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Pray for Debbie and Jim Kelsey, ministering to African immigrants and congregations in Italy.

January 5, 2012

Debbie and Jim assist the Evangelical Christian Baptist Union of Italy in ministry to English-speaking immigrant, particularly African, congregations. They work to welcome new arrivals to Italy who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families.  They assist with the theological training in the migrant churches and provides pastoral care where needed. Debbie also ministers to young women at-risk or victimized by human trafficking and prostitution.

Jim writes: I was talking with the pastor of one of our African churches as I waited for the train home.  I had just finished presenting to his church leaders a course on worship and how to shape it in a way that will meet the needs of the congregation and connect with the reality of their lives.  The pastor shared that the youth of his church had come to him recently with a request.  They wanted to invite their friends to the church’s annual evening of Christmas music.  They asked, however, that on this one occasion they please turn the music down and shorten the service!  They said that their friends would not enjoy a 3-hour service with blaring guitars and booming drums.  “Just this once,” they pleaded, “turn the volume down a bit.”

All churches, both in the US and in Italy, must adjust to a changing world with changing needs and preferences.  But our immigrant churches must cope with change of a far greater velocity.  It is like the difference between driving on an American highway and a European highway.  The basic skills required are the same, but on European roads things happen far more quickly because people are traveling far more rapidly.  Here you must drive with greater attentiveness and the consequences of a mistake are much greater.  So it is with immigrant churches in Italy.  They are trying to respond to enormous changes, shifting worlds, within the lives of their congregants.  To balance all this within a single worship service is an enormous challenge.

This pastor went to his elders and shared this request.  The elders said “no.”  They were would not alter their practice.  The pastor said:  “They are unwilling to sacrifice for the future of this church.”  The use of the word “sacrifice” struck me.  He was asking them to give up something they wanted to retain for the sake of their own children and the future of their church.  Sadly, they were unwilling to do so.

I have thought about this great deal; it is not a problem limited to immigrant churches in Italy.  Perhaps before talking about worship that reinforces a church’s identity but also is attentive to the needs of the world around it, I should have talked about sacrifice and grief.  Sometimes we must give up things we treasure to open the door to God’s future.  And that sacrifice brings grief; embracing the future means loss in the present.  We need to talk about that grief.  This can be uncomfortable, and not everyone will like it.  But part of leadership is moving people into new and sometimes uncomfortable places.

George B. Thomas, in his book Church on the Edge of Somewhere—Ministry, Marginality, and the Future, writes:  “[Immigrant] churches were founded in part as refuges from the storms created by social and economic marginalization…In church, the native tongue was retained, old relationships of kin and friendship stabilized and supported members, and traditional customs celebrated the cherished homeland (p. 63).”  You may see the shadow of some American churches in this description, except that the “homeland” is a past that we find familiar and comfortable.

The challenges faced by immigrant churches in Italy are not entirely different from the challenges faced by American churches.  The difference here is that those challenges come with greater velocity and urgency.

Please pray with us:

  • Giving thanks for Verona International Baptist Church’s new meeting place—a hall they have been able to rent and use as their own.
  • For immigrant families separated at Christmas, especially fathers and their wives and children.
  • Both our fathers who are having health problems.