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Trips

Greece Nov 2011

Athens, Greece November, 2011

Working with Southern Baptist Missionaries and the Greek Church to set up informal training with pastors from the Ethnic Church Alliance in Athens. You will get to be a part of two mini-conferences and be introduced to refugee ministry.

Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.

Field Notes   Greece Nov 2011

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 future churches.

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 vision.

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 pastors.

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 9:37-38

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,

Philemon

 

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Nov  18th,  2011Last Day 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 informative.

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,

Hi Philemon!

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.

Cipllaka’s 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 January.

We leave tomorrow at 7am (midnight EST) and arrive Minneapolis at 1:40 pm on Saturday. Pray for a safe trip home to our families.

 

Philemon

 

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Nov  16th,  2011Greece, November 2011

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.

 

Philemon

 

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Nov  15th,  2011Greece, November 2011

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 churches.

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 tomorrow.

 

Philemon

 

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Nov  14th,  2011Greece November 2011

Pain on their Faces and Hope in their Hearts

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.

Many refugees who are stuck here never intended to remain in Greece.  Why?

  1. Some 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.
  2. They 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.).
  3. As 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.
  4. Through the refugee center, many get assistance with food, clothing, English language instruction, etc. 

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. 

Two stories

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

In the 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.

The evening 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.

Small world

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.

While speaking 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 unexpected places.

Tomorrow

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.

 

Philemon

 

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