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North Italy. July.  Both bring to mind fun and smiles in their own unique way.  

When joined together by the simple preposition “in”, North Italy in July takes on a whole new meaning. Let me tell you about what we discovered on a July 5-13 mission vision trip there.

The Missouri Baptist Convention began work in Northern Italy last year and wants churches to go partner with a church or church planter in that area.   When we think of Italy, we automatically think of Rome, the Vatican, and the Roman Catholic Church.  That is accurate, but while over 95% of the population in Italy claim to be Catholic, less than 10% are actually practicing their faith and attending church.  That leaves a large number of people who are unsure of their faith.  That is our target audience.

On July 5th, ten Missouri Baptists from across the state joined the trip organizer from the Missouri Baptist Convention, Rick Hedger and his wife Sandee, on a vision mission trip to North Italy.  Four were from a Kansas City area church, and four of us were from Wentzville. Departing Lambert airport on Thursday morning, we made a connection, then flew overnight arriving in Venice on a bright, sunny Friday morning.  Italian Customs was quick and easy, and we were soon on a bus, heading to our hotel in Mestre, a Venice suburb. The hotel we stayed in was across from the train station so we could get to the cities we were visiting easily and without the hassle of dragging luggage and checking in and out of hotels daily.  That was a wise plan by Rick! 

After checking in, we had lunch and met with Jesse Schreck, a young church planter there in Mestre. Jesse shared how the gospel is not viewed the same by everyone there.  Instead of being the sound of salvation and freedom, it may be viewed as another burden they must work for.  The need is for evangelists who can share the good news of God’s grace and mercy in the person of Jesus Christ.  That is something we can do.  Over the next five days we visited five cities and met with other church planters who were burdened for the souls of the people in their cities. 

Our mode of transportation was Trenitalia, the Italian train system.  Initially confusing, it became very easy to use the more we used it. Treviso was a short 15 minutes away and we met Pastor Caio of Agape church and his wife, Astrid, who along with the interpreter told us about the work they had started and how it grew to five other cities, in home churches as well as other small meeting locations.  One of the cities in work is Verona (remember Romeo and Juliet?) which we explored and fell in love with—just not enough time to visit, but will find time to pray for them.

We returned to Treviso on Sunday and visited their church, which had 100-150 people attending.  The youth had just returned from camp that week and were still excited to tell everyone what they had learned and how they had grown in the Lord.  We were welcomed with open arms, and we especially appreciated being driven back to the train station that afternoon as it would have been a long walk!

On Monday we jumped on the train to visit and prayerwalk around the university city of Padua. Pastor Caio has a home church established in Padua and asked us to pray for that work.   University towns usually have a humanistic mindset that is not open to the gospel. He told us that people want to learn English and using English as a second language (ESL) training was an opening to sharing the good news.  Like all the cities we visited, it was ancient and had beautiful buildings everywhere. 

By Tuesday we were becoming fluent in using the Trenitalia ticket kiosks and were ready to try the faster bullet train to Firenze, also known as Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. Renowned for many masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture, it is home to Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture and many buildings that you would recognize byphoto.   We prayer walked our way through the side streets and met and had lunch with Pastor Scott Pethtel and his wife Dominque and their two daughters. They work with another couple who planted Mosaico Church 8 years ago, and today has an average attendance of 110. The church services are in English which draws those wanting to hear or learn English.  Again ESL training is the opening used for sharing the gospel.  

Before returning from Florence that afternoon we met with the International Mission Board coordinator for all of Italy, Charlie Worthy.  Charlie has been in country for over 15 years and knows how to share the gospel in Italy. His first question for us was, “What does your church do well?”  Once we know that, it is easy to determine what we can bring by way of support to the mission field in Italy, or anywhere. Charlie has created a summer work program for college age young people who are interested in missions in Italy. He has had over 70 interns involved over the past four years. Let me know if you want more information. 

The next day we took the train to Trieste, northeast of Venice, over by the border of Slovenia and met with Tyler and Jessica Stewart and their two young sons, Antonio and Giacomo, good strong Italian names!  They arrived in Trieste less than a year ago and are currently in language training with plans to plant a church within the next 18 months.  We would like to revisit when they are ready.

Our final day was spent sightseeing and touring around Venice. It is an adventure just to get there. A bus or train will get you to the boat ferry and taxi terminal which is the public transportation around Venice.  Upon arrival at the terminal, we caught the ferry to Saint Mark’s Square and joined thousands of my closest friends from around the world.  Literally. While waiting for a team member at the Dukes Palace at Saint Mark’s, we met a group from New Zealand who were on an around-the-world cruise!  The Square is amazing with the intricate stone sculpture and the art works on display. The view of the bay is beautiful and memorable.  Trekking across several bridges over the canals and through the streets, we made our way to the Rialto, the famous bridge whose name has been used on theaters, restaurants, beaches and even cities worldwide.  

