John Blanchard recently completed his fourth ministry visit to Italy in 12 months, when for the second time he was serving Sola Grazia Church in Porto Mantovano, on the outskirts of Mantova.
Sola Grazia Church was planted by Andrea Artioli, who also co-founded Coram Deo (‘before the face of God’), a trust committed to church planting and the production of evangelical Christian literature.
Under the leadership of Alan Johnston, a pastor from Coleraine, a team of 11 sent by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, from Northern Ireland, had worked there for a week before Dr Blanchard arrived.
The team’s main work was in the centre of Mantova and was planned to coincide with the town’s renowned annual literature festival. The church had been given permission to set up a table at the festival and it was allocated the very site once occupied by a building in which, following the Protestant Reformation in Europe, many Christians were sentenced to death by an Inquisition.
During the week, the team handed out 2,500 bottles of water bearing a label advertising events in Sola Grazia Church. More importantly, they offered free copies of well-produced Bibles, more than 500 of which were taken. Before the team arrived on site one morning Mr Artioli received a telephone call asking where the Bibles were, as people wanted them.
The church was planted in 2007 and meets in a hall owned by a communist, who has granted it a five-year lease with an option to renew it for a further five years.
Although still small, the church has seen encouragement in the past year, with several conversions and baptisms. During his visit Dr Blanchard brought a devotional message to the team and preached at the church several times.
His subjects included an exposition of what it meant to be a genuine Christian, the reality and relevance of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the sovereignty of God over all the circumstances of human life.
The pressing vision of Coram Deo and the church is to rent premises in the centre of Mantova and to use it as a coffee shop and Christian bookshop. Greater Mantova has a population of 250,000, yet the nearest Christian bookshop is a small one 40 miles away.
Three suitable premises have already been viewed, but at the moment progress is blocked by a lack of necessary funds. After visiting the sites, Dr Blanchard told Evangelical Times, ‘The potential in having a clear Christian marker laid down in the centre of Mantova makes this a project worthy of our prayerful and practical support in any way possible’.
More information from Alan Johnston on 07545 972344 or at [email protected]