Costas is a man with two stories. Two personal stories, that is; as a tour guide specializing in New Testament history and the Classical Period around the Mediterranean, he can tell stories for hours. But I’m giving you the story that was told to me for months before I met Costas. I was told he can remember everything he reads, that he knows more about the Holy Lands than the local tour guides, that he’s the best guide in Greece—a savant who has nothing but a bachelors in business administration, but is offered full-time history professorships by every university that charters his Biblical history tour services in Greece, Turkey, and Jerusalem.
Then there’s the story Costas tells about himself. Five years ago he found out he was dyslexic when he saw a special about it on TV. He had always struggled with reading and spelling of course, but his teachers said he was lazy. In fourth grade his father gave him a choice: either figure out how to pass your classes or learn my trade. Costas’ father was a builder. At the time the job required, as Costas describes, the dual skill sets of acrobat and weightlifter. Builders carried heavy buckets of cement five flights up rickety wooden planks, lifting and dumping them as needed.
Costas was nine years old and terrified. “I had to find some way to become a friend of the book.”
His grades improved, but it took him twice as long as his classmates to read anything and three or four times reading to remember it. He still struggles with spelling. At first he intended to become a priest in the Greek Orthodox Church. Then he converted to Evangelicalism and became an accountant instead.
Costas is a short man with bright brown eyes, a salt-and-pepper beard. He dresses in long pants with a plaid button up tucked into a high waistband. A faded and near shapeless ball cap to cover his bald head and shield his eyes. Sensible walking shoes. I can see him as an accountant hunched over numbers, quietly working through the rigmarole of tax season. He is mild.
The problem about accounting was Greece revised its tax law in the seven years Costas ran an orphanage in Albania when the post-communist country opened up. He returned to Greece with all his hard-won education so outdated as to be useless. He had nothing and no prospects. A friend suggested working as a tour guide and the idea—along with the requisite three more years of schooling at the age of 35—stuck. As Costas describes, he didn’t have anything better to do at the time.
It’s hard for me to believe he fell into his current career so haphazardly. His eyes and beard grinned with fierce joy when he told me about digging up a skeleton from the first century during an archeology internship he had at school. When I asked him how he combined the secular studies from his schooling with his Bible knowledge—the main component of the tour in Corinth I heard—he waved it away as nothing. Reading the original Greek is not much harder for him than modern, and he had been studying the Bible his entire life. As if that explained his in-depth explanation of who Erasmus was (a man whose name I’d never noted in the Bible) and the implications of the historically situated “bema” in Corinth and how the word is used throughout the Bible.
Whether his is the story of the savant historian or the hard-working dyslexic, I don’t know, and I don’t want to perpetuate the wrong one. Nor do I want to be cliché. But Costas’ trust-dive into tour guiding gives me hope for whatever God gives to those who pursue him with dogged humility. Costas likes his job, and he shrugs off the near-weekly stress of not knowing if he’ll get enough bookings to pay the bills as a chance to watch God provide for him, his wife, and three daughters. He likes his job, but fifty years into life, he still seems to be watching for whatever it is God has planned next.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).