Written by Myra Brandenburg
Known as the cradle of western civilization, Greece sits in the glorious temperate climate along the Mediterranean Sea. She shares her inviting and azure waters with Italy to the west, Turkey to the east, Israel, Syria, Egypt to the southeast and is the gateway to North Africa. The striking views and rich ancient culture hints at its premiere position of influence not only in the ancient world but even so today. It has seen its share of ups and downs even in most recent history of backbreaking economic crisis and today is a gateway for refugees from the middle east longing for some place to call normal. Into this environment went four from our Bethel family who set out on a 12 -day mission trip last November to meet with Brad and Jamie Newport, Bethel’s “feet of Jesus” in the region.
For this team of four, two serve as the lead to Bethel’s Missions, Jeff and Stefanie Bice, one had not been on a trip with mission focus in nearly nine years, Ricky Garner, and one, Steve Reason, embarked on his first trip abroad with an official “missions” purpose. Between the four of them, their interest was not only to serve, but to seek and discover more about the ever-changing landscape of mission work in a part of the world that looks different almost on a daily basis. With so much of this area in political and economic turmoil, the refugee situation has in some ways become a way of life, but also requires a strategic change of focus on how to fulfill the calling to share the Good News of Christ among the nations where Islam has a strong foothold. Ironic, considering this is the very place where the church sprouted its roots with the influence of Paul on the early church here in the first century. One would assume this area, with all the deep spiritual history, would be the bedrock of deeply rooted faith with cultures thriving in the centuries of knowledge of salvation. And yet it is as dark and as lost as in the days of Paul. Teeming with multiple displaced people groups from the Middle East and North Africa, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say it’s as Paul found it several millennia ago, “ripe for the Gospel”!
For Ricky, it was the opportunity to help serve meals to vast amounts of people in need, including displaced women and children in a facility designed specifically for them, that was particularly eye-opening. He there witnessed, through consistent love and service, these who are loved by God slowly open their hearts and minds to the truth of the Gospel, which remains an encouragement to him. Knowing how to pray for these he’s ministered to continues his mission work and involvement long after the trip concluded. What would make someone leave the comfort of East Texas to enter into a place of turmoil and spiritual lostness? “Because Jesus says we should do it”, Ricky replied. Not only that, he believes it transforms believers. He’s right. When we obey the call to love on others around the world and show the love of Christ, it transforms us too. God is in the business of transforming people, even when we go for the purpose of serving others. A refreshing truth Ricky learned first hand while in Greece. Those who came together to serve in the name of Christ with the primary focus on others never focused on differences. The laser focus of serving for the purpose of sharing Christ set aside all incumbrances of working together.
Steve Reason would agree wholeheartedly. One of the most important things he took away from this trip came from the simple obedience of going. Serving people who needed something simple like a meal and a smile became a powerful communication tool to show the love of Christ. With multiple language barriers making verbal communication difficult, sharing basic needs of life became the language of love. While traveling with the Newports throughout the city of Athens, the team was determined to pray over various areas they entered. Especially transforming was a collective group of Christians from diverse walks of life from every part of the world serving together at the women’s and children’s facility. In a poignant moment, all who came to serve covered the entire building in prayer with one voice in Farsi, Greek, English and other languages, petitioning God for the salvation of these who are in the clutches of religious lostness. The power of prayer, no matter the language, is a game-changer.
Ultimately for Stefanie and Jeff, this trip was to walk alongside our friends whom Bethel supports, the Newports. Their commitment to ministries in Greece is taking root all while making adjustments to their approach in ministry in an ever-changing dynamic among a melting-pot of different groups of refugees. Over and over during the trip it was clearly evident how God was at work and moving people to places where they are meeting Jesus. There heard first-hand stories of displaced Muslim refugees freely asking for a Bible or how to know Jesus because they were no longer in a place where it would cost them their life. This giant migration of people experiencing turmoil in their own countries has led millions to Greece.
One especially moving aspect of this trip was learning how one particular man and his wife had a vision from God of the upcoming civil war in Syria even before the unthinkable turmoil began. They both knew God was preparing a way for their family to do ministry that was inconceivable in Syria at the time. They began to welcome Syrians who were fleeing from the conflict, and a new center and church was established in the heart of Athens to reach the refugee community. They also visit refugee camps north of Athens to spend time counseling and doing Bible Studies with Muslims who want to convert to Christianity. Not like anything the Bices have seen in most people, this couple’s fervor and commitment to receive their own countrymen with open arms, a hot meal, comfort in the way of clothes, shoes and blankets and the critical opportunity to freely share about Christ remains astounding to them. It is no accident — it was God’s divine appointment.
The call to “go” isn’t just a Bethel thing. It’s a church thing! And it is no better demonstrated than how the fellowship of believers worldwide are gathering together to do the work of Christ in Greece. Whether it’s for short term or taking up residency, the global church is poised to care for those displaced by war, economic turmoil, and spiritual deprivation. Bethel and her partners are there in Greece at the ready for the work of the Gospel following the footsteps of Paul on a regular basis to continue the work that was started several millennia ago.