When the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted the mental health of Greece’s youth, the response of Seventh-day Adventist youth leaders in Athens was to create an online ministry to help those in trouble stay connected.
“We realized that the true importance of the Youth Centre was not the building but its people,” local church secretary Miriam Bagni Siwale said, as she commented on the unexpected blessings of lockdown. “And when the world was ‘free’ again, we kept meeting: online, in homes, at the park — everywhere we could! The joy we had when we went back to our youth centre was immense!” she said.
Because of all the social gatherings and community activities, especially the Kalamos Summer Camps, the youth group in Greece not only stayed connected but grew stronger. “Older youth volunteered to help the kids and teens camps, and alongside the leadership of pastor Moses Siwale, they worked together to ensure every child felt the love of Jesus,” Siwale said. The results are palpable: out of the 35 campers, five teenagers joined the local church and are regularly taking part in the church’s life, including leading worship.
As the youth group grew, they started attending international events to connect with the global Adventist Church. Twenty young people took part in the Adventist Youth for Christ (AYC) congress in Finland in 2022, and some joined the Generation. Youth. Christ (GYC) conference in Latvia in 2023. “Our focus in the beginning was to strengthen our community and rebuild our relationship with one another and with God, but our purpose keeps growing as our family grows,” Siwale said.
In 2022 the group of young people were organized as a church with 13 members, and by the end of this year, the number will reach 20. “In total, we have approximately 30 young adults who meet every Sabbath [Saturday]. We praise God for that and ask that His Spirit will help us to continue to grow,” Siwale said.
This year marks a significant milestone for the Athens Youth Church as they celebrate their first anniversary as an organized church.
“We are blessed not only by the presence of our local family and friends but, above all, by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our journey has just begun, and while we anticipate challenges ahead, we stand firm in the conviction of Romans 8:31, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ ” Siwale said.
Greek Mission president Claudio Gulyas agreed. “We have an ongoing commitment to nurturing Greek Mission youth, and in particular, it is a blessing to witness the Athens youth group develop into an organized church with a clear missional focus,” Gulyas said. “Our plans involve transforming the church into a network of youth groups within the Athens area, to enhance their impact in reaching out to their peers. Additionally, we fervently pray for an expansion into campus ministry, considering the significant number of young individuals attending various universities in the Athens area,” he said.