It was one of the best experiences of his life, one quiet Scandanavian exclaimed at the close of last weekend’s gathering to restart the work of Youth With A Mission in Italy.
The broad participation and excited anticipation took us by surprise. Some had come especially for the event from Argentina, Columbia and Brazil. Others, from almost every Nordic nation, joined those from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, from Holland, Germany and the United States.
Italians, too, from all four corners of the republic-Turin, Venice, Sicily and Bari-had converged for the gathering on the port-city of Pescara, mid-way down the east coast, across the peninsula from Rome.
What we had expected to be a sober consultation of 25 or so turned out to be an absolute spiritual highlight for a very diverse, international and intergenerational convergence of over 60 YWAMers, present and past, along with a handful of local church observers.
Weekly Word doesn’t usually address in-house YWAM news, but this event involved a major European nation greatly in need of a spiritual breakthrough.
YWAM in Italy has weathered a painful process recently. Significant elements of our mission’s values and calling had been missing in the work that had represented our global movement now for over two decades. After many long and difficult discussions, no change was forthcoming, so earlier this year we had had to withdraw recognition of the original leadership as representing YWAM.
Although no-one had been asked to leave YWAM, the old leadership subsequently decided to continue as an independent organisation (unfortunately still using YWAM’s name, translated into Italian as Gioventú in Missione).
Giuseppe and Christiana Restivo, veterans of YWAM Vietnam and now pioneering in Pescara, elected however to remain with the international mission, and offered to facilitate this consultation in their hometown.
Many tears have been shed in recent months by all involved in the transition. More tears flowed during sessions of prayer for the nation, after Italians present identified barriers to the freedom of the gospel in their land. These included resistance to ministry from foreigners and from women. On behalf of their countrymen, two Italians asked forgiveness of the foreigners and women present. Some participants responded tearfully as they recalled past hurtful experiences and spoke out forgiveness.
Graziano, a publisher well versed in the Italian past, sketched the country’s spiritual history from Constantine’s era, when Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion. “Italy has been occupied by many foreign powers in the past-Greeks, Barbarians, Normans and Arabs, among others-which helps to explain our resistance to foreigners still today,” he suggested.
Italy also lacked biblical models of servant leadership, he observed, perhaps because the country had never experienced the Reformation. Unfortunately, he added, that lack was too often reflected both in politics and in the church today,.
Markus Buser, originally Swiss but now from Columbia, shared his plans to bring teams from Columbia to Italy. Nations needed each other, he said, arguing that Communist Albania had impoverished itself by isolation. M
arkus has also pioneered YWA
M in Cuba, and told his delighted listeners that even Cubans had been praying for our consultation!
Others shared of the hope they had felt when hearing about the consultation, several testifying that Italy had been on their hearts for years. Hugo Paulini from Argentina was working with YWAM in England, waiting for the doors to open to Italy. Beto and Raquel Tavares, founders of Praise Village in Brazil, planned to move to Italy next summer. Fellow countryman Erivalda Silva had also flown across the Atlantic to seek the next step in Italy for him and his family.
Luigi Tomassi recently moved back to his native Milan from England with his young family to start YWAM there. His wife Paola gave a passionate report of the doors already opening in the city, including seeking Catholics asking how to know Jesus in heart as well as mind. Two other participants discovered they were carrying the same vision for a missionary retreat centre in Italy. Tiina, a young Finnish artist, shared her dream of an arts-cafe in Milan. Still others shared possibilities for ministries like Kings Kids, Family Ministries and the small-boat work of Marine Reach.
A group exercise to identify each region of Italy, matching it with sketches of landmarks, and placing them on a large wall map, produced much laughter. The country became literally covered with ‘post-its’ containing prayers, visions and verses for specific places, issues and ministries.
Beto and Raquel used a large drawing of a tree with roots and branches in another exercise on building together towards the future. The roots, Beto explained, were YWAM’s values. The branches represented the ministries growing from the roots. Participants came forward with ‘leaves’ on which they had written dreams and visions for the nation, completing a colourful, leafy tree representing the future of YWAM Italy.
One landmark sketched was a trulli, a cone-shaped stone building found uniquely near Bari (see photo). My wife and I had ‘discovered’ the trulli on a visit to the south a few years ago. The roofs of these dwellings displayed a mixture of esoteric and spiritual symbols. One of these represented the Lord’s Prayer, we had learned: an encircled cross represented the Kingdom of God, and a large downward arrow intersected with a semi-circle symbolising Earth. There it was, shouting from the rooftops: May Your Kingdom come, here on Earth as it is in Heaven!
And that was our prayer as we dispersed from Pescara: that God’s Kingdom would come in greater measure in Italy, hastened in some way by our time together in Pescara.
Till next week,