July 19, 2016

Greece’s 442 Adventists Share Faith in Strictly Orthodox Setting

, president, Greek Mission of Seventh-day Adventists

Sea, sand, and ancient history.

That is the way most people think of Greece.

In more recent years it has also been known for economic turmoil and a major refugee crisis as multitudes of migrants have seen Greece as their entry point into Europe.

In the midst of the spectacular beauty and centuries of history, and the constraints of the economic crisis in their land, a small group of Seventh-day Adventists endeavor to share their faith among a community that, while very open and friendly, is strictly Orthodox in its religious background. Land at any airport, and you will probably see more priests in 10 minutes than you will find in a month in most West European nations.A new church in West Peloponisos has only three baptized members but 15 to 20 visitors show up every week. (TED)

Yet great things are happening. Pick up the report prepared for the 13th session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Greek Mission, and you will find how one evangelistically minded family, moving into a small city in West Peloponisos, has managed to plant a church that is now filled with children. There may only be three baptized members, but they have 10 to 15 visitors every week and more than 20 children who attended summer camps last year.

Read the Greek Mission report for 2016 (PDF)

Those three baptisms plus the 46 other baptisms that have taken place across the entire country over the last three years has brought the total membership to 442 in Greece. I praise God for those 49 and praise the church members for their hard work and witness in difficult circumstances.

However, the church is not growing numerically, with deaths, membership transfers out of the country, and some who dropped their memberships.

Please pray for the work in Greece, for the souls who will hear the message, and for those who will preach it, as well as for the members and friends who have been absent from the church for various reasons.

For Greek members, prayer goes together with action — including welcome support from other countries. For instance, the church owns a fantastic beachside campsite at Kalamos, a short drive north of Athens. Volunteers from abroad, supported by Greek church members, have helped renovate the site, including building two new cabins and reroofing the church facility. The site is then well used, providing summer activities and spiritual growth for Adventist youth and their friends as well as for other groups and retreats at other times. Last summer the camp attracted more than 100 children and young people, and camp administrators had to add an extra week to the camping program to accommodate them all.

Jump across to Corfu and you will find another church plant. In 2010 there was only one Adventist believer on the island. She gave Bible studies to colleagues and friends. Within a few months, 10 people were baptized. While the group fluctuates in numbers, partly due to the economic crisis, they have baptisms most years and a current membership of 11. Another baptism is planned for this summer, thanks to the work of pastor Adrian Fernandez and his wife, Raleigh, who visit the group for a period of two to three weeks each quarter.

A similar story is true on the island of Rhodes. A woman who lives on the island learned about Adventists from reading church publications. She wrote to the Greek Mission office in Athens, and this led to Bible studies by mail. She is now baptized and sharing her faith. An Adventist family recently moved to the island, and more outreach is taking place. The aim is to plant a church there within the next two to three years.

Children attending a Messy Church led by Despoina Avakian in Greece. (TED)

As a church entity with a small membership, most of the Greek Mission’s activities are done by volunteers. You can meet Rozalia and her daughter Ifigenia volunteering at a refugee camp on a Sunday. Or Despoina Avakian, a dynamo of activity, leading women’s ministries and children’s churches known as Messy Church not only in her hometown, Katarini, but across Greece.

Members, and particularly young people in Athens, have also created the Belief Channel on YouTube and via social media. In addition to Sabbath services, the channel features shows made by church youth that are attractive to their peers. Running round the clock, the channel includes both Greek and International music. There is a desperate need to upgrade the equipment, but the members are confident that progress will be made with donations and vision.

A number of young people were elected to church office at the 13th session of the Greek Mission on July 8 to 10. The president and secretary-treasurer, Nenad Jepuranović, had already been chosen by the Trans-European Division Executive Committee, but other positions were voted by the delegates.

The session was marked by new fresh air as the young people were elected to various positions. Despite the challenges the country and the church is facing, we look to the future with hope and confidence, relying on God's guidance and empowerment to fulfill our mission.

This article appeared on the website of the Trans-European Division.