Marc and Denise Atchley - September 2018
With Marc & Denise Atchley
Over the past year and a half we've had the privilege to share with scores of people our vision for utilizing a coffeehouse as a platform for disciple making in Athens, Greece. On the whole, folks are encouraging if not enthusiastic, and a number have committed to prayer and financial support. Yet undoubtedly there are some who have questions about this kind of ministry. After all, we're not pastoring a church, or teaching in a seminary. Nor are we running an orphanage or serving in a bush hospital or refugee camp. Some might wonder how something like running a business can be "missional". Or they might not understand why, if we're running a business, we would still need financial support. Perhaps we can begin to answer these questions and others below.
Our God is the God of the Ordinary
Reading through the narrative in Acts, it is easy to miss a quick observation which Luke makes as he moves from Stephen's martyrdom in Jerusalem to Philip's ministry in Samaria. Stephen's death marked the beginning of intense persecution in Jerusalem that would scatter disciples throughout Judea and Samaria. And as Luke describes, "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went." (Acts 8:4).
Nearly 5 years ago we attended our denomination's Global Missions Conference to explore the possibility of returning overseas as traditional missionaries. While in Kenya, Marc had worked as a finance director with Samaritan's Purse, but began to realize that private business was ideally suited to help impoverished Christians in the developing world to both provide for their families and reach the lost. When we came back to the States, Marc worked for the next eight years on several business concepts that might return us abroad. But by 2013 traditional missions organizations like Mission to the World (our denomination's global missions-sending agency) were beginning to embrace business as a platform for reaching people with the Gospel.
At the Global Missions Conference we watched a video that showed how the Greek Evangelical Church was engaged in a church planting movement. Though evangelical Christians are a tiny minority (less than 1%) of the Greek population and have been historically marginalized, they are taking bold steps to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. We then heard a sermon by Greek Pastor Giotis Kantartzis who argued that a biblical theology of missions is derived from a biblical vision of God. Examining the Greek grammar of Acts 17:16-34, Pastor Giotis asserted that "our God is the God of the ordinary." It was as the Apostle Paul was waiting for his friends to join him in Athens that he began to engage people with the Gospel. God works through the ordinary events of our lives. Pastor Giotis then turned to the above quoted passage from Acts 8 to show that it was ordinary people who preached the word as they were scattered abroad. What "missional" really means is "ordinary people doing ordinary things with Gospel intentionality.
Our God is the God of the Agora (Marketplace)
As Acts 17 demonstrates, the Apostle Paul didn't limit his appeal to the local synagogue in Athens, but "was in the marketplace day by day [reasoning] with those who happened to be there." (Acts 17:17) In ancient Greece -- and today -- the agora (marketplace) is the public square: the place where people engage in media, art, politics, education, commerce, and religion. Pastor Giotis argued that our theology requires us to go beyond our comfort zones and into the world. We're supposed to be the City of God amongst the City of Man (Augustine). As Abraham Kyper declared, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, 'Mine!'" God wants us to take his Gospel everywhere. And so we need to engage the culture and create spaces of redemptive presence in the agora.
Business as Mission
We didn't leave the Global Missions Conference with the idea of starting a coffeehouse ministry in Athens, Greece. In fact, it would be another year before we even began to explore the idea of a coffeehouse. But one thing the Conference seemed to confirm for us was that the Gospel belongs in the marketplace ... business as mission (BAM) should be ordinary. The vast majority of us are not clergy, yet the Great Commission applies to us just the same. The believers described in Acts 8:4 were ordinary people with ordinary trades and businesses, and yet "they preached the word." Why should things be any different today?
For some, the idea of business as mission -- operating a real business with the Kingdom purpose to see lives transformed and God glorified -- seems novel and perhaps even suspect. Marc spoke with one person who suggested that BAM missionaries either focus too much on the business and neglect the ministry, or focus too much on the ministry and neglect the business. Yet do we suspect the same difficulty for the missionary doctor or missionary pilot? Will the physician focus too much on the medical practice and neglect the Gospel? Or will the pilot focus too much on the Gospel and neglect the aviation operations?
Empowered by the Spirit, the businessman will use his skills to care for his employees, vendors, customers, and others in the community. As he operates his business with fairness and integrity he will be an example of Godliness in the midst of greed and corruption. And in all his relationships he will seek to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. This is the example of the men and women of Acts 8:4, and this really should be the ordinary experience for us today. "Ordinary people doing ordinary things with Gospel intentionality."
As noted above, less than 1% of Greeks are evangelical Christians. More hands are needed to do the great work of calling Greece to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And given the prejudice against those who are not Eastern Orthodox, the most promising means of making disciples is by taking the Gospel to the agora. Opening a coffeehouse would enable us to provide employment and mentorship to young Christians. With it we would create a space in the community that not only models Christian ethics but also promotes a Christian worldview. Through it we would develop relationships within which we might share the Gospel.
Doctors and pilots who are called to the mission field often need more than just training and experience in their professions. If they are going long-term they will need to learn the language. They may also need to provide for accompanying family members. And they will certainly need proper equipment and facilities to carry out their work. All these things require financial resources that most doctors and pilots do not have personally. And this is where others are given the opportunity to make an investment in eternity.
As Greece emerges from economic crisis and begins the process of recovery, Marc's training (a law degree and master in international business degree) and 20 years of relevant work experience could be of great help. However, we lack the personal resources to make this vision happen on our own. In order to relocate our family to Greece and start the process of assimilating so that we can be effective in ministry, we need financial partners. TEAM has established a budget for us that will support our family as we integrate into serving with the Greek Evangelical Church and other ministries.
Launching a coffeehouse will require additional investment, though the vision is to create something that will eventually be sustainable. We see the coffeehouse as a viable strategy not only for creating a Godly presence in the marketplace, but also for providing meeting space for new church plants and evangelistic ministries. Furthermore, we believe it's a strategy that can be utilized in urban centers around the world, and perhaps especially well in restricted-access countries.
This is the vision that God has given to us. If you think this vision might resonate with your church or others you know, we would greatly appreciate you introducing us to them. We've seen how God has used the shop where Marc works for discipleship and church planting. And we can point to numerous other examples here in the States and abroad.
We can't thank you enough for your continued prayer and support!
After trying to manage the trouble with her gallbladder (hoping to avoid surgery), Denise finally gave in and had her gallbladder removed in early August. God was gracious and brought her through the procedure without complications. Post-surgical pain slowed her down for a while, but she was still able to get the kids ready for the start of school on time. We can't thank you enough for your prayers!
Marc and Denise
TEAM - Greece