International Ministries

Is This Church a Life Boat?

January 19, 2012 Journal
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As diving teams searched the dark flooded Costa Concordia lying on its side, I went on a reconnaissance mission to investigate a church in another province.

Some young women who are being exploited went to an event at this particular church. We hoped to ascertain whether the church could be "lifeboat" or whether it is part of "the racket” (the business that exploits women through prostitution). Such churches are typically independent of all recognized Protestant groups in Italy. We and our Baptist partners are careful to look for any sign of "the racket" in the churches with whom we partner.

In "the racket's" churches, traffickers bring their victims to church, pastors encourage the victims to work the street to pay their debts to their traffickers, and, then, the church demands a tithe from everyone.  Cultural norms and ignorance, fear and false doctrine keep the women enslaved.

On the internet, we found an address for the church, and I set out on Sunday morning on my mission. My GPS told me that I had reached my destination, but I was surrounded by industrial buildings—none of them clearly marked. I did what we often do upon arriving at an African church located in an industrial area--I sat in my car until I saw some Africans and watched where they entered the building.

The sign on the door didn’t match the name I had, but that is not unusual. I climbed 3 flights of stairs, following the sound of the preaching. Arriving on the right floor, I paused and sorted out what I was hearing. Ringing through the empty hallway were French, English, Italian, and Twi (a Ghanaian dialect). I chose the door behind which I heard some English and Italian. The service was underway and was actually tri-lingual: English, Italian, and French. This service was a new initiative to include people who did not speak the group’s native language--Twi.

After the service, I talked with the pastor and discovered that I was at the wrong church, but, he assured me that God had brought me there and this would be the beginning of a long and wonderful relationship! These churches are always very welcoming places.

I left that church's space and investigated some of the other churches in the same building.  There are often multiple churches in the same structure. None of them matched the name I had. So, having worshipped among wonderful people in an environment of joy and faith, in what seems to be a lifeboat of a church, I went out to my car.

As I sat in my car, preparing to leave the parking lot, I looked around. There must have been 300 African immigrants from the various churches milling around among the cars. Of all the effects that increased immigration is having on Italy, this is one that is never mentioned in the press: People going to church, gathering to support and encourage one another, and thanking and praising God. Can one really be lost among these churches? Not really.

Maybe we will get more specific information, and I will return to find the other church I sought.

Jeremiah (29:6-8) told the exiles in Babylon: Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Many of these immigrants are bringing with them a lively evangelical faith that will, over time, change Italian culture. They will leaven this place with faith, in part by helping the young women we serve.  But, that is one of many challenges to be addressed.

Your faithful support of our ministry through International Ministries and your prayers make our work here possible. Thank you and may God bless you.  As you pray, please remember:

- The survivors and those who lost loved ones in the Costa Concordia disaster, as well as those who continue to search for 21 passengers unaccounted for

-Our Christian brothers and sisters for whom the image of the Costa Concordia on its side in the Mediterranean is a very painful reminder of all that is broken in Italy. Pray for immigrant Christians here to partner well with Italian Baptists to help set things right.

-The young women on the street. Pray that God would open up paths to a better life for them.

-Two sister Ghanaian churches that are struggling financially and may have to close one of their congregations.

Your missionaries in Italy,

Jim (along with Debbie, Ben and Luke)