A composite image of a home damaged during the wildfires.

The Greek Church Meets Disaster With Mercy

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Jun 4, 2019

Christopheros had little warning before the world burned. On July 23, 2018, fueled by high winds and summer heat, Greece’s worst wildfire in 100 years swept from the west at breakneck speed, trapping his seaside city of Mati between the water and the flames. It didn’t make sense to run away from the water, but as the fire approached, a strange feeling pushed Christopheros away from the sea. Instead, he took his wife and daughter and ran toward the flames. Their home was totally destroyed, but miraculously Christopheros and his family found an unburned path and made it through the fire alive and completely unscathed.

Not so for many others. Thousands had fled for their lives, many leaping off cliffs into the boiling sea. The fire destroyed thousands of homes, businesses, and cars. One hundred people died, some falling victim to the flames and smoke, others sinking beneath the waves.

In nearby Athens, Pastor George Tolias, from the Greek Evangelical Church, and MTW missionaries rallied local Presbyterian churches to help. MTW missionaries assisted him, and teams of volunteers were soon traveling to Mati three days a week.

MTW missionary Joe Nowland was with the first group of church members who responded. The city was quiet when they came. Half an inch of ash and soot covered everything, and the buildings were reduced to charred concrete shells. Wood beams supporting terra cotta roofs had been incinerated, raining tons of clay tiles into the living rooms and kitchens of those who had fled.

“Anything that could burn, burned,” Joe said. “Things were melted that I didn’t even know could melt.”

Burnt camera

The Church Responds
At first the volunteers focused on cleaning soot and debris from the homes of an elder and deacon who served at churches in Athens but lived near Mati. With the help of MTW Compassion funds, they purchased a pressure washer and respirators and began to help others as well, moving rubble and cleaning up at 20 local families’ homes. A six-person MTW disaster response team came to Mati and tirelessly helped with the cleanup. The church hired a social worker to offer basic trauma counseling, help families replace lost government documents, place their kids in new schools, and find new jobs.

“I think they were skeptical for the first month or two, like maybe there was a hidden agenda,” said Joe.

But the help kept coming, and the church never asked for anything in return. The people of Mati were astonished, and began to ask why. Spiritual conversations naturally flowed from the time spent and relationships built over months. George and some of the other pastors were able to express that they, the church, were showing love out of an overflow of the love Christ has shown us.

Clean up

Christopheros’ family was one of those helped by the church. When Christopheros told George his remarkable story of survival, George said: “That’s amazing. As a Christian, I’m led to think that that was the Lord protecting you.” The exchange kicked off a conversation about how God is a good Father, our protector, a God who sees us and cares for us.

“We are seeing God attract people’s attention through simple acts of faith,” George said. “We did not enter the community with an agenda to promote our church, but now God has connected 60 families to the ministry. Many people have invited us into their homes, asked for prayer, and want to know more about Christ. Some of these homes are even establishing Bible studies. God is doing something incredible.”

“Why are you doing this?”
Now, a foothold for gospel ministry has been established in Mati. The church elder who lives in the seaside city has begun hosting coffee socials for local families. The first coffee social, though never intended to be a Bible study, turned into a prayer night. People were asking questions: “You’re an elder at what church?” “You’re not Greek Orthodox, you’re evangelical, but what does that mean?” and “Why are you doing this?”

Five families came on that first night, seven on the second. Meanwhile, some of the pastors from Athens who had been volunteering in the church’s relief efforts have been going door to door doing evangelism and offering pastoral care. Families helped by the church, though still not Christians and not attending church, have begun reaching out to the pastors and asking for prayer.

“We don’t know exactly what God will do in the future, but it is clear He is speaking to hearts in Mati,” George said. “God has opened the door for daily interaction with families and building relationships. … Six families that we have been ministering to have visited our church. After visiting, one person asked, ‘Why don’t you have a church in Mati?’”

“It’s crazy to think that [at first] all we were doing was cutting down limbs and moving debris, and now it’s turned into real conversations about church planting,” Joe added. “There’s a lot of likelihood that that could happen. It’s cool to think of what the Lord has done.”

Help support MTW’s relief efforts around the world by giving to the Compassion Fund at

Join us at the next Disaster Response Training. Learn more at

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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