Thriving Amidst Adversity

The remarkable growth of the Greek Youth Church during COVID-19

News December 4, 2023

04 December 2023 | Athens, Greece [Miriam Bagni Siwale with tedNEWS]

When the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted the mental health of Greece’s youth, the response of Athens youth leaders was to create an online ministry to help those in trouble stay connected. “We realised that the true importance of the Youth Centre was not the building but its people,” explains Miriam Bagni Siwale, church secretary, commenting on the unexpected blessings of lockdown. “And when the world was ‘free’ again, we kept meeting: online, in homes, at the park—everywhere we could! The joy we had when we returned to our youth centre was immense!” Siwale reminisced.

A happy bunch at the airport, on their way to Cyprus for a youth event.
A happy bunch of Athen’s Youth Church members with Moses Siwale (the pastor – third from left) at the airport en route to Cyprus for a youth event in 2023.

Because of all the social gatherings and community activities, especially the Kalamos Summer Camps, the youth group in Greece not only stayed connected but grew stronger. “Older youth volunteered to help the kids and teens camps (ages 10-16) and alongside the leadership of Moses Siwale (the pastor), they worked together to ensure every child felt the love of Jesus,” said Siwale. The results are palpable; out of the 35 campers, five teenagers joined the local church and regularly participated in the church’s life, including leading worship.

As the youth group grew, they started attending international events to connect with Adventists from further afield. One example is when twenty young people participated in the Adventist Youth for Christ (AYC) congress in Finland in 2022, and some joined the Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) conference in Latvia this year, too. “Our focus in the beginning was to strengthen our community and rebuild our relationship with one another and with God, but our purpose keeps growing as our family grows,” said Siwale. And grow they did! In 2022, they were organised as a church with 13 members; by the end of this year, the number will reach 20. “In total, we have approximately 30 young adults who meet every Sabbath. We praise God for that and ask His Spirit to help us grow,” Siwale remarked.

Baptism in 2023
Seven people were baptised in 2023 – on this occasion set against the backdrop of the serene Aegean Sea.

This year marks a significant milestone for the Athens Youth Church as it celebrates its first anniversary as an organised church. “We are blessed not only by the presence of our local family and friends but, above all, by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Our journey has just begun, and while we anticipate challenges ahead, we stand firm in the conviction of Romans 8:31, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?'” Siwale said.

1st anniversary of the greek church
Marking the first anniversary of the Athens Youth Church in their new multi-purpose centre to worship and fellowship together.

“We have an ongoing commitment to nurturing Greek Mission youth, and in particular, it is truly a blessing to witness the Athen’s youth group develop into an organised church with a clear missional focus,” remarked Claudio Gulyas, Greek Mission President. “Our plans involve transforming the church into a network of youth groups within the Athens area, to enhance their impact in reaching out to their peers. Additionally, we fervently pray for an expansion into campus ministry, considering the significant number of young individuals attending various universities in the Athens area,” Gulyas concluded.

[Photos: courtesy of Yannis Vrakas].

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