As news comes through, it appears evident that the earthquake that struck a remote, yet beautiful area of central Italy, is a devastating one. By the hour there are more reports of missing and of deceased. Old people and young children. Seven years ago the nearby city of L’Aquila, 60 kms away, was hit by a similar earthquake. As then, so now, we face the tragedy of lives lost and the anguish of devastated families and communities.
One of my first thoughts early this morning, however, was how this present tragedy points to another tragedy. Recently I have been researching the presence of Evangelical churches throughout Italy. The province of Rieti, where the earthquake happened, is one of the least reached areas of Italy. Rieti province has an overall population of 160,000 people; 50,000 people live in the city of Rieti (60kms distant from the earthquake area), the rest of the province’s population live in small towns and villages. In the whole of the province of Rieti there are no more than half a dozen Evangelical churches (of any denomination) and they are almost all in the city of Rieti. A simple conclusion: the area affected by the earthquake has, as far as we can tell, no witness to the gospel! That is a great tragedy.
As we think about that, three important elements emerge:
- vast areas of Italy still have no local, evangelical witness
- the challenge of reaching not only the cities, but the small towns and villages as well, is great; research indicates that over half of the Italian population lives in locations with less than 50,000 inhabitants, 35% with less than 15,000 inhabitants and 15% with less than 5000
- and as the evangelical church, we are thus unable to love and serve these communities practically and spiritually if we are not present
How can we be present? The church needs to discover God’s passion for his mission.
Please pray for Christians throughout the country: that they might be present in this time of tragedy to bring comfort and to present the gospel of hope, with compassion and empathy, in the midst of darkness and desperation. We want to reach into the destroyed communities with hope and light so that a radically different narrative can be proclaimed about what is happening, with the gospel at the centre, redefining everything.
JD Gilmore, born into a missionary family, grew up in Italy and was touched by grace as a teenager. Passionate for the spread of the gospel in Italy, with his wife Annette, they have been involved in church planting (and growing), most recently in Budrio (Bologna). He now coordinates Impatto (Acts 29 in Italy).