But, when we saw the thousands of people in Venice visiting the Basilica of St. Mark, we cannot help but wonder how many of them have heard the good news of Jesus? Sure, they know about the Jesus on the cross, but do they know the resurrected Savior who wants a relationship with each of them?  We want to share that good news with them. It will take time, but we know how to do that. Are you ready to go and be a part? This was a vision trip, but we will return with a team next year.  There is planning to be done and recruiting team members as well. Watch and listen, as details will be forthcoming in the bulletin and website. 

  

Posted by Glen Locklear with
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As we look back over life, many of us remember a time when we were younger that we just didn’t feel ready to take the next step.  We’d say things like…“I’m just not ready to settle down yet and get married” or “I’m not ready to have kids yet”.  Then someone older and wiser than us would come along and remind us….you’ll never be ready.  Eventually you come to that realization and you take those big steps.  It’s not all that different in other aspects of life. For some of us we proved ourselves trustworthy and hard-working on the job quickly.  In doing so you were given opportunities to do harder things.  Unfortunately, out of fear of failure, lack of confidence, and maybe just not totally knowing what to do we sometimes turn those things down. It’s interesting how we can look back on our lives and see times when we said no to opportunities and realize how we missed out on growth opportunities.  I know I’ve missed out on some for sure.

I think about these things because all too often as a leader in the church when I ask younger men to step up to lead I get a bunch of excuses why they aren’t able to.  Simple excuses like…I’m too busy, I don’t know enough about the Bible, I don’t feel qualified etc.  The saddest part about all of it is that almost never do you get an excuse along the lines of no because they don’t feel like God wants them to do that specific thing because God is directing them to lead in another way. More often than not, men are just opting not to lead and missing out on opportunities to grow.

There are all kinds of places we can look in the Bible to see evidence of leadership by young men and sometimes even young boys and teenagers.  Probably one of the best examples we can look at is the disciples. While we don’t have record of exactly what ages they were when Jesus called them to follow Him, most believe they were young men, some possibly even teenagers.  Each of them had to make a choice when Jesus asked them to follow Him. In that moment each of them could have said no for various reasons.  They would have to leave their careers…none of them were Jewish scholars…none of them had spent time preparing and getting qualified to follow Jesus.  Despite that fact, each one of them said yes.  I know some along the way during Jesus’ life chose not to follow Him, but I wonder if Jesus might have asked some to be his elite force of early church leaders only to be told no for any number of reasons. What an opportunity this would have been to pass up but, in our youth sometimes we say no and miss out.

In a time when we need more men than ever to step up and say yes to not only following Jesus and also to lead here are some important thoughts:

  1. Men are designed by God to lead. Yes, we all have different personalities, but we also have spiritual gifts from the Lord. Leading doesn’t always mean standing on stage and preaching.  I don’t care if you lead from behind the scenes or in front of the crowd, God has a place for you to lead within the church that fits your gift set.
  2. Men need to stop making excuses. When people tell me no they’re not willing to lead without giving it an ounce of prayer; most of the time you’ve just told me you’re making excuses based on fear, selfishness and feelings of inadequacy…not because God told you no.
  3. Men need to trust the Lord. I’ve heard it said…”God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called”. Every one of us is unqualified to serve the Lord in every way apart from the leadership of God himself.  Trust the Lord to equip you and give you the ability to do anything and everything that He wants you to do.
  4. Men should learn to be comfortable with being unqualified. Churches have too many people as it is running around doing ministry in their own human power instead of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Maybe if we would just say yes to the Lord, be content with the fact we aren’t able by ourselves, then we’d rely on the Lord enough to actually accomplish something God sized!

Before I conclude, let me remind you older guys out there…we need you.  We need you to care about the younger men, we need you to show us how to lead, show us how to use our gifts.  I know some of you have served faithfully and led well in the church for many, many years…but if you don’t help the next generation of men learn to lead…who will lead the church when you’re gone?  Who will lead the church now to be relevant to younger families? 

From one young guy, who has made plenty of mistakes by saying no plenty of times when God was probably trying to grow me…let’s start leading!  Whether it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, challenging…let’s say yes to doing God things instead of saying no to all things!  Let’s learn to lead!

Posted by Jeremy Shirley with

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