Starting the Church of the Nazarene in Italy

ebook: Alfredo Del Rosso (Part 4)

4. The Nazarenes have landed and the situation is well in hand

The arrival of Allied armies in the Florence area brought more than political freedom to Tuscany. The fighting between German and American troops in the area became the catalyst to bring together Del Rosso and some American Christians. For thirty years, Del Rosso had preached to, fellowshipped with, and prayed with Christians from all over Europe. He knew them quite well -- the Swiss, the English, the Danes. And now he began to acculturate himself to these strange beings called Americans.

Through his work at the Salvation Army canteen, Del Rosso met Bob Shultz, a signal corps soldier assigned to General Clark's communications center. Before being shipped overseas in 1942, Bob had led Bible studies for his fellow soldiers back in Camp Crowder near Joplin, Missouri. Now he wanted to organize the same thing in Florence. But he lacked a meeting place.

Del Rosso offered the use of the Coppini home where they were living, and so in 1944, Friday night meetings for the English-speaking occupation forces and any interested Italians were begun. Space quickly became a problem, so the meetings were moved across the street to the home of a ninety-year-old retired Methodist minister, Rev. Cavazzuti. Pastor Cavazzuti was an "old-time Methodist" who had met Dwight L. Moody a half-century earlier when he preached in the Presbyterian Church in Rome in 1892. These two men, Cavazzuti and Del Rosso, helped Shultz organize services that offered encouragement to Christian servicemen a long way from their home churches. They were very informal fellowship-style meetings attended by up to 50 servicemen. There would often even be non-Christians present, several of whom were converted to faith in Jesus Christ.

Among the Italians who showed up for these meetings was young Luciano Galli who lived above the Cavazzuti family. At first, Luciano pretended not to show a great deal of interest, but finally, in 1947 he was converted through the patient and persistent witness of the Del Rosso family. He became an active participant in the work of the Salvation Army and then wound up as head of the Italian film division of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In December of 1944, a hospital unit arrived from Africa and set up in the Pistoia area, a town about 30 kilometers west of Florence. A United Church of Christ chaplain and his young assistant, Corporal Arthur Wiens, soon made their way into Florence seeking Christian fellowship. They happened into the Salvation Army canteen where they met Alfredo Del Rosso. Another permanent relationship began as Del Rosso and young Wiens struck up a friendship.

Chaplain Palmer allowed Art to supply Del Rosso with hundreds of Gideon New Testaments and whatever other literature Del Rosso needed and wanted in his work with American, Australian, and English servicemen. Art often brought patients from the military hospital in nearby Pistoia to the Friday night meetings. In July, the hospital unit was transferred to Florence itself so Wiens became even more involved with the ministry of the Del Rosso family.

Art remembered one morning his chaplain saying, "There's not much to do today. Why don't you take the jeep over to the Del Rossos and see if they need any help?"

The moment Art Wiens arrived at the Del Rosso home on the curving street near the river, the Del Rossos began to praise the Lord. When Wiens asked if he could be of any help and offered the jeep for transportation, their shouted praises to the Lord about brought down the tower on the old house. The Del Rossos had recently learned that their son Paolo was being held in an allied prisoner-of-war camp near Pisa (he'd been in one of those Italian units that had continued fighting on the side of the Germans). They were greatly concerned about Paolo and that very night had been on their knees the entire night praying, asking the Lord to give them sone way to hear from Paolo, some way to communicate with him. Now here, the first thing in the morning was the answer from the Lord: an American army jeep complete with a driver ready to take them to Pisa.

Another American chaplain named Garrett, who was stationed in Pisa, struck up a close friendship with Del Rosso. Garrett was already carrying a burden for the Italians and began to dream with Del Rosso of possible plans for carrying out post-war evangelization of the country. One of Garrett's dreams was to establish a Bible school for training Italian pastors and evangelists. Garrett and Del Rosso even had a little pamphlet printed up in English explaining their hopes. The little pamphlet included Del Rosso's photo and testimony.

It was with the help and intervention of these chaplain friends that the Del Rossos were able to get their son Paolo released from the prisoner-of-war camp earlier than would normally have been possible.

Two other American boys on whom Del Rosso had a great influence were Arthur Chadwick and Stan Davies -- both of whom returned to Italy after the war as Plymouth Brethren missionaries. Art Chadwick worked in the Turin area while Stan Davies spent several years in the Naples area.

