Using Architectual Design to Support Ministries
As GEM worker, Fred Naff, walked through a certain graffiti-covered neighborhood in central Athens, he heard several different languages spoken around him. This part of the city had become home to many people who had fled war and oppression. Ironically, the area had formerly been the headquarters of Greece’s neo-Nazi party.
When Fred entered the church, he found Iman waiting for him. A Christian convert from a Muslim background, the tall, dark-haired man had fled his home country a handful of years before, seeking safety from persecution. Iman worked for Frontex, the European Union border police, as a translator. He made a decent living. He had settled into a relatively normal life in Europe, but something tugged at his heart.
Iman knew the Lord was calling him to leave his job and go into full-time ministry.
His vision for ministry had begun with a focus on refugee children. He had recently founded the Athens Birthday Party Project, hosting birthday parties for children in the neighborhood because he wanted them to experience joy. In an environment where refugees often felt invisible, he wanted the children to feel seen and celebrated.
Iman also knew that blessing the children would bless their parents and make inroads for the gospel into Muslim communities.
With a dream to expand his ministry, Iman managed to rent a whole floor above a church. Yet no sooner had he done so than he came to an impasse. The large, empty space needed modifying if all his plans were to come to fruition, but he had no idea how to go about changing it. Then, someone told Iman about Fred. He reached out, hoping that Design Group could help.
As Fred listened to Iman list all the ways in which he wanted the Athens Birthday Party Project to branch out into other ministries, he couldn’t help but catch his excitement. Iman wanted to offer Greek, English and computer classes, as well as courses in hair styling and make-up. He intended to provide consulting services to help refugees start their own businesses.
He also planned to use the kitchen to prepare meals for distribution to those in need. And in the 250-square-meter space, Iman wanted to bring large groups of people together for meals so they could experience community and the warmth of hospitality.
Iman was already using WhatsApp to communicate helpful information to refugees throughout Greece. With 11,000 online followers, he would have no trouble drawing people to the site once it was ready.
The young man’s heart for the Lord and vision for ministry inspired Fred. He felt it a privilege to come alongside and help one so humble and eager to serve.
Immediately, Fred began drawing out designs, experimenting with ideas to bring Iman’s dreams to life. It was complicated. Hair dying required a sink; language classes needed desks; computer classes required a secure room in which to store computers. As he sketched, he showed his ideas to Iman.
The young man’s face lit up with relief and gratitude. He found it thrilling to watch Fred draw 3D views of the building on his iPad. Iman felt a weight being lifted off his shoulders. He was no longer on his own. Fred’s designs would turn this huge, empty room into a vibrant, thriving ministry space.
Fred continues to work with his interns to perfect the design for the project. Iman is still in the process of looking them over and making decisions, and he remains overjoyed by Design Group’s input and guidance.
“This is a situation I often run into,” says Fred. “A ministry leader is overwhelmed, unsure of how to best use a facility for ministry. I get to come along and help them understand how to use their space in the best way possible. That’s extremely fulfilling for me.
“I see myself as a background person, enabling people on the front lines to keep doing what they are called to do. Using my experience and skills, I provide a service they need but are not able to do themselves.
“When I met with Iman and heard him list all the ways he wanted to use the building, I began to feel a bit overwhelmed myself. A huge task lay in front of me! Yet I knew God could provide the solution.
“I love Psalm 127:1-2, which says, Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who try to build. Without God’s inspiration, I can do nothing. He has never yet failed me.”
Do you know of a ministry that could benefit from Design Group’s help? Contact: [email protected]
Click here for a video about this ministry in Athens.
About the Author: Jenny Garrity is a storyteller with Greater Europe Mission. Jenny and her husband Kim joined GEM in 1984. They have served in Germany, Belgium, and most recently, Greece in response to the refugee crisis.
About the photographer: Dustin Johnson is a photographer and serves with GEM Teams in Greece.