Earthquakes and Immigrants in Athens

An update from St. Andrew's International Church

“What was it like? Were you very frightened?”

I asked Grace, one of our church members, what it was like to be woken up by an earthquake!  On July 21st at 1.30 a.m. a powerful earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale hit the Greek island of Kos and the Turkish city of Bodrum.  Sadly, two people were killed and over 200 injured on Kos but gratefully both Grace and another church member working on the island were unhurt.

These two women are typical of many in the “downtown” congregation of St. Andrew’s International Church. Most of our congregation are Asian women who work in hotels, restaurants, and homes of Greek nationals in Athens or their holiday homes on the Greek islands.  They work hard, often supporting their families back in their home countries. Africa is also well represented in our congregation with Kenyans and Nigerians in the majority. 

The main congregation of St. Andrew's meets every Sunday morning at 11.45. We share the building of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church. Attendance averages around 120 on Sunday mornings and much of the congregation consists of tourists and short-term teams. During the summer months, May to September, we welcome many travelers from every continent as they visit the ancient sites of Athens and Corinth and enjoy the Greek islands. The current refugee crisis has caused an increase in the numbers of teams serving in Athens under a variety of Christian mission agencies. Some of these are on long-term assignments but many are on short-term mission trips with an average of a three-month stay. Church planters and pastors can tell you that international churches often feel like a “revolving door”, and St. Andrew's is no exception.

Earlier on a Sunday at 9.00 a.m. our “uptown” congregation meets in Kifisia, a leafy suburb of northern Athens. Here we use St. Catherine’s British School and our average congregation of around 80 people looks rather lost in the vastness of the school’s assembly hall. Here the turnover is also a feature but in this case it is due to the three-year postings of many of our members in the various embassies and government positions in the city. A small number of our members who are married to Greeks help to provide stability to a transient congregation.

We are often asked about the refugee crisis in Greece and what we are doing as a church to help. We do have a limited food distribution ministry but that is mainly to our own members who are in financial difficulties. We believe our main calling is to support the members of our congregations who are working with mission agencies to bring practical help and the good news of Jesus to the thousands of refugees in the city. It is estimated that currently there are about 60,000 refugees “stuck” in Greece and so many have heart rending stories to tell. But by God’s grace for an increasing number of them their stories are being positively changed as they come to new life in Jesus.

The unique challenge of pastoring an international church with two very different congregations also presents us with unique opportunities. Ministry in an international church has been described as “pastoring a parade”!  The people are constantly on the move and we need wisdom and skill to invest in their lives for whatever amount of time they are with us.

Although there are never easy answers to local challenges like the refugee crisis, it is good to be part of a wider fellowship such as International Christian Community where church leaders can meet, discuss, share vision, encourage each other, and pray together. Cathie and I attended the ICC Pastors and Families Retreat in Nice last October, and it was such an encouraging time for us as a couple. We returned to Athens restored in our commitment to the work and with a renewed sense of the privilege it is to be part of this unique type of kingdom ministry.  

Phil Jenkins was born in India and spent most of his childhood and teen years in the UK in North Wales, where he studied English at Cardiff University. After teaching English for seven years Phil went back to study, completing a Master’s degree in English and then a degree in Theology at Oxford University. He has recently completed a Master's degree in Contextual Theology with the Open University in the UK.

Phil met Cathie, his wife, in Cardiff and they were married in 1986. They joined AIM International in 1989 and left to serve in Namibia in South West Africa a year later. Phil worked with a national church in leadership training at the Evangelical Bible Institute, Rundu; Cathie was involved in primary health care teaching and clinics. In 1997 they moved to Windhoek where Phil led the AIM/SIM team in Namibia.  They have five adult children, three of them born during their time in Namibia.

In 2002 the family moved back to the UK and Phil joined the staff of Highfields Church in Cardiff where he served as a minister until October 2015. Having accepted the call to pastor St Andrew’s International Church, Phil and Cathie moved to Athens later the same month. November 2017 will mark the 65th anniversary of St Andrew's Church in Athens.