Austin Ridge partners with East-West Ministries to send mission trips to Athens, Greece, where missions volunteers share the love of Jesus with those who have been displaced from their home country. It’s a great opportunity to experience firsthand the life of Muslim refugees and be able to share Christ with a group often receptive to the gospel. East-West Ministries is a respected mission organization dedicated to disciple-making and bringing his light to spiritually dark places of the world.
Hannah Anderson recently returned from a mission trip to Athens and shared a painting inspired by her trip with our Story Team. It depicts Hannah and two refugee children, a brother and sister, playing in a park. We sat down with Hannah to talk about her trip and her heart for missions.
Tell us about your recent experience on your mission trip to Athens, Greece. What did you do there?
The purpose of the Athens mission trip was to share the gospel with refugees, mostly Muslims, in Athens. The city is often described as an hourglass for refugees: they’ve fled their countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, or others undergoing unrest, thinking of Athens as a gateway to the rest of Europe, or wherever they hope to travel. However, after arriving, many have difficulty procuring necessary documents or don’t have the means to go further. They’re stuck, unable to move forward with their plans. Hence, Athens is the neck of the hourglass, where sand is trapped before it opens up to the other side.
For missions volunteers, Athens provides a perfect opportunity to connect with these refugees during the time they are in Greece. They’ve fled their homes and lost their identities and are seeking safety, rest, hope, and a new identity. Many of them, while still considering themselves Muslim, don’t follow Islam. Many, having been rejected in their own countries that profess Islam, have lost hope in their religion. Many have heard of Jesus and are curious about him. Athens is a place where they are free from the oppression of Islam, are seeking a new identity, and many are curious about Jesus.
The love we are able to show these displaced people, even the simple act of starting a conversation in the park, is a sort of love they never experienced in their own country, or from the Greek Orthodox locals who look down on them and their presence in Greece.
Each day, we visited the parks with our translators, who often prompted us towards specific people. We would start by maybe playing with their kids, or just begin a conversation. First and foremost, we wanted to learn their stories and about their struggles: how they got to Athens and what things they experienced on the way, where they are going, or what life was like in their own countries. They were always so kind and loved to share their stories.
Sometimes these conversations would lead to planned meetings later in the week, or maybe an opportunity for them to host us in their apartment. Our goal was to love them first and learn about them, then share about Jesus and what he did for them. Daily we would pray for them, for God to change their hearts and continue to place people in their lives.
Why did you decide to go on this mission trip?
I had a growing desire and curiosity for missions this past year. After I graduated high school, I decided to take a gap year and originally planned to do the World Race, a 13-month mission trip around the world. I was very excited about it, but at the last second, I felt God telling me to stay, so I reluctantly backed out.
I spent the majority of this past year growing my faith at Austin Ridge. Eventually, around Christmastime, I began looking into mission opportunities again. After talking with my parents and Missions Pastor Don Ellsworth, we decided that the best option for me was the Greece mission trip.
God gave me a desire to go on a mission trip, then took the time to prepare my heart before allowing me to go on one, which I think is definitely valuable. When the time was right, he sent me to Athens, Greece.
How did you see God moving on this trip?
For me, the trip was all about planting seeds. No one I personally spoke to during my trip accepted Jesus, and while it would be easy to be discouraged by this, that doesn’t mean nothing was accomplished.
One of the more serious interactions I experienced involved my friend and team member, Bri, our translator, Aftab, and two men from Pakistan, Amir and Attik. Aftab already knew the two Pakistani men and led us to them. We spoke briefly before the five of us headed to a nearby coffee shop.
Bri and I simply asked about their lives in Athens. They didn’t have jobs and lived in a refugee camp. I can’t remember exactly, but they either didn’t have family, or their families were still in Pakistan. Regardless, they had difficult lives. After praying, they thanked us for listening to them and caring about their struggles.
We planned to meet again that week. Aftab told us to be prepared to share our testimonies for that meeting, so I spent a lot of time praying for the right words and that I wouldn’t be anxious for the conversation.
After we each shared our testimonies during that second visit, Amir asked questions about the Bible that were intentionally unrelated to the gospel. Bri and I weren’t sure how to respond, nor did we want to argue with him. We didn’t push, just answered his questions. Atiq sat quietly throughout the conversation and listened, but he seemed interested. We talked together until the men had to leave.
I think this meeting is a typical example that shows a lot about how God works. For one, Aftab told us beforehand that Amir and Atiq had already heard about Jesus and the gospel. We were more witnesses of Jesus and His love. Second, we had the opportunity to pray for, listen to, and love them. Lastly, we were never in control of how the conversation went and it was never about us having all the answers.
What was your biggest “takeaway” from your Athens trip?
What became evident to me on my mission trip to Athens is this: God doesn’t use just one person, but many: those who were on mission before us, other believers who were previously Muslim, the translators, and those that pray for them. God allows many people to partake in sharing his message and being a part of the lives of these refugees. Some plant seeds in a long line of seed planters, while others are chosen to reap the harvest. It’s a process that only God is in control of and that requires trust, because we can’t foresee the outcome. We follow God’s calling and allow Him to use us as He chooses.