Out of gratitude to the Del Rossos for what they were doing, the American soldiers did all they could to help the Del Rossos live in some degree of comfort. Del Rosso's temporary responsibility at the Salvation Army canteen didn't really provide enough income for a family of seven to live. So, the American servicemen were always bringing over extra rations and sometimes even clothing (which the Del Rossos often distributed to other needy families instead of utilizing it themselves.)

His activity at the canteen also led Del Rosso to become involved in the Salvation Army services and street meetings being held in Piazza Beccaria just across the river from his home. To Del Rosso it seemed like a miracle -- those street meetings without any police interference. For fifteen years it had even been dangerous to hold home prayer meetings behind closed doors and shuttered windows. Passing out tracts had been strictly forbidden. Now, there he was, speaking openly and legally in a public square to crowds of Italians and occupation soldiers. It was at one of these street meetings that his daughter Maria made her public commitment to Jesus Christ.

The Del Rosso home quickly became known as the place to go for Christians. Naturally, the fact that there were also four teen-age daughters helped to make it all the most hospitable for those young American soldiers so far away from home. Whoever dropped in always found himself involved in a time of prayer before he left.

"For us, Florence was the Del Rosso home. Alfredo Del Rosso had a great influence on the American army," said Art Wiens.

The burden of this family did greatly impress the soldiers, particularly men like Art Wiens, Arthur Chadwick, Stan Davies, and Bob Shultz, who for years was the chief engineer of Trans World Radio in Montecarlo with its powerful transmitters aimed at Italy and other European countries. Interestingly enough, Bob Shultz was at Trans World Radio in Montecarlo when "L'Ora Nazarena" first went on the air in April of 1976 (He was later transferred to Trans World's transmitting station on Guam).

Then one day some special young men happened into the Del Rosso home and the course of this 55-year old holiness preacher's life was altered somewhat. During the late nineteenth century, journalist Richard Harding Davis popularized the saying, "The Marines have landed and have the situation well in hand." In Italy in the middle 1940s, some Nazarenes in the U.S. military landed, and very quickly the situation seemed to be in hand.

Del Rosso recounted what happened: "One evening, among the military men that testified of their faith, there was a glowing testimony of a young American soldier from the state of Indiana who belonged to the Church of the Nazarene. He spoke of his experience of salvation and sanctification with such conviction that I wanted to know the Church of the Nazarene better."

That young man was Albert Carey. He had heard of these Friday night meetings through Noemi when she was receiving treatment for the injury suffered in a grenade explosion in August of 1944. Albert soon became a favorite with the family and the group of soldiers for he had learned to play music on a carpenter's saw. His music was often the highlight of the meetings.

Then another Nazarene, Charles "Chuck" Leppert from Kansas City First Church, began to attend the services led by Del Rosso. Leppert gave the same kind of testimony that Albert Carey had given. Thirty years had passed since Del Rosso's experience of entire sanctification. He had given up hope of finding a denomination that believed and preached the experience he had had in that little room in the Waldensian Bible School. But the more Del Rosso talked with Carey and Leppert, the more he realized that Nazarene theology coincided with what he believed and had been preaching since 1914.

Leppert and Carey were also impressed with this short, peppery Italian. They sensed in Alfredo Del Rosso a kindred spirit. When they returned to the U.S. in 1946 they wrote to the Kansas City general headquarters of the church asking that some literature and books be sent to Del Rosso at their personal expense. They also initiated a letter campaign with general church officials urging them to consider establishing work in Italy through Alfredo Del Rosso. At the same time. Leppert entered Olivet Nazarene University where he made friends with Earl Morgan, the son of an Italian immigrant to the U.S. from Rome.

A correspondence was initiated between Del Rosso and C. Warren Jones, executive secretary of the Department of Foreign Missions. It was a positive correspondence as far as both sides were concerned. At that time the Del Rossos were attending Sunday services at the Florence Baptist Church. Sensing that this was an unusual man, the Baptist leadership approached him with an offer of a pastorate in Sicily. But Del Rosso turned down the offer without too many second thoughts, noting, "After the war, I didn't know how I would carry on my ministry-- but then I met the Nazarenes. Finally, I found a church to promote holiness in Italy. I had a near hope for the realization of my vision for my country."

