Reaching All Kinds of People in Modern-Day Athens
WHEN the apostle Paul visited Athens about 50 C.E., the city was still an important commercial center, even though it no longer enjoyed the glory of its classical past. One historical work states: “[Athens] continued to be the spiritual and art metropolis of Greece, as well as the enviable place for visits of the educated and the powerful of that era.”
While there, Paul probably had the opportunity to preach to Jews, pagan Athenians, and people from many different places. Being the alert and skillful teacher that he was, he said in one discourse that God gave “all persons life and breath,” that he “made out of one man every nation of men,” and that “they should all everywhere repent” because He will judge “the inhabited earth.”—Acts 17:25-31.
A Diverse Territory
In recent decades Athens again has become a city attracting people from everywhere. Diplomats and military personnel have arrived as part of foreign missions. Young people from Africa and the Middle East have taken up residence as university students. Immigrant workers from Africa, Asia, and the Eastern European countries have flocked in. There are many Filipinos and others from Southeast Asia, who have come seeking work as domestics. And there is a constant flow of refugees from neighboring countries and trouble spots around the globe.
This situation presents a challenge for the local preachers of the Kingdom good news. Most of the temporary residents speak English, but some speak only their native tongues. These people represent many different cultural and religious backgrounds. Among the visitors, you can find professed Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, agnostics, and atheists. Jehovah’s Witnesses must learn to adapt their presentations to suit the various backgrounds of these people.
Since many of these newcomers have gone through difficult times, they often have questions about the meaning of life and the prospects for the future. Some highly esteem the Bible and have no difficulty accepting what it says. The majority in this diverse territory are humble, meek, and hungry for the truth. They feel freer to search for the truth because they are away from their family and home environment.
The first English congregation was organized in Athens in 1986 to cover this territory. The growth has been marvelous. During the past five years, about 80 new ones have been baptized. The result is that an Arabic congregation, a Polish congregation, and for a time, a French group have been established in Athens. Some from the English congregation have moved to help other such congregations and groups in Thessalonica to the north, in Heraklion, Crete, and in Piraeus, the port of Athens. Would you like to meet some of the foreigners who have learned the truth in Athens?
The Desirable Ones of the Nations Are Coming In
Thomas was born in Asmara, Eritrea, and grew up a devout Catholic. At the age of 15, he entered a monastery. He asked the abbot: “How is it possible that one God is three Gods?” The abbot answered: “Because we accept what the pope says about spiritual things. Above all, this is a mystery, and you are too young to grasp it.” After five years in the monastery, Thomas left, disillusioned and frustrated by the conduct and the teachings of the church. Yet, he had not given up his search for the true God.
One day shortly after he moved to Athens, he found at his door a copy of The Watchtower, which had the cover theme “Health and Happiness Can Be Yours.” He read it several times. In the same magazine, he read that we should seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33) Thomas kneeled and asked God to show him how to do this, promising: “If you show me how to seek your Kingdom, I will devote six months of my life to learn how to serve you.” In the fourth week after that, two Witnesses knocked on his door. Immediately Thomas accepted a Bible study, and ten months later he was baptized. He says: “Jehovah really answered my prayer, and he gave me the opportunity to be one of his Witnesses. Now his love moves me to seek his Kingdom and righteousness first in my life.”
While preaching from door to door, two other Witnesses found a foreign name next to a bell.
“What do you want?” came a woman’s voice on the intercom.
One of the Witnesses said that they were trying to find English-speaking people who were interested in the Bible.
“What religion are you?” the lady asked.
“We are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
“Oh, good! Come up to the top floor.”
They did so and, as the elevator door opened, a very large man with a rather negative attitude stood there. But the woman spoke up from inside.
“Let them in. I want to talk to them.”
It turned out that she traveled the world with her husband’s sports team, and only the day before, she had been praying to find Jehovah’s Witnesses. So a Bible study was started right away. As their time to remain in Greece was limited, three studies a week were arranged, the Live Forever book being completed in just ten weeks.
