E-book: Rookie Notebook -- My first nine months as a missionary (Part 6)

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This electronic book (e-book) by Howard Culbertson re-lives the first nine months he and his wife Barbara spent as missionaries to Italy. These 7 chapters (including the Preface and Postscript) are full of stories reflecting on what it means to be a cross-cultural missionary to Italy. Originally published in 1976 by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City with ISBN number 0-8341-0401-6

Missions in Italy

6. "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow"

     Barbara's brother, Dr. Gerard Reed, served several years as a history professor at Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas. As we were leaving the U.S. for Italy, he and his wife, Roberta, gave us a record titled "Jesus Is the Answer." Recorded by the MANU quartet, it includes a song written by Bill Gaither called "Because He Lives." Now, I haven't been in Italy even long enough to know all the problems a missionary faces, much less long enough to have discovered all the answers. But we have run into enough problems to keep us busy. Sometimes when things really seem to be closing in on me, I put that quartet record on our stereo and play it over ... and over .. . and over . . . until finally Barbara comes out and says, "Don't we have any other records that you like?"

Problems? Yep, we've got em

     Before we left for Italy we attended the annual Missionary Institute and Workshop for newly appointed and furloughed Nazarene missionaries. It was held near Colorado Springs at Glen Eyrie, the headquarters and retreat complex of the Navigators organization. One afternoon, during a break between sessions, I picked up a copy of The Navigator's Log from a hallway display table. In that issue, Navigators Director Lorne Sanny told a story that has stayed with me as a rookie missionary trying to sort out priorities, trying to know where to begin my ministry.
     He says if you ask a soldier on the front line how things are going, he may say, "Well, it's pretty rough up here. We're attacking on that hill. We sent a few men up, and some have been hit ... I think one is my buddy. But we can't get to him. Listen, when you get back there, tell them to send up more ammunition; we're running short." ("Front line problems," comments Sanny.)
     But go back to the rear and ask, "How are things going, men?"
     "Terrible. My tent leaks. I had a sand crab in my boot this morning. The guy next to me snores." ("Rear echelon problems," says Sanny.)
     "What are your concerns?" Sanny asks his readers. "What we talk about most displays whether or not we are concerned about the last marching orders of Jesus Christ -- His Great Commission."
     Well. . . to be sure, we've got the leaky tent and sand crab problems too. But hopefully, they're not our major concerns. I want to be most concerned about front line problems. I want to talk most about the problems and possible solutions of implementing the Great Commission in Italy -- and not about missionary personality conflicts, cost-of-living, and other side issues. Let me share some of our frontline problems with you.
     During one rainy Tuesday evening recently, I sloshed through the narrow, crowded streets of Genoa, Christopher Columbus' hometown. Today though it's a city of 750,000, we don't have a church there.
     Early one Friday morning I stood on a hotel balcony in Palermo (a city whose population exceeds that of the entire country of Swaziland). As the traffic began to clog the streets below, I was thinking: We need to plant a church here. How much the beautiful story of Jesus needs to be clearly heard here.
     I've driven through Bologna late at night on the elevated superhighway. It's a city the size of Kansas City, but it has only six Protestant churches ... not one of them a holiness church.
     In our few short months here in Italy, I've seen all these possibilities for church planting ... and yet I happen to know that our 6 men are already pastoring 12 congregations. Furthermore, I really feel boxed in when I remember that right now we don't have a single Italian in European Nazarene College in Switzerland. That means we're at least three years away from producing a single new pastor or evangelist through that channel.
     When U.S. district leaders need a pastor, they raid neighboring districts or go to the colleges or seminary. (Oh, yes, I know it isn't as easy as it sounds.) It doesn't happen that way here in Italy. I've discovered we either produce pastors ourselves right here on our own district, or they aren't produced . . . and right now we aren't producing! Plus, in the past two years, we've lost four trained pastors for varying reasons.
     Need something to pray for? Help me ask God for a miracle. We are in desperate need of men to plant churches in Venice, Genoa, Palermo, Bologna, and a dozen other places. Also, we've got six already-organized congregations clamoring for full-time pastors.
     On a January day in 1886, D. L. Moody was in Chicago, addressing a meeting on the subject of city evangelism. He made reference to Ezekiel 22:30: "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land."
     "We've got to have gap-men!" Moody told his listeners. "Three-fourths of the workingmen in our large cities are entirely neglected, and we must train men and women to reach them." Right now in Italy we are in desperate need of gap-men. Help me follow Jesus' command in Luke 10:2 by praying the Owner of the Crop to send out workers (scores of them) to bring in His grain -- believing that He will do it.
     Our problems extend beyond a leadership shortage. We also have severe financial barriers:

     We are also facing a severe lack of training materials. Our congregations have virtually nothing in the areas of holiness doctrine or practical Christian education helps. We do not have the Nazarene Manual in Italian at this point. In 1954, a small abridgment of 46 pages was translated by Rev. Alfredo Del Rosso and published. But even the supply of this small extract has been exhausted. Two days ago the national literature committee voted to forge ahead with a translation and publication of the entire Manual -- but until that's completed, our people are without our agreed-upon models for church organization, without our basic doctrinal statements, without an understanding of their place in the international Church of the Nazarene.
     A sticky problem that will face us in the Manual implementation will be how to handle the Nazarene General Assembly's doctrinal statement on baptism of children. Our Italian church members grew up in a society where the predominant form of Christianity preaches salvation through baptism at infancy. When they were converted, they rejected all that, along with the idols, confession to a priest, and doing of penance. For them, baptism means believer baptism only. We will probably need to opt for the emphasis on dedication of infants as provided for in the rituals.
     Incidentally, a baptismal service is one of the most exciting events in an Italian evangelical church. I was in one at our church in Moncalieri a few months ago. It was like a revival meeting. We sang and shouted during the baptisms, and the new converts came up out of the water praising the Lord.
     To be sure, there are enormous problems facing us. And let me tell you, I wouldn't be here without the absolute assurance that this is God's will for me. Pray for us that the Holy Spirit will guide us into knowing the right priorities and into knowing which problems to attack first and how. We need Him to give us the daring flexibility of the first-century Christians.

