NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“And the Lord opened her heart to the Gospel.” The phrase from Acts 16:14 has new meaning for Endel Lee after his experience at the Olympics.
Lee, assistant professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Leavell College, recently returned from a mission trip to Athens. He and a team of 20 students and faculty members from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary spoke with hundreds of people during the 12-day Olympic mission trip.
“It [Greece] was a very difficult place to share the Gospel,” he said. “The hearts of the people — for many at least — were just not open to listen to us. Usually within a few moments of talking with someone, you would have a sense whether or not they wanted to continue.”
In spite of resistance, Lee said the team saw at least three people make professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
One of the hearts God opened to the Gospel belongs to Angela, a young Greek woman from Cyprus. She went to Athens as a volunteer Olympic worker. A Christian working with the group who spoke some Greek began talking with Angela and her friend Stella while he was reading the Greek New Testament.
The two women were intrigued because he was reading the Bible in their language. After talking with him, they asked him to write a message in a journal they were keeping to record the thoughts of Olympic spectators. He signed the journal — writing that God had a plan for each of their lives. He included Scripture references in his message and gave them each a Greek New Testament.
According to Lee, Angela’s heart was immediately open to God. Lee watched from a short distance as she heard the Gospel and prayed to receive Christ.
“It was evident what was happening to Angela. … You could see it in her eyes,” Lee said. Lee and other team members immediately began the follow-up process with Angela, guiding her to the first steps of Christian discipleship. For Lee the event was a display of God’s glory.
Stella also heard the Gospel presentation, but she was not ready to accept it. As the team celebrated one new believer in Christ, they also dealt with the sadness of another who did not accept the Good News. According to Lee, the team remained faithful to the task of sharing God’s message, learning to leave the results to Him.
The team had planned to focus primarily on ministry aimed at Olympic fans using a sports-based strategy, but their contacts in Greece preferred for the team to focus on reaching the Greeks. Lee said the team had to adapt quickly to the change. Team members conducted surveys in areas of Athens that had not been penetrated with an evangelical Christian witness.
The team found some success with sports-based ministry during two trips to the beach. Frisbees and baseballs quickly drew attention, but many of their most meaningful encounters happened on the buses and subways of Athens.
The team faced some challenges during the trip. Along with resistance to the Gospel, the group endured extremely hot temperatures. Coupled with long days, the heat sapped the strength of team members, Lee said. The group was up by 7:45 a.m. for morning devotions most days and out as late as midnight many nights sharing with as many people as possible.
“The Greeks come out in the late evening … that’s when they eat supper,” he said. “They are out in the streets doing their shopping and being in the community … that’s when we needed to be there.”
Lee said the trip was a great learning experience for the seminary students. They came away with a greater respect for the work of missionaries and many lessons in personal witnessing.
“What we expect of our career foreign missionaries is really a tremendous challenge,” Lee said. “The sacrifice they make is something we take for granted. We have no idea what it is like for them.”
After the team exited their plane at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, Lee took one more moment to teach the group. The team had flown across the world in a day with little opportunity to have their morning devotion. Lee pulled the group together and challenged each one to faithfully share the Gospel at home.
“As challenging as the trip has been, if you can share the Gospel in this context [Athens], why in the world would you come back and not do it here?” Lee asked the students. “The mission field does not end when you step off the plane. … We only step into another portion of the uttermost parts of the world.”
During the trip, members of the team wrote down the names of people they had significant conversations with in Greece. Some team members compiled as many as 50 names, while each one had at least three or four that had become special to them. Some of the names were read and prayed over during chapel services at NOBTS on Aug. 19 while the team was still in Greece. Team members continue to pray for those they shared with, hoping that others will water the seeds they scattered in Greece.