My recent visit to Athens was preceded by a mini evangelism series led by Glenn Aguirre a week earlier in that city of 3.8 million people. Aguirre is senior pastor of the Calhoun Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Georgia Cumberland Conference, North American Division. He was invited to support the Greek Mission of the Adventist Church as part of the Christ for Europe initiative.
The series, conducted April 28-May 3, ran with a bold title: “The Holy Spirit Comes Again to Athens.” So, too, was its location, just a stone’s throw away from Mars Hill, where the Apostle Paul preached in ancient times.
“My purpose was to build on Paul preaching in Athens about the Holy Spirit — as recorded in Acts 17,” Aguirre said. “But more than preaching about the Holy Spirit, we prayed for and taught [about] and sang [of] and experienced the Holy Spirit!”
Greek Mission president Claudio Gulyas reports that with an attendance of 63 people on the first night with both members and visitors, attendance held well for the entire series.
“Members and visitors alike displayed an exciting spirit for the Word and worship,” Aguirre said. He added, “It was an international audience with Greeks as well as people from Zambia, China, the Philippines, Ghana, Romania, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Serbia, France, Cyprus, Cameroon, Tunisia, and the U.S. — all in one place!”
So, was it an evangelistic outreach or a member revival series? The answer is both because evangelism and revival go together. “A few decided for baptism,” Ivan Novakovic, pastor of the Athens Filipino and International churches who is looking forward to building on the ministry of Aguirre, said. “The highlight was seeing the church united in the mission, and for 11 days,” said Aguirre, “we experienced a revival.”
When the church experiences a visiting evangelist in the name and power of the Holy Spirit, something significant happens to both the evangelist and the church. Both are encouraged as members grow both deep and wide.
“I told the group on our last day, with sincere emotion, that I came fully expecting to bring the blessing from the Word of God, but they were the ones who were such a blessing to me,” Aguirre said. “I have a renewed love [for] and belief in public evangelism!”
Aguirre added that for him, “the Holy Spirit is moving because if He can move as He is doing in a place like Greece, He can move anywhere! Public evangelism again taught me that there are those who attend who we expected, but there will always be those who attend who we didn’t expect, and for that reason, we must continue to do this kind of work!”
Also in Thessaloniki
I left Athens and traveled 300 miles (almost 500 kilometers) north to participate in another Christ for Europe initiative, this time in Thessaloniki (pop. 814,000). The hotel receptionist enquired as to why I was in Thessaloniki, “as I did not look like a typical holidaymaker.” I explained my visit was to help make a documentary on the life of the Apostle Paul. To my surprise, he asked, “Who is Paul?” Confirmation indeed of the need and relevancy of ‘Christ for Europe,’ I thought to myself.
Spearheaded by Williams Costa Jr., the communication director for the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the documentary aims to show Greece as more than a land of myths, heroes, philosophy, brilliant sunshine, and blue-green sea. As Thessaloniki pastor Yannis Samaras and lead scriptwriter explains, “Greece is the first country in Europe to embrace one of the three pillars of Western, and consequently world, civilization. The first pillar was ancient Greek philosophy, the second Roman law. But then came a third and unexpected pillar — Christianity!”
The three-half-hour-long series will follow in the footsteps of Paul as he traveled through Greece and attempt to capture his passion for sharing the news of the risen Christ. For this Christ for Europe project, the aim is not to share Christ through public meetings — at least at this point in time — but to create a lasting digital evangelistic resource to support the 500 mission members as they seek to witness to the 10-million-strong Greek population. Still deeply immersed in the Greek Orthodox tradition, consumerism and secularism are the new constants chipping away at what has gone before.
The documentary, expected to be completed by 2024 with the primary narrative in Greek, will also be translated into English and several other languages.
For the Greek Mission, the Athens series of public meetings and the “In the Footsteps of Paul” documentary are just two features of a perhaps new dawn for mission under the leadership of Gulyas and secretary-treasurer Yannis Vrakas. In addition, plans are underway for the development of an Athens-based center of influence, a media suite, and an outreach ministry to university students spearheaded by the Athens Youth Adventist Church.
Christ for Europe is an evangelistic endeavor of the General Conference Total Member Involvement initiative. It involves partnering with the three Adventist European divisions to conduct evangelistic meetings across 38 countries.