Missionaries donate time protecting forests in Greece

For 10 weeks recently, missionaries in the Greece Athens Mission donned bright orange fire uniforms and combed the hillsides overlooking the Ionian Sea to help protect local forests from fires.

For their efforts, they were recognized by the Athens-based newspaper, Eleftherotypia as "the only ones who were not content with just fire watching, but also took time to clean the grove."The newspaper article noted that the project began with 15 volunteers but ended with eight, with four of those being the missionaries.

The community fire watch program was organized earlier in the summer by the mayor and city council of Patra to protect a forest that extends into the center of the city. Patra is the third largest city in Greece following Athens and Thessaloniki.

Two missionaries, Elders Kim Pomares from Toulouse, France, and Michael Lloyd from Sandy, Utah, spearheaded the mission efforts that included the collective contribution of more than 1,500 hours of community service.

Each week, these elders were joined by other missionaries who walked the paths of the forest and watched for fires. During their watch, the elders studied scriptures in the pine groves and talked with hikers visiting the forest.

From their vantage point, they viewed the sweeping expanse of Patra, as well as the Patra Gulf of the Ionian Sea from the west brow of the hill.

Participation in the fire watch program came as a result of several ideas originally considered by Elders Pomares and his former companion, David Holland of American Fork, Utah.

The elders had been looking for worthwhile service projects when they met a friendly woman, Golfo Theodorakopoulos, while staffing missionary displays at the downtown Ipsila Agonia Platia, a central park in Patra.

She invited them to her home, and on learning that they were looking for service projects, she suggested several. The elders began by weeding the garden of a city council member.

Four days later, Mrs. Theodorakopoulos called Elders Pomares and Lloyd to say she had seen a television announcement sponsored by the city seeking fire watch volunteers.

The forest, known as the Dasillio Forest, is critical to the city since it is located in the center of the city on a hill that is surrounded by ancient Patra and a medieval castle with Byzantine remains dating to 800 A.D.

The missionaries reported to city hall near the end of July to begin their participation. There, they met Nikos Iannopoulos, a member of the city council who worked with the volunteers throughout the duration of the project. Firm friendships were established with key city officials.

Four television stations, Teletime, Archaia TV, Patra TV and Super B TV, covered the initial volunteers with the missionaries being featured on all four channels that evening. The missionaries became highly visible and were recognized throughout Patra.

"We did not offer the service expecting this kind of response," Elder Pomares said. "Our aim was to get city officials to realize we were good, law-abiding people here to serve the Greek people. We made some good friends among the other volunteers. They came to accept us for what we really are."

"We are privileged to serve in this area of the world," Elder Lloyd said. "It is so rich in history, and we are learning to understand and love the Greek people of the present by serving them."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed