HELLENISM.NET: Grace, hello from everyone at Hellenism.Net and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
HELLENISM.NET: Where were you born?
I was born in White Plains New York.
H: Are both your parents Greek? What part of Greece are they from?
My mother was Italian and my father was Greek. His family was from the Greek island of Samos.
H: Are you fluent in Greek? If not, do you speak any Greek at all?
I spoke a little Greek when I was a small child. I picked it up from my relatives.
H: Have you ever been to Greece? Have you given any concerts or services in Greece?
No, never. I’d love to. They tell me that it’s beautiful!
H: I found some Greek recipes on your website, rice pudding, and baklava. Do you enjoy cooking Greek dishes?
I love to cook and I do make several Greek dishes!
H: Are your children and grandchildren aware of your (and their) Greek heritage? How do they feel about it?
Yes, they are. They are very proud to be Greek. Greeks stick together so whenever we are somewhere that Greeks are I introduce them.
H: What was your childhood like? What are your fondest memories?
My mother went blind. My father came back from the war and he had a very difficult time making a go of life. I have a younger sister and brother. My parents became divorced (which was rare for those days). Most of my Greek relatives lived in Westchester New York so we still stayed a close family. My Yaya became a Greek Orthodox nun and built a church in White Plains. I attended both the Catholic church and the Greek Orthodox when I was growing up. I always loved God and felt that He loved all people. Even though we were poor (we lived in the tenements).
God protected me. He gave me the strength to be “my mother’s eyes.” I led her wherever we had to go. She was a wonderful, loving mother. We stayed close until the day the Lord took her home. One memory, something that really affected me, was when the Salvation Army gave me a bicycle. That may have been what encouraged me to do the benevolent works that we do.
H: In one of those typical “I’m proud to be Greek” lists it says: “We are proud to be Greek because our parents do not forget that we exist when we reach 18” and also “We are proud to be Greek because we spend our bad and low times with friends and family, not with shrinks”. However, your case is different? From what I read in your life story you had an abusive father. Despite all this, later in life you were reunited with your father and remained friends until his passing after he attended one of your services at Westchester County Center. What happened that night?
All of my Greek relatives were there, in my home town of White Plains to attend our service at the 5,500 seat Westchester County Center. They had told me that my father may be there. Although I was close to all of our relatives, I had only seen him a few times since my parents were divorced.
There he was in the front row. Thousands of people know my life story because a book was written about it (The Touch Of Grace – Dodd-Mead Publishing, NY). As I sang I asked for anyone who wanted to accept Christ as their Savior to step forward. He was ill at the time but he stood and all of my relatives embraced him and helped him to the area in front of the Stage. My Aunt Anna, who is his sister and who I have been close to all of my life held him as thousands came forward. He was front and center. We embraced and I sang and cried. The place erupted in thunderous applause. It was videotaped. My Mother was also there that night. It was truly moving, one of the greatest blessings of my life.
We stayed in touch until the day he died. He always signed his letters “praise our Lord and Savior, your loving Father, George The Greek.” My Yaya always wanted her son to come to the Lord, and it happened!
H: Who – or what – would you say has had the biggest influence on deciding to become a preacher?
My Yaya. She always prayed for everyone’s needs. She had me sing hymns.
H: Do you feel that your Greek heritage has shaped your character? In what ways?
Oh, yes! From what I’ve seen, Greeks are HARD WORKERS! My Greek genes is where I get my strength and endurance from.
H: What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are today?
Without question, it is the fact that I am a woman. I was always told that a woman couldn’t do the things that I was doing: starting a girls softball league, having a home Bible study for teens, holding large public events; one was called Black White & Free-we had a parade and a concert for “unity in the community.” I was told being a gospel singer would also be impossible for me. I just recorded my 22nd recording. With God, all things are possible.
H: You’ve appeared in a long list of concerts and services. What do you enjoy more, singing or preaching?
I love both. I don’t really “preach,” in the classic sense. I just uplift Jesus. I tell people what He did for me.
H: Your humanitarian work is exemplary; you were the first woman to receive a Humanitarian Award in 1997 by the International Hall of Fame. What made you choose Madras (India) to start Grace’s Children’s Home?
These things are guided by the Lord. We met an Indian missionary and we believed that he was genuine. It turned out that he was. He has worked with us for many years. We feed the children and they are taught in the school. It was very much the same with the work we did in the Appalachian Mountains. We’d hold services there and an annual Christmas party. We’d supply needy children and their families with new quality winter clothes and Christmas toys. I suppose that seeing those hundreds of children so thankful and humble was a blessing that remains with me. When we help families in the “inner city” it reminds me of my own childhood and receiving my bicycle from the Salvation Army.
H: Your services are “interdenominational”. What does this mean exactly? Do people of different faiths (such as Muslims or Jews for example, who don’t believe that Jesus is God) attend your services? How does this work?
It means that our services are open to people of different faiths. We don’t judge you, we know that God loves you. Many Jewish people attend and some have come to believe that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah. Muslims do attend sometimes. Everyone has always been nice to me.
H: There are only a handful of successful people of Greek heritage in the world today. You are one of them and a source of great pride to all of us. How do you feel about this?
I view success differently from most people.
I’ve met many Greeks families who have come to the US and worked very hard together to make something out of their lives. There is a nice restaurant near my home that is owned by four Greek brothers. My brother is successful. My cousin Nikos Tsakanikas who is the President of Homeric Tours is successful. I have many Greek relatives who have worked hard and have become successful.
H: How did fame change your life?
It hasn’t changed my life at all.
H: What advice would you have for people who were abused early on in their lives?
Tell someone what happened. You must talk to someone who cares about you. God will do a great deal, spiritually, to heal you on the inside.
H: Grace, it was a great honour to have the chance to ask you all these questions. We wish you every success in the future. Yiasou!