The old city of Athens is currently changing so much under the heat of the Olympics Games, and spiritually, new light has been brought to the city through enthusiastic evangelism and special ministries from overseas outreach teams.
Last Sunday, a gathering at the Dora Stratou Theatre located on a hill adjacent to the Acropolis, the site of the Greek Parthenon, saw a few hundred young people joining the event. The event was held in cooperation with Lay Witnesses for Christ International.
One of the co-founders of True Love Waits, Richard Ross challenged the audience, “You stand before a holy God today and you have to make a decision. Do you love God to the point where you are willing to set yourself apart from what the world is doing so that you can be a holy vessel through which He can work?”
Another speaker, Carl Lewis, voted the Greatest Olympian of the 20th Century said “set yourself apart in your group by being a leader and not giving in to what others are doing.”
True Love Awaits, at the same time, celebrated its 10th Anniversary. The ministry has capitalised the international setting of the Olympic Games to raise the awareness of the world for a biblical approach to abstinence. True Love Awaits has been running very successfully across the U.S. with more than 3 millions American youth alone who have made an abstinence pledge under guidance and counselling.
A sexual abstinence ministry of this kind is the first ever in Europe. The event has opened a path for the movement in the continent which is in the chaos of sexual and life issues, especially among young people. Athens has also once been a site of sexual indulgence during the time of the apostolic churches. The venue itself adds meaning to the event and signals a recovery of the sinful history.
According to Ross, in Greece, abortion has become a key form of birth control and the average girl may have multiple abortions before she reaches the age of 25. Sixty-seven percent of sexually experienced teens in the U.S. say they wish they had waited longer before having sexual intercourse, as revealed in a survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Ross believes that youngsters in Greece will also want to get rid of their wayward sexual lives.
Ross expressed his hope that the True Love Waits ministry can be rooted in countries like Greece. Once it is transformed, the whole Europe will certainly change.
“Sexual activity outside of marriage leads to all types of tragic consequences,” he said. “You can see the escalation around the world in sexually transmitted diseases and the AIDS crisis spiralling out of control. The very sad thing is that it is all very much avoidable if young people heed God’s biblical precepts. My prayer is that countries like Greece will be transformed because Christian young people make a moral stand and influence their peers not just for sexual purity but lead them to a personal relationship with Christ. The two are very much related.”
In fact, the True Love Waits ministry develops well in Africa, which is threatened by AIDS even among the younger generations. This was proved by Sunday’s event which witnessed more than 460,000 commitments to abstinence cards from youth in more than 20 countries, including 200,000-plus from South Africa. Furthermore, several thousand more pledges were made but the cards were unable to arrive prior to the event.
True Love Waits was introduced into Uganda 10 years ago and is credited by Ugandan First Lady Janet Musevani as the sole reason for the more than 30 percent decrease in the number of newly diagnosed cases of AIDS.
Jimmy Hester, director of student ministry at LifeWay commented, “It has had a positive impact in cultures around the world and it is simple to understand why. True Love Waits is based on God’s biblical design for human sexuality. He intended for sex to be between a man and a woman and within the boundaries of marriage. That is the message we unapologetically proclaim here in Athens.”
Sexual abstinence ministry is very popular in the U.S. and is spreading worldwide, especially in Europe. A group called Silver Ring Thing toured the UK in June. While in the UK, the government reinforces safe sex education as an approach to combat AIDS and under-age pregnancy, the U.S. tends to promote abstaining from sex until marriage nowadays. Under President Bush, a multi-million dollar fund has been established for abstinence-only education to teenagers. However, there are doubts about the effectiveness of abstinence promotion.
Teenagers who pledge to remain sexually abstinent until marriage are 34 percent less likely to have sex than those who do not take virginity vows, according to a study published in 2001 by the American Journal of Sociology. The world may follow the example of Uganda, credited as one of the world’s most successful battles against the spread of AIDS, which applied a so-called “ABC” method - abstinence first, followed by fidelity and lastly, condom use.
[All Photos by Matt Jones, LifeWay Christian Resources]