Network: Europe

This article was originally published by The Gospel Coalition.

Here in Italy, my neighbor’s kids just left a gift for my wife and me outside our door. It’s a drawing of a rainbow with the words Tutto andrà bene!: everything’s going to be ok! This is a lovely sentiment, but Italy’s casualties from the coronavirus have recently overtaken China’s. Things don’t feel even close to being ok in Italy.

As I write, hospitals are at breaking point or beyond—especially in northern Italian regions. Coffins are piling up, and many deceased are dying alone. Infections are high and show no signs of slowing. All Italy is on lockdown as soldiers are called on to ensure people respect the stringent measures. This is not merely an economic disaster; for some, their very survival is uncertain (migrants with no daily income, savings, or food). “Ok” isn’t even recognizable in my country right now.

A few weeks ago, something distant suddenly came upon us unsuspecting Italians. Several factors make this pandemic harder for us. The coronavirus was initially minimized: “Oh, it’s just the flu.” Ours is the second oldest population in the world. The increasingly grave situation was compounded by panic travel from affected areas in the north to other parts of Italy.

Social distancing for most Italians is innately difficult as we contend with overcrowding of large families in small spaces, with no yards or gardens. Add to that the edginess and anxiety we feel as we hope nothing—including the internet—breaks down. Now, our normal way of life is gone. No going out, no getting together. In its place is growing unease and fear.

The psalmist was familiar with unease and fear, too. He spoke of a day of trouble in which his soul refused to be comforted (Ps. 77:2–4). As he moaned, his spirit fainted; he was so troubled he couldn’t speak.

Fellow church planters, hear a little of my story and be encouraged and prepared in your own.

Church Plants in Italy

My church plant is part of the Acts 29 network. In Italy, we have 15 church plants, most of which are in the north. Some are in the most affected areas. For example, Francesco Arco is pastoring in Genova. His wife Claudia’s father was hospitalized three days ago and has been placed on a respirator. He is alone. Meanwhile, the Arcos themselves have been unwell, and their condition is being carefully observed. Several church members are infected; a few have been hospitalized. Others have lost their income and must survive on rapidly dwindling resources.

This fellowship now meets online with their group almost daily for prayer and encouragement from Scripture. This is a vital lifeline. As their newer believers face this unprecedented challenge, they need prayerful encouragement and strong grounding in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Serenissima Church, near Pordenone, planted by Rob Krause, is a multicultural, international church. Many within the church work in healthcare. Mothers go to work not knowing if they’ll hug their children again. Neighbors live through the tragedy of sickness, separation, and death. Migrants with precarious economic stability live day-to-day with little material security.

Hope for Italy

And yet we see glimmers of hope in Italy. Just as the psalmist could, despite his anguish, worship the God who “works wonders” (Ps. 77:14), so we press forward knowing he is here with us in Italy, working wonders. A neighbor has begun to recognize his need to know God. A young couple preparing for marriage is growing in their faith and seeing that a strong marriage depends on more than financial security and friends to gather with.

A university student wants to know more about Christianity because he’s unimpressed with the response both from empty, traditional religion and also from prosperity-gospel peddlers (strangely silent in these times!). Views and responders to online messages, devotionals, and interviews are growing. In this time of great need, many are rethinking their priorities and spiritual identities.

Pray for Italy

Please pray for Italy. Devastating statistics continue to be released. Hundreds are dying each day. This was unimaginable a week ago. In this growing tragedy, we cry out to our good Father. We weep even as we trust.

Will you pray for the gospel to be powerfully proclaimed and embodied by Italian Christians? Will you pray for church planters to lead their people through these days of distress, knowing that God hears (Ps. 77:1)? Pray for our churches to grow deep and strong. Pray that those looking on from the outside might see our hope and long to know our Savior.

Finally, church-planting pastors, prepare for what lies ahead. Stay focused. Keep the gospel at the center of everything. Exalt Jesus and make his name famous. Andrà tutto bene? Will everything be ok? We don’t have to wonder; we know. Everything for us, in Christ, is ok.

Jonathan Gilmore
Written by: Jonathan Gilmore on March 20, 2020

Jonathan (J. D.) heads up Impatto (Acts 29 in Italy) and is the southeast Europe regional lead for Acts 29. Born to British missionary parents, J. D. grew up in Italy. He lives in Palermo, Italy, with his wife, Annette. He’s planted LifeHope Church and is also involved with several developing TGC initiatives in Europe.