Austin Ridge partners with East-West Ministries to send mission trips to Athens, Greece to share the love of Christ with those who’ve been displaced from their home country. This is a great opportunity to experience first-hand the life of many Muslim refugees and join in the timely opportunity to share Christ with this often-receptive-to-the-gospel group. East-West Ministries is a respected mission organization dedicated to disciple-making among those in the spiritually dark places of the world.
I sat down with Tiffany Kretler who went on one of these mission trips to hear her experience.
JJ: What made you decide to go on the Athens mission trip?
Tiffany: I've been to Greece. I travel frequently, both for business and for pleasure. The last time I had been to Greece was for a college study abroad trip.
I had been going to The Table consistently for about nine months at that point. Amy Taylor, the women’s ministry director at Bee Cave, came to The Table and spoke as a guest speaker. She talked about her experience on the Greece mission trip and specifically about evangelism. And I was like, "Oh gosh, that sounds terrifying. I feel like I'm not deep enough in my faith to do that." But she kept just saying that it wasn't us who are doing any of the work. It was all God who was doing all of the work. We just had to say yes. I just had a conversation with somebody about saying yes to God more and understanding that what He has for me is going to be way, way better than what I can plan for myself. I sat there, and I almost cried because I was so convicted by her sermon.
I went up to Amy afterwards and asked her if there was going to be another trip to Greece. She said yes and that it was next month. And they had two spots left on the trip to fill. I’m like, "When do I have to give you information by? How much money will the trip cost? Tell me all the things." And she’s says, “Let’s meet tomorrow.”
JJ: So you ended up saying “yes” to the trip. How did you prepare?
Tiffany: Our group would meet weekly to go through training. The more we talked about evangelism, the more I was like, "I am terrified about this. I don't think I'm qualified. I don't think I can do this. I don't think this is where I'm supposed to be. But there are no doors that have closed, so I really have to go do it. I have to experience whatever God is teaching me.
The thing that I started learning and the thing that kind of convinced me and kept me calm and kind of curbed my anxiety was when Toby, the trip leader, would say, “You’re just going to talk to people. You’re just going to understand their stories.”
So that's how I started thinking about being an evangelist. The evangelism word sounds scary, but I could easily meet friends. If I'm going to meet people, hear their story, share my story, that sounds easy. Listening to people's story and then sharing how God has changed my life, that's what I'm totally game for.
JJ: What was the day-to-day like once you arrived in Athens?
Tiffany: Everyday was different, but we would start off each morning by ourselves in our Bibles and prayed about how God would use us each day. At the beginning of the trip, we met our Local Field Missionaries or LFMs. They were our translators, but they don’t prefer to be called translators. They are new Christians themselves. I believe all of them had grown up Muslim by culture, not necessarily by religion, which I could relate to because I grew up Catholic culturally. I went to Catholic elementary school, knew all the liturgical things of what to do and how to do them, but I didn’t know why we did them.
We would break up into small groups, and each group would have a LFM. Then we would go to this park – which was more like a plaza – and there were a lot of refugees hanging out there. First of all, we would walk around and pray over the space. We would also pray over conversations others in our group were having with refugees they were meeting. Then we would go up to some refugees and introduce ourselves through our LFM. If the refugees were interested in talking with us more, then we’d say, “Would you like to grab a coffee with us?” Nine times out of ten, you’d get a yes.
We would buy them coffee, sit down, and then our LFMs would help us start a conversation. Once you got past the surface level, "Where are you from? How did you get here? Do you like Athens?" I transitioned to using, "Do you feel safe here? Do you feel at peace here? Do you want to stay here?" Nobody wanted to stay there. So that was a silly question for me to ask, but I asked it every time because I was curious. Eventually you could get into the conversation around God and what they believed and why they believed it.
We'd kind of end the conversation going, "I don't know if this person wants to hear the gospel necessarily, but I'm going to share how to access John's book of the Bible. Then we would plan to meet up again the next day.
