Although Athens, Greece, is ordinarily the epitome of mild, Mediterranean weather, January and February are our cold months.
Surrounded as we are by mountains, recent weather has been at the freezing point, with snow on the ground in the city.

As the temperature went lower and the price of heating oil went higher due to increased taxes from Greece’s austerity measures, many crisis-driven Athenians could not afford to turn on the heat. As a result, consumption of home heating oil has dropped by 80 percent.

In the attempt to stay warm, my fellow citizens who have the option have begun to use their fireplaces. Thirty percent of Athens’ service stations are now selling firewood.

Years ago, this once-polluted city took extraordinary measures to curb pollution and genuine progress was made.

The return to open fires in fireplaces, however, is exacerbating that old problem. Athens is once again producing generous amounts of smog.

The neo-classical building in which “PORTA – the Albania House in Athens” is located did not have a functional heating system when we first began to use it in 2007.

One of our earliest improvements to the building was to install six wall-mounted air conditioning/heating units.

Despite the lack of genuine insulation in this ancient building, we are now able to provide heat when students and others arrive for classes or events.

Since many Albanians use motorcycles as the primary means of transportation, they often show up with red faces and frosty fingers, ready to warm up.

It puts me in mind of that old song by Alan Jay Lerner from the musical, “My Fair Lady.”

In the musical, while well-to-do Cockneys make plans to go to Paris or Capri to escape the cold weather in London, poor Eliza Doolittle moans: “All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air.”

She dreams of “lots of coal makin’ lots of (h)eat” and wishes for “warm face, warm (h)ands, warm feet,” concluding that such unbelievable bliss would be “loverly.”

Abraham Maslow was absolutely correct. The basics of human need must first be met before other considerations can even be imagined. Indeed, there is a powerful “hierarchy of human needs.”

Long before love, belonging, self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect, and certainly before self-actualization, creativity and spontaneity can be reached, human beings need to have their physical needs met at a basic level.

At PORTA, we operate from a profound and fundamental appreciation of this reality.

For that reason, we make no apology for providing efforts that some derisively refer to as a “social gospel.”

Our purpose is to care for Albanian immigrants in Athens in a holistic manner and that includes a concern for every aspect of their lives.

While some degrade that portion of the budget that covers the physical plant, we feel no such prejudice and make every effort to ensure that our facilities are of the first and finest order.

We are grateful that, during this cold season in Athens, PORTA is a clean, bright, safe and warm place in which Albanians can meet.

And a place where Albanian immigrants from a formerly atheistic government are beginning to consider the previously un-thought possibility of a heavenly Father who, as Liza might have said, is “warm an’ tender as ‘e can be,” “Who takes good care of me.” “Oh, wouldn’t it be …”

Bob Newell is ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. This article is taken from one that first appeared in the January 2013 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell’s monthly electronic newsletter.

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