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The clothes shop, the café, and the guiding hand of God

25/7/2023

Thessaloniki, Greece. A young couple and their four children are reaching out to their neighbours in a fairly deprived area; a café is at the heart of their ministry. We asked our Church Engagement Lead, Alison Woodrow, to find out more. This is what she discovered ...


The 'divine coincidences'

It’s a story of divine “coincidences”, and obedience to God’s leading.  Antonis and Viki (pictured with their 4 children) are warm, energetic, and busy!  I met with Viki between tasks one afternoon, to learn what led them to their work in Thessaloniki, and what they are praying for in the future.

Thessaloniki

First things first: how did you meet?

It’s a nice story!  I’m from Larissa, but came to Thessaloniki to study.  I joined a volleyball team, and Antonis was the coach.  One day after our first practice, he was at work in his family’s business (clothes shops), but in a different shop from his usual.  While he was working, he was praying that God would show him what to do about me, because he liked me.  That same day, I asked my grandmother where I should go to buy some t-shirts, as I was not from Thessaloniki, and she recommended a Christian-owned shop – the shop where he was that day.    

So you were both Christians when you met?

Yes.  Antonis’ mum is a Christian and his grandfather was an evangelist.  He prayed for Antonis a lot, and talked to him, but Antonis was not listening.  But when his grandfather died, it shook Antonis.  That was when he committed his life to the Lord.  

I came from a Christian family.  My father was a church planter.

This is why our change of plan was not so hard for me.  We had our 4 kids, Antonis worked in the family business, but he had a burning in his heart to do church planting work.  And I could not say no, because I’d lived this before. I think God prepared me for this.

So were you excited to do it again?

It was scary – we had 4 kids, I didn’t know if we would have to move etc.  But I was very happy to see my husband want to follow God with all of his heart.  

What led you to this work?

When our fourth child was born, God put in our hearts to leave the job and go into full-time ministry. Also, we always wanted to encourage our kids to live a life fully committed to the Lord.  So we moved to Athens, Antonis got his Bachelor in Theology, and during those two years we were praying for the next step. It was then that God put in our hearts to go back to our city and start a new Christian community with a specific call to the lost sheep. God used a friendly couple who was staying in this neighbourhood. It’s a crowded downtown area in Thessaloniki – a deprived neighbourhood, not wealthy, some refugees. After praying, we realized that God was preparing that area for us to go and work there.

Can you describe the different elements of your work?

Moses Café: a café, open Monday – Friday in the mornings. We have someone from our church family working there as a barista and we always look for opportunities to talk about God.

The 'Moses Café'

Sanida (loosely translates as Lifebuoy): a ministry for counselling women in pregnancy crisis, or those escaping an abusive relationship.  We have a room where someone who needs a way out can stay.  We were given a place that we renovated and now use as a shelter when it's needed. When it's available we use it for the volunteer groups that come to help us.

Church: we started as a community centre, offering free seminars - our Sunday morning Bible study was called a theology seminar. We prefer using the word ‘Sinaxis’ which means gathering and we love saying that we are a Christian family. Our worship is a little bit different and unusual from what people have in their minds when they hear the word church. The café is on the ground floor and we have our windows open so people can stop outside and listen. It’s more accessible this way. Greeks are mostly Orthodox, so the evangelical way of faith is not easy for them to accept. For them, reading the Bible altogether and having Q&A after the message is not a common thing even in the evangelical communities. We highly value the sense of family and for us the fellowship is very important. We want everyone to feel accepted and loved.

You’re currently looking for a new building – what’s happening there?

Yes, both Moses Cafe and the Christian community is growing and we need to expand. We are still processing what is the next step. We are very encouraged seeing that people come often in our shop during the day and this gives us the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. The leaders of the church are praying for wisdom but we surely need a bigger place, as we want to expand.

Lastly, what is your biggest challenge right now?

Hmm…  That I don’t have many Christ-centred friends who I can meet regularly and where I feel free to open up.  And I see my husband struggle with many burdens – he’s also lacking someone to share them.  And the children would like other kids in their Sunday school.  

Alison Woodrow

Ali Woodrow
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Prayer Points

Viki and Antonis ask us to

pray for Greece

Main religion: Greek Orthodox (90%)

Evangelical Christians 0.4%

National identity is strongly linked to the Greek Orthodox church - 76% say their nationality is defined by Christianity.  Therefore there is stigma attached to being an evangelical Christian (regarded as heretical).

... and also to pray for:

- the lady served by the Sanida ministry: to stay strong and safe, and to grow in her relationship with Jesus

- T., who got baptised recently, to continue strong in his faith and commitment to the Lord

- a church building

... and to praise God for:

- teams visiting over the summer  

- increasing numbers of regular customers at Moses Café

- growing church gatherings and the pleasant problem of not fitting in the café

Alison says:
'I was particularly struck by Viki's last point in the interview (about lack of fellowship).  In the UK, most Christian workers don’t have to travel far to find a like-minded colleague for good advice and a listening ear.  
But many EMF workers can feel isolated, lonely, and weighed down by the burdens of ministry.
 Let’s pray for friends to help lighten the load.'