Nearly all Greeks would call themselves Christians in reference to their Greek Orthodox upbringing. It is generally assumed that to be Greek is to be Greek Orthodox. The powerful and influential Orthodox Church does not recognize the Evangelical denominations. In the past decade or so, more and more people are publically rejecting their orthodox roots and declaring atheism or turning to new age practices. There is a growing generational divide, as the Greek equivalent of postmodernism takes off.
Perhaps relatedly, until the early 2000s, Evangelical Christians in Greece were deemed heretical by majority of the Greek population. Although there are still attitudes to this affect to be found, in general the standing of the Evangelical Church has risen.
The population of Greek Evangelical Christians is small, only around 25,000. Generally, regular church congregations are between 30-200. There are also several international churches with congregations comprised primarily of expatriates. It has only been in recent years that Greek and International Evangelical Churches have begun to partner and work together.
There are several active Greek Evangelical churches serving locally in Athens with whom OM Greece partners alongside to support their on-going ministries. We serve especially in community projects with Greeks, but also with many immigrants and refugees– from Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The team is currently serving with evangelical churches and other Greek organisations doing youth work, mercy ministries, discipleship, and ministry to prostitutes and refugees.
Unofficially OM has been passing through Greece long before there was an established team, while smuggling Bibles from Finland through the East Block. They did this by driving through these countries with big trucks containing house elements made of wood. In between these elements Bibles were hidden and given out along the way to Greece. Arriving in Greece these small houses (spitakia) were set up, for example in Leptokarya at the Greek Evangelical camp there.
In 1999 OM Greece (Hellas) officially started in Larissa, two hours south of Thessaloniki. Joanna Bassham (UK) focussed on visiting Greek women and teenagers. It was also very much on her heart to make the Greek Church aware of world mission as well as to send Greeks out into the world!
In 2000, the Family den Toom (formerly with OM Albania) joined and started to work amongst the many Albanian immigrants. 2 others joined the team in 2003 to work with the Albanians and in November of that year the Doulos visited Piraeus near Athens.
In 2004 the Pico family started a new team in Volos working with the Greek Evangelical Church. Later, the Nieminens joined the team which continued to exist until 2009.
In 2005 Jo Bassham moved to Athens to start the home office. The founding of OM Greece (with the statutes and board) was officially in October 2008. 3 individuals joined in 2010, adding to the breadth of involvement to include Justice and Mercy ministries.
The den Tooms left Greece in June 2012 and the team in Larissa was closed. Gabby Markus (PNG) took over the role of Country Leader along with his wife Evie (GR), in Athens. The team were, and continue to be, supported by some local Greek volunteers as well. In 2012, OM Greece started the slow process of becoming an independent field, with its own structure and policies.
Over the next few years OM Greece was blessed with some great individual Global Action members, but it wasn’t until January 2015 that there was an established team, slowly beginning to build foundations for the future. The family Vampoulas (Finland) and 4 other individuals joined the team in Athens in 2015.
In August 2015 when the refugee crisis started, Hein van der Merwe (South Africa) relocated to Lesvos Island and started a team there comprised primarily of Short termers. In May 2016, the team on Lesvos which had grown in longer term volunteers, returned to Athens after a significant decline of refugees arriving the island and limitations on camp access. This same year, 7 more individuals joined the Athens team.
Ministry Opportunities in Greece:
- Church-based Mercy ministries
- OM Greece team members attend and are actively involved with a number of local evangelical churches in Athens area. We support ministries such as youth discipleship, meal sharing with the homeless, clothing distribution, and other outreach events.
- Nea Zoi (Νέα Ζωή/ New Life)
- OM Greece partners closely with this ministry to fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the region. Nea Zoi helps to give alternatives and empower women and men who wish to change by providing information, training as well as emotional and practical support.
