The Italian Job Update
Ah Italy! The very name awakens ideas of travel, wonderful food and beautiful people. And I totally agree that Italy is a place of beauty, rich history, amazing foods and interesting people. BUT, it is also wrapped in spiritual darkness and is a very tough mission field.
Italy is steeped in both; an often-empty traditional religion as well as the occult. Only about 0.4% to 1.2% of the population consider themselves as ‘born again’ Christians. In addition to that, one Italian mission’s leader, with sad humor, told us “the Christian church in Italy is small and well divided!” We are told that most missionaries do not return after their first term. Italy has been dubbed “the missionary graveyard”.
Why so tough? First, as mentioned above, most hold to religious traditions versus a life changing personal relationship with the Lord.The need for a genuine, intimate relationship with God, that we are all born with, has been replaced by a mediocre attachment to empty rituals and traditions.
Italy is also a hot-bed for the occult and dark spiritual practices. This occurs primarily in the northern regions where we were. Added to that; the Christian church is small and divided. Pride, jealousy and divisive factions keep the church inward, weak, ineffective and a poor representation of heart of the Savior. This is not all churches of course, there are some wonderful churches doing a great job, but the local missionaries tell me they are few.
I also can’t help but wonder, if another factor might be, that the missionaries in Italy and other European nations are less supported. I heard no complaints from the missionaries by the way, but the truth is prayer support, financial support and encouraging words are often the result of hearts being touched by visual needs. Photographs of needy children and rustic villages awaken our compassion, while thoughts of European nations are less apt to do so. Yet the heart of the Father longs to make Himself known to the hearts and souls of those who live in spiritual and relational poverty. Something to think about, eh?
Those on the front line. We had the privilege of connecting with a number of missionaries and the leaders of a healthy local church. Operations Mobilization (OM) and Adventive Cross Cultural Initiatives (ACCI) are two mission’s organizations that we connected with. Both are doing a wonderful work in Italy. We were able to teach, brainstorm with leaders, provide some counseling and pastoral care and get a good taste of the heart and direction of the ministry. Both groups based in Italy are relatively small in numbers but big in heart and vision. We are talking with both organizations about the possibility of S2S connecting with them in the area of staff training and development, pastoral care and more. This would require more travel and ongoing periods of time in Italy. We shall see how the Lord leads.
The French Connection
Our time in France was quick and full. It involved ministry to the hurting, encouraging some missionaries as well as meeting some wonderful stout-hearted believers. France is truly secular and hardened to the Gospel. Those who share the truth there need our prayers!
A Thought about America? I could not help but wonder, as Iexperienced post-Christian Europe, if I was seeing the future of America?
The trends and pressures of our culture seem to be driving our country in the same direction: Secular, morally bankrupt and spiritually dark and empty. I am aware of no greater time for the believers in America to lovingly let their Light shine and their Salt bring flavor.