By Nico Bougas
In 1981 the Lord called Costas and Alky Macris to establish a mission to the people of Greece which is now called, Hellenic Ministries. Costas and Alky served for 16 years in the Jungles of Irian Jaya bringing the love of Christ to Stone Age cannibals.
After contracting what doctors declared to be terminal tropical diseases, Costas was sent home to die. But God had other plans for him and for the next 25 years he made it a priority to reach out to the poor and needy in the city of Athens.
Christmas has always been a time of heightened opportunity to show and share the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel. In these difficult financial times for the country of Greece the need is even greater than ever. Thousands of refugees are populating the wintry streets of Athens. Most of them come from Islamic countries where they have seldom if ever heard the name of Jesus. They are homeless, undocumented and desperate. Hellenic Ministries is reaching out to these deprived people and bring them a message of hope and some Christmas cheer.
This year the mission again had three separate special Christmas love meals focused on three different language groups. The first meal took place on Saturday the 19th December, where there were many families from Afghanistan. Some 300 men, women, and children were seated in the downtown hall vibrantly decorated for Christmas. The refugees were served a piping hot meal of special Persian rice, chicken, and salad with Christmas punch and home-made cookies.
Through music, crowd participation, videos and a message, the reason for the season and the message of Christmas was celebrated. And God’s great gift of salvation through Christ was presented. But they not only talked about God’s great gift to us and His Love, but also demonstrated it by being able to provide gifts of winter coats, sleeping bags, blankets, or a generous food bag. The children were not forgotten and were given age appropriate toys as well as chocolate bars. Happiness was in the air as they excitedly tore into their presents and rejoiced at the generosity of people who represented the giver of every good and perfect gift.
This same celebration was repeated on the Monday before Christmas for 230 Arabic speaking people, which was made up mainly of single men, coming from Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Sudan, and a few other countries. It was a festive time and a good majority of those that came had never celebrated Christmas before.
On the next day the final meal for the Greek / European community was held. It comprised of Bulgarian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, and Greeks. This time was led by Greek co-worker, Costas Vitalakis and his wife Sophia. Another 230 people filled the hall for the evening celebration ending with the same display of generosity and joy.
Bruce Mc Atee, Mercy Ministries Director for Hellenic Ministries expressed gratitude for, “our small team of volunteers that come from various countries and serve weekly as translators and laborers. The majority of all the preparations, cooking, and much of the serving and cleanup was done by them. This enabled us to demonstrate the love of Christ in word and deed.”
Because of Greece’s strategic geographical location, it is often used as a stepping stone by migrants traveling west from many war-torn or less developed nations. As a direct result, Athens has seen a tremendous influx of refugees over the past three decades, bringing this unique opportunity to minister “to the least of these” among us (Matt. 25:40).
The Love Meals were an outgrowth of this heightened awareness, beginning in the early ’80s when Costas Macris and his helpers started holding a Christmas dinner for the poor. This beginning opened the eyes of the early HM missionaries to the enormous needs of the poor in Athens and the great opportunities God has given to express His love to the deprived and needy.
Since then, the ministry has expanded to a weekly meal and various special outreaches, bringing the love of Christ in tangible ways not only to Greeks, but also to Kurds, Iraqis, Iranians, Romanians, Albanians, Afghanis, Somalis and a myriad of other nationalities represented on the streets of Athens. On any given week, 400 needy people gather in HM’s meeting hall in downtown Athens to enjoy a warm meal and to hear of the hope that Christ can bring to an otherwise desperate situation.
Costas Macris may since have gone to his eternal reward but he is surely well pleased at the work that is now being done by those that followed him and are serving those that may be considered “the least of these my brethren.”
Nico Bougas is the International Director of Development for Hellenic Ministries. He has a master’s degree in communications from Wheaton Graduate School and M. Div and D. Min degrees from Trinity Theological Seminary. He is the author or co-author of five books. He previously worked for Youth for Christ in South Africa and was Editor of In Magazine and Christian Living TODAY and currently serves as Consulting Editor for JOY Magazine. For further, information contact: [email protected]. Website: www.hellenicministries.com