Nazarene leaders decided to take some concrete steps in exploring the possibilities of starting the Church of the Nazarene in Italy. So, in 1947, while on his way home from a visitation trip to other mission areas, Nazarene General Superintendent H.V. Miller stopped in Italy. Enthusiastically, Del Rosso took him to visit the little groups of Italian believers he had in Florence and in Rome. For by this time, Del Rosso had already started home prayer meetings among his old friends in Civitavecchia, in the Boccini home in Rome, and in Florence, he had several families interested, including the Lagomarsinos who had moved up from Montalcino and a former Pentecostal family, the Tararás who had emigrated to Florence after the war from Sicily looking for work.

While Miller was in Florence, Del Rosso even arranged for him to conduct a service in the beautiful 40-year-old American Episcopal Church building.

Favorably impressed with Alfredo Del Rosso, General Superintendent Miller was also interested to find that Del Rosso had already translated into Italian the first part of the Nazarene Manual (a book of polity similar to the Methodist Discipline or the Presbyterian Book of Order).

In his report to the Nazarene General Board in January of 1948, Miller wrote:     "Could it be that God is now pointing the way for the Church of the Nazarene to be a greater and more effective minister to the people of the earth? . . . We feel that (1) Brother Del Rosso should be brought to the General Assembly representing his people. This would make it possible to acquaint him personally with the spirit of our church and our general program . . . (2) That in such an event, work should be begun, it should be started only in a limited and conservative manner with the objective of building a national, self-supporting church as we go."

The self-support hope was a bold one. Possibly the only self-supporting work of any denomination in Italy is that of the Apostolic Church (which Del Rosso helped begin). All of the old-line denominations from Baptists to Waldensians receive aid from outside Italy to finance their work. Nevertheless, based on Nazarene experience in another European country, Great Britain, self-support from the start was the goal. It would also be a different strategy from what had been used to start Nazarene mission work in other countries.

An invitation was extended to Del Rosso to come to St. Louis for the Nazarene General Assembly in the summer of 1948. While on a trip to Switzerland, Del Rosso sent word back through a California pastor, Rev. Griffith, of his acceptance of the invitation. His daughter Febe had become engaged to an English Salvation Army officer, so the wedding was scheduled to fall just before Del Rosso's trip to the U.S. He went to England, participated in the wedding, and then left for the U.S. in company with George Frame in May of 1948. A speaking tour had been arranged by C. Warren Jones which would take Del Rosso to 23 different U.S. states. As Del Rosso traveled he would be accompanied by Rev. Griffith who had a dream himself of going to Italy and helping oversee the new work.

One of Del Rosso's first stops was a visit the first week of June to the Northwest Indiana district -- the home district of Albert Carey. District Superintendent George J. Franklin was just one year older than Del Rosso and took a liking to him immediately. Rev. Franklin writes, "Both of us are emotionally made up and we kept the pot boiling. . . . We traveled together, prayed and wept together and also shouted some."

As Del Rosso traveled and spoke, his pleas to the churches included a request for food and clothing. The war had devastated Italy; a government with all of its infrastructure had been toppled and it would take some time to get the country back on its feet. The large-scale European Recovery Program, popularly called the Marshall Plan, had only been approved by the U.S. Congress in the spring of 1948. So it would take some time before the effects of it would be felt. (Although within the space of four years, the U.S. would pour more than 12 billion dollars into Europe).

While it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Nazarenes would enter Italy, that had not yet been officially decided. There was a financial crisis in the mission work of the church. The world was still tense after the war and that was especially true in Europe. Just before the 1948 Nazarene General Assembly, the Allies had begun an airlift to counter a Russian land blockade of Berlin. Even with all this, however, Miller felt strongly that now was the time to enter the European continent.

He confided to Del Rosso, "If I'm re-elected at the General Assembly, we'll open the work in Italy."

