Posts Tagged ‘IFES’

Back from Paros!

July 30, 2009

Got back from Greece on Monday night… just managed to get back to my house and asleep before midnight. Paros was great, though on the plane home I realised how tired I was!

On the 14th, I flew from Heathrow to Athens to start the trip. It was my first trip to Terminal 5, and, despite the slating some people give it, I thought it was a really great building – easy to navigate and very elegant. I may have mentioned this to one of the BA staff and received a kind of “mmph” noise as a kind of anti-acknowledgement, but it was 5am in the morning when I checked in. Once in Athens, I met up with some of the other team members whose flight landed just after mine at the airport, and together we took the bus to the Clark’s house (the British family we were working with, whose job is working with Christian students in Athens). It made me very happy that the bus stop where we changed buses was called Evangelismos (Ευαγγελισμός) – I wish I’d got a picture, but there’s a really bad one here if you want. Once at the Clark’s we waited for the rest of the team to arrive, and had our first (of many) Souvlaki, which are a million times better than English kebabs (a measure of how good they are is that you can eat one in daylight, stone-cold sober).

The next day we combined sightseeing (the Ancient Agora, the changing of the parliamentary guard and the nearby park) with some briefing on what we were doing, Greek history and culture, Greek Orthodoxy, and Evangelicalism in Greece. We also met one of the IFES leaders in Greece, and a Greek evangelical student, who filled us in a bit more on what it was like being an evangelical in Greece. I had known how small the Evangelical church in Greece was before we travelled, but the statistic in Operation World doesn’t convey the isolation many evangelicals feel, nor how hard it is for them to feel excluded from much of their own culture because of the widespread attitude that non-Orthodox Christians cannot really be Greek. The evangelical church in Greece needs our prayers!

On the 16th, we caught an early-ish ferry to Paros. The journey took about 4 hours, and was mostly smooth, although we were among the last onboard and so didn’t get seats or shade! Regular application of factor-30 and some of our roll mats saved the day. On arrival in Paros we went to the campsite, unpacked and then went for lunch at a nearby Taverna. Greek food is pretty good, though not hugely varied. Lots of Chicken, Pork, Lamb (in Moussaka), Seafood, Aubergine, Olives, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Olive Oil and so on. We saved money and kept it interesting by ordering food for the table rather than individually, and sharing it around between all of us.

Deliciousness

Deliciousness

 That evening we began our mission proper by chatting to people down by the seafront, using a questionnaire to explore people’s beliefs about life, God, Jesus and so on. I met some Greek Albanians who were interested in what we were talking about, and one of whom admitted to having read plenty about the Bible but never having actually read any of it. I had hoped to meet them again and pass along a New Testament, but didn’t end up seeing them again. They’re students with computers though, so they should be able to read the Bible online, if they remember!

Over the following days we followed a similar routine, with team time in the morning after breakfast; some time before lunch around the campsite, and lunch out at a Taverna or Restaurant. In the afternoons we were either on the beach or at the campsite trying to build friendships with people that were around in the afternoon – I’m not one for much sun so chose the campsite option most of the time, teaching Dutch Blitz to backpackers of assorted nationalities! In the evenings, after tea, we went out to the seafront for a few hours before returning to the campsite and chatting to whoever was around.

Paros seafront

Paros seafront

The campsite was a good place for meeting people and talking about the gospel – people were generally friendly and a lot of them spoke English. If I’d learnt French rather than German I’d have been able to talk to the ones that didn’t speak English too… for some reason there was a succession of large groups of French (sixth-form-age-ish) students at the campsite. The French were interesting to talk to – I met a lot of “Catholics who didn’t believe in God” (to use their description), as well as more openly agnostic French people. Finding out that I studied Theology for my degree often invited the kind of questions I’d come to Greece to talk about – did I believe in God, and what did I think about the Bible, and did Jesus matter any more?

As well as French and Greek students, I also met a few Brits – a pair of students from Manchester on the third or fourth night who spent about two hours talking to me and another from our team in a seafront bar about pretty much everything to do with Christianity and who had some preconceptions challenged. We also met two great guys from Surrey who are off to university this September who were really interested in what we were doing and in finding out more about Jesus and his gospel, and who are going to hunt down the CUs at their universities when they arrive. They were among the few takers for sitting down for an hour in a café and looking at a bit of Mark’s Gospel; we decided that these studies need a bit more publicising next year, because when people turned up they were always great ways to show people the gospel!