- United to Impact
- United to Impact is a ministry community that seeks to build networks and platform for Christians in Athens grow deeper in both their faith and their passions. Focusing on Prayer, Music, and Sports, United to Impact mobilses Christians to bring impacts to their communities; spiritually by growing deeper together in faith and in God’s word and practically by developing our passions so they can be used to minister to others/serve communities.
- Refugee Crisis Response/ Diaspora Ministries
- OM Greece has active involvement in refugee crisis response across Greece and long term partnerships with immigrant churches in Athens. Our volunteers serve directly in camps, through local ministry centers and churches and have any personal friendships with recent refugees. Additionally, OM Greece supports the work of the Greek Evangelical churches in other cities as they reach out to refugees in their areas.
- The KANO Project is a small scale programme to help occupy and engage women in handicrafts and knitting. OM supplies the materials for our volunteers to engage women in the camps to make handicrafts (jewelry, scarves, bags, etc.) together. It is a great platform for fellowship and counseling and an active way to combat stress, depression and boredom.
How you can get involved:
- Pray that the leaders in the country will have integrity and dedication to lead the people out of the economic crisis. That the people of Greece will see this time of history as a new beginning, one where they can set a new tone of hope and revival for their country and region.
- Pray that in the Greek Evangelical Church the Holy Spirit will move through and revive the missional spirit of the Church. That the leaders of the church will be filled with wisdom and vision. That many more young people will be on fire for Christ.
- Pray for the work amongst the immigrants and refugees that the seeds planted here will be watered and nourished until the time that these people leave Greece and can go on to bear fruit in other countries. Pray for protection, both spiritual and physical, for the volunteers and immigrants as we build relationships in tense and sensitive times.
More information about Greece
- Population: Greece occupies the south of the Balkan Peninsula; it is 80% mountainous, has 1400 islands and the tenth longest coastline in the world. To the north lie Albania, Macedonia (FYROM) and Bulgaria, to the east, Turkey. Standing in this position at the edge of Europe, Greek culture has a strong Eastern influence, also due to Ottoman rule from 1453 until 1829.
- State of economy: Tourism and shipping are major sectors of the economy; tourism provides 15% of Greek GDP and employs almost 17% of the workforce, directly or indirectly. Greeks are proud of their heritage from the ancient Greek civilisation, and the country boasts 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Greek economy has been in recession since 2008.
- Religious make up: Greece was the first European country to hear the Gospel; Paul journeyed to cities like Philippi, Thessaloniki, Athens and Corinth. The Greek state is defined as Eastern Orthodox by its constitution. Whilst 98% of Greeks call themselves Orthodox, only 2% go to church regularly. Just 0.2% of the population belong to evangelical churches which tend to be fairly traditional with strong leadership structures. Many small towns, villages and islands have little or no evangelical witness. Additionally, there is an increasing Muslim population with the growing refugee population.
- Personality of the culture/people: Greece is an EU member and a relatively affluent and materialistic society where image and status are very important. The current severe economic crisis has raised awareness of financial, moral and spiritual needs and hit the vulnerable in society especially hard. Greek life is noisy; loud conversations with lots of gestures, driving with one hand on the horn and late night partying are the norm. Despite some changes, the role of the family is still strong. Largely mono-cultural in the past, modern Greece is becoming much more multicultural, and the younger generation open to external influences and new ideas.
- Spiritual needs: The current financial crisis has had a damaging effect on the social, political and economic stability of Greece. The poor are the hardest hit and OM seeks to meet their rising needs in Athens. OM Greece prays that the current crisis will encourage people to search for a lasting hope in Christ and provide opportunities to meet not just physical, but spiritual needs.
There is also a “dryness” of spirituality in Greece as the Orthodox religion whistles more and more into mere tradition and pageant. The high influx of immigrants and refugees also serves to diversify the religious and spiritual make up of the population. The hopelessness and desperation associated with the current Economic and Refugee crises have lead to heavier leanings towards Islam and Agnostic/Atheistic beliefs.