By Valerio Marchi
“Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you” (Heb. 13:24). After about 2000 years, it is a great joy for us to be able to quote this passage as a living word! In spite of and through all our troubles, difficulties and weaknesses, God gives us the privilege to keep on a plan and a labor that began in New Testament times.
I’m 40 and work as an evangelist with the Church of Christ at Udine (North-East of Italy, very close to the Austrian and Slovenian borders). About 100,000 people live in this town and 200,000 in the surrounding area. My wife’s name is Patrizia; we got married in 1986 and we have a daughter, born in 1995, whose name is Arianna Vera. I’ve been preaching since 1985, spending all these years at Udine; but, of course, also preaching from time to time in other places, both in Italy and abroad, according to the opportunities.
Beginning of the Work at Udine
Speaking of the Lord’s work at Udine in particular, I hope to be able to give also a limited but panoramic view of our country, in spite of the fact that every congregation and place has its own story and characteristic.
First of all, I must say that after War War II the Gospel was first preached in Italy by some American missionaries, whose sacrifices and zeal we appreciate a lot, but who also used some methods that were not scriptural (for example, institutions as an orphan home, a Bible school, a Biblical Studies Center, a Publishing House Company — all supported by sponsoring churches in the U.S.A.; “gift packages” coming from the States with clothing, food and so forth — you may imagine the sad situation of our country in those very hard times! etc.).
According to historical sources, the work at Udine began several years later, but was a fruit of this kind of attitude anyway. Moreover, we can say that, generally speaking, the second wave of American “missionaries” preaching in Italy was less concerned with scriptural authority than the first one (brother Gianni Berdini, who preaches at Trieste, not far from here, wrote about this in details in an article published by “Guardian of Truth” No. 24, 1986, Institutionalism Within The Lord’s Church In Italy).
In the 1970s, the congregation at Udine, like many others around Italy, had no firm foundation and no spiritual responsibility or sound knowledge of the Gospel. A member of the former congregation here, converted from liberalism, is still a part of this church and can bear witness about that. At the beginning of the 1980s, the church split as a consequence of the good teaching of a “conservative” Italian preacher, Stefano Corazza, who had moved in Udine to preach. (Stefano is currently preaching in the Rome area.) The very small group who decided to break off institutionalism and liberalism opened a new “era” of the Lord’s work at Udine, as had already happened in other Italian cities in the years before. Year by year, several were converted, including myself (February 1984).
Present Situation of Udine Church
As an average, Udine Church has a Sunday attendance of 40/45 at present (only six in 1982: so, little by little, we are growing also in number, like it happens in other congregations who are trying to practice apostolic doctrine). Besides the Sunday worship, we meet on Thursdays (other Italian congregations meet on Wednesdays) for a Bible class and on other days from time to time. This is our address: Chiesa di Cristo, Via Trento 77, 33100 Udine (Italy; we also have a Church Internet site: http://www.xnet.it/Vangelo. A young brother (35 years old), whose name is Andrea Miola, is very capable in teaching the Bible and does it once a week (in order to or communicate with us, also for further information, you may use, besides mine, brother Andrea’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
I can say that there are several sound, young and talented brethren who are growing in knowledge and zeal within the Italian churches and who give us a reason to hope for the future of the Good News in this country.
Methods in Preaching
Of course, I can speak for Udine Church; but I know that, more or less, the means are the same also in other conservative churches.
First of all, of course, personal evangelism, speaking to our relatives, friends, colleagues and so forth.
- Stalls in the center of towns in order to talk face to face to the people and to deliver them our written material.
- Printing of tracts, booklets, church bulletins, magazines.
- Gospel meetings and special services, inviting people by advertisements in local newspapers, invitation cards, pamphlets, posters affixed to the walls of towns and villages.
- Radio broadcastings, both on national and local radio stations.
- Proposal of a Bible correspondence course.
- Delivering of fliers directly on cars parked in town, or in the mail-boxes, or by mail; also telephone calls, asking the people whether they are interested in a deeper talk about the Bible (all these activities are lawful in Italy).
