4. The military, missionaries, and the Mafia

ebook: Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio: Questions and answers about the Church of the Nazarene in Italy

Missions in Italy (part 5)

In this electronic book (e-book), "Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio," Howard Culbertson answers questions he has been asked about missionary work in Italy. Originally published for the Nazarene Missions International mission book series, this book by what is now called The Foundry carried ISBN number 0-8341-0612-4. Some material has been updated for this ebook edition.

We hear a lot about purse snatchings and shootings in Italy. What about crime there?
I suppose the overall total crime rate may match that of the U.S. But violent crimes like homicide, assault, and armed robbery are less frequent in Italy than in American cities. The shootings you hear about are usually isolated terrorist activities. There is, on the other hand, a lot of petty thievery and pilferage, often at the expense of American tourists.

All three missionary wives have had their purses snatched. We have had our home burglarized and the Longs have had their car stolen and broken into twice. To balance all that out, however, our wives are not afraid to walk on the streets alone at night -- something they would not do in the U.S.
Does the Mafia give you any trouble?
It is true that what began in Sicily in the last century as unconnected bands of hoodlums striking against alien governments forced on them has now evolved into some degree of federation with the label "Mafia." The Italian values of belonging, loyalty, and palpable rather than abstract human relations have all served to provide an environment in which the "Mafia" could grow. But it probably is a lot less powerful and a lot less organized than American film producers would lead us to believe. The government has made a lot of progress against the Mafia in recent years since the Roman Catholic church finally came out against it.

In Italy, crime exists. Sin exists. But most of it should be blamed on the devil and a little less of it on a sensationalized Mafia. But to answer your question: No.
Do you think Americans get a distorted view of Italy from the news media?
No. Of course, it is not possible to totally understand any situation unless you are there. But the American news media does a good job in its Italian coverage. The problems lie with us as listeners or readers. Out of our ignorance and perhaps even bigotry, we filter news reports through erroneous stereotypes -- distorted and damaging stereotypes that have been created and perpetuated by advertising, novels, and films.

For instance, someone reading a report of a bombing in Milan should not conclude that every city in Italy is experiencing bombings in every neighborhood -- or even that Milan itself is under some kind of terrorist siege because of one explosion.
Does the church face any restrictions from the government?
Not today. There were problems until the 1960s. It was then that the rights that had supposedly been guaranteed to all religions in the 1948 constitution were finally granted. In earlier years it was tough. During the years of Mussolini's dictatorship, many evangelicals were even imprisoned for their witness.
Do you have much contact with American military forces stationed in Europe?
About the only contact we have is at the annual Nazarene Servicemen's Retreat in Germany which we attend, and occasionally with military families who may have come to Florence on sight-seeing trips.

Most of the American forces stationed in Europe are concentrated in Germany, not in Italy. However, we have sometimes had Nazarenes with the U.S. Navy stationed in the Naples area, as well as an occasional American Army family stationed at Camp Darby, near Pisa, 50 miles west of Florence.
In some parts of the world, American military personnel have made a bad name for themselves. Is that true in Italy?
With so few American servicemen stationed in Italy today, most Italians have to reach back to World War II for any contact with the American military. Those memories are generally good. Americans are remembered as the ones who helped liberate Italy from the Nazi occupation army following the fall of Fascism.

Even those Italians brought to the U.S. to be held in prison camps do not have bad memories of their contact with the American military. One day, a cabinet maker in Florence entertained me for an hour with stories of the time he spent as a prisoner-of-war in the northwest U.S.
Is there a military "draft" for Italian young people?
Yes. Every Italian male must serve one year of compulsory military service about the time he turns 20. For conscientious objectors, there are approved alternate avenues of service.

Although Italy's armed forces are usually all stationed within her own borders, defense is big business. Italy is among the world's top 10 arms-exporting countries.
Do we need more Nazarene missionaries in Italy?
I believe so. Some of the needed ministries, such as evangelism, literature, and ministerial and lay training programs, are still lacking in proper leadership. Large cities such as Milan, Venice, Genoa, Bari, and Trieste remain untouched by the holiness message. In the areas where we are working, we've only begun to scratch the surface. In Rome, for example, we only have one small congregation in that city of 3 million.

A recent missions strategy proposed by some denominations holds that once an ongoing church, no matter how small, has been planted in a nation, all further evangelization is its business, and missionaries from the world church should not be sent. Mission, according to this way of thinking, is basically what each church does in its own place.

However, to expect a small national church in any country to assume all of the initiative and responsibility for evangelizing the millions who have yet to believe is unrealistic. In Italy, for instance, the Church of the Nazarene would undoubtedly be stronger today if a larger missionary force could have been made available in those crucial early days in the 1950s.

Our own use in the U.S. of Nazarene headquarters personnel to aid local churches in the development and implementation of strategies and programs is exactly what the missionary force overseas is trying to do.
If all Nazarene missionaries had to leave Italy, what would happen to the church there?
It would survive. In fact, Nazarene work in Italy did carry on for a number of years without missionaries. We have loyal, capable Italian leadership, including a district superintendent, a district treasurer, and a working advisory board. Production of a radio program was entirely in Italian hands. Italians serve on the literature advisory committee. Except for pioneer planting attempts, all churches are pastored by Italians.

Some areas of ministry might falter from the lack of personnel if missionaries were withdrawn. But the church would not collapse.
. . . [ continue reading ]
  Page:  ←Prev    |   Introduction  |    1. The Leaning Tower, the Lira, and  Women's Lib  |    2. Italian, Illegal Drugs, and Insulated  Buildings  |    3. Fiats, Florence, and Furloughs  |   5. Marco  Polo and Ronald McDonald  |    6. The Cerratos,  Alabaster Churches, and Work Crews   |    7. Communism, Catholicism,  and the Charismatics  |    8. Sincerity, Self-support,  and Sowing  the Seed  |    9. Books, Broadcasting, and the Bible College   |   10. Culture Shock  and Carpeting  |    11. A Word from My Heart  |   Next← 

Marco Polo and Ronald McDonald

arrow pointing rightDo Italians really eat a lot of spaghetti? . . . Do you use real wine in serving communion? . . . Aren't you expected to drink wine when you visit in Italian homes? . . . . [ more ]

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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