Long before the refugees arrived in Greece, hopelessness had taken root in Athens. Shackled by a decade-long economic crisis, many Greek people are without work and the government has been forced to impose stringent austerity measures. Almost every block in central Athens has an abandoned shop, hotel or apartment building. The once-grand buildings of central Athens, occupied or not, are covered with graffiti and protest posters.
The fragile economy buckled under the mass migration of refugees. Thousands of refugees are living as squatters in the abandoned hotels and apartment buildings which dot central Athens. All but a few lack the proper paperwork to work in Greece or immigrate to another country -- they are simply stuck in Athens.
The influx of outsiders has changed the landscape of Athens. Just a short walk from the Parthenon and the Greek Parliament Building, the streets are lined with shops catering to a wide range of cultures -- slowly replacing Greek-focused cafes and shops. And while many Greeks are sympathetic to the plight of the refugees, native Athenians are weary from the rapid cultural changes.
Seeds Planted in Good Soil
The refugee crisis first gained worldwide exposure when Syrian refugees -- fleeing the Islamic State and their own government -- began arriving by boat on Greek shores. Naturally, Edens expected to encounter more Arabic speakers during the trip. And while many Arabic speakers are still in Greece, many have found their way to other countries, some have returned to Syria.
Up to 70 percent of the refugees that NOBTS team encountered were Farsi speakers from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Most were highly-educated and worked in prestigious jobs before leaving their homelands. Some left due to sectarian struggles; many of the Afghanis and Iraqis were forced to flee due to their support of the coalition forces fighting against terrorism.
“The seed is being sown, and we saw the seed fall on some really good soil,” Edens said. “There is an open door in Athens. The Gospel could go from Athens as a hub, throughout the world. The Gospel is moving in the Farsi-speaking world in tremendous ways.”
While the Farsi speakers were especially open to the Gospel, the team found receptive hearts in every segment of the refugee community. Some refused the offer of an SD card when the team explained that the movie was about Jesus, but rejections of the free movie were rare. In just four days, the mission team distributed approximately 1,600 copies of the film.
Some who watched the movie came back with a completed survey about the film. Those who returned the survey received a small gift, but they also left contact information for the follow-up team working with Savo. The film was particularly moving to one Pakistani man who wrote in his survey, “this movie should be shown throughout the world.” His other survey answers revealed a heart that was open to the Gospel.
While no one made a commitment to Christ during the distribution, members of the NOBTS had many Gospel conversations with refugees. On several occasions, refugees allowed team members to pray for them in the busy, public square. The prayers always included a request that God would reveal the truth of the Gospel to that individual.
The End Goal - Baptized Believers
Just before the team left Greece, an SBC partner in the region invited the NOBTS team to participate in a baptism service for four former Muslims who had accepted the Gospel after arriving in Athens. The new believers were baptized in the ancient port of Cenchrea, which sits on the Saronic Gulf just five miles from ancient Corinth. The Apostle Paul embarked from Cenchrea in Acts 18:18 on his way to Ephesus.