The purpose of what we were doing was to share a piece of ourselves, be vulnerable with them, help them to be vulnerable with us, and then open that door. Plant that seed of, "Do you want to learn more? Okay, let's come back and have another conversation tomorrow."
There were so many times in these conversations – and Amy had talked to us about this beforehand – while the LFM was translating you would have 10, 15, 20 seconds to pray, “Okay, God, my mouth’s open. Go ahead and talk because I don’t know what to say.” And that was how you had to do it. It was great. You’re like, “ Who said that? That was good. Where did that piece of scripture come? I haven't heard that in a long time."
It was awesome to experience being that vessel for God. After day one I was like, “I can do this. I can totally do this.”
JJ: Tell me about an experience on your trip that impacted you the most?
Tiffany: We met this refugee couple, and they invited us into their home. They have two small children. They had been in Athens for about two years and had gotten to the point where they had enough paperwork and enough money to get into a one-bedroom flat.
We learned that the husband grew up as a kind of pastor and led a group of followers in the Koran. The conversation with the husband really wasn’t going anywhere. It was turning more into a debate. The whole time his wife sat there quietly listening to us.
We met them on day one. Day two, we couldn’t get a hold of them. They cancelled on us on day three. Day four was Friday, and that’s when it happened.
The husband was going to be away for some reason, and so we decided to take the wife and the kids out for dinner. Her name is Azisa. We thought that we could love on her and share more about the Gospel because she seemed open to listening. However…the dinner went horribly. Her kids were all over the place. Azisa seemed very annoyed. Satan was working overtime on us because there was just no peace during the entire dinner. At one point we even lost a child. And we’re just like, “Where did he go?” We are running in all different directions trying to find this child. Turns out he was playing hide and seek. So that was fun.
It was 10pm at this point, and Azisa was just done. She was done. We were like, “This is a fail. This is not working.” And I just kind of started tearing up. We had a plan, but it wasn’t working.
We started walking back to the plaza where we were meeting up with other groups. Two people in our group walked with Azisa, and the rest of us took the kids. I took one of the kids who was in the stroller and thought, “You know what? I’m just going to take the stroller. She’s ready to go to sleep. I’m just going to roll her around.” And sure enough, it took 30 minutes, but she fell asleep.
I’m walking around the plaza pushing this stroller, and I was like, “I’m just going to pray over this space because I see this group of people over here that we are meeting with and this group over there that we are meeting with and I see Azisa.” Two people from our group talking with her.
Our missions pastor Don Ellsworth is also walking around the park and praying. Soon it was 11pm, and someone told Don, “This person just accepted Christ.” He made another lap around the plaza, and another person accepted Christ.
Meanwhile I have no idea what is going on. I’m just praying over the space, but I feel something changing. It was so cool. The Holy Spirit was very much there. At the end of the evening, seven people including Azisa accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.
It was so cool to witness that. I felt like I didn’t have a whole lot to do with it, but I felt like I could witness and celebrate with Azisa. It was so joyful.
JJ: That is an amazing story. What was it like coming back home? What did God teach you through this mission trip?
Tiffany: It was hard coming back. It's still hard. I started asking questions like, “Why am I here in America? Why was I born here? Why were they born there?” It's very clear in scripture that God puts us exactly where he wants us. He’s intentional with every single thing He does. So that was what I had to kind of cling too because it's too easy to start doubting and start feeling sorry for them. It's too easy to do that. I had to remember that there are people who do not know Jesus here in Austin too.
Conversations that you have with your neighbors or with the cashier that is checking you out at the grocery store…those are still people who are lost and don’t know Jesus. They might know his name, and they might have a bad connotation of who Jesus is because of religion and how the truth of who he is has been twisted here in the United States. But, you have an opportunity to speak actual truth to them.
It’s taking those opportunities and seeing them, recognizing them, and then acting on them because nothing is effective without you actually taking the action that the Holy Spirit is asking you to do. God tells you exactly what He needs for you to say. You just have to open your mouth and say it.
Austin Ridge provides a number of opportunities to participate in short-term trips throughout the year. To learn more, visit austinridge.org/missions.