On the opening Sunday of that 1948 Nazarene General Assembly, Alfredo Del Rosso spoke for three minutes in the afternoon service. In those three short minutes, he captured the hearts of the Nazarenes. Judging from reports of crowd reaction, it would be a good guess that even if General Superintendent Miller hadn't been re-elected (he was, with 571 votes out of 626), Nazarene work would still have been opened in Italy. This 1948 General Assembly launched the Mid-Century Crusade for Souls. It was the General Assembly at which J. B. Chapman gave his masterful address, "All Out for Souls." There was rejoicing as reports showed that per capita giving was approaching the one hundred dollar mark per year and membership had topped 200,000. Even with all that, a little 58-year-old, five-foot-tall Italian named Alfredo Del Rosso had a key place in the spotlight.

"The time has come," Del Rosso declared fearlessly that Sunday afternoon, "to possess the land of Italy with true holiness."

Present and listening that afternoon was a young student at Nazarene Theological Seminary, Earl Morgan.

Following one of the morning business sessions that week, Miller, who had by then been re-elected, called Lester L. Zimmerman, a pastor in Hammond, Indiana, to the platform. Miller asked Zimmerman if he would take Del Rosso in as a member of his local church and then recommend to the district assembly the recognition of Del Rosso's elder's orders. Zimmerman agreed to do so.

Immediately after the General Assembly the Board of General Superintendents voted to open Nazarene work in South Africa and in Italy. These two countries would be placed in a rather unique arrangement under a new Overseas Division of the Department of Home Missions and Evangelism. There, they would be under the direction of executive secretary Roy F. Smee along with Australia and Hawaii (both entered in 1946) and Alaska (entered in 1936). This decision was made out of the feeling that such an administrative setup would expedite the opening of these new countries. It was also felt that it would give the Board of General Superintendents some latitude for innovation in Italy, for example, where we were starting without any missionary leadership and were absorbing an existing work and making its present leader the district superintendent. The arrangement would also set the precedent for opening the work in Germany and other northern European countries and in American Samoa.

Thus, the Second World War which had brought untold suffering and sorrow was being used by God to open the door of continental Europe to the Church of the Nazarene and to the message of full salvation not only from "our sins" as Del Rosso's Baptist colleagues had agreed but also from "our sin" as Del Rosso had insisted.

Following the General Assembly Del Rosso went back to Kansas City. General Superintendent Miller took him into the office of the Department of Home Missions and Evangelism. There he was to set up an annual budget for his own salary, travel, housing, and office expenses. While Miller wanted the work in Italy to proceed on a self-supporting basis, at least Del Rosso's salary and expenses as superintendent would be carried by the General Church. As far as Del Rosso was concerned, it was an almost incredible rags-to-riches story. He was a man who, for thirty years, had been an independent holiness evangelist living on freewill offerings. He had met his first Nazarene only two years previously and now he himself was suddenly being asked to be a Nazarene district superintendent. And on top of that, he was given the privilege of naming his own salary!

The church's generous offers of financial help plus the willingness of local churches to be of help led Del Rosso to conclude that maybe some Italians were right when they said about the U.S.: "You go outside in your lawn in America, push in a stick, and out spurts oil."

However, the Nazarenes didn't go quite as far with Del Rosso as one independent American mission board did not long afterward in trying to recruit a young Italian preacher named Elio Milazzo. While that particular group was trying to convince him to head up their work in Italy, Milazzo attempted to show the futility of what they were asking him to do by saying, "Why, I couldn't possibly cover all the territory you're asking me to cover without a helicopter."

They didn't blink an eye. He said they just looked back at him and asked, "Well, how much would one cost?"

While the Nazarenes hadn't gone as far with Del Rosso as that other mission board did with Milazzo, it was clear to Del Rosso, however, that the financial resources of the American Nazarenes, even if limited, far outweighed those of his countrymen devastated by war and used to an official church heavily supported by government tax money.

In August, Del Rosso went back to the Northwest Indiana district. This time his tour included a weekend at Hammond First Church where in a special service on Sunday morning, August 14 he joined the Church of the Nazarene. On the Saturday previous he asked Rev. Zimmerman to drop him off in downtown Hammond for some shopping. When he came down for breakfast the next morning at the parsonage he was wearing a dark blue shirt and bright yellow tie -- a very unItalian-looking combination. To the startled Zimmerman family, Del Rosso said, "Well, I wanted to look like an American Nazarene preacher this morning."

That morning was a special one for him. "He shouted the praises of God when I received him into membership," remembered Pastor Zimmerman. "He was so happy to be one of us."

