Spanakopita in one hand, coffee in the cupholder, Mihalis Litsikakis drives the maroon passenger van south along the highway toward Lavrio, Greece. Some colleagues from In Touch and I are traveling with him to a refugee center he started last year.
Mihalis jokes that he’s just a glorified taxi driver, but it’s not true. Several times a week he’s taking refugees, who have no other mode of transportation, to the nearest metro train into Athens. It’s there they submit paperwork that literally decides their fate in Europe. Though he downplays his role in it all, Mihalis knows this is making a massive difference in the lives of the people he serves. A basic ride could lead to family members, separated and driven from their home by civil war, reuniting in Germany. It’s why he spends so much of his time on this lonely stretch of road.
For most of my life, I’ve battled with wondering how much my actions matter in the grand scheme of things, and thus punted on many major decisions. Only recently have I come to discover that not making decisions is a choice in itself—and I’m trying to be more thoughtful in how I live. So much of my early childhood was spent perfecting the right answer or action so as not to get hit in the head or pulled by the ear. Abuse crushes the soul and teaches self-protective behaviors: Stick to the script, don’t take chances, survive—no risky moves.
In my line of work, I keep running into people my age doing extraordinary things for others in the name of Jesus Christ. Folks like Mihalis, who took a lot of risks to open a center for refugees in a somewhat hostile climate. He turned down a six-figure salary at the largest pharmaceutical company in Greece, all to be a church planter. He told me it was a difficult decision to make—he has a wife and two small kids to provide for. But he felt the Lord calling him to this ministry, and the cost has been worth it. A refugee at the center once told Mihalis, “I’ve never felt this loved before.”
Mihalis downplays his work, but I won’t let him. Stories like his encourage me that none of us are far from making massive changes in the world. A handful of choices stand between maintaining the status quo and altering history. I question my own life, of commuting two hours a day, of writing articles for a living, of raising three small children with my wife. The cynical me says it’s a so-so existence, not nearly enough. But I think about the stories I get to tell, ones like Mihalis’s, and the thousands of readers who may receive a little encouragement in their own lives. If I’m not playing my part, regardless of how “big” or “small” it seems, will people miss out on something God has for them?
A few months later, Mihalis happened to be in the U.S., in my city, to speak at a mission conference. Over lunch, which included a long-awaited hamburger for him, we chatted about the In Touch trip to Greece and the great ministry connections we’re building. But we also talked about life. Challenges men our age and stage are facing. Marriage and parenting. What success looks like.
It was my turn to drive Mihalis around. As we toured downtown Atlanta, me pointing out important landmarks, our easy conversation continued. Though we’ve known each other only a few months, I’ve started to notice a rapport with him. At one point he turned to me and said, “Joseph, I think if we lived in the same place, we would be very close friends indeed.”