Huntsville youth trek to Thessalonici, Greececomment (0)
September 9, 2004
By Sarah E. Pavlik
This year, tens of thousands of spectators flocked to Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics, to watch athletes from around the globe vie for the gold. Just a few weeks before the opening ceremony, a group of youth volunteers from Southside Baptist Church, Huntsville, slipped into the country just north of Athens in Thessalonici seeking a different kind of reward. One measured not in precious metal, but in human souls.
Taking their cues from apostle Paul, Thessalonici’s first missionary, the 23-member team spent eight days “pouring out their lives” to the 1,200 campers and counselors attending the Skorus sports camp in the seaside town of Kalithea, about 40 miles south of Thessalonici.
Although the group was initially shocked by camp conditions after realizing they would sleep in boxcars and eat limited meals, students quickly recovered and took advantage of ministry opportunities.
Associate student minister Judy Cooney said, “Our kids went after relationships with the Greek kids (and other campers) right away, doing whatever it took to get to know them.”
Cooney and Tim Brown, another Southside youth minister, spent months preparing the students to infiltrate the camp with a relational gospel called “three-story evangel- ism.” This technique encourages missionaries to discover what they have in common with those they are trying to reach and somehow relate that shared experience to God.
Hollan Potts, an 18-year-old team member, admits to having some reservations about connecting with the Greek children at the camp, explaining that it was hard for her to witness to someone she didn’t know.
“But they (Brown and Cooney) showed us that all we needed to do was to get to know the kids and find out about their lives,” she said. “Then take that information and use it to tell them about the Lord.”
Cooney explained, “For example, if we find out that one of the campers has a really great relationship with their dad, we can use that to tell them about God who is the perfect dad.”
Potts, who will begin her freshman year at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., thought the trip was a great start, but hopes to keep up with several of the campers via e- mail.
This type of friendship evangelism has been the youth group’s over- all vision since Brown came to Southside two years ago and spent months studying Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.
“In 1 Thessalonians 2:20, Paul talked about how we care for you, that we have such a fond affection for you that we not only wanted to give the gospel in word, but in deed also,” he said.
So, when the time came to plan the youth’s annual summer missions trip, his usual construction-backyard Bible school trip to the border country near Brownsville, Texas, didn’t seem to fit anymore.
Cooney agreed and began searching the Internet for a missions trip that focused less on church building and more on relationships. Later, she found an International Mission Board (IMB) relational missions trip to Thessalonici, the first of its kind for the IMB.
After applying for a place on a World Changer team, the youth ministers insisted that students raise their own support. This included 156 hours of selling fireworks, writing several essays describing their walk with the Lord, keeping a daily devotional and witnessing to three unsaved friends at school.
After this process, Cooney wasn’t surprised when another World Changer leader commented on how prepared her kids were when they arrived at the camp.
“They were thrown into a situation where they had to minister to campers ranging in age from six to 18, from all over Europe and North Africa,” said Brown.
“They could have played it safe and hung out with one another,” Cooney added. “But instead they spent as much time with them (the campers) as they could. We never had to remind them why they were there.”
While visiting the three-week sports camp, other teams that included three American World Changers groups, were able to connect with many Greeks, North Africans and Europeans.
“We found that most (of the campers) considered themselves Christians because they went to church and had a big, ornate Bible at home,” Cooney said. “But the truth is they probably never open that Bible.”
Tom McKay, an adult team member, also noticed that they were very religious, “but it didn’t seem to impact their lives.”
“Our team brought in a different kind of Christianity,” said Cooney. “One of the counselors actually told us that we brought a spirit into the camp. She didn’t understand it was the Holy Spirit she felt, but we did.”
By their second day at Skorus, campers flocked around the Southside team members, asking questions about American pop culture or wanting a chance to practice their English.
One day later, campers were showing up at the World Changers evening worship services. By the sixth day, Southside youth Blake Thaxton led Antonio, one of the Greek campers, to Christ.
Three more salvations unfolded by the weeks’ end, including the con- version of a Muslim from Egypt.
This was the first fruits Greek missionaries Mike and Julie Pineda saw since they came to Thessalonica to start a baseball ministry three years ago.
Since Greek law forbids adults from proselytizing children, the Southside youth team was able to legally share the gospel.
Brown hopes to make a second missionary journey to Greece next summer.