All 8 TLI team members feel as though we’ve done a year’s
worth of ministry in less than a week.
To say we have been stretched is understating: we have been travelling
through multiple ethnic groups, teaching pastors and church leaders 4 hours per
night, through multiple translators, presenting to people who are invariably
well-read in Scripture. These people
want deep truth from God’s Word. Yes, they
are interested in deeper theology and sometimes there has been an expectation
that we endorse a particular church tradition, but more than this they desire
to know God more deeply –and there is a difference between these things. Every group we have met with: African,
Romanian, Albanian, Persian, Arabic, Afghan, etc. sees the difference between
the “academic” wherein mental assent can be given to theological and
philosophical ideas, versus the “spiritual” (for lack of better word) wherein
the Truth of God’s Word changes hearts, makes us more like Jesus Christ, and
enables our drive to share Him with all peoples. These people do not simply want “The
Attributes of God” -they want GOD! And
they “get” the difference.
On Monday night, talking about the strength of God in Isaiah
40, one African Pastor from Nigeria asked, “Where is God’s strength when my
family is being charged by Muslim men with machetes?” We spoke of God’s strength always present on
the brink of possible martyrdom, whether God spares us (Daniel 3) or brings us
home (Acts 7). On Tuesday night a
Romanian Pastor asked about the “control” Jesus had over the Pharisees (Luke
7:30) and we were able to discuss the foreordination of God in Acts 4:28,
etc. On Wednesday night an Albanian
Pastor needed to talk through issues of “Eternal Security” and we took an hour
to wade through appropriate passages –he rejoiced most earnestly in Paul’s
confident attitude in Romans 8:38-39! And last night a Pastor from Iran, who
intends to return to Iran next month, expressed great sorrow in his lack of
encouragement from others, even brothers and sisters from America in some
instances, who had denied the miracles he had seen God perform in his home
country as he sought to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ there. We spent time in 1 Corinthians 12 and all
these men at the table rejoiced to see that God gives gifts to each of His
children for the building up of the Church. This man is returning to Iran
knowing that he will probably be jailed and might be killed for his faith in
Christ. It is so humbling –terrifyingly so- to be among these people.
A few more brief notes: the team was in Corinth yesterday
visiting the excavation. Among other
things we saw a “shop” –about 6 feet by 10 feet, which would have been (and
could have been) the very shop Priscilla & Aquila sold their goods out
of. But the city-site was massive,
maybe a hundred acres worth (West Shore EFC property size J) and there was so much
–I was amazed by the size of the “bema seat” judgment, where the people of the
city would report for matters of justice.
And the “acropolis” of Corinth –up on the mountain, had a view that
stretched to snowcapped mountains at least a hundred miles away, with Ionian
and Aegean seas to the west and east respectively. I have rarely, if ever, seen a more majestic
view of God’s creation in my life, and if you know me and where I have been in
the world, that is saying something.
I need to finish. It
is our last day. We go to the
Parliament building (where a riot is actually scheduled to occur Sunday) and
then to the market to shop.) Athens is
massive with approx. 5 million people; but the people of the world, and
especially ravaged countries, are here.
Continue to pray for them and for us and, Lord-willing, we will see you
Saturday (and Sunday morning) with much more to share.
We were prepared to be
flexible during our time on this trip, and there’s no doubt that it has
demanded our flexibility, but not in the ways that most of us expected. Our
team has lead teaching sessions this week with the Albanians, Romanians, Farsi
speakers, Arabic speakers, and English speaking Africans. We’ve experience
wonderful fellowship with these believers. Seeing the body of Christ in this
part of the world has truly blessed us all. We have encountered some varying
expectations among the different language groups. Some want more lecture-based,
almost collegiate level style of teaching, while others are content to look at
God’s character and discuss passages that shed light on our God’s various
Attributes. I’ve found communicating the depth of the content to be difficult
to do through a translator at times. We’ve tried to accommodate as much as we
are able, which in some cases has meant a considerable amount of ‘prep’ time
from our team. However, God has been faithful and provided some rich discussion
with these blessed believers in Athens.
I’ve been humbled by the
stories they’ve told and the kind of hardships they’ve faced in their lives.
There’s men here who’ve lived through persecution and traumatic events that read
like a novel. But it’s real-life to them. They have counted the cost for their
faith in Christ and pressed on. In many ways, teaching these types of men seems
backwards. I find myself wanting to sit at their feet, hear their stories, and
learn from how they’ve seen the Lord provide throughout their hardships.
The team also had the chance to visit the Acropolis
yesterday which was a cool experience. We stood on Mars Hill, where Paul
famously preached in Acts 17. It’s powerful to think that we’re in a places
where the early church was taking roots.
Yesterday I had the blessed opportunity to preach in two
churches, the second of which was in downtown Athens (Greece). There were approx. 150 people in attendance
and less than 20 of them were Caucasian: Sudan, Syria, The Philippines,
Somalia, Indonesia, Nigeria…so many countries were heavily represented. One man stood and introduced his two guests
as fresh from Afghanistan. Heaven does
already and will someday consist of such a gathering.
