Stories from Our Missionaries : God’s Call to Europe

How do you know what God is calling you to do?    

In a world of seemingly endless possibilities, it may feel overwhelming to find the answer. Perhaps you know you’re meant to serve missionally––but do you know how?   

Thankfully, as we spend time with God, He speaks to us. He tells us, often uniquely, what is best for us, directing our path. Greater Europe Mission’s global workers are no exception. God called each to serve in a continent that is hungry for truth, but lacking in true Gospel teachings.  

These GEM workers shared with us the unique ways God called them to serve in Europe.   

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DP Strellman found God directing him to great need and historic opportunity in Russia.  

In 1990, I was between jobs and spoke fluent Spanish. I thought perhaps God could use my business skills in some way in Latin America, so I loaded a backpack and travelled for four months in Mexico, Ecuador, and Chile. At the end of the trip, I realized that God had plenty of workers there. I wasn’t really needed.


When the Berlin wall fell in 1989, many countries were opened to the Gospel for the first time in years. In 1992, I headed to Moscow, not knowing a word of Russian. I served in a new bilingual church and helped in the Moscow Billy Graham crusade where 100,000 came to hear the Gospel. I ended up serving Russian evangelists for 12 years during the most open years of its history, which led to another 18 years serving in Eastern Europe where the need is still great. I am so glad I didn’t limit myself to Latin America!  

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Allison De La Torre’s sister lived in Europe for over 15 years and married a German, so the continent already had a big place in Allison’s heart.  

In November 2022, God clearly spoke to me that He was calling me overseas for His mission. As I pursued different options, I learned about GEM, and I had both peace and major excitement. The kind of work I’ll get to do with GEM aligns with multiple dreams of mine…God has clearly written this as the next step in my “career” journey.  

Allison’s heart goes out to those who intentionally or unintentionally keep Jesus at a far distance. She hopes as she moves from missionary appointee to cross-cultural worker, she’ll see a revival like that of the Acts Church 2000 years ago.   

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Dave Zehr’s obedience to God’s calling led to a successful church plant in Austria.  

When I completed my junior year at Taylor University in 1952, the quartet I was singing with was asked to go to Germany to help Youth for Christ with tent campaigns for the summer. We saw approximately 1,000 decide for Christ that summer, but then learned from some of the young people that they had no local gospel preaching church in their area. At that moment, a seed was planted in my heart.  

Four years later, after determining God was leading my wife and me to Germany, we went to a small church in Ohio for some pastoral experience. During that time, we were appointed with GEM and in April of 1962, we headed for Germany, fully supported at $435 per month.  

After leading Dave and his wife to Germany, and then to Austria––where there were no GEM missionaries––He connected them with a zealous, local Christian lady. Together, they started a home Bible study that is now currently one of the largest Evangelical churches in Austria.   

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“My life has been made up of God presenting me with opportunities of many types, and serving Him in Europe is no exception,” Fred Naff starts.  

I went to Florence, Italy for my last year of college, studying architecture. While I was there, I met a couple with InterVarsity (IFES) and joined a summer evangelism team in the town of Perugia after my studies were done. I ended up going back to Perugia two years later with InterVarsity to try to reach university students for Christ. While I was there, I met my wife, who is Greek, and I moved to Greece to marry her in 1988. We thought of leaving Greece for the US, but the Lord brought me an opportunity to serve Him as an architect with GEM. So, I started doing that in 1995 and have been doing it ever since with GEM Design Group.  

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Kathy Stalnaker spent 34 years serving in Belgium and the Netherlands, but it all started in the US.  

Not long after we were married, Cecil and I decided to attend the Urbana Missions Conference to see what the Lord would show us. Each evening in their sports arena, we watched a multi-media presentation about a different part of the world. On the evening that they featured Europe, we were both struck by all the cathedrals there that were mostly empty.   

A few years later, at GEM’s candidate school, we learned that there was a need for professors in the French side of the Belgian Bible Institute. We also learned that in the US there was one Christian worker for every several hundred people, while in Belgium there was only one Evangelical worker for every 32,000 people.  

Through these findings, God stirred their hearts to serve, leading the Stalnakers to become full-time missionaries in Belgium and the Netherlands.    

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As a new believer at 21, Mo Blackmon barely understood her own faith, let alone missions.  

