The dank shelter a young refugee mother and her family took in an abandoned building in Athens was not the European life they had envisioned.
The illiterate woman and her nominally Muslim family had managed to get to Greece after first fleeing to Turkey from Syria. Native missionaries in Greece helped them to survive in Athens, supplying them with food, clothing and enough money to put down mattresses in their mildewed dwelling, but then police arrived and ordered everyone to evacuate.
Authorities transferred the squatters to a refugee camp in Corinth, where her family shared a large tent with 10 other families. By then, however, workers at the native ministry had told the young mother about Christ, and she had put her faith in the death and resurrection of God’s Son for salvation.
Henceforward, she said after giving her life to Christ, her name would be Lydia*. When the native ministry invited her family and other refugees to a three-day conference of worship, teaching and prayer in Athens a month later, it was this new creature in Christ that greeted the ministry director in tears, saying, “Thank you for caring for us and for not forgetting us, even though we are away now.”
During the conference, a native missionary gave a message about hospitality and serving others.
“Lydia came up front for prayer,” the native ministry director said. “She stepped in front saying, ‘I do not have a house, as I live in a tent, but I want to be used by Jesus.’”
Prayers that the Lord would use her for His kingdom were soon honored. Within weeks she called the ministry directors and asked if they could come to Corinth.
“I have been sharing Christ with another family,” Lydia told one of the directors. “They need to know more. Also, can you bring some Bibles with you?”
Gift of Hospitality
The fledgling Christian had opened her heart and life to God, and He had quickly answered, the ministry director said, adding, “The amazing thing is that she has never been to school and doesn’t know how to read or write!”
Like the Roman province of Judea in the first century, Greece has become a transit point of multiple peoples as a result of political tumult in the Middle East and Africa. Just as the transit hub of first-century Judea served as a point of departure for the gospel, in Athens today many people from diverse places – Syria, Iraq/Kurdistan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Afghanistan, and the northern Sahara, among others – are thrown together at the ministry center and leave bearing the message of Christ’s salvation.
Likewise, in Corinth Lydia found refugees from various cultures in the enormous tent that authorities had subdivided into box-like “homes” with slabs of wood. She and her husband led the native ministry team visiting from Athens to their home in Corinth – a nine-foot by nine-foot space separated from other families by the pieces of wood and with blankets strewn across as a ceiling.
“There was no toilet inside or a kitchen; that was out in the common area,” the ministry leader said. “We sat on the mattresses on the floor, and a few minutes later people started to enter the room, one after the other. More than 12 people were sitting next to each other along with babies sleeping on their laps.”
In the same city where the Apostle Paul met a new Christian called Aquila in the first century and stayed with him because they worked in the same trade as tent-makers, Lydia’s space in the tent was packed with people who spoke Arabic, Farsi and a dialect of Kurdish called Sorani.
“Lydia looked at us and said, ‘Do you remember at the conference how you prayed for me to open my house? Here it is! I opened it!’ It was such a humbling moment for all of us that we could hardly keep back our tears,” the director said. “She was teaching us so many truths.”
Lydia looked at the people crammed into her home and told them the visitors were Christians who had come to talk about Jesus. The director began speaking in Arabic as another member of the team translated into Farsi and Sorani.
Team members later got to know those present, prayed with them, left them some Sorani Bibles and invited them to visit them in Athens when possible. As they left, they found a man waiting outside who had wanted to come in and listen. They learned that he had remained outside because he was tall and knew there would not be enough space, the director said.
“A few days later, Lydia came to the office in Athens,” the ministry leader said. “She was carrying her groceries trolley. ‘Did you come for shopping?’ we asked, and she said, ‘No, I came to get more Bibles – in Farsi now!’”
Lydia’s is just one of hundreds of the native ministry’s stories of strategically placed servants of God in Greece – atop two millennia of stories traced back to Paul’s acquaintance with Aquila, a native of Pontus (in modern Turkey) who had come to Corinth with his wife Priscilla from Italy because Emperor Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.
Just a coincidence? Native missionaries don’t think so. Please consider a donation today to equip them and other workers strategically placed throughout Greece to bring Christ’s love to those who do not know Him.
*Name changed for security reasons