Immediately Alfredo Del Rosso applied through the Northwest Indiana District Board of Orders and Relations for recognition of his elder's orders from the Baptist Church.

During the district assembly and the campmeeting that followed, that recognition was recommended by the district Board and approved by General Superintendent H.V. Miller, who was conducting the assembly. Del Rosso's membership was maintained at Hammond First Church until 1971 when it was officially transferred to Italy. The church's missionary society named one of their study groups the "Del Rosso Chapter." The kind of unusual arrangement almost seemed to confer on him missionary status. To be sure, it was an unusual way to handle the situation. But at least it did accomplish the goal of getting the Church of the Nazarene into Italy.

Since the initial contact was made by soldiers, it is interesting to note that the Nazarenes borrowed a strategy from the Allied armies, for they began invading the continent through Italy first, just as the Allied armies had done. Germany and northern Europe would have to wait until 1958 for the Nazarenes to arrive and France until 1977.

While in the U. S., Del Rosso was captivated by the way the Nazarenes sang. And he decided that one of his top priorities would be to put Italian words to some of those English gospel songs. So it is that of the 223 hymns in the Italian Nazarene hymnal, 65 of them had words written or translated by Alfredo Del Rosso.

Arriving back in Italy in late October, he wrote an article for the Nazarene missions magazine which was then called Other Sheep. It would be the first of many reports he would send to that publication. In that initial article, Del Rosso wrote to his primarily American readership: "A new era starts in the evangelization of Italy. I believe God will give us a real holiness revival among the Italian people . . . Pray for us, dear brothers and sisters as we work for Christ and the cause of holiness, calling sinners to repentance and salvation, and believers to the real Pentecostal baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire, the scriptural second-blessing holiness . . . The harvest is ready in Italy . . . Finally we can preach the full gospel of the grace that saves and sanctifies without having people say to us that sanctification is extremism."

The long search of this nearly 60-year-old preacher was over. To English-speaking Nazarenes he wrote, "I have had this vision for many years for my land. Now it's like a wonderful dream to know that a holiness church is here in Italy . . . To know that our whole church prays for us and loves us, from the General Superintendents down to the last new convert, gives us the full assurance that our work in Italy will prosper and grow." And it did. Good records started being kept in 1952. For the next twenty years, the average annual membership gain was 6 percent -- nothing fantastic but at least equivalent to and perhaps even a little better than growth rates for the American Church of the Nazarene in the same period.

To Nazarene general church leaders Del Rosso had listed as one of the top priorities the establishment of a Bible school to train workers. Preliminary plans called for it to be set up in Florence. His daughter Noemi started to school at what is now Point Loma Nazarene University. The plan was that a degree from the Nazarene college would prepare her to be a key figure in launching the infant Nazarene work in Italy. Unfortunately, ill health altered those plans, causing Noemi to return to Italy even before Christmas of 1948.

At that point, Del Rosso had four groups meeting with some degree of regularity in Italy, having added one since Miller's coming. Each group counted about 30 persons as adherents. . . . [ continue reading ]

  Page:   ←Prev    |    1: Introduction    |    2: If this  be Pentecostalism    |    3: Out under the sta rs    |    4: The Nazarenes have landed and the  situation is well in hand    |    5: Superintendent Del Ros so&n bsp;  |    6: Retirement? Not quite   |    7: Retirement? Finally   |   Next→ 

Superintendent Del Rosso

arrow pointing rightDirectly in front of Del Rosso was the new class of outgoing Nazarene missionary appointees -- including the Earl Morgans heading to Italy. It was an electrifying four minutes. Says Dr. Edward Lawlor, "I shall never forget the sight of him standing in front of the General Assembly pleading for men and money to bring the message of holiness to Italy." . . . [ more ]

Note: Material for this biography was gathered in Italy in the late 1970s from letters, books, magazine articles, and interviews with many of the principal characters including several missionaries to Italy, Alfredo Del Rosso himself (1890-1985), and members of his family. Most of those interviewed for this biography have since died.

Printed resources include In Their Steps by D. I. Vanderpool (Beacon Hill Press, 1956) and They of Italy Salute You by Earl Morgan (Nazarene Publishing House, 1958)

The manuscript of this book is in the Wesleyan Holiness Digital Library

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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