Ukrainians, Iranians share testimonies
ATHENS, Greece — This European capital, where Paul once proclaimed…
During a recent national holiday, for example, he helped organize a church excursion to the biblical site of Corinth.
But his passion for life and his country is unmistakably Greek — it permeates his determination to share the gospel with anyone who will hear. And there are many who want to listen. The Omonia (“Harmony”) Church of Christ, which meets in downtown Athens, hosts services each Sunday in Greek, English, Bulgarian and Russian. Members have activities planned to engage the world as it comes to the church’s doorstep in August for the 2004 Olympics, Roussos said.
Roussos describes his wife, Debbie, as “a dedicated Christian who was willing to follow me to Greece to live and work together in God’s service.” She actively serves with women’s and children’s ministries within the church. The couple has three children, daughters Melody Feekes and Nikki Gulley and son Stephen.
How did you and your father join the ranks of the first Greek converts to churches of Christ?
My father, Anthony, was fluent in English, Greek and Arabic. His love for God and his knowledge of the English language were contributing factors to his becoming friends with George Dumas, the first church of Christ missionary to Greece. Anthony, his translator, was baptized and soon became a gospel preacher.
I was a teenager then and was spending much of my time with my dad and his friends, missionaries Dumas, Ervin Bishop and Phil Wall. We studied the Bible in depth and developed a Christian bond. Soon the church began in downtown Athens.
How many different nationalities are represented in the Omonia church?
It has four congregations representing the following languages: Greek, English, Bulgarian and Russian.
Alexei Melirrytos, Christo Arnautov and I are working together with the four congregations at Omonia. A new convert, Alexei from Siberia, who lives and works in Athens, is translating for the newly- established Russian congregation.
These leaders teach the word of God to people from at least 15 countries.
What has contributed to the Athens church’s ‘international’ membership?
It has taken a lifetime of hard work, dedication and God’s blessing for the church in Athens to be established. God’s servants spent much time visiting, teaching about the New Testament church and the need to return to the Bible. At first they were very careful not to offend the Greek authorities. As time passed they became bolder and more public.
Since Greece joined the European Union, there is more freedom of religion. Newspaper ads, as well as word of mouth, helped publicize the meetings.
English-speaking members, visitors and guest speakers were part of the church in Athens from its start. Soon people from Albania, Bulgaria and Russia were attracted to these meetings, seeking to know more about the truth. Most of these brothers and sisters came from countries where they knew about God, but had not seen Christianity in action.
How do you minister to people who come from such different political, cultural and religious backgrounds?
We meet people at the church office or in their homes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. We try to involve others in visiting those who are sick in the hospitals and encourage those who do not attend our services regularly.
I have a passion for God, my country, and for my “neighbors,” no matter who they are.
How many internationals are involved in church leadership? Has it been difficult or easy to recruit leaders?
Our new Russian congregation is growing, and we are so happy to see our Russian leaders … maturing in Christ. Our Bulgarian preacher Christo Arnautov leads the Bulgarian congregation. We praise God because over the past few years He has raised in our congregation wonderful leaders who are now preaching the gospel in other countries such as Albania, Romania and the United States.
Based on your experience visiting other countries, is the church in Greece like other European churches?
The Omonia Church of Christ is very unique in that we have four congregations meeting at the same building. Sunday morning from 10 a.m. to noon we have services in Greek; from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. we have worship for the Bulgarians; from 4 to 5:15 p.m. we have worship for the Russian congregation; and from 6 to 7 p.m. we have a service in English, which is attended by people of many nationalities.
I am not aware of other churches of Christ in Europe that have services in so many different languages.
Many churches in the United States are finding themselves in increasingly multicultural neighborhoods. What advice would you give U.S. churches on integrating different languages and cultures into their congregations?
I believe there is a great mission opportunity within the United States to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who have come to the States the past few years, and many of them do not speak the English language very well.
An immigrant in a foreign country would like to meet friends who speak the same language, have the same culture and mentality. If we create congregations of various ethnic groups who meet at the same building on different times on Sundays, then we will see many conversions that would never have taken place otherwise. Those learning the truth will share it back home and many will be converted in other countries without a missionary presence.
Please describe your work with young people. Why is Christian higher education so important? What role do visiting college students play in the congregation?
I was called to the ministry as a very young man. Our young people are the future; they play an important role in our congregation.
We thank God that our three children attended and graduated from Christian universities and have created Christian families. Melody graduated from Abilene Christian University, Nikki graduated from Harding University, and Stephen is presently a student at Harding.
My wife and I are both graduates of ACU. We do hope some day that we will have many Christian universities in other countries, and the local people will be able to participate and study under great Christian professors.
Is there a restoration movement currently taking place in Greece? How do you perceive your role in it?
The Greek Orthodox Church, with all its bureaucracy, legalism and emphasis on tradition rather than the gospel, has alienated many of its followers and especially young people who are searching for truth.
Other missionaries and I have been visiting a group that calls themselves “The original Orthodox church.” We preach to them the truth of the New Testament church. After studying the Bible with us, they wanted to return to the early church.
Many have been baptized. They are participating in the Lord’s Supper every week.
Do you think you will stay in Greece, or do you see other fields where you might be of greater service?
We do anticipate preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in Greece and remaining in Greece, but we are open and always ready to see God’s calling anywhere He wants us to go.
You have an extremely rigorous schedule. How do you restore your spiritual resources so that you are always passionate and enthusiastic?
Yes, we are busy in the Lord, and we thank God for the health He is giving to us in order to continue His ministry. God gives us health both spiritually and physically in order to be used as tools in His hands for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The ministry of reconciliation that He has given us to fulfill is above everything else and He supplies us with strength to continue our mission work.
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