Terry Atkinson is a pastor who is originally from England, has served in the US and Canada, and for the last 40 years or so has been serving in Greece.
We know him because he has had a preaching tour of duty through Canada and the Free Reformed Church of Abbotsford, which we attended a few years ago. He spent a month or more in Abbotsford, and we loved every minute of it.
In August 1957 I was ordained to the gospel ministry in one of the churches of the reformation in Grand Rapids, Mich.USA. In February of the following year Cathie and I were married. As we began our ministry in this congregation as a student God was pleased to pour out His Spirit upon the people and many men women and children were brought into the kingdom of God. It was an overwhelming and unforgetable experience for them and for us. The revival continued for about two years and was accompanied by some opposition. In 1960 Cathie and I began our work in Italy and Greece where we still live. We are humbled before God’s goodness and undeserved mercy in granting us fifty years in the ministry, forty seven of which have been spent in these adopted countries.
It will be obvious to you as it is to us then that we are now in the very last stage of our life. It is solemn to think that soon we must quit this world and be ready to give an account to the supreme Judge of all.You will surely agree with me that were it not for the gospel of free and sovereign grace which, in spite of weakness and failure we have sought to preach, we would have no hope. We live and trust to die believing and preaching a gospel of justification by faith only.
Count Zinzendorf of the Moravian bretheren expresses this truth gloriously,
Jesus Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in Thy great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies.
Even then, this shall be all my plea,
Jesus has lived, has died for me.
For the last four years now we have been living here on a Greek island which we visited for the first time in 1969. As far as we know it is here we shall spend our remaining days. As we settled here the exortation of Peter [1Peter 4:7-11], addressed to all Christians living in the period that stretches from tne incarnation of Christ to the His second coming was very much in our thoughts. This of course is especially challenging to all who are literally in the last stage of their lives. How shall we then live? First of all prayer, then love supreme, with heart and home open to all with joy and then the service of others for the glory of God. To these things then, we were determined to give ourselves. What we did not anticipate however, was the onslaught and the fury of Satan that has been our experience in these last years.
We should have read the following verses.1 Peter 4:12,13
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”
Prayer we found as never before to be a relentless and on going battle. It made us aware that what we had considered as prayer for most of our lives was hardly prayer at all. Paul writes, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers..”
In a time of great distress a word of encouragement came to us from Adolph Monod in his book “A dying man’s regrets”.
“God seems sometimes to confound our prayers by putting off deliverance to such a point that it seems removed to a distance from which it cannot reach us. He does not often deal thus with us, because He is merciful, but He does sometimes for the very same reason.’
Another word from a veteran missionary of last century was our comfort when devestated by a sense of our own sinfulness,
“The acceptance of our prayers as the acceptance of our persons, depends entirely upon the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and of His heavenly intercession.”
It is Isaiah who tells us that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. He is speaking of the righteousness of God’s covenant people. What he means is this: that the most holy sanctified, Spirit indited prayer of the most holy man on earth, is so polluted by sin that in and of itself it has no acceptance before Him who is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity. But what confidence we can have and what boldness when despairing of ourselves we pray trusting in the merits and righteousness of the Son of God, our Mediator.
In living with other Christians in community love is tested to the uttermost. I often wondered why Peter in speaking of love in these verses quotes from the book of Proverbs and tells us that love hides a multitude of sins. It is our experience that one can only live in harmony with others by literally overlooking their weaknesses and frailties and inperfections as love constrains them to do the same with ours.
Hospitality with joy, is also tested when one’s home is open to everyone and anyone in need. It is self sacrificing service of others, but it does bring joy. What we did not expect was the misunderstanding and criticism of others outside the community. But time is short and we are thankful that we do not have to give an account to any one except to God.
It is good that at this stage of our lives we can still do our generation work, as the puritans described it, and use the gifts God has given us, not so much as in times past alas, to enhance our own reputation, or to be admired, but solely for the glory of God in Christ. This becomes uppermost in one’s mind when time is running out.
We are so thankful that we are here and that Cathie and I are here together. She is typing this letter so she must allow me none the less to say that I could not have done the work that I have done without her unfailing help and support. And thankfully there is still yet so much to be done.
In the providence of God we have been able to seize an opportunity to befriend some of the immigrant population. These are mostly Albanians. We ask you to pray for a work of the Spirit of God amongs them. How God will do this we do not know. Perhaps we shall just be permitted to sow the seed in their heart and others will reap the harvest. It was much like that when we began our ministry in Grand Rapids. We reaped what others had sown in the past. How good it is to leave all these things in the hands of God who works sovereignly in the hearts of men when and how He pleases. We are however, encouraged by the response of respect and affection of so many of these Albanians.
We are now in the midst of our summer work and we have a young American couple here to help us. This is especially helpful for our own grandchildren who recently were able to go to a christian camp on the mainland. They are teaching English to them and to some of the young Albanians who come to our house.
We have had a few visitors at our services so far and more will be coming throughout the summer.
However our main concern and the the thing that weights most upon us is ‘what can we do for the Greeks?’
The American Board of Foreign Missions two hundred years ago eventually withdrew from work amongst the Greeks during the time of the Ottoman empire. They described them as “the irreconcilable greek element” and truly, that seems a good description of them. In the forty years that we have been working in this area, the numbers of evangelical christians remains the same in spite of the many agencies and increase of missionary activity and experiments in evangelism and forms of worship.
The church of the Greeks still awaits the outpouring of the Spirit and the necessary reformation. In the 16th century the patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucas, attempted to do this, being influenced by Luther and Calvin and actually put out a Calvinistic catechism. But he died suddenly, perhaps poisoned.
In many ways the Orthdox Church is admirable. It still stands for the first 5 eucumenical councils and for an infallible bible. She sees to it that christianity is taught as the truth in all the elementary and high schools of Greece. She also survived 400 years of Islamic domination.
Most Greeks however only hold a loose connection with the churh, but in spite of this Greek Orthodoxy is embedded in their psyche. They cannot imagine themselves to be anything else. To be Greek is to be Orthodox.
Reformation if it is given will surely come from within and so our task is to bring the gospel to individuals, as God gives us opportunity. We thank God that we do have this opportunity from time to time.
It is our great joy that a student of ours from the early days is now preaching the gospel in the town nearest to us on the mainland. It was a joy to renew fellowship with him. He is a godly man and a humble preacher. It was in our house many years ago that God met with him as he prayed “Oh Lord, if I am not thy child, make me thy child and if I am thy child show me that I am thy child” and God did and called him into ministry amongst the Greeks in which he has persevered all these years in spite of much opposition and affliction.
How exciting it is to live in these days in spite of all the confusion, the appalling weakness of the churches and the spiritual declension of the people. For after all, is it not a great privilege to serve Him and to be faithful to Him in a dark and cloudy day? We thank God for every one of you who remembers us in your prayers.
With love in Christ, Cathie and Terry