Christmas in Athens: The Macs’ Greek odessey
By Kerry Allan | Greece in Europe
The MacInnes family in Athens. Photo by SIM UK.
Serving overseas long-term had always been on Al and Rachel MacInnes’ hearts, but it took many years for them to take the plunge and move to Greece.
While the couple both had fulfilling UK ministries, they never forgot a sense God was calling them to share the gospel in places where there are far fewer believers than in the UK.
As a student at Leeds University, something Rachel heard at her Christian Union had always stuck with her – that, “If you have even just a little bit of willingness to serve overseas, you should go [or at least explore going!] because there are far more people who stay than who go.”
After spending her gap year serving in a Bible translation project in West Africa, she felt long-term mission was still something for the future, once she had some more life experience under her belt, closer to home.
A condition of getting engaged to Al three years later, was that he was also willing to consider going overseas, even though he’d always seen his future ministry in the UK.
The couple, sent by Hope Community Church, Cambridge (UK), also noticed how cross-cultural mission positions overseas often went unfilled for years, whereas most ‘full-time’ Christian jobs in the UK had dozens of applicants.
“Then the Lord called Al to lead a small church-planting team just outside Cambridge and ‘a bit more experience’ turned into 14 years of invaluable learning and shaping, challenges and joys as the church grew,” says Rachel. “We had no idea we’d end up staying in the UK for as many years as we did!”
The Lord started to put Greece specifically on Al’s heart after he led a short-term team to Athens in 2018 and Rachel had been engaging with ministries in the city through her work for the refugee and migrant ministry HowWillTheyHear.
Leaving their church and taking away their two daughters, Charis (13) and Lois (10) from their ‘wonderful community’ were always the biggest blocks to making a final decision – until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Covid-19 lockdowns gave us some sense of what it might be like to be away from those we love and helped us realise that life with just the four of us, plus the Lord was manageable!” recalls Rachel.
Then after a family trip to Greece, they knew it was the right time to finally take the plunge and apply, knowing the Lord would close the door if it wasn’t right.
Despite a few setbacks, including battling with Greek bureaucracy, the family moved to the vibrant, multicultural capital, Athens, where they enjoy a new outdoor lifestyle (when it’s not too hot)!
Al’s focus is serving in partnership with European Christian Mission (ECM) as Country Coordinator, supporting existing evangelical churches and helping them to plant new ones.
Rachel continues to mobilise people to share the gospel with refugees and migrants and helps orientate and care for new workers coming to Greece.
“Ultimately, we’d love to see a growing network of church-planting teams of Greeks and non-Greeks reaching across the whole of Greece and for many of those churches to include migrants who have met Christ since coming to Greece,” says Al. And in order to fully integrate and thrive in their life and ministries, the family are learning Greek.
“It’s a very hard language!” admits Rachel, “but learning it well is crucial – not just so we can all feel more comfortable here, but also, because good communication is key to building relationships and building relationships is key to sharing real life and gospel truths with people.”
And while Christmas is much less important than Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church tradition, the family are looking forward to spending their second Christmas in Athens and to the gospel opportunities it provides.
“At Christmas, the Greeks go in for lots of festive lights and special foods and value time with family,” says Rachel, “and it’s lovely to find so many large nativity scenes in public, although they might not all be to our taste!
“We hope to do the same as last year, when our church went out carol singing and it was a great witness, especially as you can stand outside one apartment block and be heard by dozens of households at once!”
“We’re doing something Greeks don’t expect from ‘church’ by coming to people in their community and we then hope to have opportunities to talk about why we bother with all these celebrations…”
• For God to use the couple’s gifts and experience to reach others for Christ.
• Give thanks the family are making good progress with the huge challenge of learning a new language.
• For opportunities to deepen relationships at their local church.