The challenges ahead

     Walking into the ruins of Nero's Coliseum was one of the most moving spiritual experiences I've had. (It's true, of course,. that most of the Christians killed by the Roman emperors in the first three centuries died in other stadiums throughout Rome. But the Coliseum is the only one still standing, so it's become kind of the representative of all of them.)
     As I stood there at the edge of that stadium floor thinking about what it meant to face that kind of death for a refusal to renounce Christ, I listened to the rumble of traffic outside. I knew that almost every person in those vehicles streaming by the old coliseum considered himself or herself to be a Christian. But I also knew that few of them would be willing to face lions or gladiators in this arena for their faith in Christ.
     There's a small army of priests and nuns who live in Rome today. I've often thought that if they were all born-again, Spirit-filled believers, what a radically different place this would be. In the Early Church, an almost unbelievable impact was made by the changed lives and by the quality of community among the Christians. Suppose all of these nuns and priests were like the real born-again Christians whose blood was spilled in Roman stadiums. If so, the world could indeed be turned upside down for Jesus.
     I guess that's one of the challenges that faces us. For centuries, armies of emperors, popes, kings, and dictators have fought up and down this peninsula. Now our challenge is to be a part of the creation of the Lord's army which can march across Italy with the message of reconciliation in Christ Jesus, of victory over Satan, of the cleansing and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
     The doors are opening for us. Within six months we should have a weekly "Showers of Blessing" program in Italian coming into Italy from the antennas of Radio Monte Carlo. Our churches are anxious to set up evangelistic outreach programs. Recently, Pastor Salvatore Scognamiglio said to me, "My ministerial training has a great big hole in it at the point of evangelism. You missionaries have got to show us how to do it."

Serendipity

     Well, we came to Rome to go to language school. And that's what we've done for the past nine months. It's really all we were supposed to be doing. Our Nazarene missions policy around the world is based on the premise that a missionary is not much good unless he can communicate in the people's native tongue. Hence, the policy is that every missionary spends at least the first year of his assignment in language study, free from responsibilities.
     But, surprisingly for us, in these nine months, there have been many, many chances to talk about Jesus. Chances we never really thought about having. Serendipity, really.
     In the Early Church, evangelism was a natural, spontaneous, "chattering" of the Good News. To this point, that's the kind of opportunities the Holy Spirit has given us. Our first halting attempts at witness came with our teachers at Berlitz. When they discovered we were evangelical Protestants, one of their first questions was sure to be: "What's the difference between your church and the Roman Catholic religion?" At that point, we really didn't have the ability to talk about theological distinctions; all we could say was a simple witness of our conversion and what Jesus had done in our lives.
     The other day one of those unexpected chances to witness came on the way home from a Sunday in Florence. Monday morning as we rode the train down, I went to sleep in my seat. At one point I roused enough to hear Barbara talking to someone across from us. I suddenly realized that she was speaking English and that she was talking about the Lord. There, on the train, she had met a young American G.I. on a 30-day leave. He had emigrated to the States some years ago from Italy. Now he was taking advantage of some leave time to go in search of his roots. On that train, he happened to run into us.
     Serendipity. Who would have thought Barbara would get a chance to witness in English on a train full of Italians?
     Our tiny congregation here in Rome doesn't really have an adult Sunday school. We did begin a class in English for the missionaries. But Barbara really got concerned about the Italian women who attend the worship services. So she organized a Tuesday afternoon Bible study in our front room ... in Italian! So here a little 5 foot 1-inch American girl who speaks a broken, halting Italian, talks about Jesus every week to a group of Italian women, using the Italian version of Campus Crusade for Christ's 10 Basic Steps to Christian Maturity. Serendipity. And it all happens while I'm in the kitchen brewing Italian espresso coffee and baby-sitting a handful of little kids.
     Just before Christmas, I was up at Turin with Roy Fuller. I didn't understand much Italian at the time, but I was doing my best to talk with a group of young people after the service. Suddenly one young lady startled me by saying, "And how long will you be staying in Italy?"
     A lump came to my throat. I guess she'd seen too many Americans flit in and out of Europe. Now I can't predict where God will have me 20 years from now. But as far as I'm concerned, I've come here to spend the rest of my life ... and I'm really looking forward to it. [ continue reading ]

  Page:  << Prev  |    1. Preface  |   2. Somebody stole my jungle  |   3. I've always wanted to wear a pith helmet  |   4. Sometimes I really want to go home   |   5. It's part of the culture  |   6. "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow"  |   7. Postscript  |   Next >> 


Postscript

Next chapterA plea for prayer. . . [ read more ]

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