Bibles bring good news to Greece
Greece has had its share of adverse publicity in the past few years. Many are fearful that it will default on its financial obligations. Others feel that it might withdraw from the Euro and head back to the bad old days of the drachma. There are also concerns that a Grecian collapse could cause a domino effect and draw other countries down with it.
But a group of 323 volunteers from 22 countries around the world, have spent the past 7 days bringing good news to the people of northern Greece.
Together they have distributed 126,207 Bibles in modern Greek. In addition each New Testament included an audio MP3 version of the Greek NT and a challenging personal testimony from a Thessalonian Greek who came to Christ after overcoming his addiction to gambling. The volunteers covered a distance of 67,947 km and visited a total of 519 villages in Northern Greece. Many of the villages were predominantly Islamic and received Turkish Bibles.
This may well prove to be the biggest evangelistic effort in Greece's illustrious history. Reaching 126,207 households with the message of the New Testament is indeed a significant achievement. Johnathan Macris, President of Hellenic Ministries, was elated at the opportunity of reaching so many people who would not ordinarily come into contact with the evangelical gospel.
"Compared to other mass evangelistic efforts we can be reasonably sure that a great percentage of those that are receiving these Bible packages make no profession of a personal relationship with Jesus and an assurance of salvation."
"As in the parable of the sower we realise that we will not achieve 100% success rate. Much of the seed will fall on hard and unresponsive ground and some will fail to take root whilst others will be choked before it can make any real progress."
Nevertheless, Macris said that his team were confident that the Word that is being spread is "alive and powerful" (Heb 4.12). "It is like a hammer that breaks the hard rock of tradition and indifference and draws people into a new spiritual dimension."
As was to be expected the response varied from enthusiastic and welcoming to indifferent, hostile and anger. Interestingly the response from the Muslim minority groups to the Turkish Bibles that were distributed was generally warm and friendly, while the Greek households were more suspicious.
A significant happening during the week was the visit of the local Bishop of Alexandroupolis to bring a message of greeting and solidarity. He received warm applause from the volunteers when he declared that "the problems of Greece are not economic but the absence of the Holy Spirit".
His support was particularly meaningful in that the Greek Orthodox Holy Synod had previously condemned the project and the Hellenic Ministries organisation as "deceitful and heretical" and had warned its faithful followers to steer clear of their activities.
Macris made a special appeal for prayer for the Greek nation and specifically that this project would be the catalyst lifting the gloom for thousands of Greeks. "The message of hope and peace and joy found in the gospels has reached into the most depressed communities in tiny villages and towns throughout Northern Greece".
The project has caused waves of interest throughout the week. Several of the teams distributing the Bible packs were detained for questioning by local police on the grounds that they were involved in "suspicious activities" or "proselytism". The police also made an appearance at the campsite where the majority of the volunteers were being housed and engaged in a short stand-off with Johnathan Macris. According to European law Greece has freedom of religion so these tactics are merely to intimidate and have no legal validity. However the amicable relationship that had been developed with the bishop greatly assisted with the early release of the detainees.
As the week wore on public awareness and curiosity intensified. Newspaper coverage reached across the border into Turkey and became a major talking point. The local TV station granted Macris as well as New York evangelist, Tom Mahairas and Greek evangelical leader, Spiro Mitakidis a 45 minute live TV interview which was re-broadcast the next morning. They were also featured on the main TV news bulletins as well being interviewed on live radio.
"This sort of interest and positive coverage of an evangelical event is unprecedented in Greece," said Macris. "You can't help but wonder if God is doing something unique and momentous. Perhaps echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah, "For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland." Isa 43.19 (NLT)