August 9, 2009
With attention firmly focused on Greece in the midst of the Athens Olympic Games, the small Adventist Church community in Greece is planning renewed evangelistic energy as their nation winds down after this national and international event.
"We decided not to have any special program during the Olympics," says Pastor Apostolos Maglis, president of the Greek Mission. "Those whose jobs will be affected by the Olympics will stay in the city and work 8 am to 9 pm every day. The rest will take summer holidays and leave the city to make space for the thousands of visitors. So it was very difficult for us to organise something. But after the Games, we plan to have special programs for the Greek people."
These plans are part of the ongoing focus on growing the Adventist Church in Greece.
"In 1997 the Trans-European Division called me to lead the work at the Greek Mission," Pastor Maglis recalls. "The Adventist Church in Greece had started to decline. Every year there were two or three baptisms, but there were more losses from death or apostasy. There were six churches, and some 120 members attending
"It was a great challenge for me," he says. "I was raised in the church, and I believed that I knew the strengths and the weaknesses of the church in Greece. But I also believe that God sent me to Australia to be trained for this role."
Pastor Maglis, together with his wife Georgina and their two sons, travelled to Australia in 1986. They pastored the Greek church in North Fitzroy (Victoria), studied for a time at Avondale College and then pastored the Spotswood and Sunbury (now known as Macedon Ranges) churches in Victoria.
Upon their return to Greece, Pastor Maglis had a clear mission "to see a growing and healthy church in Greece."
"So we started a training program," reports Pastor Maglis. "The goal was to start 10 new groups in five years. And in the next five years, 11 groups were established."
In the five years of this plan, 123 people were baptized and joined the Adventist Church in Greece.
"For a little mission that every year had had only a few baptisms, this number of baptisms is remarkable," says Pastor Maglis.
Today there are almost 500 members and nine churches in Greece, with plans to officially organize another church later this year.
Belying this pleasing growth are the serious challenges that make evangelism in Greece so difficult.
"Although Greece is a free country belonging to the European Union, in religious matters it is different," comments Pastor Maglis. "The Orthodox Church has control in every aspect of the social life of the people. Whatever they do the priest is there. When Greece won the European Cup in soccer recently, a special welcome program was organized for the team. Three hundred thousand people were on the streets. And at the special ceremony, the high priest of the Orthodox Church was first in line to bless them and to claim that it was a victory of the Orthodox Church.
"If they open a new house, the priest is there. If they have a new baby, the priest is there. If they open a new business, the priest is there. So the Orthodox Church has significant control and even influences government decisions."
According to Pastor Maglis, friendship evangelism and private home studies are
the only ways for the Adventist Church to work in such circumstances. "In reality, there is no way to have public evangelistic programs," he says.
Yet the Adventist Church in Greece continues to grow. The mission currently has a pastoral staff of seven, which they plan to increase to 10 in the near future.
"All these new pastors are young couples who are active, bold and committed," comments Pastor Maglis.
The Greek Mission hopes to become a self-supporting conference by 2010. "Our plan is to start new churches in five different big cities in Greece where there is no Adventist presence," says Pastor Maglis. "All our goals, plans and strategies are to fulfill our Statement of Mission which is 'To prepare a people for the Lord, and to care for our neighbor.'"