I took a train to Piraeus, the main port in Athens, caught a bus to the proper street, and then walked the remaining distance to the address he’d texted me earlier. I arrived a little early and was glad to see that Nikos was already there.
After greeting me, he beckoned, “Come see our meeting room!” I followed him to a nicely reconstructed room on the main level of an older structure.
“The church owns this whole building,” he told me as we took a seat. “It turned the floors upstairs into apartments, which it rents to generate income, and renovated the first floor for our church group.” The renovation took place before Greece’s huge financial crisis.
While we were waiting for people to arrive, I asked Nikos to tell me about the project. He began by sharing his personal story because it has heavily influenced his approach to outreach.
“Some time ago, I slipped on soapy water that someone had poured out on a sidewalk,” he said. “I fell under a vehicle, and it crushed my ankle.” The horrific experience brought Nikos back into the Adventist Church and into ministry—a ministry with an interesting focus.
“I noticed that the only people who could understand what I was going through as I recovered from my injury were those who had suffered a similar traumatic experience,” he said. This made Nikos realize that he would be able to reach out to people with comparable injuries in ways that no one else could.
“You see,” he continued, “everyone who helps you with such an injury is doing so because they get paid to. It’s all about the money. But my experience taught me that an injured person needs more than paid services. They need personal help from someone who's been there. That’s why Jesus came to earth to live among us.”
You can often find Nikos in the hospital helping such people. “I take their contact information, and we talk by phone whenever they need to about the things no one else can understand,” he said.
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Nikos has just started work on this project, but he hopes and prays that after he builds relationships with these individuals, he will be able to begin meeting their spiritual needs as well. Some already attend a midweek social gathering that Nikos holds in the meeting room.
Nikos has also made contact with two psychologists and a physical therapist who are interested in his work. Even though they’re not Seventh-day Adventists, they’ve been intrigued enough to volunteer some of their time to help.
The fact that Nikos lives in Athens, one of the places the apostle Paul visited on his church-planting journeys, is not lost on him. “People in Athens have lost interest in traditional religion,” he said. “That’s why we don’t even have a sign on our building. If they saw a sign that this was owned by a church, they would avoid coming in. We must use Paul’s approach in reaching people. We must build small groups of people who meet together and who are defined by their personal community, not by their building.”
This is why I hadn't been invited to the project at the traditional time of 9:30 that morning. Nikos had told me to come at 1:00 so that we could have lunch together. That’s the way they do it. “Eating together is a big deal here,” he said. “It’s where our community starts. After that we have our group discussion.”