God brought Debbie Williams (now Deborah Bourbeau) into my life, and we quickly became close friends. Her parents––GEM missionaries in Sweden––invited us and two others to join them in the newly independent country of Latvia where GEM had just been invited to start a new work. This led to a desperate need for understanding if God Himself was calling me to Latvia or if the calling was just for my friends.  

Mo began asking others how they understood their call, looking for her own answer, but to no avail. They each gave her a unique reply, none of which resonated with her.   

At the fall conference of my final year of Bible college, Dr. Helen Roseveare spoke. She said, “I want to talk with you about how to know God’s calling on your life.” I literally sat up straight in my chair, certain that this was God responding to the question of my heart.  

I was not disappointed. She spoke from 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, saying that if you have answered God’s initial call to become a new creation in Christ, then the following Scriptures applied to you as well: God has therefore given you the ministry of reconciliation, He is entrusting to you that message of reconciliation, you are therefore an ambassador for Christ. That was it! I later left the auditorium and walked around the edge of town by the wheatfields in the cool prairie evening, praying, “Okay God, I know you are calling me to Latvia. I’ll go! Where is that again?!”  

We four college grads were invited to Latvia for an initial eight months. At last year’s Annual Conference, three of the four of us celebrated 30 years of God’s faithfulness in His call for us to serve him in Latvia.  

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God made the paths clear to these individuals because they were listening.  

Are you listening?    

Is God calling you to serve missionally or perhaps support those who are already serving in obedience? If you’d like to explore the options of serving in Europe, contact info@gemission.ca

Preparing for the 2024 Summer Olympics : Are Christian Workers Ready?

Welcoming a new year often brings renewed anticipation for what’s to come. For the country of France, 2024 brings its own level of anticipation, though much greater in scale and with more required preparation than our own resolutions may require. 

Since 2017, the world has known the 2024 Summer Olympics would be hosted in the vibrant city of Paris. Following the announcement of this honour, Paris, and other cities across France, began the process of preparing for the games.   

“Any major sporting event will inject a certain amount of excitement to the community,” says Tom Hawkins, a Greater Europe Mission worker in Paris.  

Hawkins partners with Go+ France, a Christian association with the goal of uniting around the passion of sport, leisure, and fitness. “In 2016, when the European football championships took place in France, churches and ministries had open doors to planning events that involved the community because of the environment that the sporting event created.”   

With only about seven months until the games, missionaries and ministers across Paris are again considering how best to utilize the unique opportunity a large influx of people coming to the city brings. It’s not every day the world comes to their doorstep! 

Ministering during the Olympic games extends far past sports ministry or ministering within a church building. Events that will take place amidst the Olympics are being thoughtfully and creatively planned and will be supported by Conseil National des Évangéliques de France (National Council of Evangelicals of France, or CNEF).  

“Under the banner of Ensemble 2024, ministries interested in doing things before, during and after the games are growing in number,” reports Hawkins. “Festivals, art exhibits, events surrounding the 100th anniversary of Eric Liddell’s story,”—the subject of the film, Chariots of Fire—” even a Christian fashion show.”  

Without a doubt, ideas and opportunities to reach people with the Gospel abound during this exciting time. However, this does not come without its challenges.   

“I imagine the biggest question we are all asking is the question of space,” says Doug Irwin, GEM missionary and church planter in the twelfth arrondissement of Paris. “Paris is already generally tight on space. Apartments are small, hotels are limited. I really don’t know where this city plans to host everyone. That can also make ministry hard.”  

In addition to the limited space, the ability to conduct outreach and evangelism efforts during a massive global event may also be limited. Heightened attention around things like protests and demonstrations, and the resulting high level of security is also a concern for missionaries in Paris.   

Despite the challenges that are brought by hosting the Olympics in a city like Paris, missionaries and ministers are hopeful. “The Olympic committee is encouraging every town, village, and city to participate in Terre de Jeux, and almost 4,000 have signed up,” notes Hawkins.  Through this “Land of the Games” program – whose goal is to have the entire country playing a part in the Olympics – local churches throughout the country will have increased opportunities for outreach efforts and hosting events for visitors and locals, alike. 

As GEM workers stationed in France prepare for the fantastic ministry opportunity that awaits them, will you consider joining us in prayer? We pray that God will open doors, give Christian workers creative ideas to participate in and serve the community, and boldness to present the Gospel in a loving way. 

