The singing. I’ll never forget that singing. I’ve heard the famous hymn “And Can It Be” dozens of times. But sitting in the back of this small church of believers in Caltanissetta, Sicily, and hearing them belt out the Italian translation of Charles Wesley’s lyrics nearly moved me to tears.
Thanks to the generous gifts of TGC International Outreach supporters, we provided this church and hundreds of other Italians across the country with copies of John Piper’s biography of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen. I didn’t understand at first why Sicilian church leaders requested this particular biography. But then I saw the new warehouse underneath the carefully designed church under construction in the heart of residential Caltanissetta. Alpha & Omega has already published Italian translations of Piper’s biographies honoring such leaders as Jonathan Edwards, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Your gifts helped them round out the collection.
Over 11 days across Italy in early September, I met impressive church leaders working for unity and praying for revival. We dined with an economics professor whose church proudly displays the five “solas” of the Reformation only a few blocks from a large church commemorating the Roman Catholic “victory” over the Protestants. We traveled the peninsula with Leonardo De Chirico, an academic/church planter/networker/journal editor/translator based in Rome. We dreamed with him about launching a study center in one of this historic city’s bustling social districts. We rejoiced over the ministry of Ifed in Padova as church leaders from around the country set aside several days to fellowship over wine and lasagna as they discussed how to keep the gospel at the center of their evangelism. We marveled at the unity of pastors in Bologna as they cooperate in church planting for this university town. And we saw Pentecostals join with other evangelicals to praise our heavenly Father and call on God to awaken the nation to the power of the gospel.
How We Can Help
The Italian church leadership differs from ours in America only in quantity, certainly not in quality. Nevertheless, few pastors work full-time for their churches. Some were forced to resume working outside the church due to the global economic crisis. Theological training is available, but many pastors must still move to Great Britain for in-depth studies.
I wondered before we departed how Americans can support Italian Protestants without simply exporting our strengths and weaknesses. I returned understanding that Italian church leaders appreciate our help but don’t accept it uncritically. They question whether we truly understand the particular challenges and opportunities of Italian culture, not least of which the pervasive influence of Roman Catholicism on all aspects of society. And they challenge us with their knowledge of the Word and boldness to proclaim it in a hostile culture where the Bible was banned for centuries.
But we Americans have been blessed by God with unmatched resources to research, write, and teach theology and history. Such sustained attention to theological education is an unimagined luxury for nearly all Italian evangelicals. So for now they gladly accept the fruit of this labor and remind us of the responsibility before God to whom much has been given.
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Our team, led by Chris Castaldo of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, recorded a number of videos at landmark Italian destinations. In the coming weeks we’ll share these brief reflections inspired by our visit. In this video, directed by JJ Oslund, I rejoice in the hope of one day seeing Jesus face to face as I remember the horrific martyrdom of Christians in the Colosseum of Rome.
Christian Courage: A Lesson from the Colosseum from Chris Castaldo on Vimeo.