I preached on Job 42:5 wherein Job says to God, “My ears had
heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”
I explained that our team was in Athens to teach the attributes of God
to bi-vocational pastors in ethnic neighborhoods in and around Athens, not only
to those who understand English, but to Arabic, Farsi, Romanian, and Albanian
peoples as well. As Job walked through
Satan’s (God sanctioned) trials he comes to some conclusions that he finally
shares in 42:2-6: God is sovereign; God works in “wonderful” ways; we need to
listen to God and not just question; repentance is a good idea when presented
with a bigger, clearer view of God!
Also, yesterday, our team spent the early evening worshipping
with approx. 40 Iranian Believers –how humbling it was! We heard stories from those who had been
persecuted for their faith in while in Iran, testimonies from those who desire
to perhaps plant a church among their people, and from at least one man who
intends to return to Iran to spread the good news about Jesus Christ
there. In Iran Christians can legally
receive the death penalty for expressing their faith.
To worship with these people is unforgettable: we do not
understand their language, hence lyrics, and the music is so strange to our
ears. In Bosnia last May, while
worshipping with Serbian Believers there, I would describe their style as “Beauty
& the Beast” like; now, among people who insist they are “Persian” (not Arabic!),
I would describe their style as “Aladdin”.
Your kids or grandkids can help explain the differences J
The food is great –plenty of gyros! Interestingly, while our team expected to
eat lots of lamb, the Greek gyros are inevitably pork or chicken, scrumptious
regardless. From our hotel, where we
are living in the Presidential Suite on the seventh floor, we have an awesome
view to the west over the city of Athens, which is surrounded, for the most
part, by mountains. We see the water -just
barely- to the south. Unlike American
cities, inevitably grey, Athens is cement-colored, making it more white –brighter-
which is relatively more cheery. The alleys
are tight; people double-park here also!
And pedestrians do NOT have the right-of-way here, so we must be careful
of cars and motorcycles. We have been
past the parliament building (where the riots have occurred and have plans to visit
Mars Hill as well as Corinth later in the week.
Last night our Albanian team taught its first session, 16
people in the room. And here is
something for all to pray for: the difference in translations between English
versions and the other versions of other languages in the world. We are so blessed to have the level of
scholarship poured into our English versions –American & British Isles-
that we do! But sometimes the nuances
of other languages or translations may not be in sync with the original
languages of Hebrew and Greek the way that English versions have (hopefully) been. Please don’t take this as provincialism. We are so blessed to have the NIV, NASB,
NEB, ESV…and so blessed to have had the King James Version in 1611! It is humbling to ponder.
Well, I should wrap up for now. All teaching teams will engage their groups
tonight at 6:00 p.m. local time, teaching for four hours straight tonight and
every night this week. We have approx.
70 pastors from approx. 15 countries, mostly countries where Christianity is
severely oppressed. At church services
yesterday, as 4 team members preached at 5 separate churches, congregant
leaders from all churches were invited to attend the week’s sessions each
night. Men and women, pastors and
leaders, will now attend. One young
woman from Indonesia asked me after church yesterday if she could attend the “English
speaking” session tonight and was encouraged to do so; she was part of the
worship team at the International Church just up the road from our hotel (The
Oscar Hotel). So, it’ll be a mixed but
It is 5:00 a.m. EST in the States, noon here. Have a good day, everyone; we’ll write again
For Christ, and on behalf of the team (Craig Skurcenski, Ben
LeClair, Kyle Stuckey from PA; Jens Paulson from MN; Josh Hutchens from KY; Tom
Diecks and Dave Winters from IN)
Nate Winters (from PA J)
After about a day and a half of traveling, our team of 8
guys from the states arrived in Athens on time and with all our bags. We were
met at the airport by Ryan, who will be our main point of contact for the week
and does humanitarian aid work in Athens including running a refugee center.
Over some amazing gyros, Ryan gave us further details about the groups of men
that we’ll be meeting with. He also briefed Nate, Josh, and Dave on the 3
churches where they will be preaching on Sunday. Nate Winters will be preaching two
services at Saint Andrews Church which is an English speaking congregation that
will be a large mix of African, Pilipino, Greeks, and other nationalities. Josh Hutchens will be preaching at Athens Bible Baptist’s Greek service, and Dave Winters will be
preaching the following Arabic service at the same church. Additionally, Tom Diecks will be at a Farsi-speaking service held at the refugee center and will share
briefly about his story and also what our team is doing this week. The rest of
us will split up and attend these various services.
For now, we’re all anxious to get some sleep and work off
the jet-lag, but it’s good to be here and we’re excited for what God has in
store for the week ahead. Thank you for your prayers and support.
The team is off!
They stayed in MN for a day to meet with Darren and Philemon and then boarded their planes for Athens. They land tomorrow at 8:00am (CST). Pray that they can sleep. Many of them have been asked to preach on Sunday.