visa is required and only 10 non-Orthodox persons are permitted visas each day for a visit not to exceed three days.

Unfortunately, my visit was quickly cut short after I fainted on the boat ride to Athos and struggled to walk. I was sent to a hospital in the town of Polygyros and then transferred on to a private hospital in the biblical city of Thessaloniki, the largest metropolitan area in northern Greece. A brief bout of food poisoning the night before had triggered something far worse: my body was rapidly losing blood. Several blood transfusions later, a scan revealed that the blood loss was originating in my small intestine, where a sizeable mass was detected. I would need surgery before returning home to the United States.

So much for vacation. But what had become “unplanned medical tourism” provided an opportunity to draw closer to God.

The private hospital in which I was treated, St. Luke’s, also provided an opportunity to connect with Greece’s small Evangelical community. At only about half a percent of the Greek population, being an Evangelical Christian in Greece is a counter-cultural move. About half of the employees at St. Luke’s are professing Evangelical Christians. I both asked for and received personal prayer with several of my caregivers, something I had not experienced in the United States. I was also dependent upon my friend Dave’s Greek family, his uncle generously visiting me, housing me after my hospital release, and navigating the hospital administration process for me. God provided.

My hospital room featured the framed excerpt from Mark Chapter 5. My thoughts were also on Saint Paul’s words to the residents of the city where I was being treated. 1 Thessalonians Chapter 5 verses 16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Probably 200 people were praying for me, and sulking about a spoiled vacation would not be the appropriate response.

The chapter from Mark seemed especially relevant: I have struggled for three years with iron deficiency anemia, and my American doctors had few answers. Otherwise healthy young men do not typically struggle with the condition, and I had grown increasingly frustrated with a decreasing quality of life. My skin was pale and hands cold; my energy levels reduced to a state of lethargy. Mistakenly, I had thought the problem was brought about by an inability of my body to absorb iron. Instead, my sudden medical crisis in Greece revealed that it had been intermittent and – until now – undiagnosed blood loss that had caused all these problems for so long.

Earlier in Chapter 5, St. Mark writes:

“And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’ And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”

This woman’s story resonates with my new experience. The kind Greek hospital staff and friends surrounding me helped in my healing. I’m still recovering and understanding what happened, but power has gone out from Christ, and like the woman in Mark Chapter 5, I have been made well.

A goodbye photo with some of the staff who cared for me at St. Luke’s Hospital in Thessaloniki, Greece, where I spent nine days. (Photo: Jeff Walton / IRD)

13 Responses to Finding Healing in Thessaloniki

  1. Angela Minns says:

    Praise the Lord. God provided for you.

  2. Margaret Rosenow says:

    I hope you will be back to your normal self soon. Thanks for all the up-dates.

  3. Jen Bowers says:

    Appreciating this. How good is our God — not only in providing care, medical help and healing, but in linking your experience so vividly to the biblical accounts in those ways. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Foley Beach says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing. Continuing to pray for you, our brother in Christ.

  5. Caron Octigan says:

    I will never read Mark 5 the same way again. How exciting to see God’s hand in taking you away from your comfort zone to heal you.
    So glad you are home and on a road to recovery.

  6. The Lord has unusual ways of getting our attention. Praise His name! He had just the right hospital and people to diagnose, operate and help you heal. Amazing and wonderful So you go from bee stings to internal bleeding, Jeff, and God gets all the glory! Great scripture to illustrate and remember… thankful you are on the mend.

  7. R M Edwards says:

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow! What a privilege to
    walk with you on this journey. Wonderful testimony and so much Glory to God!

  8. David Virtue says:

    Glad you are back on your feet Jeff. A scary moment indeed. Looking forward to hearing more when you are stateside.

  9. Connally Gilliam says:

    Wow! Loved reading this–and its good outcome.

  10. Robert Munday says:

    Praise God! You went in to be treated for one thing and ended up being healed of something more serious. May you have a speedy and full recovery!

  11. Kevin Robertson says:

    Praise the LORD you are on the mend and that you have a good perspective on His care and Providence in your life.

  12. David says:

    So grateful to God that I got to worship Him with you this weekend. Glad you are home.

  13. Terry Tee says:

    Jeff, I was, strangely enough, in Thessaloniki in March, possibly overlapping with you. I was struck by the powerful Christian faith of the city. Apart from the numerous churches, there were little alcoves on the street where passers-by could pause to pray in front of an icon and light a candle. (On a less spiritual note, I was also awe-struck by the many, many excellent patisseries.) I have been to Greece many times and have always found a heart-warming, generous-spirited people. I pray that they may pass through the economic travails of their nation and flourish.

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