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A serpentine trail up a mountain

Athea-Maria Papoulia, Austria

Coming to God has been a serpentine trail up a mountain.

The Greek Orthodox church was the center of every Greek immigrant’s life in Massachusetts where I grew up. My parents could hardly read, but were believers. I looked for answers when I was young. After several attempts to get to know the Bible in college studies, I realized Christianity was the right way, but my connection with other Christians wasn’t ideal.

Athea-Maria PapouliaFor the next 20 years, I went to church and occasionally prayed deeply, usually in moments of loneliness and despair. Interestingly, when I prayed with great emotion, concentration, honesty and humbleness, God always dropped the answer right in front of me, including, one time, my husband! Usually, I didn’t notice the miracle he was working in my life until later. It’s strange how quickly we forget, how ungrateful we can be and how we assume we were “lucky.”

As a successful international opera singer, I often prayed for strength and tried to remain humble. My life changed in 2001 as I married and as illness, failures, wrong choices and aging parents living abroad began to shatter my foundation.

In 2009, for the sake of my 5-year-old daughter, I finally turned to the word of God. I learned about a Bible study led by Entrust’s Sandy Shaffer, which she offered through the American Women’s Association in Vienna. It was the right thing at the right time. I was full of fears, anger and loneliness and didn’t know where I was going as a person or as a mother. It was time for a serious look at my beliefs.

I often had questions and ideas that were different from those in the group, but no matter what, a quiet, gentle answer always came, with a Bible verse or even five to back it up! I started reading God’s word regularly and with more depth. I recognized Jesus walking next to me. My language and thoughts started to change. I was quieter and beginning to gain a sense of purpose. I began to speak to people about God, carefully probing to see how they would react to each word. I started feeling people’s pain as they walked by me on the street, which sometimes scared me. So much pain!

At the same time, life began to bombard me. The more I studied and learned and believed, the more I got shot at from every side. As my aged mother was dying in Greece, I was able to pray with her, find peace with her and accompany her in her last months.

The day after burying my mother, I boarded the airplane from Athens back to Vienna with a big smile on my face; grief, but oh, what comfort, oh, what joy! God’s word was on my lips: “We glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5)

Today, at the age of 52, I can look back and see that my whole life has been led by our Lord and Savior, but conscious living and real purpose only started when his word entered my eyes and ears and made its way to my heart.