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Travelling in Greece, it is impossible to forget that the landscapes, cities and people of this country were intimately known by the apostle Paul and formed the backdrop of much of his missionary work. This was brought to life vividly during my visit in the first week in August this year on a trip to the remains of ancient Corinth. Paul spent eighteen months (Acts 18:11,18) in this notoriously immoral city in AD 50-52. Many of the streets and buildings which he knew still exist and the massive limestone outcrop towering above the city on which stood the temple of Aphrodite would have been a familiar daily sight.
The main reason for my going to Greece, however, was to spend time with our members in the village of Vagia, near the ancient city state of Thebes and 80 km from Athens. Here, the message of the Gospel has been passed on through four generations of the same family culminating in the baptism of Sotiris Stenos, now aged 19, in 2002. Sotiris, his father, Panayiotis, his mother, Yanna, and his grandmother Chrysoula Tsellou, together make up this small church.
I spent just under a week with Brother and his family, which includes his three younger cousins, Sakis, Dinos and Christos, and two younger brothers, Thanasis and Dimitris. The six boys were all on vacation from university or school and spending most of their holiday with their grandmother. As on previous visits, I was immediately treated as one of the family - Chrysoula's seventh grandson, they said!
Besides our visit to Corinth and regular trips to the sea, my stay provided the opportunity to share the daily Bible readings and discussion and, on Sunday, to take part in the Breaking of Bread. By this time I had been joined by Sheila Harris, who, earlier in the week, had been spending time with a member in Athens.
The purpose of my stay with the Stenos family was purely pastoral: to provide them with support and encouragement in their isolation, and to help them in their own witness to their friends and neighbours. However, in reality the support is mutual; the example of loyalty and faithfulness which they maintain in difficult circumstances, and the love and hospitality which they show, is a powerful encouragement to my own faith.
The Temple of Apollo in ancient Corinth
The Stenos family with Sheila Harris
|"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15)|