Effie was my loving wife of 43 years and passed into the presence of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Monday Jan 20, 2020 at the age of 70. For the past three years she struggled from the affects of multiple strokes until she finally yielded to the fight she could not win but now shares in the victory that Christ won for her on Calvary.
From her beautiful picture you wouldn't guess that she was a street smart tough as nails fighter in body, mind and spirit. This is really not an obituary but a memorial to a unique woman with life events that would test the courage of many of us.These are just a sampling of the many stories she shared and lived through with me that could fill a book and which many of her own family members weren't even aware of.
Her parents were natives of Greece. She grew up in Worcester Mass in a broken home where her father drank and gambled too much to be home or support the family. Her hardworking seamstress mother couldn't support the family on her own so Effie and her two older sisters Mary and Bessie started working from the ages of 14 as domestic help to assist an older arthritic lady in the neighborhood. Her sisters were 10 and 12 years older than her and eventually moved out on their own leaving Effie and her older brother Chris at home with her mother who experienced deep bouts of depression due to losing a younger son Anthony to illness. Eventually Effie and mother were at odds and Effie was forced to leave the house before she turned 17.
Shuffling between friends, rooming houses and the streets she soon learned that on the street you're either predator or prey. As a young beautiful teenager she was seen as prey by drug dealers, pimps, motor cycle gangs and other evil characters preying on kids in her situation. She refused to give in to them but to protect herself had to live a life of escape and evasion. Members of the Devils Disciples mortorcycle gang out of Worcester were after her and a girlfriend and they had to leave town and live out in the woods for two weeks until they were brave enough to chance a return to the city. Pimps sent girls after her to beat her up to work for them but little did they know that Effie was strong and tough from working in factory sweatshops doing jobs that were often too difficult for men. Her physical strength and toughness were almost supernatural. I saw it with my own eyes when a friend of ours visited just after finishing his Marine bootcamp. He looked buff and muscular ready to kill. I told him Effie was stronger than him and he laughed but she beat him on a strength machine and he was devastated. A pimp sent three girls at once after her and they all quickly learned you don't pick a fight with a tough, angry Greek woman. She was a no holds barred street fighter in every sense of the word which often came in handy to protect her own life. I witnessed it years later at the New Bedford Seafood festival when a young black girl pushed her some reason and that was it, the fight was on. It was a racially charged scene with the crowd taking sides but Effie wouldn't back down. What could I do? I'm certainly not going to risk putting my hands on the other girl to break them up and Effie didn't help matters much by telling the girl "I could kill you!". I knew that many in the crowd had weapons and I was watching for someone to pull a knife but fortunately the other girl's mother stepped in to break it up before we all got arrested or worse. Surprisingly we never had any physical confrontations at home. Probably because I could outrun her.
Everything on the street was a con and betrayal. Parties and gatherings with so called friends could quickly turn into nightmares. She fought her way out of several tight spots and assaults until once she was severely beaten, strangled and left for dead. She said she woke up a day later and saw herself in the mirror white as a ghost and knew she had been dead but revived by the grace of God. Later as I got to know her she took me through the city and we often met those same pimps and "friends" who acted like nothing ever happened. Street life is a crazy life.
Back in those days of the Vietnam war in the late 60's into the 70's activism and anti government sentiment was rampant and Effie was kind of like a female Forest Gump who innocently found herself right in the thick of it. She later showed me buildings where the Black Panthers had a storefront selling books and literature but in the basement her and some black friends were shown how they were training for their planned revolution with martial arts and military weapons. At Clark University she was introduced to the SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, a communist based organization which drew kids into its grasp with violent dissent. She later showed me bookstores in Worcester which were fronts for various communist groups. Worcester was a hot spot for drawing such groups because of its many colleges and student population which they antagonized to promote their agenda. One time she found herself on a bus trip to Washington DC to protest the Vietnam war because some kids on the bus called out to her. She wasn't into protesting the war but it sounded like a good time however she wasn't exactly a student of geography and found out too late that it wasn't just a 2 hour trip down the road but ended up in Washington DC for 3 days with only the clothes on her back. She disagreed with the politics of those days and took a very conservative path. Combined with her tough survival mentality and not fearing a fight she was a force to be reckoned with when it came to her two favorite subjects politics and religion and if you got into a firefight with her your only choice was to agree with her or run for the hills!
One thing she enjoyed in those days and always talked about was when she saw Janis Joplin live in concert at Clark University in 1969. She was also a Bruins fan and traveled alone by bus from Worcester to see the games. She was also an artist and would do sketches of the players and waited outside the locker room for them to sign them. Those were the days of Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr but she eventually gave up her art and threw everything out.
Then one day her life changed and she became a drop in a pond that rippled around the world!.
