Italy is a unique place, spiritually speaking. The ground is rough and rocky, but the Lord is just as much sovereign here as he is in any other land. Things seem to move slower in Italy than most places because of the spiritual context. In a certain sense missionaries to Italy are placed in the fire. As a result, many panic and leave, but those who stay, empowered by the grace of God alone, are blessed tremendously. In the fire sin becomes exposed, motives become exposed, parts of you that you had no idea existed become exposed, but after they're exposed, by the grace of God, they can be worked out and purification happens - something very much like the work of a metalsmith.
In the same sense, this purification process happens with missions. Much of what is called missions today is simply charity service. It's good and it's important; all churches should be involved in some form of charity service to be a blessing to the people God has placed around them. We would say that something is wrong if a church is not involved this way in their local community. But, when your understanding of missions causes you to think only of countries and people groups in poverty and how this poverty can be resolved, we assure you that you're thinking is in need of being refined; it's not pure, it's not biblical. Missions in the Bible always had at it's core the proclamation of the gospel, the making of disciples and the formation of local churches - these churches then reached out naturally to all areas of society. Without the proclamation of the gospel people can be left to think that all is well between them and God and fail to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Those who serve as missionaries in Italy are serving the Lord among a people group of about 60 million. For the most part, though experiencing economic crisis today, they are financially well off. Spiritually, they are almost entirely lost and on their way to eternity separated from God. Serving in Italy you suffer isolation and rejection due to the rocky hard spiritual soil that's been left to harden for hundreds of years. You're view of missions gets purified when you serve in Italy.
The gospel is corrupted and distorted in Italy due to the Catholic church preaching a false gospel based on works, NOT grace. On this blog, at times, we also expose some of the important differences of doctrine between Protestant Evangelical Faith and Catholic Faith. This is no small difference. It's a question of faith versus "saving-faith"; life versus death. Unfortunately, much of protestant evangelical faith, is not Biblical Faith also. Many evangelicals are still uninformed of the Biblical doctrine of Grace and are unable to truly live the resurrected life in Christ that God desires from them because they have a non-biblical view of God. In other words they have made God in their own image, who they want Him to be and not who He says He is in Scripture - a pure form of idolatry... I myself have been this person, but I thank the Lord for reaching me to correct me through His servants committed to faithfully teaching His word. It is of utmost importance that we, as Christians, discipline ourselves in the study of Scripture. We cannot love God with all our hearts if we do not know God - the sovereign and holy God of the Bible.
Many missionaries across the globe content themselves to serve the Lord while doing good deeds. It's ok, but there's more to be done. Though we cannot say for sure, it is possible that much of ones motivation to serve the Lord in these situations can come from the satisfaction of serving others less fortunate. (More than one person has confessed this reality to us from their own experience). Certainly this is not the case for every missionary serving in a more poverty stricken country, but as sure as Satan is a real being against the church of Christ this is a very real temptation for all missionaries; to find daily satisfaction not in Christ alone, but in doing services to other people.
Since Italy is not so much in need of our services or materials (though we do strive to find ways to demonstrate the gospel in deed) our missionary approach becomes purified and refined. Through the sanctifying work of God we are able to discover that the missionary life demonstrated in the New Testament is still the example we are to follow as disciples of Christ today - apostolic-style church planting. We are all supposed to be involved in one way or another in the Lord's mission of preaching the gospel so that others may be saved, disciples may be made and churches can be planted. Doing charity service then becomes a normal outflow of a person who has been born of God and of a healthy church plant founded by church-planting missionaries. Like a baby longs for milk so the new born believer longs for the word of God. Just like a baby grows and then becomes a blessing to the family, so the new believer grows in faith and understanding of the Word of God and will of God and begins to be blessing to all that are around him or her, whether believer or non believer. Charity service is a normal part of life for any believer. We received much grace so we give much grace. We go one step further and say that missions focused on church planting through preaching, evangelizing, and making disciples are to also be the normal part of the believer's life - church planting is the most effective way to evangelize our world. Our good deeds and genuine love back up our words and flow out of our lives as a community of believers on mission with Jesus; it's not one or the other, it's both word and deed.
Missions, as the Bible demonstrates, is something unique. It involves going, learning a new tongue and culture and mindset, opening your mouth, proclaiming the gospel with boldness, courage, grace and wisdom, making disciples, baptizing them and forming churches that will be lighthouses for years to come where more and more people will enter the family of God, grow in grace and be equipped for good works that the Father has prepared for them beforehand.
Practical Missions Cohort serves to help bring this clarity of Biblical and Fruitful Missions to all those who support us and partner with us. We welcome you to become a Ministry Partner and/or come experience missions in Italy firsthand. Serving Jesus in Italy is not for the faint at heart, but it is for those who love the God of the Bible and have a passion for the lost. How might the Lord be calling you as well to play a role in the His plan to reach Italians?
Soli Deo Gloria