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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




The Light of Italy

By Charity Sites
Apr. 1, 2012

Among the historical ruins of Rome lies a tragic past. In A.D. 64, Nero, the infamous emperor, exercised his power by brutally persecuting Christians throughout the area. The Circus Maximus echoes a gruesome past of Christian martyrdom. Men and women of faith were arrested, tortured and put to death before thousands of cheering spectators.

Yet in such a seemingly hopeless situation, God can bring restoration and renewal. Italy’s faith was not destroyed.

Matera

Revivals in America during the early 20th century birthed a Pentecostal Movement that spread around the world. Many Italian immigrants were living in the United States at the time, and hundreds came to Christ. The Lord called some of them back to Italy to preach the gospel. Giacomo Lombardi was the first to return to Italy in 1908, taking the Pentecostal message with him. Churches formed throughout the country, and after a decade there were about 60.

Another Italian immigrant, Antonio Plasmati, was baptized in the Holy Spirit at an Azusa Street meeting in 1907. He went to Matera, Italy, in 1908, where he began preaching the gospel. Matera is an area known for its many caves, and several of these caves became meeting places for Christians. Many people received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the Pentecostal Movement continued to spread, in spite of many difficulties.

Benito Mussolini, leader of the National Fascist Party, announced plans to purify the country of religious sects, starting with Pentecostals. This began a long period of suffering for believers. From 1929 to 1959, Pentecostal churches were closed, and pastors were imprisoned or confined to concentration camps. Some of them even faced death. The pastor of the church in Rome, Roberto Bracco, was imprisoned 17 times. Christians were mistreated and kept under watch by the secret police. From 1935 to 1959, speaking in tongues was against the law.

During this time of religious intolerance, some believers met in cellars or small houses. Others met in catacombs filled with the bones of Christians who had been martyred hundreds of years earlier.

In spite of the suffering, revivals were reported throughout the country. By 1946, there were at least 10,000 to 15,000 known Pentecostal believers. In 1947, the Italy Assemblies of God was officially organized.

After repeated appeals by the Assemblies of God to the Italian government, religious freedom was finally granted for all Pentecostals. In 1959, the government recognized the AG as a fellowship. Since then the church in Italy has continued to move forward.

Sicily

On the edge of southern Italy, Messina, Sicily, sits on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. During the time of persecution in the 1950s, the Pentecostal church in Messina was forced to close its doors. Its almost 400 members began meeting secretly in small groups, moving from place to place to avoid discovery.

Today, as a result of faithful national pastors and believers, the church in Messina continues to grow.

On Sundays, men and women sit separately during services. Women place veils over their heads — a long-standing tradition. Historically, people took great pride in having gold and valuables. Even newborns received such lavish gifts. Now, believers try to avoid being distracted by beauty and possessions. At church, women wear veils and no jewelry to symbolize reverence. Though some may see such traditions as legalistic, the practices come from a pure heart and devotion to Christ.

“Italy’s biggest resistance to the gospel is religious tradition and humanism or secularism,” explains missionary Terry Peretti. He and his wife, Marsha, have served in Italy for 36 years. Both travel throughout the region, preaching in churches and encouraging pastors and believers.

Though Italy’s population is predominantly Catholic, the Spirit of God is raising up a generation to further the gospel.

“Merely traditional religion brings confusion, boredom and scandals here,” explains Daniele, a student who accepted Christ under the Perettis’ ministry. “Italians believe in God, but most only in a nominal sense. As a result, nobody wants to believe in a God who they believe causes confusion and scandals or who is boring. They think it’s better to search for amusement in other places.”

In spite of this challenge, Daniele believes he can make a difference. “I believe youth from every corner of the world are linked through two kinds of expression — art and music — for their own directness and emotional involvement. So this is an answer here in Italy. I think especially kids and adults can sing and praise the Lord through music at evangelistic concerts.” This is just one of many ideas for evangelism, and Daniele is certainly not alone.

Italy’s Future

The tent fills with a roar of voices as more than 4,500 students and pastors cry out to God. From across the country, they have gathered for the National Youth Convention in Fiuggi, Italy.

Dressed in their best, they have come for three days of teaching, singing, prayer and response. This year’s convention played a pivotal role in the history of the Italy Assemblies of God.

Though the church in Italy has grown, it has not been heavily involved in world missions. With a Catholic history and age-old tensions with other countries, the Italy AG struggled to take the gospel beyond its own borders.

But slowly the tides are changing. After more than 30 years of faithfully sowing seeds of solid biblical teaching, missionaries and national pastors are seeing the fruit of their labors.

At the closing service of the youth convention, featured speaker Alton Garrison, assistant general superintendent of the U.S. AG, challenged students to be willing and available to be used by God, even if that meant outside Italy. Garrison’s message marked the first time this issue had been addressed to such a large crowd.

At least 1,500 students and ministers filled the altar, committing their lives to carry the gospel wherever God called them. “This movement is starting from the grass roots,” explains Marsha Peretti. Believers are realizing that it’s time to reach beyond their own borders and share the gospel with other countries, including unreached places. This awakening passion for missions is historic in several ways.

In the past, Italy and Albania, a nearby country across the Adriatic Sea, held a tense relationship. From World War II to 1991, Albania was officially atheistic. The name “God” was marked out of textbooks, churches were closed, and only a handful of Christians were in the country. Now more than 25,000 believers live in Albania.

In an effort to bring unity and form a strong partnership, students from the AG Bible school in Albania were invited to the Italy AG Youth Convention as special guests. During the response at the closing service, the Albanian students were invited to the platform. Long-standing tensions between the two countries dissolved as leaders of the Italy AG laid hands on the group and prayed.

“It was a powerful moment,” says Terry, who was on the platform during the service. “I felt in my spirit to let the Italians pray over the Albanians. This was their time, their responsibility.”

For the Italians and Albanians, the evening began what is believed will be a strong partnership in fulfilling the Great Commission throughout southeastern Europe and beyond. As students inside the tent prayed earnestly, it was clear God was speaking to hearts.

“Italy is strategically located to reach the unreached — North Africa, Turkey and the Balkans,” says Marsha. “We are blessed to have the manpower, the finances and the anointing.”

With these blessings comes responsibility. The Italy AG numbers 1,300 churches and almost 128,000 adherents. Bible schools in Rome and Milano are training ministers to evangelize and preach the gospel, and gatherings such as the youth convention are stirring the hearts of the next generation.

Terry is convinced that if the Italy AG lost every believer over 40, those under 40 would continue to move the church forward and not even miss a beat.

Through centuries of struggles and paralyzing traditions, a bright future is unfolding for Italy’s next generation of believers. The light of the gospel is beginning to shine in ways that could only be dreamed of, and God is building His Church!


CHARITY SITES is editorial coordinator for Assemblies of God World Missions Communications.

Email your comments to pe@ag.org.