Halfway through, we had a day off, which was both necessary and great fun. Ben, Mandy and I took the chance to stretch the “P” category on our driving licences to its most generous interpretation and hire some mopeds and go exploring around the island. Paros isn’t huge, so we were able to go round the coast to Naoussa for lunch, round to the other side of the island and then back through the mountain villages in the middle of the island in a few hours. It was amazing fun, and there wasn’t too much traffic. Highlights included the bit where we turned around in Lefkes and then all forgot that in Greece they drive on the right hand side of the road. For a few hundred meters. Good work.

In the second half of the mission, we were feeling a bit more tired, but still had lots of people around to talk to, particularly at the campsite. To aid the socialising, we came into possession of some Greek white wine… and I discovered what a wine snob I am, being instantly prejudiced against it by the fact that it came in a plastic five-litre bottle and, in some lights, resembled a can of petrol. It didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t taste good, if that makes any sense. There’s a reason Greece isn’t known for its wine.

moto_0123

The last time we went out to the seafront in the evening, it was the evening before Saint Anna’s day, and there was a big Orthodox celebration up on the hill outside Saint Anna’s church. There were lots of people sitting and standing in the courtyard, and several Orthodox priests singing a liturgy. I gathered that not all of the Greeks there understood the Greek that was being sung – it was actually koine greek rather than modern greek; a bit like walking into a church where Tyndale’s translation of the Bible was being read. It was a bit creepy, to be honest, if I’m allowed to say that! I don’t hold out a lot of hope that the millions of people who identify as Greek Orthodox really understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the experience reinforced for me the propriety of missions to “Christian” countries. The next day in the afternoon a few of us popped inside the bigger Orthodox church in town, the so-called “Church of a Hundred Doors”. One of the things we noticed was the pock-marking on many of the fresco-style icons; this is from a Byzantine practice where chips of paint would be taken from icons and mixed with the wine element in the eucharist. I decided that John of Damascus has a lot to answer for.

On the 26th, the time came for us to leave Paros and return to Athens. The crossing this time was a bit more choppy. We spent one more night in Athens, having a final souvlaki and watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding (even funnier when you’ve spent time in Greece!) before trickling off home on our various flights the following day. Athens airport isn’t as nice as T5, unfortunately, although the security frisk is much less thorough. That’s probably too much detail. My flight home was on time, and sitting in a window on the starboard side (thank you, online check-in!) I got an amazing view of central London as we came in to land, just as the sun was setting.

All in all, it was a really great missions trip, and I really felt we were doing a good thing by talking about the gospel with people in Paros. I’m not really sure what I had been expecting, but I was quite surprised by some of the meetings God lined up for us, both the interested people and the people who didn’t want to know. In many ways it has also confirmed to me that it is right to take the gospel to countries that have heard it before, in this case many years before Britain heard it; and to get people to read the Bible for themselves rather than just tell them “The Bible says that…” without trying to show them where or how or what it means.

Sunset in Paros

Sunset in Paros

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Off to sunny Paros!

July 13, 2009

I’m off to Greece at ridiculous-o’clock tomorrow morning, for two weeks, on the mission trip I mentioned before. So unless I can get some internet time when I’m out there, I won’t be posting for two weeks.

For those of you who are interested in praying for me/us, there is a Team Greece prayer calendar here.

I’m going to Greece!

June 10, 2009

This July I will be joining a mission team going to Paros in Greece for two weeks. There are nine of us going from the UK (students and UCCF workers), and we will be joined by some members of the Greek CU movement out there. The aim is to get to know Greek students and introduce them to Jesus – through “first-contact” style evangelism and evangelistic bible studies.

I’m pretty excited about it all! I hope to be able to post more about it before we go, and potentially also some updates from when I’m in Greece. Any prayers would be appreciated, particularly as this is the first mission team I have been on outside of the UK.

More about the trip over on another team member, Ben’s blog here.