The next sports season brought them back to Greece. The wife resumed her study and made excellent progress. After a couple of months, she joined the Witnesses in the preaching work as an unbaptized publisher and quickly started her first Bible study. With whom? Her husband, who is very impressed with the Witnesses and with the changes in his wife.
Allan, the son of a Protestant pastor, grew up in South Africa. From a very young age, he was convinced that the Bible is the inspired revelation from God. Not satisfied with his religion, he turned to philosophy and politics, but this left him feeling emptier than ever. After he moved to Greece, his feeling of emptiness grew. He felt that his life was without purpose, that he was on a road leading nowhere.
One night something happened. “I got down on my knees and opened my heart to God,” Allan relates. “With tears of sorrow for my life course, I begged God to lead me to his true followers. I promised that I would walk in the light of his guidance.” Within the week, he was in a store and got into a conversation with the proprietor, a woman, who turned out to be a Witness. That conversation proved to be a real turning point in Allan’s life. “In the days that followed, I saw my cherished beliefs demolished: Trinity, hellfire, immortality of the soul—all clearly not Bible teachings.” At the Kingdom Hall, a Witness couple offered to study the Bible with him. He accepted and made rapid progress. “The truth made me weep with happiness,” Allan recalls, “and it set me free.” One year later he was baptized. Today he is happy to serve as a ministerial servant in the local congregation.
Elizabeth is from Nigeria, where she had searched for God in various churches but had been left unsatisfied. What horrified her most was the teaching of eternal torment in hellfire. When she came to Athens with her family, two Witnesses called at her door, and a Bible study was started. Elizabeth was thrilled to learn that God does not torment people, but he does provide the hope for eternal life on a paradise earth. She was pregnant with her fourth child, which she wanted to abort. Then she learned from the Bible Jehovah’s view on the sanctity of life. Now she has a beautiful daughter. Elizabeth progressed very quickly and soon was baptized. Although she has four children and a full-time job, she is able to auxiliary pioneer almost every month. She has been blessed to see her husband start studying the Bible. She says: “I finally found the true God and true worship, thanks to Jehovah and his loving organization.”
Many of the people in this varied territory are contacted in street work, but it takes perseverance to develop their interest. This was the case with a young woman named Sallay, from Sierra Leone. A Witness gave her a tract, got her address, and arranged for a call to be made on her. Sallay was interested and accepted a Bible study, but because of pressures from work and other difficulties, it was not held regularly. Then she suddenly moved without providing a new address. The Witness persevered by going to the old address, and eventually Sallay sent a message for the Witness to come to her new home.
The study now became much more regular even though Sallay was in the final months of her pregnancy. After the baby’s birth, Sallay became an unbaptized publisher. If all of this sounds easy, it was not. At 6:30 a.m., she has to be ready for a half-hour bus ride to take her baby to nursery school, followed by another hour bus ride to work. After working at her cleaning job, she makes the trip back to her home. On meeting nights, or when she goes in field service, she travels another hour by bus each way, despite opposition from her husband. While showing him love and patience, she progressed to the point of dedication and baptism. What about her husband? He attended the Memorial of Christ’s death and agreed to have a Bible study.
Blessed With Fine Results
For most of these people, their stay in Athens is temporary. Many return to their country of origin to share the good news with relatives and friends. Others move to different Western countries and continue serving Jehovah. Those who stay in Greece enjoy good results witnessing to their countrymen who have also immigrated there. In other cases the seeds of truth came to fruition only after the visitors moved to another country and were contacted by the Witnesses.
All of this proves that Jehovah is not partial. He accepts people from every nation who fear him and love righteousness. (Acts 10:34, 35) For such sheeplike people, their move to another country for material advantages resulted in far greater blessings than they had anticipated—knowledge of the true God, Jehovah, and his promise of eternal life in a righteous new world. Yes, Jehovah has indeed richly blessed the efforts to reach foreign-speaking people in modern-day Athens!
[Pictures on page 16]
People from many lands are hearing the good news in Athens