Italy! What a captivating country, famous, loved and much sought after. Each year millions of tourists arrive in order to visit the so-named beautiful nation (il bel paese). From fashion fanatics and art lovers to those masquerading as culinary enthusiasts.
What about the Church in Italy?
Many of the evangelical tourists that come to Italy are staggeredby what they find. Sure, they knew that this is the country where the heart and center of Roman Catholicism is found, but they were perhaps expecting some form of true Christianity to be alive and considered important in wider society. They soon realize that in Italy there’s very little of anything Christian that is left; just a superficial layer of tradition bound to the world of Roman Catholicism. The majority of believers that happen to visit Italian cities find that their heart’s sentiment is the same as that of Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16).
What about the Evangelical Church?
It does exist, but is a tiny minority; in fact, less that 1% of the country’s overall population. But God is great and he carries forward his plans in any case. I myself came to know the Lord through buying a Bible from a second hand bookstore! I know stories about others who have come to faith by reading New Testaments given out randomly by believers. Even if the number of evangelical believers and their influence upon society is not very strong, the Lord’s sheep continue to come to him regardless (John 10:14).
It’s clear; the current situation in Italy is a difficult one. There are few believers. The majority of pastors and leaders of churches have sparse biblical preparation and there is a lack of spiritual maturity among the members of the churches.As we live and battle in a context where society is rowing determinedly away from Christian aims and values, we find ourselves in a culture built upon selfish aims, where money, power, sex, and success are the forces steering peoples’ lives. The challenge we face is therefore considerable. This is the difficult face of Italy.
Hope for the Future
But the Lord is opening great doors in our nation. In Italy, for over a decade now, we have experienced a great influx of immigrants from all over the world. North Africans, Central Africans, Indians, Chinese, Iranians and Persians are all settling and living in Italy’s cities. What a great opportunity we have. To speak of the Lord Jesus in Iran would be dangerous; not to mention how difficult a task the missionary must confront in order to acclimatize, learn the language, and build relationships with the locals. Even after all of this he would be risking his life in venturing to testify about the gospel to them. Whereas now, we have these very same people living in Italy, but without any of the dangers. Here we have freedom to speak about the Lord Jesus Christ. People may not agree with our convictions, but we are not risking out lives in putting them forward for consideration (at the moment)!
Another great opportunity is given rise to by a new generation of Italians that are no longer tightly bound by the Roman Catholic Church. While the past generation carried with them a Catholic heritage, which would often influence their grasp of the gospel, this new generation is no longer tied to that past. An example would be the doctrine of justification. Catholics generally believe in justification by works as opposed to the reformed view that it is by grace. The new generation generally is not ready to embrace the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, because it is not interested in the message it proclaims and has no desire to follow after it.
Are these young people ready to hear the message of the Gospel? I believe that this recent change provides a great opening. The chains of Roman Catholic tradition have loosened and many people are now able to listen to the true gospel: the message that can instead fill their hearts and bring them salvation!
In recent years, new developments are bringing hope to the Italian church including the birth of varying para-church missions and activities. Structures such as publishing houses, theological institutes, campus ministries, Christian bookshops, and missionary associations have seen great growth.
To see such things is a great encouragement. Our prayer is that future generations might benefit from the labors of these ministries. I can testify to how much nourishment, guidance, and encouragement sound Christian books have given me personally. In a country where the biblical preparation of its leaders is typically found wanting, a good book is worth its weight in gold. It’s a great means through which God can provide nourishment for his people.
It is to this cause that we have committed ourselves. Two years ago our work commenced with the evangelical publishing house; BE Edizioni. Looking back we are incredibly grateful to the Lord for all that he has done in this ministry. From the beginning, we saw day by day that he was bringing the right people along to be part of the team, opening great doors, and giving clear direction to the work.
We did no more than place our five loaves and two fishes in his hands, but he has done amazing things! Our desire is to help the Italian church of today and give the tools, resources, and opportunities to tomorrow’s generation. Our work is principally in publishing books that serve to mature, grow, and encourage believers here in Italy.
That is why, by the end of 2013, we plan to put various free books online such as God is the Gospel, Think and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, made available through our website. There are so many cities in Italy that have no evangelical bookshops, so many regions that are not served by a Bible college, and so many smaller cities without any churches. If free online resources are important in countries such as America, I believe they are fundamental for nations such as Italy. There is such an immense need here to deepen our faith, but the tools to do it are in short supply. That is why we intend to commit ourselves to offering more free online resources, so that all Italians, even those geographically isolated, are able to access material, that will help them grow in walking with the Lord.
Additionally, we have one other great dream: to get books that speak about the gospel of the Lord Jesus into the hands of those who have yet to know him. Part of the publishing challenge that we face, is to make the gospel known in a nation that has not heard it in a very long time. We need to find the right books and also the right way to appropriately promote them in the wider society. We can only do this if the Lord opens the doors before us, but we remain confident that he will do what is best for his church.
The church in Italy is small, but it exists. It is weak, but still alive. Before us lie many great opportunities and one boundless, beautiful, and eternal message to take out to our beautiful nation! Il bel paese!