by Michael McKillen
Relocation to the Middle East had certainly not been on our radar for most of the 20 years that my wife, Shirley, and I served in Ireland. However, in 2016, the Lord used an unexpected invitation to speak at a youth camp in Cyprus as the beginning of a process of uprooting and redirecting us. So, in August 2022, along with our youngest daughter Erin, we left a small green island on the western extremity of Europe and arrived on a smaller parched one at its eastern periphery.
Cyprus is both an EU and a Middle Eastern nation. The third largest island in the Mediterranean, it lies not far from the coasts of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel and stands at a cultural, linguistic and historic crossroads between Europe and Asia. Like many western nations, in recent decades, it has become increasingly diverse with an array of people from the wider Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia now living here.
There are, of course, many differences between Cyprus and Ireland besides the weather. We have moved from small town rural life to the city of Limassol – the second largest on the island with a population of more than 150,000. It is a bustling port city that combines a little of the vibrancy of the middle east, the slightly slower pace of Mediterranean culture and an occasional hint of EU regulation. In recent years foreign investment has poured into the island, some of which can be seen in the luxury skyscrapers being built along the city’s waterfront.
There are similarities with Ireland too. Following the Turkish invasion in 1974, the island was divided with the northern third run by a Turkish Cypriot government and the southern two-thirds by Greek Cypriots. While this 50-year-old dispute remains raw for many, the country currently enjoys peace and relative prosperity. Like Ireland, Cyprus has also experienced the positive and negative influence of a long history of institutional Christianity. This influence, although fading a little, has not yet experienced as sharp a decline as in Ireland. The majority of Cypriots identify as Orthodox Christian and there remains something of a reverence for God and a mostly healthy outlook on matters of family and general morality. However, the deep-rooted nature of these traditions has brought a hardness to the gospel of grace and present major difficulties for many new believers in relation to their families.
A New Culture
We have found it strange readjusting to being novices in the field again and trying to determine afresh how best to reach and help people effectively within a new culture. This is where the work of Logos School has been of great help. Although we are seeking to serve as widely as possible in Cyprus, the school has won a special place in our hearts. It is a truly wonderful, maybe even unique, ministry. It caters for approximately 300 pupils from kindergarten to secondary level. Children come from a plethora of religious, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Some have fled here to escape conflict in places like Syria and Ukraine. Others have emigrated, seeking a better life for themselves in Europe, while some come from wealthy and influential backgrounds.
Serving at Logos
Students at Logos are exposed daily to the warm, caring and family atmosphere of the school. Lessons are conducted in English and staff and volunteers have regular opportunities to speak about their faith and discuss it freely with the students. Indeed, as part of the curriculum, all pupils study Bible Knowledge, enabling them to learn about Christianity straight from the Word of God. Many come with little understanding of the Scriptures and some know absolutely nothing about Christianity. Last December one teacher told the Christmas story to his senior primary class. On enquiry he discovered that for some of them, it was the very first time they had heard it.
the deep-rooted nature of these traditions has brought a hardness to the gospel of grace and present major difficulties for many new believers
The school holds junior and senior assemblies every day. As I write, I have just returned home after speaking at a special end-of-term assembly for the junior school. There I watched this multinational group of about 150 children enthusiastically recite Bible memory verses, sing of the love of Christ and listen to the Easter story. It was deeply moving and reminded me afresh of the rare and privileged opportunity the school offers both the pupils and all who serve there.
Shirley volunteers as a Maths teacher for a few classes each week and she commenced a weekly maths clinic for those who need extra help. Getting back into the classroom after over 20 years’ absence has not been without its challenges, as has been balancing the responsibilities of part-time school life with seeking wider ministry opportunities. Shirley also helps a few other teachers in running an ESL (English as a Second Language) programme for mums once a week. We are hoping that not only will these ladies be helped but that friendships will be formed and good opportunities arise for sharing the gospel. In another effort to both help and meet parents we ran a parenting course at the end of last year. Middle Eastern culture is still very family centred and it was refreshing to see the honesty and humility with which many approached the course.
In February, staff organised a residential weekend for students from the upper-senior school. Michael had the opportunity to teach the Word and coordinate the senior boys’ question and answer sessions. These discussion times turned into fruitful sessions as the boys asked question after question. One session lasted nearly two hours and is indicative of the openness that many of the students have to talk about life and faith.
As the school celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it is amazing to consider the thousands who have passed through its doors and now live and work all over the world – all with some knowledge of the gospel and many as witnesses for Christ. Pray for wisdom for those responsible for decision making regarding the future development of Logos School. Pray too for the urgent need of new teachers for the next academic year and beyond.
Beginning in the Word
Recently, we commenced a Christianity Explored course. Unsurprisingly, we again found ourselves dealing with a very diverse group including two Cypriots, two Russians, a Cameroonian Catholic, an Israeli Jew and a Syrian Muslim. This presented new challenges both in the realm of basic communication and in trying to sensitively, yet truthfully, navigate the mix of religious world views present. Initially, it seemed like we were not making much progress. It was therefore most encouraging when, on reaching the end of the course, several visitors said they would like to do another study. The Christians who attended also wanted to do further study as they had appreciated a simple but focused look at the Word.
We have greatly appreciated the help and guidance of our colleagues, Graham and Caroline Webb (MSC), who pour so much time and energy into caring for young teachers, some former pupils and other local believers, many of whom are young in the faith. Together we meet with this group for Bible study and fellowship on Sunday afternoons twice a month and also conduct residential Bible Study weekends throughout the year. Pray for wisdom in helping these young adults navigate the issues they face in life and also for them to deepen their commitment to love and serve Christ. The wider group includes some zealous young Cypriot believers. Pray especially for them that they might be preserved, encouraged and used of God to reach their own community.
A few months ago, I was approached by a Belarusian believer who was keen to get Christian men together to learn from the Word of God. It was good to see about 35 men attend the evening. There is a great need for solid, structured and consecutive teaching among God’s people here. Please pray for wisdom as we seek to find a way of more regularly helping in this area.
Cyprus and Ireland are very different and yet fundamentally the same – in both places people have similar struggles and all need Christ. Please pray for the development of the Lord’s work on the island. Alongside the needs in Logos School, there is a wider need for the steadying presence of mature believers and their families to consolidate and expand the work. A work that will undoubtedly resonate beyond this tiny, yet strategic, island back into the many great nations and cultures which surround it.