Serving as pastor of a multi-national church on an island in the Mediterranean was never something I felt led to do. Yet in God’s grace and plan my wife (Cindy) and I are now residents of the island nation of Cyprus.
Most people think Cyprus is a Greek island. Although Greek is the language, the island has its own culture and history apart from Greece. Something we’ll deal with in another newsletter.
Since 1974 Cyprus has been a divided nation – and the only nation in Europe with a divided capital. The turbulent political scene of the mid-1970’s resulted in a Turkish invasion and occupation of slightly more than 1/3rd of the island…and the division continues to exist.
The UN Neutral Zone runs across the entire island and the barbed-wire, barricades, and manned border crossings are very noticeable – especially in the capital city, Nicosia. The line runs through the middle of the city, even cutting through the historical old walled city.
One can easily hear Muslim call-to-prayer from nearly anywhere in the old city. What was once an integrated island society is now divided – Turkish Cypriots that lived on the west coast in cities like Paphos were forced to move to the Turkish side (Turkish Republic of North Cyprus – a “country” recognized only by the Republic of Turkey), while Greek Cypriots who had lived in Kyrenia and Famagusta, now live on the Greek Cypriot side (Republic of Cyprus – the UN/EU recognized nation). The UN/EU and both sides of the island are currently in direct talks to find a solution to what is known as the “Cyprus Problem.” And the jury is still out as to how successful it will be.
Our side of Nicosia (the “Greek” side) is an urban, cosmopolitan city. We live near the city centre (as it’s spelled here), and just around the corned there is a Harley-Davidson dealership, a Ducati dealership, Versace, Hugo Boss, as well as many other upscale retail outlets.
There are also signs of US business influence – Ernst and Young, Deloitte, and Price-Waterhouse all have large scale operations here. Not to mention the usual fast food chains of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken – with Taco Bell entering the food fray sometime in 2010.
The two Starbuck’s here are pretty upscale compared to one’s in the US with European al fresco flair to them. Not that these are the only eateries – local kabob houses, restaurants, and tavernas (cafes) from ordinary to upscale fusion populate the downtown scene.
Religion is still a big part of life here. The Cypriot Orthodox Church influences nearly every aspect of life. Discussions of faith and references to mass are not unusual. Church bells ring regularly throughout the day, and there are churches situated to serve every neighborhood…I’ve got a great view of one from our apartment’s balcony. Come to think of it, Saturday was the first day I didn’t hear the church bells, but they started early this morning (Sunday).
It will be interesting to live and offer the Gospel here. My GreekEvangelicalChurch counterpart (we share a building) has the most opportunity given that Greek is the language here. Although we serve a small English-language niche, there is still an opportunity to reach out to people with the Gospel.
NicosiaCommunityChurch is an interesting organism. It’s a multi-national church. We minister to people from the US, UK, Netherlands, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Denmark, Kenya, Finland, and Cyprus. Our congregants work for academic study centres, embassies, for Christian and non-Christian NGO’s, as well as for the UN. Like any church, we have people at various stages of faith: seekers, new believers, and mature believers.
We’re also a very transient church – not knowing each week how many people to expect because our NGO workers could be as far away as Kosovo, Albania, Lebanon, or Pakistan…or numerous other countries they work in. Although we’re trying to get to know people, the faces change often.
Urban life in Cyprus is interesting and has a very human dimension to it. The day can start as early as 8AM, usually at 9AM. People work until 12:30 and then close up shop from 12:30 until 3:30 for lunch and rest. Some of the more high-powered businesses have shortened it, but relationships and lunch are very important – even to them. And everyone gets one afternoon off per week…most take it Wednesday but several people in the congregation get off early Thursday, or even better, Friday.
Retail hours are the polar opposite of sales-driven stores in the US. As mentioned above, they open at 9, close at 12:30, reopen and 3:30 and then remain open until 7:30. On Wednesdays and Saturdays they stay open until 3PM and then close for the day. Most of the banks are open from 8AM-2PM Monday-Saturday. And other than restaurants, nothing is open on Sundays…so make sure you have gas in the tank by Saturday afternoon.
I was up late last night (Saturday). The streets had been quiet all day, but at 11:30PM the streets came to life. Though some are coming home from late evening dinners, there were large crowds returning from a football (soccer) match – and obviously the local team won…honking horns vouched for it.
Another sizeable “minority” were the young people on their way to social events and clubs – the latter of which don’t close until 4AM. A lot of these same “kids” will be up in time for mass on Sunday – remember, the church does have a lot of influence.
Two oddest things about being here are driving on the left side of the road and getting water. Needless to say looking left for your rear view mirror and shifting with your left hand are quite an experience. Tap water is ok, but it has a fairly high level of lime and mineral grit. So most people go to water services kiosks…private reverse osmosis machines that give you 20 litres for 1-euro, 20-cents. Then you cart it home…and in our case, up the elevator.
Meet the US ambassador on Tuesday – get 15 minutes. Also get to meet the Marine Security Detachment Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (MARSECDET NCOIC). I’ll have the privilege of providing chaplain support for the embassy’s Marines. Also have to register with the embassy as a “resident” in case they need to evac us (Not real likely, this is not a hot-zone by any means).
We covet prayer here…especially being so far from family and friends, and a culture we readily recognize. We’d ask you to pray for:
· Being faithful to God’s call to this church
· For the spiritual growth and church/community life of the congregation
· Integration into the church and the culture
· An ability to learn Modern Greek (we have Rosetta Stone!)
· Developing relationships/friendships
· Time management – I’m the solo pastor/staff
Terry Burns, Pastor, NicosiaCommunityChurch
Editors Note: Terry is a PCA Minister and a member of Blue Ridge Presbytery in Western Virginia. He served on staff in administrative and pastoral roles at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville before taking this call. He was installed in early October and the Moderator of Blue Ridge Presbytery, TE Don Ward, travelled to preach at the service.