If you would like more information on Ensemble 24 and other Paris ministry opportunities, contact tom.hawkins@gemission.org

beenhere

Originally Written by Emma Turner, GEM missionary in Paris, France.
Revised for GEM Canada by Leanne Monge Barrera

Read original article here: https://gemission.org/paris-2024-olympics-a-nation-in-preparation/ 

Inside Look : How GEM Supports Its Female Missionaries

Have you ever fallen victim to the trap of a busy lifestyle? Often, the fruit of this culturally encouraged way of living is stress, exhaustion, and missed opportunities to build relationships. If we are to be effective followers of Jesus, then we need to take care of ourselves, and make time for others. 

Dawn Sanders of GEM noticed the importance of helping women in missions find the rejuvenation and rest they need to continue serving effectively and created a ministry within the organization called Connecting Hearts. 

What began in 2012 is now an ongoing, successful ministry catering to the women of GEM. “The goal is to connect to God, connect to others, and connect to yourself, because if you don’t know yourself at all, then really, how are you connecting to God and how are you connecting to others?” Dawn puts.  

Though Connecting Hearts, under the umbrella of GEM’s wellness department, serves women throughout the year with any needed prayer or counseling, the highlight of this ministry is its annual women’s retreat. 

“Sometimes, [in the business of life], we lose sight of our first love,” Dawn explains. “These retreats are where we can kind of reconnect that relationship and be reminded of who our first love is.” These thoughtfully prepared retreats are filled with a variety of tools and activities; such as times of reflection, journaling, prayer, counseling, teaching, time spent in nature, and physical activity; these retreats are instrumental in reviving a woman’s well-being.  

Though these retreats aren’t intended to ‘fix’ problems that women may have, they create space for the Holy Spirit to move and speak to them where they’re at. “We want it to be a community where they could go deeper and really listen to God and the Holy Spirit, and share on deeper matters of the heart,” Dawn explains. 

“For me,” Emily Nichols begins, “one of the sweetest moments [at my first Connecting Hearts retreat] came when a small group of us walked a prayer labyrinth on the floor. As we slowly walked this labyrinth toward the center, ‘The Heart of God’, I heard Him say, “Panic attacks are not my will for your life.” It was exactly what I needed to hear from the Lord to know the monthly, night-long sessions of anxiety and terrible heartburn were not what the Lord intended for me. He revealed His gentleness and kindness to me in that moment, and I treasure that.” After this experience, Emily has gone on to attend these retreats regularly. 

Leslie Hall, another participant in the retreats admits: “Normally, I’m not a huge fan of ‘women’s retreats’ because nine times out of ten, the content has been disappointing and not applicable, and I just haven’t enjoyed those experiences. Connecting Hearts wasn’t anything like previous women’s retreats I had been on; the content was deep, meaningful, and applicable to anyone in any life stage, and I deeply enjoyed the connectivity with women I’d not normally get a chance to interact with in GEM.” 

Emily agrees: “Perhaps you think women’s retreats are cheesy or not your thing, but I can tell you that the team planning and putting on these retreats want you to connect with the Lord. And I think they do a stunning job of listening to the Lord to provide what women on the field need.”  

It’s wonderful to know there are resources to help strengthen missionaries as they serve the Lord… but they aren’t the only ones in need of refreshment and encouragement. Would you choose to reserve a moment today to actively step away from the hustle and bustle of life, and spend some time in nature, reading the Word, praying, or choosing to be vulnerable with a Christian friend? Every soul needs regular rest and reminders of who our first love is! 

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29 (NASB)

How Greater Europe Mission Came To Be

What do you know about Greater Europe Mission (GEM)…like, really know? Do you know why Europe is its focus? Do you know who began GEM or how it began? Many of us know about GEM in its current state; we know it is a mission organization that is passionate about spreading the Gospel across Europe and making disciples who go on to make disciples. For the sake of honouring its history and understanding its commission, let’s dive back to GEM’s origin and discover how it became the organization it is today.

In 1944, a 26-year-old US Navy Chaplain was sent to southern France to bring spiritual hope to men in battle. Knowing the importance of ministering to men within the heat of battle, he became the first chaplain to willingly set foot in the normally off-limit combat zones. However, this role was cut short when he rode over a land mine as he was motorcycling along a beach to reach the troops. Miraculously, he survived and went on to spend the next few months recovering in a French field hospital where he got to know some of the Frenchmen in the area.

