Maria Gryparis: Finding God in Miracles and the Mundane
By Lauren Rowley
With a smile even warmer than the cup of tea in her hand, Maria Gryparis openly welcomes me into her home and is eager to share her story.
Although she grew up in a suburb of Chicago, she always had deep roots into other cultures – being raised in a Greek-American home, she developed a passion for global communities. Since her first year at Wheaton College, Maria has always been sharing about her heart for international and medical missions.
“I knew I was interested in future international work, medical ideally, and was excited to look for opportunities at Wheaton that would help me explore that abroad!”
Over her last few years at Wheaton, she has taken every opportunity to push further into her call into international missions — and in some cases, this call to missions took her to places she didn’t expect.
After one life-changing summer abroad, Maria was eager to leave the comforts of the United States again. When she got the acceptance call from Samaritan’s Purse offering her an internship, she was ecstatic. However, a disappointment was quick to follow — one that would teach her lessons that would last a lifetime.
Maria’s story shows that God is big enough to work in all circumstances, even surprising ones.
Forming a Global Perspective Abroad
After her first year of college, Maria participated in Wheaton College’s Student Ministry Partners program through their Office of Christian Outreach. Student Ministry Partner’s mission is to:
“Mobilize and equip students to partner with the global church and to make known the Kingdom of God among the nations…”
When I asked Maria what originally pushed her to apply for this program, she explained, “ This program would give me the opportunity to somewhat try that out for a period of time that was longer than 1 or 2 weeks but still not a full semester-long experience.”
The program sends students to different countries around the world for 6-10 weeks over the summer to invest in local ministries. Maria was sent to Quito, Ecuador with 5 other students for 8 weeks to work alongside local ministries that seek to engage students in the challenges of the developing world.
Maria served as an aide in a medical clinic. She lit up when I asked her to speak more about the people she interacted with while working there, the work she was doing, and the way it shaped her.
“I think fondly of all of the people I met in Ecuador, their openness and grace with me as I learned, and how my time there solidified my passion for overseas ministry.”
After Ecuador, Maria accepted an appointment as the chair of the Student Ministry Partners program for the following year. In this position, she coordinated trips for students all over the globe and taught them to engage in relationships and invest in cultures the same way she did.
She couldn’t wait to go back into the mission field herself.
Making a Difference Behind the Scenes
Following over a year engulfed in the Student Ministry Partners program, Maria was thrilled when she found out she was accepted to spend the summer working for the world-renowned relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse.
With revenue of $300 million per year, it is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.
During the application process, Maria has made her request to be sent abroad for one of their global internship opportunities clear.
“I explained that due to my wonderful experience in Ecuador, I really was feeling called to go abroad again. Specifically, to work in the medical industry again.”
However, when she heard back from the college recruiting team, they gave her news she was not expecting. They were offering her a position to work in their headquarters in Boone, North Carolina. She would spend the entire summer working in the U.S., without a single day abroad.
“They explained that I would be working on a team that helped plan for the disaster response projects all over the world, but I was really set on being in the field. I was confused and honestly disappointed, but I felt the Lord calling me to accept the position anyway.”
That summer, she spent 10 weeks working hard on a team to develop programs and support people in field offices all across the globe. She specifically worked to help coordinate, Disaster Emergency Response Teams, what Samaritan’s Purse calls “DARTs” that were sent out to some of the most urgent crises all across the world.
“My experience with Samaritan’s Purse was amazing, I could not have more wonderful things to say about the ways it challenged and encouraged my faith; the people I worked with, and the behind-the-scenes work I was able to do to support global disaster relief efforts.”
Coming back from her summer in North Carolina, Maria couldn’t have been more excited to talk about the Lord’s faithfulness.
“I learned so much about the beauty of working behind closed doors. The Lord taught me that he needs laborers behind the scenes to support those on the field. Without hard work in the shadows, the light could never be shown.”
Global Influence – No Matter Where You Are
With a summer abroad, and a summer working behind the scenes, Maria has seen the ins-and-outs of international relief ministry. She opened up about how these experiences taught her that the Lord chooses to use people in the adventurous and in the mundane.
“I think we tend to kind of make up in our mind that the ‘best Christian,’ or the ‘coolest missionary’ is the person who lives a radical lifestyle overseas. I have even found myself thinking, ‘If God had called me to the Middle East working with Syrian refugees or the African bush seeking out unreached people groups, I would have been the best Christian ever!
But being here, in the suburbs, where it’s mundane, it’s just so much easier to be comfortable and not value my work the same. However, my experiences have shown me that our God is big enough to work through any and all of our circumstances”
So what does it mean when ministry isn’t that exciting? Is God still using us? When I asked Maria this question she said, “We have a vision of the ‘ideal work,’ but I think the key to ministry is being faithful to seeking God, whether that’s in your everyday routine or out in the exciting world! Much of life won’t be this exciting adventure we think, but there is an adventure in learning every day how to better honor Him in the highs and the lows.”
Maria’s story can remind all of us the God can use seemingly mundane places and experiences to shape us into his likeness just as much as extraordinary events. Like Mother Teresa said so well,
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Although she stayed stateside this summer, Maria keeps her passport handy and hasn’t abandoned her passion for working in ministry overseas. But now, she is more confident than ever that God has great plans to use her wherever he may lead.