ATHENS, Greece — Ever-rising numbers of refugees and migrants, a smaller than 1% evangelical population, and recent fires and floodings make Athens, Greece a city ripe for gospel outreach through compassion ministry. September 8-16, more than 65 Serve Tour Volunteers from 13 churches joined Greek local churches to bring physical help and gospel hope to a diverse city.
Projects ranged from painting walls at a future community center, to distributing school supplies in underserved neighborhoods, to cleaning up lower-income areas. Each project helped local churches take their ministry outside of their walls and establish more influence and credibility within their neighborhoods.
Greece’s unique geographical location makes it a hub of various people groups, allowing Send Relief volunteers to minister to Greeks, North Africans, Ukrainians and the Romani people during their week in Athens.
“Our Greek leaders identified these projects and are leading our volunteers on the project sites,” said Jenny Wheeler, a director of the Athens Serve Tour. “This was an effort to align with them in the vision they have for their communities.”
During Saturday’s Opening Ceremony, Jason Cox, Send Relief Vice President of International Ministry, told volunteers, “We are here to serve local churches and come alongside them and engage in compassion ministries as we are working to fulfill the Great Commission which tells us to go and make disciples.”
Delivering food packages to Romani families
Working alongside a 110-year-old Greek church, Serve Tour Volunteers from Weems Creek Church in Maryland prepared and delivered 100 food packages to Romani families with whom the local church already had relationships.
The Romani are a people group from northern India known for their nomadic lifestyle and they are the largest minority people group in Greece. Their community faces many challenges including high unemployment, crime, drug abuse and imprisonment rates. Many Romani people have grown up without good family role models, leading to unhealthy cycles passing on from one generation to the next.
Through a partnership with Send Relief, a local church in the Peloponnese had been delivering food packages and engaging weekly with the Romani people in their community. This ongoing ministry opened the door for Serve Tour volunteers to deliver food packages to the Romani people’s homes, pray with them and share their personal testimonies through a translator.
Some of the volunteers who were also nurses were able to conduct health seminars for the Romani women and gift them hygiene packs.
One of the project leaders said, “We want the folk to know that we want to share the gospel; that’s really our number-one aim. At the same time, we want them to know that it’s not just words. We want to, where we can, meet a need and encourage them with a practical gift.”
Even though witnessing among the Romani can be slow work, the local Greek church has already seen Romani people come to Christ and become active members in their congregation as a result of this ministry partnership with Send Relief. One of Send Relief’s ministry partners said, “We’re grateful to the Lord for this team that has come and blessed these folks, both spiritually and physically.”
Back-to-school festivals for Greek and Ukrainian children
While a group of volunteers served the Romani people in the Peloponnese, another Serve Tour team partnered with a Greek church in Athens to conduct two nights of back-to-school festivals for Greek and Ukrainian children and teens.
During his week in Athens, Chris Wright from New Life Community Church in North Carolina learned that many of the Ukrainian refugees felt unheard, unwanted, rejected and outcast. The festivals were designed to help Ukrainians integrate into their new Greek community and brought many opportunities for volunteers to share Christ’s love in word and deed.
Wright said, “My prayer is the kids that we encountered by showing the love of Christ to them will receive that and go share it with others and there will be a big harvest among those people.”
Serving a community affected by wildfires
During Serve Tour Athens, volunteers from Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisiana and London Village Baptist in Delaware served alongside a small Greek church plant to organize two evenings of outdoor field games for children on an island two and a half hours outside of Athens.
After fires devastated the island in August 2021, Alexander and his wife, Daphne, started organizing relief efforts through a partnership with their local church and Send Relief. What started as a clean-up effort ended in the first evangelical church in the community being planted as scattered believers and those touched by the love of Christ started to gather.
Almost everyone in this small, mountainous village on the island practices Greek Orthodoxy and views Evangelical Christians as heretics. By setting up a fun night of games for kids to enjoy, the church is slowly building credibility in the community.
Alexander said about the Serve Tour Volunteers, “They help us very much. Without them, it would be very difficult. We are few, so we wouldn’t be able to run it [the event] without them.”
During their time on the island, volunteers prepared field games, painted equipment, prayer walked the surrounding community and even showed the love of Christ by serving locals by helping prune their vineyards.
Conducting grief, loss, and trauma seminars for a hurting church
When Darnice White of Uptown Church in Chicago applied as a volunteer for Serve Tour Athens, she had no idea God would use her unique expertise working among Chicago women in crisis to serve a hurting church in Greece. In her line of work, White has seen the effects of trauma and has learned effective ways to support people working through difficult seasons.
When leaders in her church discovered that a church in Greece had many members who were walking through challenging seasons, they asked White if she would be willing to lead a seminar on trauma, and she agreed.
White said, “The Lord says we’re here to comfort each other and carry each other’s burdens. So, getting them to understand that it’s okay to feel bad and still come to church. The body of the church is there for you as a whole.”
Another couple from Uptown Church also led seminars on grief and loss, as well as marriage enrichment. Along with the seminars, volunteers from Uptown Church partnered with the Greek church to organize children’s programs in a public square as a method of outreach. This led to multiple opportunities to share the gospel and gave the Greek church more visibility in the neighborhood as people passed by.
Kade Wheeler, a director of the Athens Serve Tour, said, “We’re praying that through this Serve Tour, Greek churches would know that there are people out there that love them, care for them, support them and that they are not alone.”
Serve Tour Athens was the last international stop in the 2023 Serve Tour. Serve Tour will return in 2024 with stops in cities like Augusta, Dallas, and Flint, as well as international stops in Armenia and South Africa.
Learn how your church can participate in a Serve Tour stop in 2024 at SendRelief.org/ServeTour.
Published September 20, 2023