Originally sent to provide spiritual assistance to his fellow Americans, Bob Evans instead realized that it was the local people in France that needed him more.

His short time spent in France was enlightening, and God impressed upon Evans a desire and a love for Europe and its people. He returned to America and went on to have a successful evangelistic ministry alongside the likes of Torrey Johnson and Billy Graham through the newly-established Youth for Christ, but he couldn’t shake his zeal for Europe.

The large-scale evangelism work he had done alongside his colleagues had roused the public into wanting to see more of these rallies where thousands of people would come to Christ. Evans realized that if this were to happen, the European church would need to be prepared to receive these new believers; but with only a small percentage of Europeans being reached, who would train them? With the encouragement and support from his friends and family, Evans, along with his wife, Jeanette, and daughter, Alyce, boarded a ship to France to start their own, new ministry.

In 1949, Evans began pouring his energy into the ongoing training of European believers, starting with the opening of a Bible school in Chotou, France, called the European Bible Institute, which was dedicated to training lay leaders in the fundamentals of the Bible. Soon opportunities opened for missionary work in many other European countries, giving rise to the establishment of Greater Europe Mission in 1952. Filled with qualified North Americans to help—not manage—the theologically inclined Europeans, these schools were the ideal place for Europeans to train for disciple-making.

In the 30 years Evans served as its director, GEM established 22 Bible Institutes across Europe—many of which are still in operation today.

Although it’s been about 75 years since Bob Evans established Greater Europe Mission, the organization flourishes on. With over 340 missionaries currently serving across Europe and North America, and partnerships with scores of ministries across Europe: from Bible-seminaries to 1000-year-old churches, from Christian camps to coffee shops, the peoples of Europe are being impacted with the authentic and relevant Word of the Gospel.

Is God calling you to be a part of this legacy? There is still so much need for the Gospel to be shared across Europe and for European believers to be encouraged and trained in the ways of disciple-making. Contact us today to find out how you can get involved!

How GEM Kids Navigate the Challenges of Missionary Life

You may have heard that life on the mission field isn’t always easy for a missionary, but have you considered its impact on their children? Do they experience the same highs and lows their parents do? Do they naturally follow in their parents’ footsteps, or have entirely different hopes for their future? When God calls believers to serve in missions, He doesn’t forget about their children! Though it isn’t always easy, it’s an invitation for these youth to grow closer to Him – often with some help from others.

Understanding the impact missionary work can have on children of missionaries, particularly with feelings of displacement, and desiring to provide support and tools to missionary families, Greater Europe Mission created a ministry catered to missionary children – GEM-K.

GEM-K is a ministry within GEM’s Wellness Department that reaches to the teenaged children of GEM missionaries. “It had its start at [GEM’s] Annual Conference,” Kristiana, head of the GEM-K department, explains. “It was a place for the teenagers to go and was basically a youth camp for that one week of the year.” Eventually, it became a much more in-depth ministry for connecting teenagers to each other so that their relationships could strengthen, and they would feel less alone. “It became not just a program, but a community, an ongoing relational ministry, and a type of pastoral care for teenagers who are often misunderstood both in their host and sending countries,” Kristiana shares.

With devoted and passionate staff – many of whom were previously in the GEM-K program themselves – these teenagers never have to feel alone. Kristiana says, “Our staff is trained to not just understand but really speak into their lives as a source of spiritual input and guidance that’s safe for them.”

In fact, because of this ministry, these teenagers have an amazing opportunity to grow even deeper in their walk with Christ. “It’s a space that allows their faith to become theirs and not [just] their parents’. And because there’s already an understanding [of the Gospel], GEM-K has this chance to go deeper, and ask harder questions, and push into things that maybe weren’t getting discussed in other places,” Kristiana says.

One previous GEM-Ker, Dave, can attest to the importance of this ministry: “He told us a story about how he was very disconnected and far from God, and very angry and unsure, when he was at a GEM-K [retreat] as a teenager,” Kristiana remembers. “During one of the worship sessions, he walked out of the room. One of our leaders followed and found him, and they ended up talking for a long time. Dave told us that if it wasn’t for that conversation, he probably wouldn’t be a Christian today, and it changed his life.”

