ARRIVING in Thessaloniki, together with Commissioner Silvia Cox (World President of Women's Ministries), for the first official visit to Greece by a General in office, General André Cox declared that he was highly conscious of following in the footsteps of the apostle Paul. He light-heartedly expressed the hope that he would be treated more kindly than Paul had been (as recorded in Acts 17).
The General need not have worried. The officers and comrades of the newly instituted Thessaloniki Corps (church) had been eagerly anticipating the visit of the Army's international leaders, and had been feverishly busy working to ensure that the newly rented hall was ready for their visitors’ arrival. The kitchen refurbishment was completed on the morning of the visit after an all-night shift by Lieutenant Neofytos Totsios and volunteers. At one point there was even a concern that the new mercy seat would not be completed in time for the appeal on Sunday morning!
The weekend’s events opened with an evening dinner hosted at the hall, giving the international leaders the opportunity to meet with newly enrolled soldiers, recruits and their families and close friends. Recognising that many people in Greece are hard hit by the economic crisis, the General encouraged those present to remember that ‘the One who has called us is faithful’, while Commissioner Cox spoke of her delight in seeing such a lovely hall and – more importantly – such a lovely crowd of people, inviting them to put on the full spiritual armour of God to be truly One Army with One Mission and One Message.
The hall was again packed the following morning for the Sunday holiness meeting, which included participation from the corps worship team and an energetic contribution from the Sunday school children, as well as prayers and testimonies from soldiers.
Following the General's Bible message, which reminded the congregation that the Christmas story ‘is all about God wanting to be in relationship with us’, the mercy seat was lined with people coming to pray, evidencing a desire to grow in faith and spiritual maturity. The response suggests that the new premises might soon be too small for the corps, or that multiple meetings may be required – as suggested by Lieutenants Neofytos and Anastasia Totsios.
The very presence of The Salvation Army in Greece is an answer to persistent prayers: one man who was in the congregation had prayed for 20 years that O Stratos Tis Sotirias would come to Greece. It is the ongoing prayer of many people that O Stratos Tis Sotirias will move from strength to strength in both Thessaloniki and Athens, as the officers and soldiers tell the story of Jesus, grow together in love and faith, and serve the local community in Christ's name.
Report by Major David Cavanagh
General Secretary, Italy and Greece Command