Italy - A Neapolitan Perspective

by Rod Jones, with contributions from Luca Illiano and Alec Catchpole

 

Italians are largely mistrustful of their politicians who seem to lurch from one political crisis to another, perpetually locked in a struggle over a mix of ideological values and vested interests.

 

Parliamentarian salaries are 60% above the European average, but workers' salaries are on average 30% less than in Germany. Because of taxation, the non-wage labour costs in Italy are approximately double those in the UK.1 Statistics confirm that around 8% of Italians live in the category of 'absolute poverty', which increases to 11% in the south of the country. The CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) Institute in Mestre, found that only half of small businesses are able to pay salaries without doing so in instalments, and three out of five companies take out loans to pay their tax bills.

 

In practice the present economic and political situation results in serious difficulties for many people, particularly in the south of Italy, where economic viability has always been a struggle for families. It is increasingly common for people to go hungry, be unable to pay the rent, or have no foreseeable solution to their difficulties. In this area, some families are living off the pensions of their ageing parents, sometimes moving into their cramped apartments to share limited resources. The solution of past decades, moving to other parts of Italy to find employment, is rarely an option these days.

 

Church growth has been greater in the south, but even in the north of Italy a high percentage of those who are part of evangelical churches originally came from the south and moved north to find work. While economic difficulties have a destabilising influence, the opportunities for presenting the gospel expand. People question long-held assumptions and see things falter that previously they held as certain.

 

In the background, the long-standing, nominal Christian world view harbours a subtle form of atheism, a secularism with a veneer of cultural Christianity. In recent decades, Italian intellectuals have contributed in no small way to the growing postmodern culture of the West. The impact of their ideas grows as these changes filter through the Italian education system, providing new barriers for the gospel.

 

Faced with these challenges and opportunities, Brethren assemblies in Italy are in a privileged position to have a significant impact through the gospel. As an indigenous movement, reaching back to before the foundation of the modern state of Italy (1861), it has deep roots in the history and culture of the people. With a record of slow but steady growth, the latest list (2014) identifies almost 300 assemblies throughout the country; considering the low percentage of evangelicals in Italy, about 0.5% of the population, this is not an insignificant presence.

 

EXAMPLES OF NEW INITIATIVES

Project 2020 involves assemblies in the Puglia region, in a coordinated effort to evangelise all the towns and villages in the area. Opera Missionaria Evangelica dei Fratelli Italiana (OMEFI, Italian Brethren Mission Agency) has been a catalyst in getting assemblies involved in outreach to Albania, since its opening to the West, and then developing outreach into Kosovo. This work is ongoing - it is a means of encouragement and receives significant support from the assemblies in Italy. Another new initiative has seen assemblies support a ministry to provide help and reach out to refugees from the Middle East.

 

At home, the training of a new generation of leaders is ongoing. An increasing amount of useful material, courses and conferences are available to churches interested in using them. In Rome, Istituto Biblico Evangelico Italiano (IBEI, Italian Evangelical Bible Institute), offers various formats for learning. There are a number of initiatives that we are involved with in Bacoli, bringing together a few assemblies to train a new generation to take responsibility in local churches. Also to encourage an inter-assembly network of relationships, enabling them to benefit from richer resources, both material and human.

 

In Naples, despite members moving elsewhere for employment, Bacoli, Fuorigrotta and Pozzuoli assemblies are all growing numerically. With the break-up of traditional social and moral values, there is a need to respond to the pastoral needs of new contacts who bring a wide range of issues with them. We look to the future in hope because of the faithfulness of the Lord, the effectiveness of His Word and His promise to build His church!

 

LUCA ILLIANO, IN MERGELLINA AND FUORIGROTTA

It is delightful to view the Neapolitan Gulf and sleeping Mount Vesuvius as I travel on the bus, enjoying the breeze. And yet I need to be careful not to be so distracted that I risk being robbed by pickpockets. Naples is a beautiful city but also a difficult one.

 

Nowadays there seems to be neither a future nor a hope for young people; however, from an evangelistic viewpoint, this is a great field in which to preach the gospel. People are longing for a better future.

 

Since moving back to Naples, I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people living with no career prospects, or worrying about losing the little work they have. Sadly, many are still looking for work. It is not surprising that young people are depressed and resort to leaving the country. People were puzzled that I chose to return to Naples.

 

Neapolitans are famous for living by l'arte di arrangiarsi (the art of getting by) or doing the best we can by finding creative solutions. These days it is more difficult to do so and honest people are turning to dishonest means. Even believers are challenged by this. Although the outlook seems bleak, there are great opportunities to preach Christ. As a church in Fuorigrotta, we are thankful that the number of conversions is slowly increasing.

 

Our evangelism is changing. People are tired of listening to words - they want to see deeds. In Fuorigrotta a team from the church have started to clean up the square we use for open-air preaching. As we preach we are comforted that the gospel message has the power to break the sad situation here in Naples.

 

ALEC CATCHPOLE, IN POZZUOLI

West of Naples lies Pozzuoli, with a population of 100,000. It is a place of great potential, with the natural beauty of lakes and mountains, an important port, an active volcano and archaeological sites to visit. That said, decades of corruption and political neglect havecaused decay to set in and many inhabitants languish in despair. Spiritually speaking, things are no better. Locals are sceptical towards Christianity because of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church; others are spiritually superstitious and idolatrous, while the younger generation is swept away by materialism. This situation gives us an unprecedented opportunity to bring a message of hope amid the huge problems of the financial crisis, broken families and unchecked decadence.

 

When Paul arrived in Pozzuoli (historically known as Puteoli, Acts 28:13-14) he found Christians, so we consider it a privilege to work in a city with such a rich heritage. The missionary Stan Davie (New Zealand), lived here for several years in the 1960s and made contacts in Pozzuoli. The assembly was planted in 1997 and has steadily grown in numbers, meaning that we have had to change our building three times. There remains much to be done in Pozzuoli and its surrounding areas.

 

1. Non-wage labour costs are social security and insurance contributions, labour taxes and other costs related to employing someone.

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