The importance and impact of these one-on-one talks have been noted and are now an integral part of each GEM-K retreat. “The goal is that every teenager has a space to talk about whatever – we let them guide the conversation,” Kristiana says. “We’ve had teenagers tell us really serious things and sometimes really hard things; there’s been a lot of crying, but sometimes it’s just really relaxed and fun. Ultimately, it’s a way that we ensure that there’s never a teenager that gets forgotten or dropped through the cracks.”

“For me,” Bryce, a GEM-K alumni, shares, “GEM-K was a space to be with other teenagers who have experienced the same challenges of cross-cultural living, as well as be poured into and deeply cared for by the staff of GEM-K. It created a unique environment to feel truly known and understood. The Lord used my time at GEM-K to greatly impact who I am today in wonderful ways. Much of my faith has grown because of the leader’s hard work to care for me and teach me who the Lord is.”

With GEM-K prioritizing safety, authenticity, and hope, this ministry has played, and continues to play, an important role in the lives of the kids of GEM’s missionaries. If this ministry excites you, and you have a passion to disciple youth and walk alongside them as they navigate their unconventional lives, especially at their annual retreats, contact us! GEM-K is always looking for help from responsible believers.

*Some names have been changed for privacy.

The Appointee’s Journey To Becoming A Full-time Missionary

What does it take to become a full-time missionary? What does the preparation process look like? Is it difficult? It can be hard to fully comprehend the complexities of this journey; an appointee commonly goes through a whirlwind of experiences, including a wide range of emotions and a furthering of their dependency on God. Willing to share their own personal journeys of becoming full-time missionaries, are GEM Canada’s Katarina Colegrove, now in her first year overseas, and Joel Kennedy, a current appointee.

Appointed to serve with Greater Europe Mission in 2018, Katarina Colegrove and her family spent five years support raising, planning, and preparing for their move to Germany, where they now reside. “Support raising was different [and harder] than I had expected… but this process has shaped us,” Katarina explains. “We wouldn’t have been [spiritually] ready to be immediately sent to Germany. It helped us to be more faithful over a period of time.”

Much of the time between getting appointed and arriving in the serving country is spent contacting and meeting with churches, friends, family, and even strangers. It’s a time of sharing one’s vision and extending an invitation to support one’s cause financially and prayerfully. “Remaining excited all the time was more difficult than I had thought. When you’re on your 100th appointment and you’ve said your thing 100 times, remembering that the other person doesn’t know your whole story is so important,” Katarina says.

Joel Kennedy and his family of four have recently been appointed with GEM and are now eager to make disciples in France. Although they knew in their hearts, for the past 14 years, that God wanted them in France, they’ve just recently felt God’s go-ahead to pursue it, and are now raising support to make it happen. “There’s been a lot of things that God has had to teach us,” Joel reflects. “A lot of things that we didn’t know that we needed to know, including the idea of surrendering to and worshipping God through the process.”

An important distinction all appointees need to discern is when God wants them to begin ministry. He knows what growth or equipping they may need before becoming a missionary. For those who are in the midst of support-raising: “Try to remember that putting in more hours of time and work does not necessarily mean you will be supported faster,” Katarina remarks. “Yes, you have to put in the effort, but it’s when God wants you to be there, and that’s how it’s going to be.”

Raising financial support isn’t the only item on an appointee’s agenda. There are books to be read, resources to be accessed, and leaders to meet with – all for the sake of ensuring appointees are well equipped for the road ahead. Events like Mission Prep are important for further preparing the person for the massive life change they’re embarking on.

“[Mission Prep] was two-weeks of training,” Katarina explains. “At the time, I don’t think I realized how helpful it was. [Now that we’re in Germany], it’s really nice to be able to go back [to what we had learned] when feeling confused, or [when] there’s a lot of things happening.” “We were stretched and challenged in many meaningful ways… it was truly vital in the process of preparing our family for our future on the field,” Joel added.

