Saturday 1st November 2014
Today was a tough day but for me the conference came alive, not that it was not alive already, but I began to feel it. Because Lindsay Brown had to leave for a wedding I had two 90-minute seminars to do and two plenary session talks of 45 minutes each. It was exhausting but I found it stimulating and encouraging with the Lords help, and pray that others felt the same. There was certainly a great deal of response, questions, discussions and even spontaneous applause (this was loudest when I was asked about women in preaching and said that although I could not see how biblically it was possible to have women elders, I would rather have a woman teaching well than a man doing it badly! The women were enthusiastic about that one!
In the afternoon I managed to get out for a walk along the beach in the sunshine…for me it was like a Scottish summer….so I walked barefoot and in a t-shirt. It was funny to see the Italians wrapped up as though it were Scotland in February – woollen scarfs, gloves and jackets all zipped up!
As always with these conferences it is the people I find most fascinating. There are more Americans here than I initially thought. I think 50% of the 340 are from the US. This is largely because Agape (Campus Crusade) have joined their conference with this one, and the vast majority of their workers are from the US. I spoke to some very fine American missionaries who realised how big a problem this could be and who shared their own observations and frustrations. I think another issue is the mess of the Italian economy and therefore there are some congregations where many of the people are now unemployed, the pastors are part time and cannot afford to come – even the transport. Perhaps another difficulty is that this is a mission’s conference and maybe there are those who perceive themselves as the recipients of missions rather than the givers? I don’t know enough to make this observation but it is striking the lack of senior Italian pastors.
The American influence is seen in different ways. The most amusing for me was Georgio, my translator, who begins every morning with ‘How y’all doing’ in the simultaneous translation – I just wonder what Italian phrase that is translating!
I have also come across a number of English, Scottish and Swiss missionaries. As well as people from South America and Rumania. However there are two young men who I must tell you about. One is a former drug addict from Bologna who does not speak much English but in the time I spent with him, I was so impressed with his love for the Lord and for people. He is clearly gifted in evangelism. It is talent like this that needs to be nurtured, protected, taught and set free to flourish and blossom in Italy. Several people have told me that this young man has already done a remarkable work in a lively church in Bologna.
Another very impressive young man is an Italian who spent a year in Northern Ireland, including six months on the Shankhill. It was highly amusing to hear him speak Italian English with a Belfast accent. He is a very gifted young man. Mind you the effect of the surrounding culture can be easily seen – he was wearing a Rangers shirt and was somewhat horrified when he asked me my opinion on the referendum! I guess contextualisation really got to him!
Anyway tomorrow I head home after one more plenary session in the morning. I will make some final reflections then. But so far this has been an excellent trip and for me shows the need and potential for the Gospel in the Dark Heart of Italy – and I believe a place for the work that Solas is seeking to do….