Greece: Lessons in building trust

How can a group of two dozen Christian students reach 200,000 students in Athens with the good news of Jesus?

Coffee?… and cookies! This simple idea was hatched eight years ago: put up a stand on campus to offer free coffee and cookies, engage students in friendly conversation, ask some thought-provoking questions, and build relationships.

In a Christian culture where evangelism was often equated with the cold distribution of gospel tracts, this was a welcome step forward, says Jonathan Clark, Ethos SXEF (Association of Christian Evangelical Students) team leader in Athens. And yet, after five years, when they were forced to stop by COVID, Jonathan realised that not one ongoing contact with a student had been gained from their endeavours, despite the meaningful conversations they’d enjoyed.

So, when Grigoris Karasaridis, SXEF national director, asked that the outreach be restarted this past February, Jonathan felt reluctant. “Were we just doing it for the sake of being there?”, he wondered. Despite this, Jonathan, along with Interaction team member George Sewall and a few students, laid plans to take Coffee & Cookies to as many of the 12-15 campuses of Athens as possible. Frustratingly, they managed regular visits to just one. A combination of heavy rains, demonstrations, and strikes meant that they could only gain ongoing access to the University of Athens main campus.

With nowhere else to go, the team returned to the same site for the following weeks – same day, same time. When they arrived on the third week, they were surprised: a group of students was waiting for them. “We’re so glad you’re here”, they said. “You’re the only reason we came to campus today!”

As previously, there were many who came and went, but weekly visits meant that a core of regulars evolved – and they brought their friends. As exams approached in June, the team announced their last visit for the summer. But the group insisted otherwise and persuaded them to return.

“In a culture where it’s so important to overcome suspicion and build trust, this Coffee & Cookies experience was a wake-up call about what it means to be effective in evangelism”, says Jonathan. It has also been inspiring for the SXEF students involved – one volunteer, Ilias, shared how running Coffee & Cookies became the highlight of his week.

The plan for the autumn term is to return to the campus and encourage more SXEF students to take part. Rather than trying to reach all the campuses all at once, this small movement is seeing the fruit of being committed to one place on a regular basis. They are making inroads into the 200,000.

Pray with us for students in Greece:

  • Praise God for his faithfulness in guiding and encouraging the Athens team in their outreach. Thank him for the relationships built through Coffee & Cookies in the last academic year. Pray that those friendships will deepen further this term.
  • Pray that more SXEF students will get involved and see the benefit of this kind of outreach. Pray also that hopes to extend the work, by collaborating with other Christian ministries in the city, will be realized.
  • Amidst the disruption to education in recent months, pray that the ministry of SXEF will continue to build trust and bring hope on campus so that more students will come to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.
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