Whether a person is an appointee for only a few months before reaching missionary status, or a few years, it’s a busy and productive time! Between raising financial and prayer support, taking any necessary classes, and meeting all other requirements for moving into a new land, it’s an exciting, and often exhausting time. If you know an appointee, we encourage you to reach out and offer your support. A word of encouragement goes a long way and knowing they are being prayed for is often the fuel they need to continue in their journey! If you do not know an appointee, but are looking to offer your support, please contact our office today and we’ll connect you with someone! You can email info@gemission.ca or call our toll-free number: (866) 241-3579

The Spiritual Impact of Music in Discipleship and Evangelism

What would happen if something as universally beloved as music was used as a means of both stirring up believers and reaching the lost? Music inspires emotion and provokes thought. It reaches down into a person’s soul, uncovering joys and sorrows. Churchgoers are well aware of the role music plays in worship and drawing nearer to God, but can music also be a means to draw in the lost?

Richard Mauney, a GEM worker in Romania, states: “A healthy worship life of the church will fuel the other aspects of the total church ministry – discipleship, spiritual growth of members, evangelism, missions, social ministries, and fellowship. Attention given to congregational worship can both reflect as well as produce a proper balance in the overall ministry of the church.”

It’s important to note that although music is certainly an expression of worship, it would be wrong to claim that it’s the only form of worship. In fact, our entire lives should be an act of worship! Within a church setting, music is one form of worship that brings praise and glory before God, and the music team’s role is to help lead others into His presence. As we enter into God’s presence, we’ll often receive a boldness in serving Him, which is evident in how we live.

With a passion for music, Germany’s Zachary McKay has used it as an outlet for ministry in his church, and more recently his home, for the last fifteen years. Music is universally familiar and appealing, so it can sometimes become a ministry unexpectedly. “On three separate occasions, my neighbours had told me that my singing was really good – I suppose [my apartment] walls were either thinner than I figured, or I was a bit louder than I thought,” Zachary jokes. After explaining to them that he plays music at his church, his neighbours expressed that they’d never heard church music played like that.

People often create certain expectations of what different genres of music should sound like – especially ‘church’ music. “I think singing more contemporary worship music or a different style than people are used to, creates interest that creates curiosity, and then ultimately leads to people asking questions to learn more about it – not just to enjoy the art, but to get to the heart of it,” Zachary explains.

Aside from these meaningful encounters with his neighbours, Zachary also makes a point to meet regularly with others who are passionate about music for a time of encouragement and training. “We’re creating a space for developing relationships because of the natural camaraderie in the arts and in music,” Zachary says. Between coaching those who come wanting to improve their skills, or those who just need a safe place to do what they love, these jam sessions become a great opportunity to reach others.

“There isn’t necessarily that understanding of being in a holy space,” Zachary says about these jam sessions, “or the song may not be recognizably about Jesus. That, to me, is a fun space to enter, because although nonbelievers may not recognize the subject matter of the music at first, they recognize the emotion behind it.” 

Richard Mauney’s idea that all aspects of ministry are impacted by healthy worship within the church is evident in the unique ways people are choosing to serve missionally. “Evangelism or discipleship doesn’t conform to a strict kind of model,” Zachary explains. “Music can be a form of discipleship and evangelism… I can name four people who came to faith explicitly because of exposure to Christian music, and three of them are now pastors! So, in regard to music and art as mission, if the Holy Spirit is in it, then lives are going to be transformed.”

To those who would love to get started in this type of ministry, Zachary suggests diving right in! “Just immerse yourself in it and trust that God is there and in it with you. If it’s something you really want to do, your actions [should] reflect that, but it’s really about surrounding yourself with people in an environment that will nurture that desire.” Are you someone who enjoys worshipping through music? Have you considered using your gifts to break barriers with the unsaved or uplift local Christians? If so, would you consider stepping out of your comfort zone and playing your music for God where others can join in? Perhaps some may experience new life as they meet the transforming God behind your lyrics!

The Accessibility and Importance of Refugee Ministries

Imagine, for a moment, being torn from your home, all you know and love, and sent to a new, unknown location. Sure, you could have stayed, but doing so may have brought more devastation. Now you cling desperately to the hope that you’ve made the right decision. You don’t know if you’ll see your home, your family, again. In fact, you have no idea what your future holds.

One of the most accessible ways of serving in Europe is with refugees. Over the years, millions of people have been displaced due to war, famine, or dreadful living conditions. These people long for refuge and new life in Europe. As God’s hands and feet, we have the opportunity and privilege of showing our neighbours God’s love in practical ways.