I can’t say that one method is better then another. We get good results as well as a lot of failures (as it is normal, preaching the gospel) through each of them. We know that the most important thing is to preach the truth as much as we can. At due times God will give the results and the increase, because his Word is always powerful (Rom. 1:16). I must say that I see a good zeal for preaching every time I visit a sound congregation.
Resistance We Encounter
First of all, we must consider the fact that (notwithstanding an increasing immigration of foreigner people) about the 95% of Italians are Roman Catholics, whether or not they practice their religion. It is not easy to forget so many centuries of history and tradition, of course (often, it is not easy even for NT Christians!). Moreover, Italian Catholicism goes together with a deep ignorance of the Bible, prejudice, and very often practical atheism.
Even more than this, religion is above all a social matter; most of the people do not want to change their minds just because this could affect in some way their daily life. We are not facing open persecutions, but the “subtle” power of the Catholic Church and common mentality are maybe stronger and more effective! Catholicism is everywhere in Italy: for example, the Catholic hierarchy holds (directly or indirectly) banks (I guess it’s enough to say that two of the main banks here are named “Holy Spirit Bank” and “Bank of Saint Paul”); in public schools, religion is taught, but the only religion that has this privilege is the Roman Catholic (children are “educated” in Catholicism at school since they are three years old!).
Besides these aspects, we also live — maybe in a smaller proportion — in the same situation of “religious” confusion that you may find in other countries: Jehovah Witnesses, Pentecostals, Adventists, Mormons, Muslims, Oriental sects, etc. It is very hard to preach the pure gospel in this situation, as well as it is in other countries and times (Rom. 10:16). Moreover, while after World War II there was not only a physical famine, but also a spiritual one, at present materialism is ruling and people are more and more carnal, superficial, and immoral (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
I guess we are living the same experience as other places: the “liberals” are more numerous then the “conservative” brethren. I know of eleven churches who have taken an open stand against institutionalism and liberalism (but, of course, this is my personal information), and it happens (not very often, but happens) that a liberal Church changes her view and takes a stand against institutions, social gospel, etc.; I can cite the good examples of the churches of Christ in Siracusa (Sicily Island) and Pisa (where brother Arrigo Corazza preaches) during these last years.
Personally I am always ready to get in touch with all the liberals willing to debate with me, because I know by experience that sooner or later some of them will be able to revise and correct their position. For example, this happened in the past to some Christians in Udine. Of course, it is harder and harder to get good results because, passing the time, the more liberal groups are prone to human thinking and denominationalism. A few years ago the main exponent of the institutional-thinking in Italy wrote in a magazine that, in order to justify institutions sponsored by churches, Christian can believe and follow what some so-called “church fathers” (Catholic writers between 4th-5th century) wrote and did during their lives.
As everywhere, more workers are needed; but I know this really is a world-wide problem (Matt. 9:37). Whoever would like to come and preach here, must be willing to stay for many years, learning the Italian language and having a lot of patience and zeal.
We are able to produce enough and (I believe) good written material (fliers, tracts, magazines, commentaries), both written by Italians and translated from American (Bible studies written by American brethren).
In general, Italian brethren are committed to the Lord. According to my view, one of the main problems is the fact that congregations, after many years (even 30-40 years), can’t appoint elders and deacons according to the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. In some cases, I think that there is also a problem of personal maturity and responsibility. A very few members work seriously in their life and family for getting to the point of having all the biblical qualifications; probably, the same congregations tend to be used to this situation and don’t do all they can in order to reach the biblical target. I don’t want to judge anyone, but the situation I’m describing is a fact, starting from the church at Udine.
As I’ve already pointed, after two decades from the end of World War II (years in which many people were “hungry” for spiritual food and ready to look for the truth), the situation changed: confusion, ecumenism, materialism, indifference, and other hindrances are giving a very good “support” to the “State religion” and Satan (Rev. 13).
Of course, Christians coming from other countries are always welcome here in order to encourage one another, teaching, and learning from each other many good things according to the gospel and the reciprocal experience in the Kingdom.
Closing this article, I want to thank all the American brethren who have supported — spiritually and economically — the Lord’s work in Italy. Their constant interest in the Kingdom in this country is highly appreciated (Phil. 4:18) and I hope that we will be able to do the same for brethren in other countries sooner or later.