(This is actually a newsletter from Rome to my family, friends and supporters in February of 2000. I will have more to say about a couple of these people later, but this gives a taste of our ministry in Rome and doesn’t rely on my memory.)
A struggle before baptism
Angelo was raised catholic but has been friends with Christians for many years. He has studied the Bible with others and on his own for many years. He is very smart and in some areas actually understands the Bible better than his Christian friends. He knows the Bible well enough to realize the contradictions and problems with Catholicism. He knows what the gospel says and what it takes to obey God but has had many doubts, some as a result of personal struggles. Chris has studied with him since we arrived and has been able to be honest and straightforward when talking about the gospel and Angelo’s soul. And he has become a friend of all of us, often eating at our house our with our youth group. I mention all this to tell you that he was baptized into Christ on Friday, February 11th. Praise God for another addition to His kingdom.
A listening ear
Alvaro is a 50 year old Catholic; 20 years older than Angelo but going through struggles of his own. He entered the church building for the first and only time on a Wednesday night, eyes red from crying, slight smell of liquor on his breath, nervous, and in need. It was a little frightening the way he entered. After standing outside the door, he entered slowly, and Laura, a coworker left the room when she saw him. That left Jesse, Laura’s husband, and me to talk to this stranger. I went to him and listened. I understood that his brother had died a week ago. I later found out that he had died tragically from smoke inhalation in his own apartment when a space heater malfunctioned. He had gone to a nearby catholic church but the priest was either unavailable or too busy to talk with him (I don’t know exactly what happened and I am not mentioning this to shame the catholic church or this priest, just explaining the situation). I was never sure what hurt him more, his brother’s death or not finding someone to talk to. God brought him to us. An elderly member of the church was at the building and we called him up front to help. I didn’t know what to do. He talked to the man for awhile and found out a little more information and we both offered our condolences. Occasionally he would begin crying, hiding his face with shame. After they had talked for awhile, Paolo the evangelist for the church, arrived and began talking to this man. He told the distraught man that we can listen and sympathize but only God can take care of his pain and suffering. They talked for awhile in private. Afterward I had a chance to speak to him again and he seemed to be feeling a little better after finding people who would listen. We chit-chatted a little and laughed. I told him why I was in Italy and found out that he knows the part of Florence where I lived. The Wednesday night Bible Study was about to begin so he left, not wanting to be around a large group of people. Please pray that he returns. This is very common.
They don’t know the lord
A few weeks earlier a man who had been drinking entered, distressed, with many questions about divorce and remarriage. His girlfriend was waiting in the car. He couldn’t afford a divorce from his wife although they had been separated for a few years. And one week after Alvaro come in, we received a phone call from a desperate 30 year old whose wife had been unfaithful. There are many others just like these, people struggling and suffering and they don’t even know that it is God who is lacking in their life. They don’t know the one who can heal and take care of all their problems. But Angelo is no longer one of these.
She remembers the important things
In one of our bi-weekly visits recently, we went to the house of Pietro and Pina Leone. They are both in their eighties. They are Christians and shut-ins of the congregation here at Viale Jonio. They both have health problems but they have their faith. Pina, in particular, is very interesting. Time and age have taken away much of her memory and mind. She remembers her father, who died in WW1 when she was 3 years old, but she never remembers our names and tells us the same things every time we visit. The most beautiful thing about this sister is that she is continually praising and thanking God. Although she forgets our names, and that Jesse and Laura are married to each other, she remembers the important things. Every time we visit she recites a Psalm completely from memory. She has forgotten many things but the Word of God remains in her mind and on her lips. Amen.
The importance of being visable
Gisella is another elderly lady who is great; always joking and talking even though she has had a rough life. She has suffered through a bad marriage and a nervous breakdown and doesn’t remember a lot of her life before her “sickness”, as she calls it. Her grandfather was a friend of a Pope. She passed by the church building one day last fall, lonely, depressed, without much family or many friends. She spends much of her day watching TV or reading until her eyes start to bother her. She said she had noticed our building for a long time but never knew who we were. She has been at almost every worship service, bible study, and church activity ever since she first came even if she causes some distractions by talking during the song service or asking questions that don’t relate all to the study. She is a wonderful lady, calling us all her grandchildren, and joking about marrying Chris, but she is not a Christian. She doesn’t have the faith, the assurance from the Scripture, and the hope the Pina Leone has. She is interested and always learning even if she still has a statue of St. Francis of Assisi in her apartment. Please pray for her soul