She and some friends went to hang out a Christian coffee house and were soon met by another hippie who asked them "do you want to be born again?" They said "what ?" He took them aside into a quieter room and showed in the bible the gospel of John chapter 3 verse 3 where Jesus was speaking to a religious person and told him "except a man be born again he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven". Of course in those days with the Beatles and influence of the gurus kids first thought of reincarnation but Jesus went on to explain that everyone requires two births to enter into the kingdom of heaven, a birth in the flesh from your earthy parents and a second birth of your spirit by the Spirt of God. This had nothing to do with reincarnation because the bible teaches that " it's appointed unto man to die once and then the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27)
In that same chapter Jesus taught that famous verse John 3:16 you regularly see on signs in the stands at sporting events and which the full verse says "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall never perish but have everlasting life" but it doesn't stop there and it goes on " For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believes on Him (a trust and commitment from the heart to rely on Him in daily life and follow his teachings) is not condemned: but he that doesn't believe is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. and this is why we're condemned, because light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil"(John 3:17-19)
Effie told me she didn't really understand what it all meant but from her Greek Orthodox upbringing she figured if it's in the bible it must be true so took a step of faith and asked God to forgive her of her sins and come into her heart to save her and be born again. That simple act of faith changed her life and began a chain reaction that continues today to change lives around the world. Here's some highlights.
- She reconciled with her mother who also became born again and a changed woman
- I met up with Effie in 1975 when I became the manager of the rooming house she lived in. I was a big party guy at WPI and manager of the school's Goat's Head Pub when the drinking age was 18. I was in a wild jock house fraternity but through a series of miraculous events accepted Christ as my Savior and was instantly delivered from years of alcohol and drugs since a freshman in high school and never went back to it from that day..
- we both ministered to the 28 tenants in the rooming house which was a whole other story dealing with alcohol, drugs, prostitution, fights, stabbings etc, Just your typical city rooming house in Worcester but where we also saw many changed lives.
- we joined the staff of a street ministry, Crossroads, under a Teen Challenge graduate who was formerly a down in the gutter drunk with years in prison until he too was delivered and became a strong Christian minister after his born again experience.
- Her two sisters Mary and Bessie and her brother in law John soon followed with changed lives.
- Her brother Chris was a Worcester patrolman and then detective. He was also one of the highest ranked Okinawan Karate masters in the U.S. with his 7th degree black belt which he earned while stationed in Okinawa in military intelligence. When he was discharged he built a gym on the side of his house and trained policemen and prison guards. He was a tough holdout but once God got a hold of him he became a real firebrand for Christ. He started a "Cops for Christ" chapter in the Worcester police dept, then joined the Full Gospel Businessmen association as a speaker sharing his testimony of the changing power of Jesus Christ. He was then ordained and felt a call to be a missionary so he used some family land in Greece as a stepping stone into Albania where he and his wife Laura have labored for over 30 years. They started the Balkans Missions and have a storefront ministry called the Stephen Center which now has a restaurant. bakery and radio station reaching thousands and went on to start several Christian churches in Albania and even some of his prison guard friends became pastors in those churches after they too were born again by yielding to the power of Jesus Christ.
- other nephews and nieces and their children came to Christ and truckdriver Richard Fournier is now a pastor up in the Leominster Ma area and his wife Anne Marie who have helped countless numbers of needy kids over the years along with their large and growing family.
These are just some of the incredible and miraculous stories of changed lives I've personally seen and as promised in the bible in 2 Corinthians 5:17" if any man be in Christ he is a new creation. Old things are passed away. Behold all things are new"
Famous evangelist Billy Graham once said "I can't scientifically prove to you that God exists but I can show you he exists by the evidence of changed lives in those who call upon him".
Yes, Effie's humble and damaged life was used by God to change lives around the world. None of the governments, religions and self help books and gurus in the world can ever change the world. Only the power and love of God to change the human heart can reach out through us to change this world.
Effie's heath was deteriorating weeks before her death and she knew it was coming. We discussed it long before her passing. There's no fear of death for a Christian because we believe that Jesus told the truth when He said "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25)" People often leave off the end of that verse where he challenged us with "Do you believe this?". My response is "Yes. I do". What's yours?
Did he tell the truth? Was he really God as he claimed to be? if not then he was a liar or lunatic.. Many people say he was a good man but he never left us that choice because good men aren't liars and deceivers. He was either who he said he was or a liar. Pretty simple. He offered his miracles and His resurrection as proofs that he was speaking the truth. He challenged unbelievers with "if you don't believe me then at least believe the works I do so you know that the Father is in me and I in Him". (John 10:38)
I was with her in the hours leading up to her passing. She hadn't opened her eyes more than a crack in three weeks but as she took her final breaths she suddenly opened her eyes wide and stared up at the ceiling as if surprised to see something. No fear, but peace and then closed her eyes, took her last breath and was gone but I'm certain at that moment her eyes were wide open in her new body beholding her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
My Effie, I miss you but my sorrow over losing my best friend is far outweighed by the joy of knowing you fought the good fight, you finished the race, you kept the faith and laid hold on eternal life.
I'll see you again someday when my work is done.