As I mentioned in our recent prayer update, we are in the throes of researching Italy’s cities, trying to determine a place where we might plant a church. Part of this research includes visiting cities that seem somewhat promising. There are no plans to put fleeces out and no hopes of a heavenly cloud formation that reads ‘come to this city.’ We want to use wisdom to discern, along with the help of our elders and other counselors, the place that seems to be the best opportunity to be faithful to the Great Commission.
Before I tell you where we went, a quick disclaimer is in order. Our visiting a particular city does not mean that we will go there. Obviously we can’t visit every city in Italy, so there are reasons behind the ones that we visit. But often, the only way to know that it isn’t a good ‘fit’ is to talk to the people in the city, see for yourself what kind of gospel ministry is already happening, and really just experience the city. All that to say, don’t get your heart set on a particular place just yet.
Below I’ll give you a taste of what we saw on our 5 day trip in Northern Italy. I thought you might enjoy hearing about how we are processing each opportunity. But more than that, I thought a bit of information might help you in your efforts to intercede on our behalf.
On the way up we stayed the night in Florence. At the beginning of our research we thought Florence or a city near Florence might be where we’d end up. Stopping there for the night gave us the opportunity to spend part of the morning seeing a few neighborhoods. There is already a great church there that is doing some really exciting work. Our hope is to spend at least one Lord’s Day with that church this summer. As of now, we’ve decided to put the Florence idea on hold, while we pursue other opportunities.
The next morning we headed up to Brescia. Brescia made it on the list of cities to consider, like the rest of the places, because it was pretty big and didn’t seem like there was much happening on the church front. The province is the 6th largest in Italy (1,262,295 people) and the city itself has nearly 200,000 people. The cost of living is low and there is a beautiful historic center that isn’t super touristy. There might be a few faithful works in and around the city, but so far we haven’t confirmed anything. We were able to have a few longer conversations with locals and here are a few things we learned (according to these two sources): the people are closed (religiously and in general); the city is very laid back and a great place to live; if there are protestant communities they aren’t very well known; there are a lot of foreigners that live in Brescia (many from Africa and Asia).
After a night and a morning in Brescia we did the hour drive to Verona. Verona’s beauty and sites make it a popular tourist stop. We weren’t there as tourists but we did ([un]fortunately depending on who you ask) get to peek at Juliette’s balcony one night after dinner. We knew/confirmed that there is one church in the city center and several small churches about 30 minutes outside the city. The city is the 12th largest in Italy (253,409), but the city center is rather compact. One person explained to us that the city has a small town feel and that it is really common to bump into someone you know downtown. The city and the areas that surround it certainly still have needs even with several missionaries already there, but the number of workers already there is definitely something we will take into consideration.
Sunday morning we headed to Mantova to worship with the people of Chiesa Sola Grazia. The city where the church is located is only about an hour from both Verona and Brescia. Ending up in either of those cities would mean we could have some sort of relationship with Sola Grazia. It was a sweet Lord’s Day and our hearts were refreshed. We were glad to sing some familiar songs for the first time in Italian. We had already known one of the pastors, Andrea Artioli, and had the opportunity to get to know their new missionary/pastor Alan Johnston (not Matt’s cousin). Before coming to Italy about a year ago Alan was a pastor in Ireland for nearly 20 years. Getting to pick their brains on our research was a great grace, and their thoughts really helped prepare our perspective for our trip to Genova.
We wrapped up lunch at around 5 (not abnormal in Italy), still undecided if we wanted to head to Genova or head back to Rome. It was the only city that we hadn’t visited on our current list, so we decided to be crazy and go for it. After lots of long stops, we arrived in the city at around 10:30p.m. The city which is tucked in between the mountains and the sea is striking. Genova as a city has a character like we’ve only ever encountered in Rome. It is the 6th largest city in Italy (582,320) and the metropolitan area has nearly 900,000 people. The fact that we accidentally had TomTom navigate us to the city center instead of our hotel may have influenced our opinion, as we drove across the main piazza it was truly magical…even if we will probably get a ticket. The next morning was rainy so Matt headed out alone to explore a little, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat for about 30 minutes with a guy about his age. It began as conversation about the city and turned into a conversation about absolute truth and absolute authorities (the Bible).
If I had to list our level of interest based on these three cities, it would look like this: (1) Genova, (2) Brescia, (3) Verona. We hold all of this with open hands having already seen our hearts be excited about a place, only to learn as things developed that it probably wasn’t the best. We are encouraged by the progress we are making in the search, and we trust the Lord will continue to make our next steps clear. Thanks for praying.