There’s an unfortunate stigma surrounding refugees, though, with society often viewing them as a problem. “Because refugees often arrive lacking basic necessities, many assume they are uneducated people who are accustomed to sleeping on the street and begging for food… this is rarely the case!” Rachel Carlson, a global worker who serves refugees in Greece, says. “Most refugees have left living standards on par with most of us —highly educated with businesses, cars, cell phones, and kids in school before suddenly losing their entire network of life, relationships, and stability.”

“He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners…”

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 (NLT)

Working with an integration and refugee program offered by a Greek Church, Rachel shows love to foreigners by helping them become more self-sufficient while living in Europe. “Many of the refugee ministries in Athens are day-centers, which can serve possibly hundreds of refugees daily with food, language classes, laundry rooms, etc. My primary ministry is a bit different,” she explains. “Our center is a place where families live and go through a holistic integration program, focusing on about 15 families at a time, who are with us for 1.5 years on average.”

Sacrificing their time and energy in serving the newly arrived families, Christian workers often get the unique privilege of building relationships and trust among the refugees. This opens windows of opportunity for sharing the Gospel. “While refugees are at different points on their physical journey, so it is with their spiritual journey,” Rachel says. “We can help them take the next step toward Christ. [In fact], we have seen refugees come to faith and be baptized!”

Though every salvation is celebratory, the seeds that have been planted can also bring much inspiration. “One Syrian family with two small children was with us for about a year,” Rachel starts. “They were not believers but were part of our church integration program. The father showed up on a Sunday morning as their family was preparing to leave. He told our pastor, ‘We’re really grateful for the help and love you have shown to us Muslims. I didn’t become a Christian here, but you know something? I will never teach my children to hate Christians the way I was raised to as a little boy.’”

Though many missionaries move to Europe expecting to share the Good News with local Europeans doors for new ways of serving have been opened, and people groups from outside the continent are now experiencing God’s love through His faithful workers. May we show God’s love to all who are in need and uplift these workers in prayer who are not only making Kingdom impact among the European people, but also among those from surrounding continents!

Pastoral and Professional Support for Missionaries

God’s calling will often draw people out of their comfort zones. When it sends them into entirely new and foreign lands, life can take on a whole new set of challenges. Though God equips those He calls and blesses those who are obedient, serving far from home in a different culture with an unfamiliar language – often in a spiritually dark climate – is not always easy.

“Even with pre-field training and letting people know how difficult it can be, it always seems to catch people by surprise,” Spiritual Life team director, Jonathan Bourbeau, says. “It takes leaving something behind and going into something new; there’s a dying and a coming alive, but that process is stressful and not easy.”

The goal for workers of Greater Europe Mission is to reach and disciple others, but when locals aren’t receptive to the Gospel and the workers aren’t seeing the results they’ve been praying for, burnout becomes a real possibility. “Burnout happens a lot. It happened to myself and my wife,” Jonathan remembers. “We weren’t sure what to do. Then, a colleague was very gracious to have [qualified] people walk alongside us.”

Scripture is clear on the importance of community and coming alongside each other for encouragement, help, carrying one another’s burdens, sharpening, and building each other up. For the missionary verging on burnout, questioning their call, or distracted with homesickness, help is essential.

GEM has recognized the importance of supporting its missionaries and has set up a resource of pastoral and professional care within the organization for this very purpose. Made up of GEM’s previously existing Member Care and Spiritual Life Team, GEM Wellness offers specialized support to help GEM workers and their families flourish spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and relationally. Take for instance the Nichol family, who in a time a need, received the necessary tools and support from GEM Wellness to joyfully and effectively continue God’s work. To listen to their story, click here.

To ensure missionaries are serving in healthy ways, GEM Wellness has developed strategic teams to cater to the whole person:

  • GEM-K team: Its aim is to create a safe space for teenagers to develop into spiritually and emotionally healthy adults who have personally experienced the transforming work of Jesus in their lives.
  • Counselor team: A team of educated and qualified counselors to help missionaries address mental, emotional, and relational trials.
  • Mission Pastors team: A group who proactively engages in caring for and supporting missionaries through calls, visits, and hosting within their own homes.
  • Connecting Hearts team: A women’s ministry that focuses on connecting women to God, themselves, and others through annual retreats that allow women within GEM to meet together, connect, and learn from prayerfully prepared content.
  • Sending Entity Member Care team: This team is responsible for assessing the mental and emotional readiness of individuals and couples wanting to join GEM. They also offer a retreat to care for missionaries after each term of service. 
  • Spiritual Life team: Their mission is to foster a culture that embraces and responds to God’s interactive presence which transforms lives, relationships, and ministries.
  • Healthy Living team: Their goal is to encourage and equip missionaries to live as embodied followers of Jesus by implementing healthy lifestyle habits for the physical body.

