Nov 19th, 2011Home
The Greek team arrived safely home today. We are thankful
for your prayers during our time in Athens. We ask that you continue to pray
for God to bring fruit from our meetings with the Arabic, Farsi, Albanian,
Romanian, and African groups. (Should put these in the
order in which you talk about them.)
We went to Athens to lay the groundwork for the TLI informal theological training center that is
due to open in January. We saw that this trip
was necessary as group after group wanted to know more about TLI, what we do,
and how we can help them develop leaders for the current churches as well as
The work of TLI will have significant impact among the
immigrants in Athens. The Farsi group has a young church in place, made up of
people who know that they will be persecuted if Iran finds out that they
profess faith in Jesus. Driving around town the other day, we saw a young
Iranian man and were told that he is a spy for Iran. He volunteers at one
particular Christian center to see who is listening and turning to Jesus. He
then reports back to Iran. Yet, the Iranians are ready to openly worship
Christ. TLI has this opportunity to train leaders for the Farsi church: not a light responsibility.
The Arabic group does not have a church but longs for one.
Their hunger for theological training is evident. During our meeting with them,
they brought a new believer. During the time of teaching, they put him between
two men who helped him find his way around the Bible. This man is not lining up
to be trained as a pastor but he came to learn. He is an example of the desire
among the Arabic believers to learn the word.
The Albanians, who have come to
Athens to settle, say that TLI is an answer to many years of prayers. Although there are over 500,000 Albanians in Athens, there is no Albanian church. For
the 250 believers, their only place of worship is the Greek Church. They
are desperate to have their own church, and to reach out to the many Albanians in Athens who
do not know Christ. They believe that Albanians will be reached by fellow
Albanians, not by the Greek church. TLI is in a
position to equip Albanians to implement their
Although the Romanian group
is the most settled in Athens, they none the less
have a need for a center to train leaders for their churches. The current
Romanian pastors have received some theological training from seminaries in
Romania, but in Athens, they have a need for
ongoing training for the current pastors and for future church leaders. Please
pray for the Romanian church in Athens. The poor economy in Greece has caused
many Romanians to return to Romania, leaving
some of the churches empty. We met
a Romanian pastor who took a job as a painter a
month ago because half of his church members returned to Romania. He had to get
a job to provide for his family and to continue preaching.
With the African group, TLI has an opportunity to impact the
30 African churches in Athens. All the African churches in Athens are
Pentecostal (with some having a significant health and wealth gospel
influence). Yet, they are open to have TLI provide training for some of their
Overall, we left Athens encouraged by the opportunities that
are there for theological education, and the
willingness of the people to have it. We left encouraged because TLI can have a
significant impact for present and future churches.
The economic crisis in Greece, as real as it is, is not
worth comparing with the spiritual crisis that exists among the immigrant
communities. While in Athens, I kept thinking of the words of Jesus in Matthew
Then he said to his disciples, “The
harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the
Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Would you please join us in praying that the Lord of the
harvest will send out laborers into his harvest in Athens?
Thankful to be part of what God is doing in Athens,
Today was our last day in Athens. A former Greek student of
mine from Boyce College (2001) drove us to Corinth. We spent the morning there
seeing excavations of the ancient city of Corinth. It was beautiful and
Tonight we had our final meeting with the Romanian group. We
learned that there are about 40,000 Romanians in Greece. They are established
and have the largest churches of all the immigrant groups we have met. We met
at a well-established Pentecostal church of 700 members. There are 7
Pentecostal churches in Athens with over a thousand members.
Unlike the other groups, the Romanians have pastors who have
gone through seminaries in Romania and are now pastoring churches in Athens.
They requested a meeting with us to hear about TLI. Though well established,
they do not have any means of training more leaders for their churches.
The group of 20 that we met with consisted of Baptist and
Pentecostal pastors. The Romanian Baptist and Pentecostal churches are close
and work together well. They are open to having TLI provide training for them.
A challenge in the meeting was that a man who spoke Greek as
a second language translated our talk into Greek for Romanian speakers. There
was no one to translate from English into Romanian but since they have all been
here and learned Greek, it was translated into Greek.
It has been a good week of meetings with different people
groups. We met with the Arabic, Farsi, African, Albanian, and Romanian groups.
We have an opportunity to provide theological training for current pastors and
future pastors of churches from these groups. Our coming was critical in that
it helped answer questions and gave a better understanding of what TLI does. It
has been a good and positive experience.
