RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP)–Nightclubs, subways, stores and cafes were the means God used for a group of California Baptist University students to build relationships with tourists and Greek natives in Athens during the summer Olympics.
“Our best evangelistic tool was being tourists,” said Kirk Overstreet, 29, who led a team of 13 from the school along with his wife, Tamara, 28. “We opened the door for conversation by asking people what things were [and] where to eat and [explaining] why we were there. I just came right out and told them we were there to share Jesus with them.”
The team helped the Christian missionaries in Greece further the Kingdom by passing out literature and signing people up for parenting classes, debt management classes, Greek and English classes.
“We signed them up and then gave the information to the local churches to follow-up,” said Overstreet, on his third mission trip overseas. “These contacts will help them build cell groups.”
Before the Olympic competitions began, the team prayerwalked around the Olympic stadium and other venues.
They also passed out Olympic programs with athlete testimonies in them to visitors in the midst of triple digit temperatures.
But most of the ministry happened on the one-hour trip the team took each day on the metro train.
The team stayed in a dormitory in Athens — about 20 miles from their ministry location — with more than 200 other Americans who went to minister to the Olympic community through various opportunities.
“Although we walked a lot, we had to take a train … each day and got to meet a lot of interesting people and start conversations with them,” said Sean Whilhite, 19, of Sun City. “I kept praying for God to send someone to me to connect with.”
And God was faithful.
Whilhite met Tassos Xourafas, 17, at the sports store where he worked in Athens.
For the next couple of days the two met at cafes and were able to share with each other their beliefs and ideas about God and life.
Shannon Brandt, 20, a junior at CBU, and Elly Read, 22, a May graduate of CBU, met two women one night and learned they were depressed over a break-up. The two women invited Read and Brandt to shop with them the next day.
All the women from the CBU team went and were able to share about their love for Jesus.
“The Greek women were amazed at how passionate our women were about their relationship with Jesus,” said Overstreet, of Yucaipa, a former CBU student who is the youth pastor at Set Free Yucaipa. “We were asked by the country missionary to do friendship evangelism and that’s what we did.”
Brandt and Minh Pham, 30, a youth intern at The Grove Church in Riverside and a sophomore at CBU, went with a missionary one night to a party for 500 natives who were to participate in the closing ceremonies at the Olympics.
Pham became friends with three Greeks and Brandt met some women who were willing to continue the friendship over the next several days.
“My desire was to meet people and build relationships,” said Pham. “The joy is in just meeting new people and getting to know where they are at.”
The team watched as God provided opportunities to share.
“Before going, I put God in a box,” said Whilhite, a CBU sophomore and the youngest on the team. “Meeting the people had become more of a project than anything. Once I realized I was doing the work by myself, I gave it to God and He provided so many opportunities to show His glory. I absolutely loved it.”
During the trip Whilhite felt a call to missions. “Now I know I could spend time overseas,” said Whilhite, a member of First Baptist Church of Sun City who joined the team late. “Whether it is full-time or part-time, I know that’s what I’ll do.”
On Aug. 14, the group helped minister at Omonia Square, known for its dangerous atmosphere and a celebration stop for the native Greeks. Delirious and other Christian bands performed for a crowd of 6,000.
Overstreet was pick-pocketed and another team member got punched as five men were fighting nearby.
Despite these factors, the group stayed focused and continued ministering.
“The Greek culture wakes up at about 9 p.m. after taking a nap about 3 p.m.,” Overstreet said. “We stayed out late every night. Our ministry happened mostly from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.”
Through the missions department at CBU, the team worked for five months together preparing to minister from Aug. 1-23 with people of various ethnicities at the Olympic event.
For six hours a week they met to do Bible studies, community service and fundraisers.
They each raised $2,500 for their expenses.
Carol Minton, 53, a member of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church and a professor of sociology at CBU, was hoping to do a lot of praying on the trip.
“I never intended to go to Athens. It has been a God thing,” said Minton, who lives in Crestline. “I originally wanted to go to Africa but now I get to pray for all the countries at once as they gather together.”
Cory MacVie, 22, a behavioral science senior at CBU, agreed.
“All the different cultures will be together at once,” said MacVie of Redlands, who serves as youth ministry intern at Set Free Yucaipa. “This is what the church should be doing … going to the nations. I’ve always enjoyed different cultures.”
The team encountered more than 40 different nationalities of the 202 that gathered to compete at the games.
Jorge Ortega, 21, of San Bernardino, believes God put the Greeks on his heart the way Paul loved them.
“I’ve been studying how Paul loved the Greeks and that’s what we did,” Ortega said. “It was the foundation of Christianity.”