We traveled by bus from Bulgaria to Thessaloniki, Greece. The countryside that separates the two locations is beautiful. Mountain ranges protrude like a spine that connected the two countries; many of them were still blanketed in snow, and shined brilliantly as the sun turned them into ice cold, crystal streams that cascaded downward leaving jagged scars on the descending slopes. Finally, after 4-5 hours of driving we got a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.
Thessaloniki is a place where buildings are compressed together, motorists are zigging and zagging, and all the noises of a big city are present and accounted for. Yet, everyone on the team commented that they would like to have an extended stay in this city by the sea. Demographically, the city is a series of tightly knit neighborhoods; each of them having their own pharmacy, hardware store, and market, etc. Think of them as little villages. Locals know in an instant if you are from the outside.
Evangelical churches are not warmly welcomed -- especially when an outsider is trying to get it established. Greece has been invaded countless times over the centuries, and in the DNA of its people is the resolve that "Greece is for Greeks -- not tourists" Trying to advance the kingdom using the traditional models developed in the West will not work in Greece. To reach Greeks multiple, smaller, culturally relevant, neighborhood communities of faith must be developed. Sounds rather biblical -- does it not? The New Testament speaks of places like Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica (now Thessaloniki), where churches emerged locally as the gospel spread like a virus.
Mike and Maria are the missionaries we support in Thessaloniki; Mike is an American, and Maria is a Greek. Sometimes you just show-up, right? Other times you show-up at just the right time -- we showed up at just the right time. Due to many of the uniquenesses I mentioned earlier, the Longs have their hands full. There's is not an easy mission. God will have to engineer the strategy to reach this spiritually needy part of Europe. As of late the Evil one has unloaded on them. Mike was hit by an automobile and badly injured, the city government wilted against political pressure brought to bare by a tyrannical neighbor who forced "building code" violations be corrected in the their meeting place (which required gutting out one of their buildings -- that was our job, and it was immense). A host of other ills and obstacles, both physical and spiritual, have come against them.
This may sound like a worn out Christian cliche, but pray for them. Pray that God would give them wisdom, recovery, stamina, and some fiercely supportive ministry partners. Pray that they will find households of peace where churches can take launch and take root. Pray that Christ's kingdom will advance in the cradle of the apostolic movement.