Marc and Denise Atchley - March 2019
With Marc & Denise Atchley
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)
Last month we sought to provide a bit of background on the current economic situation in Greece, describing the Greek government's debt crisis which led to high unemployment, loss of income and property, and the departure of many highly trained and skilled young professionals to other countries. We didn't have the space to also provide background on the migration crisis in Europe that has impacted Greece more than any other EU state. In short, 1.8 million refugees have come to Europe since 2014 with 1.1 million of those entering through Greece ... perhaps we can share more on that in a future edition!
As indicated last month, though the Greek debt crisis may officially have come to an end, the road to recovery will be long and difficult. And though refugee arrivals are down significantly from their 2015 peak, families and youth from areas devastated by war are still searching for a home with physical and economic security. For many Greeks and for most refugees the situation remains desperate. Broken lives, broken communities, broken institutions, broken nations -- ultimately, all are a result of broken relationships with God caused by sin. And the ultimate answer to Greece's brokenness (and the world's) is reconciliation to God through a personal, vital relationship with Jesus Christ.
Of course, sin and brokenness will continue in some measure until Christ's return. But it is encouraging to remember what God has done across communities, nations and even continents in response to humble prayer, faithful preaching, and the transformed lives of His people. Consider the revivals in prodigal Israel and Judah. The adoption of Christianity (a persecuted religion up to that time) by the Roman Empire. The impact of the Reformation on northern Europe and beyond. The Great Awakenings and Revivals which swept through America, Great Britain, and other countries around the globe. Who knows the extent of what God will do in Greece!
Most Greeks do not have a personal relationship with Jesus. Though most self-identify as Eastern Orthodox Christians, only 2% regularly attend church services. Greeks have been taught that salvation -- or more typically, "union with God" -- is found through the Church (the Eastern Orthodox Church) and its administration of the sacraments (rituals that dispense divine transforming grace). To be sure, faith and personal piety are important in Eastern Orthodoxy. But as is always the case, when "ritual" overshadows "relationship" there is no true worship of God. God speaking through His prophet Hosea declares: "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings". (Hosea 6:6, ESV) Similarly, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes saying: "You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: '"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."'" (Matthew 15:7-9, ESV)
Of course, the vast majority of refugees entering Greece are Muslim. Most of these have never heard of a God who "so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 ESV) The Quran states that Allah will "appoint affection" to those who believe and do works of righteousness. (Q 19:96) But most Muslims likely haven't heard of a God who loves the sinner first: "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8 ESV). While the deity of Christ is still an obstacle for Muslims, the Holy Spirit is more than capable of opening their hearts and minds to this truth as well.
Evangelical Christians in Greece have the ultimate answer to the problems facing both Greeks and refugees. Yet, they represent such a tiny minority (less than 1%) of Greece's 11 million people. And these brothers and sisters are enduring the hardships of the crisis along with their neighbors. They need the global body of Christ to come alongside them. To join them in prayer that God would pour out His Spirit and bring about a Great Awakening in Greece. To join them in making disciples, proclaiming the Gospel, and planting churches. To join them in engaging the culture and ministering to the needy -- Greek and refugee alike.
Over the past ten years, the Greek Evangelical Church (with whom our home church is partnering) has experienced the beginnings of an spiritual awakening. During that time, First Greek Evangelical Church, situated at the foot of the Acropolis, has planted five new churches in communities around Athens ... and two of these congregations already have plans for church plants of their own. The Church has also sought to establish a redemptive presence in Greek neighborhoods and refugee camps through a number of community centers and other services that help minister to critical needs. They have also launched initiatives that seek to bring the Christian faith into discussions on a variety of issues, from contemporary social concerns to the realities of starting up a small business.
The Holy Spirit is also at work through other churches and ministries operating in Greece. Over the past ten years, Hellenic Ministries (TEAM's national partner in Greece) has been engaged in a strategic effort to place a New Testament (in the Modern Greek language) in every home in Greece. To date, they have distributed over 1.1 million New Testaments in nearly 5,500 villages across Greece. And for the past four years, HM has sought to minister to thousands of refugees by offering facilities for showers, food, clothing, health care, etc, as they freely share with them the Gospel. Hellenic Ministries is engaged in church planting, visiting believers on remote Greek islands, sending missionaries to foreign countries, running a Christian camp, and more
These and many other things are happening in Greece, but not without significant help from the body of Christ around the world. And for these ministries to continue to grow, more resources are required. They need churches, families, and individuals who will pray, give, and go. God has called our family to join in what He is doing in Greece, and we're asking you and others to "hold the rope" -- to send us with your finances and to support us with your prayer. We can't thank you enough for your partnership!!!
Cross Covenant Chinese Church
In mid-February we had the privilege of visiting and worshiping with Cross Covenant Chinese Church (Matthews, NC). This young church plant (just 11 months old) is already supporting five missionary families -- including us!!! Pastor Allen Chen and the congregation have a strong vision for missions and have set an example for other young churches to prioritize the Great Commission from the start. We can't thank them enough for their partnership!
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Covenant Presbyterian Church (Chattanooga, TN) announced in February that the congregation will join the Atchley team as regular supporters! We are incredibly blessed by their encouragement and generosity!
Christ Covenant Church - 2019 Annual Missions Conference
The last weekend in February was a celebration of missions at Christ Covenant Church (Knoxville, TN), our home church. Guest speaker Tony Weedor, a former Muslim from Liberia now working with Advancing Native Missions, challenged all of us to be more bold to proclaim the Gospel at home and abroad. Also, two missionary families from Greece were at the conference and helped to highlight the work that God is accomplishing there. Philip and Joy Kirkland are MTW missionaries engaged in church planting and women's counseling. Xristos and Elina Koufos are Greeks working with the Greek Evangelical Church and engaged in ministry to homeless persons in Athens and to refugee women and unaccompanied minors.
Praise the Lord!
As of the end of February we have over half (52%) of our budget for one-time/outgoing expenses, and nearly 40% of what we need in pledged monthly support! We need pledges for 100% of monthly support before we can leave. Please continue praying that God will provide the needed resources. Thank you so much!
Marc and Denise Atchley
TEAM - Greece