One of the Albanian men sent me this email after our meeting
last night. He wrote,
It was a
blessing for me to get in touch with at PORTA. My name is
Artur Cipllaka and I was the interpreter for you that day. I have come from
Albania to Athens with a vision of planting an Albanian church in Athens(as you
noticed that to many Albanians live here and no worship in our language.
My family is
here at the momment with me and we are praying for God to open our eyes to see
where we can start. We are looking forward to see you. May God bless
you and give the right persons to be with us.
Ps. If you need
anything that we can be useful dont hesitate to write.
email captures the response we have been getting over and over. Pray that after
this introductory visit, many will sign up for TLI courses that begin in
leave tomorrow at 7am (midnight EST) and arrive Minneapolis at 1:40 pm on
Saturday. Pray for a safe trip home to our families.
This evening we met with the Albanian group. We met at the
Porta House, the Albanian cultural center. There are 500,000 (possibly 600,000)
Albanians in Athens. I asked how many were believers and they said 250. At
first, I thought they were saying 250,000 but it was actually 250. There is no
Albanian speaking church here. Those who are believers have joined Greek
churches. We sensed a strong desire among people who attended to have an
Albanian speaking church that will serve Albanians and reach out to them. One
distinct thing about the Albanian group is that they are not really in the
refugee category. They have settled in Athens.
This was a very interesting group. Unlike other groups we
have met with, they were enthusiastic and full of questions. With other groups,
we sought to convince them that theological education is something they should
engage in. With this group tonight, there was no need for that. They were
convinced before we arrived. After I explained how TLI training works, one of
them said that they have been praying for what we are doing. They have no
money, no good schools for Albanians, and no Albanian church but there are
people willing to be trained. TLI is coming with a free training, coming to
them where they are, and seeking to prepare leaders for the church tomorrow.
Most of their questions centered on how things will work. If
we only come for a week at a time, will they get enough of the subject being
taught? Is it possible for a TLI teacher to stay a few days longer with their
group? If they have questions after a team leaves, is there a way they can do
follow up with us? Can some of their women come to the training so that they
can work with other women? Since some of them work, are we willing to teach two
sections of their group? There were many more questions and we saw how
thoughtful they were about this program.
At the end of our meeting, three men cornered me and asked
if I will come with the January team. I said no and they looked disappointed.
Then they explained to me that they are a serious group and would like the best
that we can offer since they are the ones to lead the church. They were
literally pleading that TLI not send them a teacher who is not solid. They want
a teacher who can push them to work hard. I like their spirit.
I am seeing that the Albanian group will be one of the more
serious groups. They have a clear vision for an Albanian church here and a
hunger to be equipped for the task. These men are literally the founders of a
future church. I am thankful to God that TLI has a part to play in the early
stages of a future Albanian church in Athens.
Pray that the gospel will be the power of God unto salvation
among the Albanian people in Athens.
Today was a little more relaxed for us. We had the whole
morning and early afternoon free. Matt and I decided to venture into town and
see some authentic Greek shops. It was fun figuring out how to use the
underground train system. At one point, the train did not stop at the place we
were to get off. Just made the outing more fun as we figured out how to walk
back to the place it was supposed to stop. Having a relaxed day meant being
able to get some work done. Funny how work travels with you wherever you go.
So far, we have met with the Arabic group, Farsi speaking
group (mostly Iranians), and the English speaking groups (Africans). Of these
three groups, the Farsi group has a young church. The African group is well
established. There is no Arabic speaking church here and there is hope to get
one started. Those interested in our training will be the ones to make this
happen. This means that we are training leaders for present and future
Our meeting this evening
was with the African group. Twenty people showed up and were very interested in
what TLI is doing. The group consisted mainly of pastors of African churches in
Athens though a few were leaders in their various churches. The Pastors who attended are key people in getting the word out
for other pastors to sign up for TLI training.
We met at a Pentecostal church. The pastor of the church
came to me and said that his church facilities are at our service. If we need
it for a teaching center or anything, just to let him know. This pastor had
said that the vision of TLI to start a theological training center in Athens is
an answer to many prayers. The need for trained pastors for churches is
overwhelming. He is so encouraged by our presence and wants his church to be
involved. He has a training program at his church for future pastors but he
canceled it tonight and asked the students to attain our session.
The group was the most vocal of all the groups we have met
with (which is so typical of us Africans). Many questions came up. They ask why
we have to wait until January to begin the program. Why not now? What is
TLI? How come it is free? Who pays
for the cost of having people come and teach and for material? In answering the
questions, some of them looked really surprised that believers in America will
support people to come and teach them for free.
