Just to the south-east of the city of Bologna, on the straight road that leads to the seaside resort of Rimini, lies the town of San Lazzaro. The first and only evangelical witness in San Lazzaro began in 1970, as an offshoot from the Bologna Brethren assembly. Progress has been hard and slow in this traditionally communist area of Italy, but little by little the Lord has brought new people in. Here are the highlights of a recent week.
It is just after 10.30 am on Sunday morning, and it is Daniele’s turn to begin the service with a brief meditation from the Word of God. With enthusiasm he invites us to wonder at the mercy and faithfulness of God, as expressed in one of the Psalms. It is hard to imagine that in 1989 this tall, strongly built ex-policeman was on the verge of committing suicide. His mother, who is heavily involved in the occult, had driven him to the point of despair with her insults, but the Lord graciously intervened and led Daniele to the Saviour.
As Daniele finishes, someone in the congregation calls for a hymn and Iader leads the singing. Iader is a car electrician from the town of Imola, the home of the San Marino Grand Prix. He was converted while on holiday in Sardinia. There was no evangelical church at all in Imola, so he began to attend the San Lazzaro church. A few years later his wife Annalisa also came to know the Lord, and now they both yearn for the day when a church will be founded back in Imola itself.
After a time of open worship, the baptized members partake of the Lord’s Supper. Soon afterwards Gioele begins to preach. His words are especially directed to young people in the congregation who may be relying for salvation on their Christian upbringing. Acceptance with God is only through the finished work of Jesus Christ.
After the service Francesco asks us to pray for his situation. Although he is fifty-two he has only been a believer for a year and a half. Now he is opting for a lower paid job in his firm, because it is impossible to continue as before without engaging in dishonest practices. His colleagues at work called him a fool. We all feel humbled.
It is Monday evening and the church evangelism group meets to plan the next monthly outreach in Imola. The local authorities have granted us permission to preach in the main square or in a nearby shopping mall. We opt for the latter this time. The young people also will be singing.
Normally on a Thursday we have a Bible study, but this Thursday it is our monthly prayer meeting. We split into three groups. The outreach to Imola is much on our hearts, as is our concern for Francesco and those whose spouses or children are not following the Lord. We particularly remember Chiara, who has been prevented by her husband from coming to any meetings for the past two years. Neither do we forget Christian workers in Italy and abroad.
Saturday afternoon finds us preaching in the shopping mall of Imola. A few people stop briefly to listen with curiosity and then move on. It is tempting to give up, but we do believe in the power of the gospel message to change lives. During the summer we aim to concentrate our efforts on San Lazzaro, where many local people gather in the park.
It is Sunday again and there is a new family in church. Philipe, from Zaire, found the church through its Saturday morning bookstall in the square of San Lazzaro. This morning his wife and family are with him for the first time. What a welcome reminder of the worldwide nature of the church of Jesus Christ!