by Dwight Ekholm, Entrust mobilizer and trainer
Shortly after Sandi and I moved to Athens in 1999, a friend asked if I would be willing to help at the Athens Refugee Center (ARC), to teach new believers from the Middle East how to study the Bible. This marked the beginning of an incredibly rewarding adventure in spiritual multiplication, one that continues almost two decades later.
I still remember the day our Entrust colleague Sam Holdsambeck introduced me to a young refugee from the Middle East who had recently become a follower of Jesus. Matthew started attending all the Bible classes Sam and I taught at the ARC. It was obvious from day one Matthew was serious about his new-found faith and about studying God’s word. When we selected four young men to take part in the 9-month Athens Intensive Ministry School, Matthew was a unanimous choice.
Matthew quickly became much more than just another student in Entrust’s refugee training ministry. He became family to Sam, Sam’s wife Fran, Sandi and me. Our work among refugees in Greece was driven not only by 2 Tim. 2:2, but also by 1 Thess. 2:7-8, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” We started praying for Matthew’s mother and siblings back in his home country. We rejoiced with Matthew as we saw him leading scores of his countrymen to Christ and wept together over the “slings and arrows” of spiritual opposition he encountered as a light in a very dark world.
Matthew was a regular dinner guest in our homes. Sam and I spent countless hours talking and praying with Matthew and a number of other young believers at our unofficial Entrust “office,” a coffee shop near the ARC in downtown Athens. We enjoyed hanging out with these young brothers at the ARC, where we played endless games of ping-pong.
I eventually encouraged Matthew to enroll at the Greek Bible College where I served as a volunteer instructor. Thus, Matthew began his formal theological education. While a student at the Bible college, he planted a church, led an outreach to refugees and saw more than 100 men and women come to Christ in the space of a year-and-a-half!
After I invited Matthew to join Entrust as a full-time co-worker, my role in his life began to change from a sort of spiritual pediatrician to more of a coach and mentor. At the fellowship Matthew launched, he was clearly the leader—the man up front—while I gladly moved into a supportive role, encouraging and building into his life behind the scenes.
Matthew emigrated to Canada more than a decade ago, with the goal of gaining Canadian citizenship so he could return to his home country to start a seminary or Bible college. Sure enough, a few years later, Matthew returned to the Middle East with Canadian passport in hand and his lovely Canadian bride at his side—committed to fulfilling his dream. And in a beautiful answer to prayer, the entire Entrust family gathered during one of our global staff conferences to witness Matthew baptizing his mother, his sister and his brother!
I now have the joy of not only teaching at the Bible Institute Matthew and his wife started in 2012, but also have the satisfaction of seeing first-hand how God is using them to entrust his word to faithful men and women and equip those faithful ones to train future generations in the Middle East. We talk often about what is happening at the church and Bible Institute and how they are doing personally. Besides praying for Matthew and his wife personally, I’m committed to keeping our prayer partners informed about specific ways to intercede specifically for our “son and daughter in the faith.”
When I’m with Matthew and his wife, we enjoy fellowship around the dinner table, talking and praying about the overwhelming challenges they face daily in their ministry to refugees. And sometimes at the end of an intensive Bible course, Matthew and I find time to play ping-pong, like we did years ago in Greece. I’m sorry to admit that the last couple of times we played, the student beat his teacher. But I’m looking forward to a rematch when Sandi and I teach at the Bible institute and spend time with Matthew and his wife in May.
I have had the joy of building into Matthew’s life over the past two decades and watching him grow from a spiritual newborn to a gifted Christian leader who can do things in ministry that I can’t do!
by Matthew, director of Entrust Bible Institute in the Middle East
It has been over 15 years since I met Dwight. While I was a refugee in Athens, I met many people who wanted to help me with my everyday needs such as shelter and food. But when I met Dwight, my needs were met in a totally different dimension. This time around, my spiritual needs were met. Dwight and Sam quickly became spiritual mentors and close friends–like a family to me.
I was not sure at the beginning what they thought about me since many refugees would befriend the foreigners who worked at the ARC to get help with their physical needs and perhaps a ticket to North America. But after a while, I felt Dwight and Sam understood I had been truly redeemed by our Lord and was on fire for him. All I was thirsty for was knowing God and being able to serve him.
Dwight started a Bible study with some of us. We were studying the book of John, and one day he told me to prepare the next Bible study and try to teach a chapter. This was a milestone in my life. I was encouraged beyond measure. The fact that a professor of theology would ask me to give it a shot was amazing.
Later on, I found out that was the main philosophy of Entrust. It did not take a long time for me to know my calling. I was being prepared by Entrust and the Bible school to be an ambassador of Christ. Dwight and Sandi became my parents and I have been extremely blessed to be surrounded by wonderful mentors who have become family to me.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 Engage.