Missionary acquitted of proselytism

By August 5, 2008

Greece
(MNN) — A missionary charged with proselytism was acquitted this summer, AMG International reports.
In Greece,
proselytizing in public is illegal. 

Dr. Argyris Petrou was attending a youth outreach event in
2004 when the incident occurred, said Patrick Ragan, Coordinator of Missionary
Personnel for AMG. 

"He took ownership, took responsibility for what was
going on because it was a bunch of young people who were doing this as an
outreach of the local church," Ragan said. "Someone made a scene that
they were handing out…the Gospel of Luke, and they realized that these were
evangelicals. And an adult accused them of doing proselytism, and that's
illegal. So that is why Dr. Petrou was singled out."

Initially, Petrou was taken to the police station. After a
couple of hours, he was released and told that the court would get back with
him, which didn't happen for four years. He received the notification for his
trial date at the beginning of the summer of 2008.   

"Some of the legal things like this are being relaxed a
little bit," Ragan said, perhaps because Greece joined the European Union.
"And yet, it still is on the books that it is illegal to
proselytize."

However, not all evangelism is automatically illegal. The
judge followed a "very strict interpretation of the law," acquitting
Petrou because the outreach event was very open and not covert or
coercive. 

"Even though they were sharing the gospel, it wasn't
forced, and it wasn't coerced in any way.  It wasn't taking advantage of
people who might not understand what it is they were receiving," Ragan
explained. 

"In fact, what was being given out was a Gospel of Luke
with a letter that explained who they were with–the church, one of the largest
churches evangelical churches in Greece. And so because of their
transparency, the judge ruled in Dr. Petrou's favor."

Evangelicals form a very small minority of the Greek
population: less than .2 percent. Only about 30,000 of Greece's 11
million people are followers of Christ.    

The Orthodox church plays an extremely prominent role in
Greek culture, so much so that to be born in Greece virtually means to be born
Orthodox. As a result, evangelism in the country requires a lot of patience for
building relationships. 

"When you're part of that church, it really is part of
who you are, part of your identity," Ragan explained. "Just because
of the nature of the church and the power it holds over the people, and even
the blindness of not truly understanding saving faith, it is a difficult soil;
it is a hard ground to work."

That's part of the reason why AMG sponsors national
missionaries in the country. National missionaries understand what is and is
not acceptable in their culture.    

"They know their people; they love their people,"
Ragan said. "They're effective because they know best how to reach their
people."

He believes the outcome of this summer's court case is an
encouragement to the evangelical church in Greece. 

"Dr. Petrou has been part of the evangelical community
for years," Ragan said. "He really is seen as one of the leaders of
the evangelical community. He's written many books. He's been involved with the
director of a publishing company. He's well known in the community. I'm sure
that this case was well-publicized within the community of believers there, and
that most people were very encouraged by the outcome." 

Dr. Petrou is now serving as a full-time missionary,
teaching at the Greek Bible Institute. With the value of the dollar falling
against the euro, he has not yet been able to raise all of his support. 

"That's one of the sacrifices this family has made to
serve the Lord and to obey God, to help train young people the next
generation," Ragan said. Although Greece doesn't get as much
attention as many other parts of the world, it is still an important and
strategic part of the mission field. 

"AMG began in Greece over 65 years ago, and it is
a very needy mission field," Ragan said. "It's kind of in the center
of the world, if you look at a map. And Greece is a very strategic place to
promote missions, to see what God's doing around the world, to be actively
involved in it." 

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