Students reach out to youth this summer in Greece

By Caitlin Giddens

It’s a hopeful glimpse of light that serves as a guide out of the darkness.

This is how Jeff Walters, assistant director for campus recreation and leader of Baylor’s outdoor recreation and leadership trip to Athens, Greece, described the immersion of culture between Baylor students and Albanian immigrants. Walters will lead 10 Baylor students as they spend two weeks in July mentoring Albanian youth about leadership and self-esteem.

Walters said the plight of Albanian youth, who crossed the border into Athens after the fall of communism in their own country in the 1990s, is desperate.

“These teenagers are left with a lack of initiative because their parents’ dreams of entering a better life in Athens may not have come true,” Walters said. “There are real needs in Greece, particularly with the Albanian immigrants living there who need leadership and self-esteem. This won’t be a vacation, but a real mission trip.”

Baylor students may not travel to Greece with a hammer in hand, but they hope to build a lasting foundation of faith.

“We won’t be building anything, but we’ll be living life with these teens for two weeks,” Walters said. “These people are coming from spiritual nothingness, which is a huge contrast from Baylor students. So the dynamic between the students should be interesting.”

After fleeing from Albania in the 1990s, 500,000 immigrants live in Athens. They are often lacking in education and hope for the new life they, or their parents, were seeking.

But two Baylor graduates, Bob and Janice Newell, created a service called Porta, a cultural and spiritual center to help Albanians improve their lives.

“Last year, I spent five days in Athens meeting with the Newells and people they work with [PDF],” Walters said. “I came away convinced Baylor students can help these wonderful people. I am just as certain our students can learn from them.”

Upon returning to America, Baylor students plan to maintain the relationships with the Albanian youth through Skype and social media.

“That will make our departure a little easier,” Walters said. “You may not be able to see your new friends face to face, but you can continue the discussions you began.”

Baylor students have been preparing to lead these cross-cultural discussions by engaging in team-building exercises and learning about life in Athens.

“I’ve been reading about servant leadership to prepare for this summer,” El Paso freshman David Campbell said. “And we’ll work on leadership skills. Above all else, we will lead by example and try to show God’s love.”

The students will receive course credit in leadership classes through the trip to Greece. He knew he wanted to participate in a mission trip, so when the call for Greece was made he answered.

“I got to go to Greece last year and I loved the people and the culture,” Campbell said. “They needed guys to lead on the trip, so I knew I wanted to go. And because this is the first time Baylor is going, we’re holding our plans loosely.”

Baylor students will meet with the Newell family to learn more about the operation of the Porta Albanian house, striving to better immigrants’ lives in Athens.

“I can’t wait to build great relationships with people there and meet the Newells,” Bloomington, Minn., sophomore Emma Steincross said. “And teach the Albanian youth about loving themselves and believing in themselves.”

Because of the continual needs of the Albanian people living in Athens, Walters said he hopes to establish this mission trip as a tradition for Baylor students.

“I’m hoping there will be conversations and God and life that are continued,” Walters said. “We can’t go in there with our gospel guns blazing because that would overwhelm the Albanians. But we plan to show them the right amount of light to help them.”