Many people turn to counseling at the eleventh hour, after things have gotten so bad that they’re left feeling defeated, but GEM has realized the importance of addressing this issue not just reactively, but also proactively. “Investing in people at the front end is important for their growth and development,” Jonathan insists, “especially for the transformative life that will have an impact.” If we want our missionaries to be effective, it’s vital that they remain healthy through all seasons of life.

GEM doesn’t leave missionaries to do God’s work alone. Available for those anticipating hardships or actively experiencing them, GEM Wellness is passionate about providing proper support for all, knowing that through this, missionaries will be equipped to be impactful and effective in their ministries.

Let’s continue to support our missionaries! Why not reach out to one you know now? It might bring them more encouragement than you realize.

If mission work has been on your heart and you’re looking for an organization that truly cares for you and wants you to thrive on the field, consider connecting with us by clicking here.


Celebrating and Reflecting on Easter in Greece

Adrian couldn’t wait for the end of the week. The excitement of Easter always delighted him, and he relished all its festive celebrations. Painting hard-boiled eggs red on the Thursday before Easter has been one of his favourite memories of the holiday, and this year his friend Andrew would join him and his family. The best part? Breaking the eggs on Sunday! Perhaps this year Adrian will have the strongest egg of all…

This time of the year, children in Greece, like Adrian, are blessed to have two weeks off school to honour this important holiday. In fact, it’s the biggest Christian holiday of the year for the Greeks and is oozing with traditions – some of which start weeks before the holiday is even celebrated.

For instance, the devout Orthodox start their traditions early with forty days of lent – fasting specifically from red meats, meat by-products, and fish with backbones – which begins on Clean Monday, a day where you’ll notice an abundance of airborne kites. Additionally, at this time you may notice some households yielding a seven-legged woman shaped out of salty dough, whose legs are individually broken off in each of the preceding weeks before Easter.

Symbolism is key, and Greece’s unique Easter eggs are a notable example. Dyed typically on Holy Thursday, these hard-boiled eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ shed on the cross, while the hard shell represents the sealed tomb of Jesus which will be ‘cracked’ open on Easter Sunday.

The delightful aroma of sweet bread began to waft throughout the house as Adrian and Andrew finished cleaning the red dye off their hands. His mom was busy in the kitchen preparing for the weekend, and although she said the bread was to be saved for Sunday, Adrian couldn’t wait to have a taste!

The often-braided sweet bread, also known as tsoureki, is an important Easter staple that contains the distinctive flavourings of citrus and mahlab. Presented with a dyed-red egg baked onto the top, it’s the perfect way to break the fast that many had been on in preparation for Easter.

Interesting how one can go from hopeful preparation to bittersweet sadness in just a day’s time, Adrian thought. With his family by his side at church, he watched solemnly as the epitaph – a depiction of Christ’s lifeless body in its tomb – was approached and kissed by all congregants. Sadness filled the air on this Friday, and the sound of beautiful, yet mournful chants and hymns filled Adrian’s chest with emotion. 

After a period of waiting, locals meet once again for the liturgy on Saturday evening.

With Christ’s resurrection believed to have happened exactly as Saturday becomes Sunday, midnight, the whole village or city will gather, after a very late church service, to light candles representing the Light of the world coming forth from the tomb. Sorrow turns into joy. Fireworks often light up the sky at midnight, followed by a breaking of the fast with soup made from the organs and intestines of the lamb they will be roasting the next day.

After visiting the church and eating a late bowl of soup, Adrian grabbed his dyed-red egg in preparation for its cracking. He locked eyes with his father, who held up his own red egg, then brought it down upon his dad’s, cracking it open in the process. Smiles wide throughout the room, Adrian and his family, together with countless other families across Greece, called out, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!”

Whether we celebrate with commemorative traditions or with quiet times of reverent reflection and worship, through the preparations, times of sorrow and of celebration, may we never forget the sacrifice and resulting hope that God has gifted us! 

Happy Easter!

*Thanks to Mark Doebler, currently serving in Greece, for your input!