Transformissional Journey: Italy 2013
by Earl Lavender, Director of Missional Studies
As director of missional studies at Lipscomb I often have the opportunity to work with churches throughout the world. My primary task is to help all believers understand their place in God’s mission to reconcile all of creation to himself through the cross of Christ (Colossians 1:19-21).
In May and June of this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with churches of Christ throughout Italy, from the southern region of Puglia, to Rome, then Vicenza, and concluding our trip with members of the church Rebecca (my wife) and I planted almost 35 years ago in Cervignano. Rebecca joined me the last ten days, for which I was deeply grateful.
In all, I was given the opportunity to make 15 presentations in the 20 days I was in Italy. My given topics included (titles translated into English) “Growing in the Image of Jesus,” “Learning How to Train Spiritually,” “How did the Bible Come to Us and How Do We Study It?”, “Is Faith a Gift for All?” and a special presentation on “Faith and Liberty.” It is always a joy to return to the land and language of my birth. I was born to missionary parents in Trieste, Italy.
When not presenting, my time was filled with fascinating and vibrant discussions with brothers and sisters in the churches, as well as Bible studies with interested individuals. Rebecca and I returned to Nashville greatly encouraged. God is working in many ways through amazing women and men of faith. The space allotted for this article does not allow for a retelling of all promising events, but I will share a couple of highlights.
When I work in Puglia, my accompanying and organizing evangelist is Franco Verardi. His family also hosts me while there. It is a great joy to journey with Franco because of his passion to spread the gospel. I was blessed to participate in several excellent studies, and the presentations I made to churches were well received, followed by enthusiastic questions and discussion well into the night.
Visiting the church that meets at Viale Jonio in Rome is always a wonderful feast. The elders and their families are amazing and wonderful believers. I was invited to make several presentations there, including an open meeting concerning the nature of the Bible and appropriate approaches to study the Scriptures.
It is such a joy to work with Vittorio Vitalone and his wife Tonia. Vittorio is a medical doctor who spends half his time doing church work as an elder. He speaks at churches all over Italy and is an excellent author. His wife, Tonia, leads a women’s ministry for churches throughout Italy. She is an accomplished editor and has been very helpful in publishing materials in Italian for the kingdom. The church in Rome videos and records all presentations and makes them available on their website. This is a tremendous help for Italian speaking believers all over the world.
The main reason for my travel to Italy this particular time of the year is to speak at the Festival Biblico, hosted by the Catholic diocese of Vicenza (about 25 miles inland from Venice). This is my fourth year to present at this international festival. This year, the local church of Christ, which sponsors my participation in the festival, also scheduled on open meeting the evening before I spoke at the festival. They produced an advertising piece with one side promoting their meeting, and the other side my presentation at the festival. It is an amazing opportunity to speak to people I would otherwise never have the opportunity to meet. It seems the interest in the Bible is growing every year of the festival. The questions following my presentation on “Faith and Liberty in the Early Church” were very encouraging. I continue to correspond with a good number of attendees at the festival.
Rebecca and I then journeyed over to Cervignano to visit and study with friends and fellow believers with whom we have maintained contact over the past 35 years. Rebecca has been amazing in her nurturing the faith of precious sisters in the Lord – she continues to be a desperately needed spiritual rock in the lives of many. Our final night in Italy, we spent with four dear believers in deep spiritual fellowship.
I am convinced there is no greater joy, or anything more exhilarating, than life in the kingdom of God. Helping people discover the importance of their lives in the story of God is the most rewarding experience in my life. Of all that I learned over these twenty days, perhaps the most important for me is that I am a missionary who loves to teach, not a professor who enjoys missions. If I can help others see the joy of the missional journey, then I have accomplished something of great worth.