He removed his thick-rimmed glasses, wiped his tears and apologized for the emotion. His story didn’t start well, and at this point, it had only gotten worse.
This was the part of the story when his parents did something he never expected, something that the sheer memory causes this 55-year-old man to weep.
Manos grew up in poverty on one of the Greek islands where his father worked as a farm laborer. He was the youngest of seven with only one other brother. He never met his two oldest sisters, as they left the family as young teenagers to provide for themselves in Athens.
Manos’ parents divorced when he was 5 years old, and he spent his childhood being tossed back and forth between his parents who were secretly living their own promiscuous lifestyles.
When he was 13 years old, Manos’ parents became annoyed with his questions about their loose living. And so, for the first time in years, his parents talked. But this conversation was not to talk about each other.
This is the first part where Manos cries in telling his story. The part where his mostly full glass of orange juice sits on the table while he silently weeps, apologizing for his emotion. This is the part where the years of pain flood back into the deepest parts of his soul; his partially healed wounds are exposed. And it hurts. And he cries.
“So, for the first time after eight years being separated, my parents communicated with each other,” he takes a deep breath and continues. “They decided I needed to leave the island and get out of their lives.”
Manos communicates factually about how he was placed on a boat and sent alone to Athens. He tells how he had nowhere to go, no food, no money, so he simply sat on a park bench. He speaks of his relief when a wealthy sea captain showed interest in him, listened to his story, and offered him a home.
Yet relief turned to horror when the boy was manipulated into a homosexual lifestyle with this man in exchange for a place in his home.
For the next three years, Manos was the captain’s trophy. He was shown off in the late night gay bars, introduced to dozens of transvestite prostitutes, and continually manipulated. Way of life and survival were synonymous to Manos. With no knowledge or experience, alone in the world, it seemed he had no other choice.
Yet, after those three years of continual exploitation, Manos was given the choice to leave or continue living with the captain, provided Manos would be used by the captain’s friends as well.
Manos made his decision and finally left the captain. But the young man had nowhere to go and knew no other lifestyle, so he dressed as a woman and began working the streets as a prostitute.
Damaging his body and soul, Manos turned to drugs as a numbing solution for a lifestyle that continued for the next 23 years.
But late one night, while very high on drugs, Manos heard something that changed the entire destructive course of his life.
He straightened up and shook his head trying to understand the words two strangers had just spoken after approaching him.
“There’s somebody that loves you just the way you are,” the couple had said.
Trying to make sense of their radical message, “Is there really such a person?” he asked in amazement.
“Yes,” they said, “there is such a person. His name is Jesus.”
Manos remembers others who previously preached lengthy messages to him. “All the big sermons didn’t touch me. But that touched me.”
The couple had come from a ministry of International Teams called Nea Zoi (or New Life). This ministry exists to provide holistic support for men and women caught in the cycle of prostitution.
Manos was immediately drawn to Nea Zoi. “The thing that impressed me the most was that they loved me and cared for me and tried to help me get out from where I was,” he said.
But it wasn’t quick or easy. He had finally heard about the unconditional love of Jesus, but Manos didn’t yet know Jesus or His power. So he continued on the same destructive path.
He was trapped. Even though he sought help from a rehabilitation center, he continued falling back into his old habits.
But God wanted Manos. He was not content to let him stay where he was.
The workers at Nea Zoi continued to check in on Manos and encourage him with the truth of transformation found only in Jesus.
Manos once again removes his glasses, wiping tears as he tells of one night at the rehabilitation center. Only this time he sheds tears of transformation. Tears of relief and thankfulness. On that night, light shone in his heart. He opened his heart and life to Jesus and cried out, “Jesus, you died for the whole world. You died for me too. Please do something for me.”
The very next day began a process of renewal and transformation. First, Manos cut and dyed his hair back to its natural color. And for the next few months, he continued making changes, restoring a masculine appearance.
External transformation evidenced the work in his heart that was just beginning. In his new found faith, Manos spent a year in another rehabilitation center where he continued growing and learning about God.
But once the program ended, Manos was again out on the streets - unemployed, alone and vulnerable. He sought help from various people and churches, but without success. And then, he turned to Nea Zoi - the friends who were with him as he began this journey of transformation.
The workers at Nea Zoi helped Manos find an inexpensive apartment and gave him the money for the first month’s rent.
They also connected him with Koukaki’s Second Evangelical Church which partners with Nea Zoi and International Teams. Volunteers from this church welcomed him into the congregation with open arms. It was there that Manos found something he’d gone nearly his whole life without - a family.
It’s now been five years since Manos met and began following Jesus. He now serves in the various ministries of his church where he himself received and continues receiving physical and spiritual support.
“Not that I can repay Him,” Manos says, “but for what He has done for me, [serving Him] is the least that I can do.”
As he finishes sharing his story along with his last few gulps of orange juice, Manos reflects on all he’s just said.
“Even though I’ve had a lot of difficulties in life - and I have some issues about this with God - there’s no turning back, because it’s a one-way street for me,” he pauses, contemplative, then repeats, “There’s no turning back. I just thank the Lord for providing a place for me to live. And I thank Jesus that He sought me and He found me. And I know that He has a good plan for my life.”
“The struggles are always there, but Jesus is with me and He gives me the power to overcome the temptations.”
Please pray for Manos as he continues to grow in his faith and also seeks a steady income. Also, please pray for the Second Evangelical Church and the ministries of International Teams in Athens, and that God would continue to touch more lives like Manos.