Marta and Barbara are friends, law students at the University of Trent in northern Italy. At the end of 1995 they both started attending Bible studies, under the auspices of the Gruppi Biblici Universitari (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students). Although both have Catholic backgrounds and some familiarity with Bible stories, like most Italian students they did not know the gospel and had no personal, saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They were confronted through these studies, not with an abstract, irrelevant ‘God’, from whom they can earn merit, but with the living God, revealed in Christ.
Difficult to grasp
Grace is a difficult concept for an Italian to understand, and they both seemed shocked as, week by week, they discovered what God is really like. After about a year, Barbara stopped attending. It had taken her that long to understand the claims of the gospel, and she had decided that ‘it is too easy to be true’; surely God could not require only that we receive by faith Christ’s work for sinners? Marta too had finally understood, but she had believed the message, and since then has continued with enthusiasm, desiring that other students participate in the Bible studies with her.
But with this desire, Marta has discovered another of the problems of student work in Italy. Just how do you actually reach students and speak to them of Christ? When she kept inviting her friends to the Bible studies, they kept refusing, which discouraged her greatly. Most students in Italy are just not interested in finding out about Christ or in reading the Bible for themselves. Different ways of creating interest have been tried, including public meetings, bookstalls, and leaflet distribution, but none have been particularly effective. Indifference is a widespread problem. By far the commonest thing which attracts students to GBU group is the friendship of Christian students.
Starting from scratch
At the moment, the group at Trent is at a critical threshold. Student Christian work in Italy is helped by the fact that the average university degree takes seven years to complete, allowing a lot more time to work with students on campus than in other countries. Nevertheless, students do eventually graduate. This summer, two of the three students in the group at Trent will be leaving, whilst the third will be studying part-time next year. Hence it will be necessary to start the group again almost from scratch.
Perhaps there will never be large numbers in student ministry at Trent, or in Italy generally. But if Italian students continue to be confronted with the Word of God, and if his Spirit continues to work in them, we may hope to see some soundly converted and committed to making Christ known to their fellow students.