This was an interesting group. Clearly Pentecostal in their
theology and practice but eager to have TLI provide training for their pastors.
Pray that the pastors promoting this vision will not meet with opposition.
Again, Pastor Matt did a wonderful job teaching on the
centrality of the Bible in teaching and preaching, and the need to set time
aside to be trained to do it more effectively.
My task here has been mostly in explaining to the people who
we are and what we do. Explaining the TLI curriculum and how it works as well
as answering questions. People here want to be sure that what we are bringing
is authentic and will work. They have seen many so called schools and training
centers come and never get anywhere. They want to be sure that we are authentic
and having me here from TLI is important for them.
Pray as we look forward to meeting with the Albanian group
Pain on their Faces and Hope in their
This morning we
went to the refugee center to see how the work is done. We witnessed refugees
from Iran and Afghanistan. Over a hundred were expected. They come, and receive
a small bag of groceries and eat a hot meal. The little they get takes them
through the week until they come again the following week. We thank God for the
ministry of the Oasis here in Athens. They are literally feeding the hungry and
clothing the poor, as a way of showing the love of Jesus to the nations.
who are stuck here never intended to remain in Greece. Why?
left their countries for various reasons such as persecution for being
Christians (either run or die), seeking freedom (found in Europe), or simply to
get the chance to have a better car and material possessions. Reasons vary, but
the result is the same.
come to Greece because it is an easy country to access and exit, if one has
full intentions of moving on to the next place (Germany, France, etc.).
soon as they arrive, they fall into wrong hands. The smugglers, who promised to
help them, work with other people who take their money and disappear with it.
So, the small money they came with, thinking that it would be enough to see them
to their final destination, is gone. They cannot get a job because they are
illegal and they have nothing. As one said, they are prisoners in Athens. You
can see the pain on their faces.
the refugee center, many get assistance with food, clothing, English language
The pain on
their faces is obvious. One can only say that vengeance is the Lord’s. Knowing
that justice will be done is the only way to cope for some of them. Some have
found a future hope and cling to it. Others are completely hopeless. Pray that
many, in their hopelessness, will find the only true and lasting Hope.
One man, who
owned and ran three businesses in his home country, was persecuted by the
government for running his businesses a certain way. He decided to leave and
find freedom. He came to Greece and all his money disappeared. He and his
family are now prisoners in Athens.
Another young man, who speaks excellent English, was a translator
for NATO in his country. He received death threats and could not find help from
those for whom he was translating. His only option was to run. He is now stuck
in Athens. What is the hope for these people? One of them has found true and
lasting hope. The other has not, but attended our service seeking. Not the hope
that this world gives but a future hope. May he find it soon.
Arabic and Farsi Language Groups
afternoon, we had our first training session with an Arabic group. It was a small
group of people, but key for the training of future leaders. There is no Arabic
speaking body in Athens, but there are Arabic saints. Our focus on this group
is to prepare leaders for the future Arabic speaking body. It was a unique
group made up of Sudanese and Egyptians.
session was with the Farsi-speaking group, made up of people from Iran. There
is a Farsi-speaking body here (young) but they need trained leaders. Both
groups recognize the need for good training. They are so eager to learn, and are
begging that TLI come more often. One man brought his wife and daughter to hear
what he was learning.
There was an
American in the group who has been working for years to start a Bible training
school in Athens. They have a handful of students but feel that having them
take courses from TLI will help them. We are encouraged that they are willing
to seek ways to join with us in the one goal of leadership development for the
church in Athens.
We met a guy
this morning who works with refugees. He took time and showed us around, giving
us a good understanding of how the work is done. It was depressing to see the
needs, but encouraging that they are meeting so many of them.
with him this afternoon, he mentioned that he went to school in Louisville, KY.
It turns out he went to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. When he learned
that I went to Southern, he declared, “I thought I had met you somewhere.” “Where were you September 11, 2001?” I
said, “I do not know exactly what
I was doing but I know that I was at Southern.” He then said, “You were at
Boyce College, giving us a Greek exam.” He even mentioned the room number and
that there was a special chapel that day and I canceled the exam. Then he said,
“Behold my Greek teacher.” Hard to explain the feeling we both had at that time
but to say that God is amazing. He causes our paths to cross in the most
Tomorrow, we are
scheduled to teach the African and Filipino group. I’m looking forward to it.
Thanks for your
prayers and do not grow weary.